Father Constantin Galeriu

Orthodox priest who spoke out against the Communist regime in Romania
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The Independent Online

Constantin Galeriu, priest: born Racatau-Razesi, Romania 21 November 1918; ordained priest 1943; married (four sons); died Bucharest 10 August 2003.

Amid the ideological, psychological and religious ruins of the violent end to the regime of the Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989, Constantin Galeriu provided a voice of morality, vision and courage.

A prominent Orthodox theologian and priest, he had made his Bucharest church a haven in the 1980s for those seeking a spiritual leader who resisted the compromises that many Orthodox leaders made with the Communist regime. His thoughtful and incisive sermons were as attractive to intellectuals and students as to ordinary believers.

As the Ceausescu regime fell, Galeriu was instantly in demand as a television commentator and interviewee. He was an outspoken democrat, arguing that the Trinity provided a model of democracy for Christians. He successfully lobbied for religion to be restored to the school curriculum.

The political atmosphere darkened with the rise of the neo- Communist National Salvation Front, led by Ion Iliescu, and Galeriu sought to extricate the Orthodox Church - Romania's largest faith - from the recriminations and malaise that affected it.

Many were calling on Patriarch Teoctist and other compromised bishops to resign (Teoctist obliged - but soon changed his mind). Galeriu, a powerful figure in the Group of Reflection set up to work for reform within the Church, was cautious. He feared that if the bishops resigned they might be replaced by some who were even more compromised. Similarly, he opposed disclosure of the thousands of priests believed to have collaborated with the Communist-era secret police, the Securitate.

A vicious attack in July 1990 which left Galeriu with serious injuries failed to dent his commitment to moderation.

Unlike many in the Orthodox Church, he regarded the Byzantine-rite Catholics - who were banned throughout the Communist period - not as traitors to Orthodoxy but as fellow members of the same church. However, he drew the line at allowing them to regain all the churches confiscated by the Communists and handed to the Orthodox.

Born in a village in the Bacau region of north-eastern Romania, Constantin Galeriu entered seminary in 1930. As a gifted student, he went on to study at Bucharest University's Faculty of Theology, graduating in 1942. He was ordained priest in 1943, being sent to serve in Podul Valeni near Ploesti. In 1947 he was transferred to a parish in Ploesti, where he would serve until 1973.

His service was interrupted for a month in 1950 when he was imprisoned by the Communists for giving religious instruction to children. He was arrested again in August 1952 and sentenced to forced labour on the Black Sea Canal, where thousands of political prisoners toiled and died. He was not freed again until October the following year.

After release he resumed his academic studies, taking a doctorate in 1960 and a further doctorate in 1973. That year Galeriu joined the staff of the Theological Institute in Bucharest, gaining a prominent role as a lecturer and later as a professor.

Although he tried to stay out of party politics in post-Ceausescu Romania, he was more sympathetic to the non-Communists. When President Emil Constantinescu came to power in 1996, Galeriu publicly prayed with him.

His often bitter experiences never led him to seek vengeance. "I do not think of them as my enemies," he later declared of those who imprisoned him in the 1950s. "I do not consider anyone my enemy except myself."

Felix Corley

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