The Romanian Orthodox Church has exhumed the body of the priest George Calciu, seven years after his death. They have discovered that the body has not decayed — you can see video here from Romanian TV (don’t worry, it’s not gory; you can see his bare feet, though).
To the Orthodox, this confirms Father George’s sanctity. Not every saint’s body is incorrupt, but every incorrupt body (it is believed) belongs to a saint. To be clear, you didn’t need to see an incorrupt body to know that Father George was a holy man. He suffered unimaginable horrors for the faith at the hands of Ceaucescu. The video I’ve embedded above is the first 10 minutes of a documentary about the Romanian gulag. It is terrifying — and most of us Americans have no idea about it. Father George speaks at about the four-minute mark.
Earlier this year, I quoted from an interview with Father George in which he spoke of the witness of Constantin Oprisan, a fellow inmate. It gives you a glimpse of what life was like for the prisoners of the communists. Elsewhere, Wesley J. Smith recalls Father George’s example:
Fr. George’s faith was more mature and well formed than during his first imprisonment, and this time, despite beatings, torture, and deprivation, he did not break. At one point, he was so exhausted from unremitting interrogation that he could not even recall the Lord’s Prayer. “Then I remembered that there is a prayer to Jesus Christ: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’ . . . I was no longer scared . . . and I was able to resist.”
He spent years in solitary. He knew nothing of his family, and they, nothing of him. One night, Fr. George heard the joyful peal of many church bells: It was Easter. Early the next morning, the worst guard in the prison—who delighted in torture—entered the priest’s cell. He should have turned his face to the wall. Instead, Fr. George looked his tormenter boldly in the eye and proclaimed, “Christ is risen!” Rather than delivering a blow, the guard paused, and blurted out, “In Truth He is Risen!” and nervously backed out of the cell.
That was when Fr. George experienced a vision of what Orthodox theology calls the Uncreated Light:
He shut the door and I was petrified, because of what he had said. And little by little, I saw myself full of Light. The board against the wall was shining like the sun; everything in my cell was full of light. I cannot explain in words the happiness that invaded me then. I can explain nothing. It simply happened. I have no merit.
When Fr. George was put in a cell with two criminals ordered to murder him, he instead converted them to Christ. By this time, Ceauescu was under pressure from Western leaders to not harm the dissenting priest. As a consequence, he was released to house arrest in 1984, and the next year exiled to America where he spent the rest of his life in freedom.
Fr. Calciu lived what he preached. He did not hate his persecutors. Rather, he prayed for them daily and trusted in God’s mercy for their salvation. He also found joy. In her introduction to the book, Frederica Mathewes-Green, one of Calciu’s spiritual children writes of Fr. Calciu, “He had a beaming smile. He was often amused by life, and ready to laugh. . . . Fr. George was joyful. . . . He was naturally affectionate, and would hold my hand or anyone’s . . . just beaming with a radiant smile.”
So, again, if the exhumation had discovered a skeleton, it would have made no difference; we know from his life and his words that Father George was a holy man. But now we have an incorrupt body — that is, a body that was not embalmed, but is in a perfect, or near-perfect, state of preservation. What do you do with that fact?
If you’re Orthodox, you know what incorruptibility means. Same if you’re Catholic; there are incorrupt Catholic saints. If you’re in Paris, for example, go to the convent church on the rue du Bac, and see the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Labouré. Over 50 years after her death, the Catholic Church exhumed the mystic’s body, and found it had not decayed. You can see it now on display in a glass coffin under an altar at the rue du Bac church.
That one’s a great example, actually, of a theological challenge posed to both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. St. Catherine is most known for having received alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary, declaring herself “the Immaculate Conception.” Orthodox Christianity rejects the doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin. Yet Orthodoxy produces incorrupt saints as well. Sanctity does not ultimately depend on perfect theological orthodoxy, it would seem. I bet if you exhumed the graves of particularly holy Protestants, there would be some incorrupt bodies among them.
Anyway, the important thing is not this apparent miracle involving the preservation of Father George’s body. The important thing is what this miracle points to, which is the life he led, and the One for whom he led it.