Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Rev. Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, 80, an anti-communist Romanian Orthodox priest who was imprisoned for 21 years in his homeland, died of pancreatic cancer Nov. 21 at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Father Calciu, a priest at the Holy Cross Romanian Orthodox Church near Baileys Crossroads since 1989, was a hero to his religious brethren and to anti-communists around the world for standing up for his beliefs despite long prison terms, torture and death threats. He was released from prison after supporters, including then-President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush, pressured Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Father Calciu was forced into exile in 1985 and had lived in Northern Virginia since.

Father Calciu (pronounced Cul-chew), who in the mid-1980s preached on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, returned to Romania in 1990 to celebrate a Mass in Bucharest's central University Square, despite being followed by the government's security police.

He was first imprisoned for making speeches against the imposition of Communist rule in 1948, when he was a 21-year-old medical student from Mahmudia, Tulcea, Romania.

"We protested atheism, the collectivization of the means of production, destruction of the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie," he told The Washington Post in 1989. "The Communists did not support this, and I was put in prison for 16 years."

In that confinement, he came to admire the priests who were also jailed, and his faith grew. Released during a general amnesty, he was forbidden from studying theology. So he studied French for four years, then secretly arranged to study for the ministry with the consent of Justinian, the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

His clandestine faith was discovered by secret police in 1972. To save his life, Justinian appointed him professor of French and the New Testament at the Orthodox Seminary in Bucharest. He was ordained that year. For the next five years, Ceausescu's government tolerated his anti-Marxist sermons. But after Justinian's death in 1977 and the appointment of a hard-line church patriarch, conditions worsened.

Father Calciu announced plans to give a series of seven Wednesday sermons in the winter of 1978. The sermons attacked Ceausescu's persecution of religion; after the third, he was thrown out of the church. He then preached on the church steps. The government closed the gates to the seminary, but the faithful climbed over the seminary walls to hear him. The new patriarch expelled the dissident priest, and, deprived of the church's protection, he was arrested.

Prison the second time was much worse. "Ceausescu saw me as his personal enemy," Father Calciu said. "For this he applied to me special methods of torture."

When he did not break, the government decided to have him killed by two cellmates, convicted murderers who had been promised leniency if they would kill him. He was made to stand in a corner of the cell and not allowed to eat, drink, speak or relieve himself without permission, and he was often beaten.

After three weeks, the other two prisoners were summoned by the head of the secret police. When they returned, Father Calciu said, his tormentors were subdued. Taken to a small prison yard, his cellmates told him to stand in one corner while they conferred. Ready to die, Father Calciu confessed his sins and prayed for his family. Fifteen minutes later, the men approached him.

"And the youngest one said, 'Father,' -- and that was the first time they called me Father -- 'we have decided not to kill you.' "

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