Memory eternal, Father George Calciu

Fr  GeorgeIt is a very gray, rainy day here in Maryland, the kind of day that makes it easy to mope around (especially if one has a shocking cold) and feel rather sorry for oneself.

But if you need a ray of sunshine, look at the smile on the face of the elderly Romanian priest in this photograph. He is pictured with several members of the extended Mathewes-Green clan and the photo is taken inside Holy Cross Orthodox Church here in Linthicum.

The priest is Father George Calciu, who died yesterday in Fairfax, Va., after years of joyful ministry in the Washington, D.C., area. But before that, he was an immigrant from Romania for suffered for many years in communist prisons because he would not be silent about human rights and his faith, especially in his ministry to young people. To read one of his testimonies about those years, click here.

I was only able to hear Father George speak once. Afterward, I sat looking at my pages and pages of notes, thinking to myself, “There has to be a column in here somewhere. I’m a journalist. I can do this.” Later, I listened to my tape of his talk several times, thinking the same thing.

But I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could conceive of a 700-word newspaper column that would do any justice to this man’s life and the force field of joy that surrounded him, even after all the suffering he had endured.

I couldn’t find the “news hook” in the life of this near-martyr. There was only his remarkable faith and that was timeless — the opposite of what we think of as “news.” The world of contemporary faith is not full of men who can say “Repent!” with such a wonderful smile.

One of Father George’s spiritual children — in his ministry as a father confessor — is Frederica Mathewes-Green of Beliefnet, National Review, National Public Radio and many other media outlets. As it turns out, Frederica was able to write a column for Beliefnet — “Befriending a Cockroach” — that captures one remarkable piece of Father George’s life. Here is a key passage from the piece, which focuses on his spiritual struggles against the communist brainwashing and torture technique called “re-education.” In the first step, prisoners were simply beaten.

Next, they would begin to “unmask,” which meant requiring prisoners, under torture, to verbally renounce everything they believed: “I lied when I said ‘I believe in God,’ I lied when I said ‘I love my mother and my father.’” Third, prisoners were forced to denounce everyone they knew, including family. Because a diabolical element of this plan was to employ fellow prisoners as torturers, the targeted prisoners knew no rest. The abuse never ceased, not even in the cell, and every torture imaginable was employed.

Last, in order to show they had truly become “the communist man,” these prisoners were required to join the ranks of torturers and assist in the “re-education” of new prisoners. This last step was the most unbearable. “It was during this fourth part that the majority of us tried to kill ourselves,” says Fr. George.

The experience created a spiritual crisis in Fr. George, who until his imprisonment had led an ordinary, reasonably devout life. “When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer — that was the pain that lasted. … we forgive the torturers. But it is very difficult to forgive ourselves.” Though often angry at God, sometimes at night a wash of tears would come, and the prisoner could pray again. “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, was very good.”

I think I will try to dig out that tape of Father George and listen to it again, in his memory. There are subjects that are just too big to fit into our little media boxes, and his life is one of them.

May his memory be eternal. And may God comfort Father George’s many spiritual children. They can find comfort in the memory of his smile and in the certainty that he will still pray for them, as they pray for him.

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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.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Frankly I think it is shocking and even evil how much our mainstream media has horribly underreported the suffering and heroism of so many Christians behind what used to be the Iron Curtain. It was Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical witness across that whole region that was a prime factor in undermining Communism, yet how many books, how many in-depth articles have been written glorifying these wonderful human beings like Father Calciu. The mainstream media has been too busy featuring fallen clergy with headlines and snears. From what I read here the death of a man like Father
    Calciu deserves as much coverage as the fall of Rev. Haggard. Will he get the same press?? I doubt it. Not even close.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note–Matt–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???

  • Arthur Dimopoulos

    Here among us lived a Saintly man whom anyone that ever came in contact felt the Holy presence of the Living God within him. There are few in our lives that teach us with their example, and with their deeds and thanks be to the God that we are blessed to have these Saints among us.

    May his memory be eternal, and may he be at the royal banquet in the full blaze of God’s glory–the promise that Fr. Calciu blessed soul deserves. My family is very fortunate to have kissed his hand and carry his heartfelt smile within our hearts–his memory shall always melt the frost of darkness that we face.

    Aiovia Umvimni–May His Memory Be Eternal!

  • Jeff

    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.

  • Jim N.

    I’ve read about Petisti from a rather long book a former prisoner had written (which I can no longer find anywhere!), and I knew that Fr. George was in a prison but I didn’t realize it was in *Petisti*. The one time I met him, at HC, his eyes were filled with fire. Even my kids, who were 3 and 2 at the time, ran up to him and gave him hugs, even though they’d never met him before. He was the first saint I’ve personally and physically met…

  • carmen

    terry, mine is not a very journalistic or intellectual response. your post brought tears to my eyes and registered at the core of my being. testimonies of people like Father George are soul earthquakes, pointing to and reminding us who God is: so-always-love, the ever-waiting-Father, and so-always-present — even in the midst of such unimaginable great evil and physical and internal suffering. if Father George could meet God there, then God will meet me, too. thanks for writing even what you did. blessings.