My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is not a single narrative, but a selections of biographical sketches about and interviews with Father George Calciu, as well as a selection of his homilies, talks, and newsletter articles written to his congregation. Because of this, there is a certain amount of repetition — repetition which is to be expected.
The organization of this book is interesting, beginning with biographical sketches and interviews which mention the seven Lenten Homilies to the Youth, the sermons Father George gave to the Romanian people in 1978. But for all the foreshadowing, one is still unprepared for the power of these sermons. It is no wonder that they were laboriously hand-copied, passed from person to person, and quickly made their way to the outside world. After his Homilies to the Youth the book focuses on the various lectures, talks, writings, and interviews given after Father George was released from prison and exiled to the United States, including interviews given after the fall of communism and on the occasion of his visit to his homeland.
Their are several notable things about this book.
First, Father George rarely names names or places blame. There are a few occasions where he mentions a specific church hierarch who failed him, specifically the Bishop and former monk who arranged for Father George’s arrest and imprisonment. And yet even here there is no sense that Father George is seeking revenge; what one senses is sorrow and forgiveness. Father George notes that when he initially began writing his account of life in the Pitești prison, his anger overwhelmed him. It wasn’t until he put his writing away, symbolically making a break with the past, that he recovered. By this we are meant to learn that the rehashing of wrongs hurts our hearts and is ultimately unfruitful. Revenge is a dish best not served at all.
Second, Father George notes several times that it was through suffering that he became aware of God’s presence, that God was with him in his suffering. God did not save him from his suffering, nor did God save him by means of his suffering. However, patient endurance of suffering — while not redemptive — has a purifying effect.
Third, there are passages in this book that are quite remarkable in their practicality. For example, when Father George discusses prayer, he outlines which prayers are normative, and then provides a number of techniques by which one can maintain focus on the prayers. Unlike some more theoretical discourses on prayer, this is personal, pragmatic, and pastoral.
Finally, Father George notes that although our fellow Christians can fail us, our priests can fail us, and even the Church hierarchs can fail is, the Church is still the place where we find salvation. This is continually relevant, as the failure of Bishops, Metropolitans, and Patriarchs looms large in social media. And yet the Church of Christ still stands, and is still the one place where we can partake of the Eucharist, the medicine of immortality. Thanks be to God.