It’s hard to write about a father confessor

CalciuPCDue to a horrible cold, I have been hiding out at home almost all weekend. Thus, I was not able to go to the funeral rites for Father George Calciu at Holy Cross Romanian Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Va. The Divine Liturgy began several hours ago and the actual funeral is beginning as I type this.

I am sad to report that I have not been able to find my old cassette tape of the sermon he delivered about six years ago at our parish in Linthicum. However, his Romanian accent was so strong that it was almost impossible to understand much of what was on the tape. Isn’t it interesting that, in person, it was much easier to understand what he was saying? He communicated so much through his face and his eyes.

But I want to respond, briefly, to the notes from Deacon John and from Jeff about the journalistic issue raised in my first post on Father George.

Find a “news hook” to write a column. Please. If people like you in your position won’t “stir the pot” for good and holy reasons — then who will?

Posted by Deacon John M. Bresnahan at 6:53 pm on November 22, 2006

You know, I think the Mollie may have provided you the “hook.” The world that Fr. Calciu had to suffer in is what happens when the atheists take over.

Posted by Jeff at 8:23 pm on November 22, 2006

My column for Scripps Howard is a news analysis column. I rarely, if ever, write columns that are strictly personal or express strong statements of my own opinion. Frankly, I have enjoyed GetReligion because it allows me to write in a more personal style (such as this post). To write a column about how Father George’s life symbolized “what happens when the atheists take over,” I would need to have interviewed him about that topic. My guess is that he would simply have replied that sin is sin.

Years ago, when my own father died, I did write a column in his honor. But even in that piece, I built it around a topic — how some ministers, like my father, manage to avoid burnout — that I considered newsworthy. Here is how that tribute column ended:

My father kept on loving God, his work and his people. I have never known a pastor who didn’t wrestle with fits of melancholy. Pastors are, by nature, realists who know the reality of pain and sin. And many heap criticism on them, micromanage their lives and expect miracles.

I rarely saw my father move mountains. But I did see him preach, teach, pray and embrace sinners. I was proud that he was a pastor. I still am.

What I have been searching for is a similar topic in the life of Father George. Truth is, I was inspired by him on a spiritual level and that is why it is so hard to even think about him in terms of the product that we call “news.” So do I write about a man who managed to live and serve with such a wonderful sense of joy, despite his suffering decades ago? How do you bite off a single piece of that story and fit it into 15 inches of newsprint?

You could argue that this man, because of his suffering, was a uniquely gifted father confessor. But how do you write about that topic?

This is a question I have faced before, because I believe there are valid news stories linked to rites of confession. We live in a culture in which people are starving for honesty, integrity and a sense of spiritual contact with others. They hunger for some sense of release from guilt. Yet the Sacrament of Confession has almost disappeared in many parishes — the Roman Catholic statistics are stunning — in the liturgical churches that continue this ancient tradition.

What to do? I am seriously considering writing a column close to the 40th day after his death, when his family and his spiritual children will take part in small rituals of public prayer on his behalf. Meanwhile, here is a press release by Frederica Mathewes-Green about Father George’s life and death. Please pass it on, if you wish, to any reporters and columnists you know. It says, in part:

Father Gheorghe was born on 23 November 1925 in Mahmudia, Tulcea, Romania, to his parents, Stefan and Ileana. After finishing elementary studies in his hometown, he went on to Bucharest to study at the Faculty of Medicine (1946-48). Then, in 1948, his Orthodox Christian morals and deep religious conviction led him to be imprisoned by the communist authorities for “reeducation”, a tactic used by the regime in an attempt to erase Christianity from the youth of the nation. He remained in prison until 1964, when he was released as a result of a general amnesty, and returned to study at the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy where he earned a degree in French and began work on his doctorate. During this time, strengthened by his sufferings in prison, he also studied Theology and was ordained into the Holy Priesthood on 30 January 1973.

Father Gheorghe remained vocal in his criticism of the atheistic government and its allies, preaching the True Faith and Christian morals to all who would listen, especially the many young people who were drawn to his message. He taught French and New Testament studies at the Theological Seminary in Bucharest until he was abruptly dismissed in 1978 for speaking out in defense of religious freedom and human rights. The following year he was again arrested by government authorities as a result of his convictions, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Severely mistreated and isolated from even his family, news of his imprisonment aroused protests from the West which eventually provoked his early release in 1984. Still living under persecution by government and cooperative Church authorities, he managed to emigrate to the United States in 1985 and was accepted into The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America the following year. Since 1989, he has served as parish priest of Holy Cross Church in Alexandria, Virginia, serving the community there with love and dedication until his final breath.

Father George is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Preoteasa Adriana, their son, Andreiy, and countless spiritual children. He will be buried in Romania.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • saint

    /display ignorance on/Why not use the tradition of spiritual fathers in the Orthodox Church (staretz/gerontas) as a hook? Write about that tradition, maybe refer to some of the giants like Cleopas of Sihastria – also Romanian – and use that to mention how that tradition was carried on in America by Father George and then you can write about the personal and spiritual qualities which made him such a wonderful Father Confessor. Maybe interview some of his spiritual children?/display ignorance off/

  • Sarah Webber

    My condolences, friend.

  • Jeff

    I’ll take one more stab. Perhaps write about expatriate priests from communist countries. I don’t know much about them, so it would be interesting (including the story that Fr. Whiteford had over on his blog).

    I wish I could have been on the east coast for this. What a privilege to attend the funeral for such a holy man. You have my sympathies that you couldn’t make it.

  • Deborah

    To write a column about how Father George’s life symbolized ‘what happens when the atheists take over,’ I would need to have interviewed him about that topic.

    Why? Aren’t there historians or other experts on Communist suppression of religion or even survivors who could have filled in the gaps? Granted, I’m (a) not a journalist and (b) not familiar enough with your column to know what would be a good fit, so my question is probably unfair. And it is, indeed, a real shame that one more witness to “what happens when the atheists [having determined that religious belief undermines the state] take over” can no longer speak directly to the question.

  • Richard Barrett

    Deborah: I could be wrong about just what the Good Professor means, but one thing I recall being underscored about a million times when I was briefly studying journalism was this–if you’re going to quote somebody, they needed to have known at the time they were speaking to you that they were talking to a reporter as a quotable source. It was represented as a kind of Rule Number Zero with respect to journalistic ethics.

    I could be way off base and I could have had a teacher who didn’t know what they were talking about, but I think that’s what is meant in this case.


  • Yvonne

    “The world that Fr. Calciu had to suffer in is what happens when the atheists take over.”

    Hmmm, I wonder if the situation under Communism is really generalisable to all atheists? I accept that atheists are generally very hostile to religion, but frankly I think that is because of the hegemonic position occupied by Christianity for hundreds of years, and the long struggle for secular freedoms (like not being forced to go to church, being able to get a divorce, have a gay relationship without being sent to prison, etc).

    The situation under Communism (and other forms of totalitarianism) is that the state will not tolerate its citizens having allegiance to anything other than itself. The fact that religion was its main target is not specifically because Communism is atheistic, but because Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses.

  • Alexei

    I was sad to hear about this. We sang Memory Eternal for him on Sunday.

    In Christ, A.

  • The little mountain

    I am sorry that you missed the funeral. I was blessed by God to attend both services here and in Romania. Please email me later for pictures. Between all the people I know who were taking pictures, we should have a good collection of photographs. I hope this can ease your pain of not going.

    It saddens me to see several respondents lack such compassion and criticize you instead of asking for more information and give suggestions as to what they would like to hear.

    Have these critics considered how hard it is to write about such a wonderful and holy man? Have they considered even with the assurance that this man is in Heaven, how hard the saddness of not hearing his voice or see his smile when you approach or know that you have received his last hug for these times and having watched your children for the last time jump up and down to see him is? I miss him very much too.

    Thank you for your post and the addition of the beautiful picture above. I am printing this out for myself and children.