Fr George Calciu. On the meaning of suffering

This is an excerpt from the book “Father George Calciu. Interviews, homilies and talks” published by Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Fr Calciu “was a survivor of terrible torture in Communist prisons, in Romania. He was imprisoned twice, from 1948 to 1964, and frmo 1979 to 1984, for a total of twenty-one years. And yet his most distinctive feature was his smile; he had a beaming smile. You would not guess, when you saw that smile that he had suffered terrible things.

In 1948, when he was 23 years old and attending medical school, he was imprisoned by the Communists and subjected to brainwashing, that is, “reeducation”. Only young men were chosen for this process, because the goal was to make a sharp break with the past and begin fresh, with a new generation of leaders. In the entire Communist world, the preeminent place for this form of mental and emotional torture was the prison in the town of Pitesti, near Bucharest.

This drawing was done by a painter who listened to the stories of those who went through tortures in communist prisons.

At Pitesti, the goal was to break down a prisoner’s mind and sense of self, and rebuild him into the ideal Communist man. When a new group of prisoners came in, they were beaten by guards, and by prisoners who had been there longer. A few of them would be killed – whoever appeared to be a leader. They would be tortured and humiliated in many ways, and in particular forced to watch or participate in blasphemy.


“On the meaning of suffering

Fr George was often asked about his suffering in prison. Presented below is his answer to one such question. -ED

What can I tell you? In my arms people have died who were a thousand times more valuable than I. In prison many who were more valuable than those who survived have died in the arms of other men, and yet I, a sinner, am here. And to speak of myself again – whether to say what good I did or what wrong I did – it would still come out as bragging. So, I find it very difficult to talk about these things.

Generally many words of praise have been said (in relation to this); all this is dust and ashes, all vanity, but we continue to hold onto what we have received from God and what we have managed to keep through suffering, or through success, praise, or blame… Thus we remain faithful to the Church and our nation.

My life in Romania was full of events for better and for worse. I do not accuse or blame anyone, all these were sent by God to exercise my soul.

Someone asked me if my suffering in prison helped me in any way. I answered, “No, they have not helped me, but I’m the result of this suffering. If I do something, if I am anything, if you see something in me, know that it is because of suffering. Without this suffering, I have nothing!”

Perhaps of all the difficult questions for the human person, suffering is the most inexplicable. Why is suffering necessary? I have lived an experience of suffering that enriched my soul, and I believe that suffering was necessary for me. But it is very difficult for someone to accept this principle.

When we were in prison, we asked each other, “Why suffering? Why us? Of all the millions of Romanians, why have we been chosen to suffer? What is the purpose?” And god wouldn’t reveal anything to us. Every day we cried out to God to give us less pain, and seemed to grant us even more suffering.

Even after I was liberated form prison, I held within me this imprint of the pain, which seemed to mark my whole life thereafter. After the second imprisonment, I immigrated to the West and traveled through every country in Europe and America, speaking about the results of communism. My intention was this: I could not keep silent as long as suffering, injustice, Communism, the destruction of churches, and the destruction of the human personality took place in my country. In my wanderings I came upon a monastery and slept in its library. It was a Catholic monastery. In its library I found, among many books, a small booklet with Christian sayings. I opened it randomly to a page where I saw a reflection of Paul Claudel, a famous french writer. He said this:”Christ did not come into the world to eliminate suffering, Christ has not even come into the world to explain it. Rather, He came to fill human suffering with His presence”.

Have you heard? To fill human suffering with his presence! Then I understood that when we weep, or when we revolt or cry out, “God, what are You doing to us?!” He is present within us more than ever, despite all our sins, all our infirmities. He filled our suffering with His presence. Thus, I understood exactly the deep meaning of this pain: God is present in us!

Translated by Elena Chiru from Living Words pp.138-139.”


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