My Grandfather (2)
I thought a lot whether to tell the following three stories about my grandfather or not. Today I decided to do this. Unlike my grandfather, Constantin Stavila (Tata Icu, as I was calling him), I do not believe that only love comes first. I think love shares its first place with the truth.
1) It might be interesting to find out why my grandfather rejected the idea of becoming a Christian Orthodox scholar. In the year 1953, he went to a sort of summer school, organized by the Romanian Patriarchy. He wrote a sermon about the Christian virtue of labor, and it was considered the best sermon written at that summer school. His professors decided to publish it in the official journal of the Romanian Patriarchy. But two things happened. First, the publisher considered that it had to be changed, in order to be more… communist-friendly. You know – labor is good, and also notice that our authorities sanction good labor… And other stuff like this, which made my grandfather mad. Second, it happened that, just a week or so before the appearance of that issue, “our Father”… Stalin died. Now, at that time the relation between the Church and the Romanian Government (sustained by the Soviet Union) was complicated enough: the Church was afraid of the communists, while the communists did not want to explicitly ban religion. So the publisher of the official journal (having probably the approval of the Patriarch Iustinian himself) considered that it would be a good idea to put Stalin’s picture on the second page of that issue, together with some words of mourning! This made my grandfather really crazy. Now, just imagine: the Russian soldiers insulted and beat his grandfather in the First World War; moreover, the communists took him the land and all that he inherited from his grandfather. He really hated the communists, the Soviet Union, and the Romanian regime. And now, his sermon was published as a communist-friendly one, in an issue of the official Orthodox journal whose main concern was to mourn the death of the Devil himself! At that time, he did not have the courage to protest – but he promised himself that he will keep distance from his hierarchical leaders all his life. This is why he decided to be a simple country priest. Now I remember that, after his retirement, he moved to Iasi, and used to go every Sunday to a church close to our home. The priest of that church didn’t know him – and once he told me this, and asked me why my grandfather never came to their monthly meetings and conferences (notice that he didn’t have the courage to ask my grandfather directly this question). I told him that I don’t know – oh, but I knew. I damn knew very well why.
2) I said that my grandfather retired in 1992, when he was 76. But he never wanted to retire. In fact, in the Orthodox Church there is no such notion as “retirement”. Indeed, after you become a priest, you remain a priest for all your life. You are exempted from your service only if you are not physically able to do your duties anymore. So look what happened. My grandfather was a priest in Cogeasca (Letcani, Iasi) for more than 30 years already. He wanted to die as a priest there. But another priest, with good relations to his hierarchical chiefs, wanted to take my grandfather’s place (well, holy man are still… humans, right?). Now, that priest had some relatives in Cogeasca – and these relatives started to complain about my grandfather. They said that he is not able to do his duties anymore, for the reason that he is not hearing well, because of his age. This was only half-right. My grandfather was not hearing well – but not because of his age. I already said in my last post that he was among those (very few) priests that accepted, in the Second World War, to go on the first line of the battle. Once, a bomb exploded close to him – and made him half-deaf. But this thing never constituted an impediment for him. People just had to talk louder with him – that was all. Anyway, those individuals started to complain about this. When the bishop (my grandfather’s hierarchical leader) came to Cogeasca, the whole village was in an uprising – the villagers wanted my grandfather to stay. The bishop, a close friend of the priest who wanted my grandfather’s place, explained to the people that my grandfather had to go. In that very moment, when the people were ready to lynch the bishop, my grandfather stopped them. He said that priests must listen to their hierarchical leaders, as well as they must listen to God. He said that it is time for him to go, and ask the people to listen to their new priest. I remember that I asked him afterwards why he did that (I knew he was not at ease with the idea of leaving Cogeasca). He looked at me with his eyes full of love, caressed my head and said: “Don’t worry. God knows my way better than me. He will take care of me”. Days after that event people were coming over and over again to my grandfather, crying and begging him to stay.
3) But notice an interesting thing. He was a retired priest now – but he couldn’t stay home: his most ardent desire was to do what he knew best – to stay with people, to take care of their spiritual needs. One day, the telephone called, and the bishop said he wanted to talk with him. At that time, there were many villages without priests – this was because no priest wanted to go in such poor, far-away villages, where people did not use to go to church. The bishop asked my grandfather to go as a locum tenens to one of these villages. Yes – the same bishop that declared that my grandfather is not able to do his duties anymore as a priest, only three months after this decision appointed him to another village (a village that no priest wanted to go to) as a priest. My grandfather was more than happy – his dream became true: he was again in service! So since 1992 and until the year 2000 or so, he was a priest in two or three more villages. Why not in only one? Well, that’s another quite interesting story.
As I already said, at that time there were villages where no priest wanted to go, mostly because the inhabitants were very poor, and no extra money (beside the salary) could have been earned in those places. But my grandfather (who, after the communists took all that he inherited from his grandfather, he never was a rich priest) didn’t care for money. So he accepted the village he was appointed to as a pensioner priest. When he first arrived there, no one was coming to the church. So, just as Ioan Slavici’s Popa Tanda, he started to visit every single villager, in order to persuade him or her to come to the church, promising them that they will see very beautiful religious services. So people did start to go to the church. Money did start to come. But my grandfather never took money for himself – he gave all the money to the Metropolitan bishopric of Moldavia. So young priest started to be interested in this village – and one day, one of them was appointed there. My grandfather had to go again – and he quietly and humbly accepted the situation. He left – but not before teaching the young priest all he knew. And this young priest recognized that he BOUGHT his place – he gave to that bishop (the same one, as a matter of fact) something like 2500 American dollars, if I am remembering well. With some minor differences, the story repeated itself in other two villages in which my grandfather was appointed as a locum tenens. In the year 2000, I think, he retired for good: he was 84, and he had to admit that, this time, he really was not physically capable anymore to do his job. But he kept going to that church close to our house until the beginning of 2004, when he tragically had to recognize that he could not walk and stand too much.
I think that these three stories about my grandfather say very much about him – and, probably, about my reasons for not going to church and priests anymore* (although I still believe in God). As I already said, a whole age died together with my grandfather – and I’m afraid that its values and virtues died too.
* In fact, there are other reasons, too. For example, if you are an Orthodox Christian and usually go to Church, you don’t want to know – believe me! – what my grandfather said about our two last Patriarchs (that is, Teoctist and Daniel) and about their relationships with the Securitate (The Romanian Communist Intelligence Service). Another reason is that two of his colleagues, who attended his funeral, behaved like anything else, but priests. One of them was asking me, while my grandfather’s coffin was still in the church, whether I accept to pay a fine he took while driving in Budapest (!!!!). The other one, who was leading the funeral service while we were going to the grave, was talking at the mobile phone!!! The latter said, just two years before, that my grandfather is like a spiritual father for him…..