hat tip: ORI
Sermons to young people by Father George Calciu-Dumitreasa.
Given at the Chapel of the Romanian Orthodox Church Seminary, Bucharest
Translation by Keston College, Kent, England
He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also. John 15:23
So, my dear friend, we have reached the halfway mark in our series: we are halfway along the road on which we started together that first Wednesday of Lenten Fast. On that occasion the call of Jesus resounded for the first time in your ears, bent hungry for truth. You received it and your soul, yearning for the absolute, followed it.
At that point I was alone, but I knew that my voice was not “one crying in the wilderness,” for the words were those of Jesus. I knew that the words with which I called you would penetrate your ears: “Prepare ye the ways of the Lord; make straight His way into your hearts.” And I was not mistaken. For look, how many we are today — a witness, even if only within your hearts, to faith in Christ and to love for one another.
Why have I been calling you, my friend, and why have I put my soul into your hands, young person? Why have I believed in you to the point of implicating you in my actions of faith, and even to the point of placing my very life on the line for you?
Why? Because my spirit knew your soul even before you heard my words or even before we set eyes on each other. I knew of your disquiet and troubles, your unhappiness and suffering. I understood long ago that your badness was but a shield against the world, and that your bravado was but a defense for your wounds. For you are my friend. We are bound together by a free friendship which no one and nothing can destroy. Our freedom is guaranteed by Jesus Himself, and our love is founded upon the Resurrected One Who said:
Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you (John 15:15).
Who has ever confessed such truths to you? You are surrounded on all sides by an atmosphere of secrecy, as within a conspiracy devised by “those above.” A selective system will prevent anything reaching you other than that which subjugates you to a certain idea or imposed concept. Where is your freedom to choose and where is your power of word? Where is the exercise of that noble freedom given to you by God which is the basis of your satisfaction in responding to history? Why then am I amazed that you do not know that this freedom is, or how to use it? Why should I be amazed that you know nothing of friendship or love, nor to whom to give it nor how to preserve it?
Who has been your friend in this world, or who has given up their soul for you? In every social group to which you belong, you are always excluded by the fundamental arguments themselves which justify its existence as a social phenomenon. Every exclusion based on these grounds puts you in the position of a slave. It is a social and philosophical secret which you are far from understanding. You are offered only the conclusion. Yet if you are unfit to learn the road by which the conclusion came, how can you be fit to know the conclusion itself? And if you are fit to know the way, then why the mystery? Is someone afraid of your right to judge? or of your freedom? or of your friendship? Could religion or faith be an object of prohibition?
Slavery to ideas is as serious a form of slavery as any other. Through His Church, Jesus offers you the deep mystery of His Divinity and His friendship. You are no longer called a slave but a friend if you discover the mystery of divine things.
You have avoided choosing Jesus as your friend for too long. Perhaps you were afraid of the ocean of spiritual freedom into which you would have to dive. But Jesus has chosen you to hear His voice. He did so a long time ago: You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain (John 15:16). The choice was made long ago, for Jesus has always loved you, but now you have the choice to respond to His invitation. In responding you are ordained to go and bear fruit that will remain.
To be a prophet of Christ in the world in which you live. To love your neighbor as yourself and to make all men your friend. To proclaim by every action this unique and limitless love which has raised man from the level of a serf to that of a friend of God. To be the prophet of this liberating love which delivers you from all constraint, returning to you your integrity as you offer yourself to God.
The most humiliating bondage is that which forbids you any theological flight, any attempt to transcend the immanent and its captivity. “You are a slave of my will,” it seems to say to you, “and my will forbids you to believe in anything other than what I direct you to believe.”
Why are you forbidden the right to leave the space in which you are kept a prisoner of feelings and reason? Why is only that which belongs to this dimension imposed upon you as reality and the rest dismissed and decreed as fiction? And subsequently, why are you not directed to penetrate this so-called fiction with your own knowledge and thus shatter it? Is it that there lies somewhere the fear that this “fiction” is more real than that which is imposed upon you as “reality?”
A philosophical or theological system, especially if it is a way of life, cannot be destroyed from outside. From that point of view it remains unassailable to its opponent. Phrases like “religion is the opium of the people,” or “religion was created by the exploiting classes,” cannot even raise a smile today. They are purely and simply ignored.
Yet you, for you are young, are asked to take seriously the half-baked arguments of the atheist bible (Hazlii) or the anti-catechism from Scinteia Tineretulii* which hold fast only because of the prohibition preventing you from responding to them. On the social level, freedom means the struggle for ideas. But in Christ it means liberation from sin and death.
In our country atheism takes a forced course, becoming more and more narrow. Its life springs from the authority of the state. Faith, however, is on full wing, for it is a fact of life. Authoritarianism creates bondage, life gives freedom.
I read in Contemporanul (November 11, 1977) an article entitled “With atheists on religion.” The article contained declarations by young people in an interview carried out by the magazine reporter. Every investigation into religion is for us a source of disquiet and fear because, according to officialdom, to be a believer is tantamount to betrayal of one’s country. Nevertheless, in this interview the young people, who were all Party members, replied according to their beliefs, and their faith made them free. I suggest that you all read this article in Contemporanul — the official literary organ of the materialist ideology of the Romanian Communist Party. You will read there that the young people are free from the bondage of theory. That would have made them hide their true faith and declare formal statements about atheism. They overcame their instinct of self-preservation and affirmed publicly and courageously their faith and the freedom to choose for faith. They chose openly the Church and Christ. All were young people like you, my friend, as good and generous as you, as brave as you. They were our friends. As a consequence some of you wrote them precious words of encouragement, through which you wanted to tell them that they were not alone, that the best believe as they do, and wish to express themselves as freely as they have done.
Friend, this is the eternal love of Christ. Our faith in Him binds us together as One Body. Our common friendship binds us together, for we are all Christ’s friends. Do not be afraid to affirm that you are His friend. Do not be afraid to reject an atheist ideology which has no other aim than to kill your soul as a metaphysical entity, or even to cripple it within you.
Do not be afraid to affirm that our people has been Orthodox Christian since its inception. And that 20 or 30 years of enforced atheism and imposed materialist propaganda cannot stop our people’s aspiration after the absolute.
Believe and love. Faith will make your free; love will unite you. You will be free in union with Jesus, and you will abide in His love.
See how high you have soared, my friend. You are now a friend of Christ! For this I love you, young person; for this I believe in you.
Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisadec. Hebrews 5:6
Perhaps you have been asking yourself, my young friend, why I have even been addressing you, and by what authority? What right do I have to give this message which is disturbing you and obliging you to face up to disturbing questions? Why have I come to confirm you in your own misunderstood terror and to open up to you certain perspectives which are both new and unexpected? Why do I also break down your fragile balance of defenses?
Probably by uncovering for you the purity and innocence which you did not recognize, I have made you even more vulnerable in this wicked world. I have made you more open to suffering, and it is natural that you should ask what is the purpose of suffering. Is it a finality, a blind happening, a fate traced by the stars, a blinding ocean in which you swim without hope of reaching any shore?
I speak to you in the name and authority of Christ and His Church, in the name of the priesthood to which Christ called me, because nothing in this world is an interplay of unconscious, arbitrary happenings. All things stem from a cause and hold fast towards an end which stands outside this world. The cause is God, the end is God. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega.
But what is this world? What certainty does it offer us, what happiness awaits us at the unknown corners of life, like comfort in misfortune? I will not begin with death, nor life, nor with the beginning nor the end; but with the given: that which happens to us every day.
Have you asked yourself, young person, what is your purpose in the world and whether everything is reduced simply to that? If we were born to be slaves of matter —and this is only a philosophical proposition — then the end of your life is slavery. If your freedom is reduced to need and logic — which in the last analysis is the same thing — then your freedom is slavery. If all our knowledge is reduced to a sterile and never-realized understanding of the laws of matter, our knowledge is slavery. If your love is reduced to the struggle for existence, and our sacrifice is for the perpetuating of the species, then these things too are but slavery. And finally, if all our convictions spring from an imposed, official doctrine, then they too are slavery. And in all this series, young friend, where is the place for your soul?
You sense that there exists, away from all the materialism with which you have been intoxicated, and far from the atheism which has been imposed upon you like a violent ideology, something vaster, more authentic and yet closer to you personally than all that which suffocates you in this materialist bath. Your spirit within you propels you towards that “something”, as towards a world only envisioned and suspected.
This world, like the blue sky glistening in the sun, sees its own image through the grid of prohibitions which this society raises up to you.
Know, friend, that neither an atheist ideology, nor the materialist order, no matter how authoritatively it might be imposed upon you, is in any state to raise up an absolutely impregnable wall against you and the spiritual world. The soul cannot be made prisoner. This is a law which the materialists refuse to recognize at their own peril. On the spiritual level there is no captivity without hope.
Your teachers speak to you of atheism and secretly go to church. Behold a crack through which the golden light of the spiritual dimension reaches you. Your ideological leaders thunder and lighten against religion, uttering the most foul curses, yet at the moment of disaster they make the sign of the cross, asking for God’s help — as, for example, during the earthquake of March 4, 1977. Behold another crack through which the soul escapes the suffocating locker with the official ideology builds up by and by. In atheist meetings those obliged to speak condemn those who believe or who were caught in the criminal act of going to church. Yet away from the lying words, far from their false-toned platform proclamations, you discern their fear of being discovered as also having a religious belief. The lie in which they so lamentably swim breaks down once more the wall of your incarceration, and you say as the sweet light breaks through: “Whence this unnatural light? It is a light foreign to this world.”
I spoke to you about these things in my previous four sermons, I will continue to speak further about them —for I am a priest of Christ. God has discovered us through the sacramental love of His works, and Jesus has commanded me to make it known to you so that you will not say further: “I did not know it.”
I speak to you that you might know that you can fly, and that only spiritual flight is truly exalted. The flight of materialism is flight with broken wings. The Church of Christ has come out of the catacombs. She shines blindingly on the soil of this country which is highly esteemed in our hearts.
The Enea Church was destroyed — but who among us, Romanian and Christian, can forget it? A beer hall, a symbol of a concept which considers the Church a plague, will be put in its place. A beer hall — so once more the people will be happy! Woe to the architect who builds there, binding his name forever with the destruction of something that was a demonstration of the Romanian genius of construction and faith. Woe to the officials who believe that they can win glory and power by destroying a church and building a beer hall. Woe to the concept that considers an Agapia Inn more valuable than the Agapia Monastery. Woe to those who consider that the Romanian Patriarchate is a piece of history which can be placed in a museum, and who have not understood that it has a real life which is always present. It is not a historical relic but a living soul.
Woe to those who bow to force, allowing destruction which will never be accepted by history.
I have said all these things to you because I am a priest. And because we are priests and we listen to the command of God which says that a burning light cannot be hid under a bushel but must shine before all (Matt. 5:15). I have said these things, young friends, that you might judge if it is right before God to listen to men rather than God (Acts 4:19). For He Who gave Himself upon the Cross for the salvation of the world, commanded us not to hide the divine truth. I have said all these things to you that you might understand that through faith we shatter walls and break down the bonds of prejudice and abuse, even if we shall have tribulation in this world (John 16:33).
There is a continual battle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between freedom and captivity of ideas, between purity and corruption. All these battles take place on the one single field of combat — the heart of man. I, the priest of Christ, address this heart; for as Pascal has said: “The heart has its own way of thinking, which reason ignores.”
What, then does the priesthood mean? It means to be an enduring witness to human suffering and to take it upon your own shoulders. To be the one who warms the leper at the breast and who gives to the miserable life through the breath from his own mouth. To be a strong comfort to every unfortunate one, even when you yourself are overwhelmed with weakness. To be a ray of shining light to unhappy hearts when your own eyes long ago ceased to see any light. To carry mountains of suffering on your shoulders, while your own being screams out with the weight of its own suffering.
Your flesh rebels and says: “This is absurd, impossible. Where is such a man, where is the priest you describe so that I may put my own suffering upon him?” Yet nevertheless he exists! From time to time there awakens within us the priest of Christ who, like the Good Samaritan, will kneel down by the side of the man fallen among thieves and, putting him upon his own donkey, will bring him to the Church of Jesus for healing. From time to time the priest of Christ in us forgets ourselves and comforts you, the man of suffering.
Who else could be moved by your suffering? Who else would bear your burden, say words of comfort to you? From whom else would you hear the words of Christ to you today: “Come to me, all who are burdened and heavy ladened.”
I have seen you, my young friend, bullied by your elders, mocked and insulted for the simple crime of being young. I spoke to you then as one in weakness and pain, as a sensitive and defenseless being. Then I saw you, to my horror and joy, bow and kiss my hand, humbling yourself in your unexpected gesture which flowed from the depth of your wounds. For you did not kiss my hand, but that of a priest of Christ who brought you comfort.
Because you have overcome death, to which atheist doctrine had condemned you, because you have been exalted above the ruins of fallen materialism through your youth and faith, I speak to you the words which Jesus spoke through the Apostle to the Gentiles. They sound absurd to the prisoner of matter and materialism, to those who substitute beer halls for churches and indecency for suffering. But to you they will resound full of spiritual meaning and truth.
The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? (I Cor. 1:18-20).
Where are all these men, my friends? There are none of them left. But you have remained here alive and whole in the Church of Christ, a holy people, won by God, a foundation stone on which the Orthodox spirit of the Romanian people is built. You are its single salvation and preservation through this age.
Father George is a prisoner for his Faith in Romania — see the December, 1982 issue of The Word, page 20.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America