Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Courageous Life of Fr. Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa

The Romanian Orthodox Church is facing a bit of a quandary today. One of their own, but one they once disowned, has turned up, well, having failed to decay after seven years. And in Catholic-Orthodox circles, that's a pretty big thing.

We're talking about Fr. Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa. 

He lived a remarkable life. For the fullest description of his journey, you can read the Washington Post article published upon his death in 2006. But I'll briefly summarize it for you as follows.

He was a medical student when the Communist regime seized control of Romania after WWII. He spoke out publicly against the Communists and went to jail for 16 years. During that confinement, he seems to have had a faith experience and when he was finally released, he secretly pursued theological education.  He was ordained a priest in 1972. The Communist government tolerated his anti-Communist preaching for five years but finally the Church itself, probably under significant pressure from the Communist government, defrocked him. 

He was jailed again and was tortured while in confinement. The US President Ronald Reagan eventually demanded his release from prison as a condition for favorable trade with Romania. The Communist government released him. 

He and his wife Adriana and their son Andrei were allowed to go into exile to America in 1985. They settled in Virginia. Having been defrocked by the Romanian Orthodox Church, he was accepted into ministry by the anti-Communist Romanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America. 

He lived to see the end of Communism in Romania. But, being defrocked by the Romanian Orthodox Church, and serving with a Church body that had described the Romanian Bishops as nothing but Secret Police lackeys, in the few trips he made to Romania after Communism, he was not allowed official recognition or access to Churches for the saying of Mass.

I want to say, that, having spent quite a bit of time in Romania and getting to know people that had to survive the brutal Communist regime, including people of the Church, I don't judge the hierarchs of the Church. I believe that they did what they thought was necessary for the survival of the Church there in Romania. And the men who defrocked Fr. Gheorghe did so out of fear, fear for their own lives, and also fear for the survival of the Church in Romania. It was what it was.

That does not make Fr. Gheorghe any less brave for the outspoken stance he took.

He fell asleep in the Lord in 2006. He had spent his twilight years serving a Romanian parish in Virginia. But his body was sent for burial to the Petru-Voda Monastery in Romania.

Now, it is routine at monasteries to disinter bodies after seven years. That's the point after which we expect to find nothing but bones.  There's a ritual for it. Monks and Nuns spend their lives looking forward to having their bones gathered into the community collection after those seven years. 

I have often kissed glass cases of hundred of monastic skulls, venerating the lives of prayer that these men and women led for the Church.

But when they disinterred Fr. Gheorghe they found something strange.

He had not decomposed. 

There is an ancient teaching in the Great Tradition (the Catholic and Orthodox Churches before they sadly split) wherein a body that does not decay is held as proof of sanctity, meaning, such a person should then be proclaimed a Saint.

So, Fr. Gheorghe presents a quandary for the Romanian Orthodox Church. He was officially sanctioned, defrocked, by the Church at a time when they were fighting for their lives.

Now, he presents himself as a candidate for sainthood. How do you canonize a defrocked priest?

The solution may be that perhaps the Orthodox Church in America could canonize him. Reciprocally all Orthodox Churches accept the canonization of each Church.

At any rate, pray for us, Fr. Gheorghe. Let me tell you, Fr. Gheorghe, the Churches in Romania today are full every Sunday. I have no doubt that leaders in the Church committed sins against other members of the Church during Communist times. You were one of many people wronged. But the Church leaders erred while trying to preserve the Church. I know that hurt you. You are before the face of God now. And I know you forgive, just as you have been forgiven. 

But, in Romania, the Church did finally win.

May God bless the Orthodox Church in Romania.

Here is a Romanian news article about the finding of his incorrupt body:

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