From the Rumanian Orthodox Church to the Catholic Faith

By James Likoudis

Few American Catholics know that one of the major purposes of the Second Vatican Council was to prepare for the restoration of the Eastern Orthodox churches to Catholic unity. On many occasions, Pope John Paul II has made it clear that unity with the Byzantine Greco-Slav churches is perhaps the highest priority of his Pontificate. In this fervent hope can be found the echo of many saintly souls across the centuries who sought to heal the wounds of the most formidable schism in Christian history. One of them was the famous Msgr. Vladimir Glika, born a Rumanian prince, who became a Catholic priest and died a martyr in a Communist concentration camp.

This holy priest is the subject of a new book (in French) entitled: Prince and Martyr: Msgr. Vladimir Ghika — Apostle of the Danube, by Helene Danubia. Brought up in a Rumanian Orthodox family, he made his profession of Catholic faith in 1902 after moving to France and studying in Paris. He soon became known among the Catholic elite in that city, which included Jacques and Raissa Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Rene Bazin, and Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. In an interview published in L'Homme Nouveau (Jan 16, 1994), Madame Danubia remarked:

Msgr. Ghika was truly exceptional...He was a great noble figure. But his demeanor was so simple. I could compare him to St. Francis of Assisi. His poverty, his simplicity, his goodness, his gift of self to all were exceptional qualities, given his noble birth. All that he had he gave away like St. Francis and St. Martin of Tours. He could have lived all his life in royal splendor. He was a real Rumanian prince. He was born in Constantinople in 1873 of a phanariot [phanar: site where the patriarch of Constantinople lives] Greek family. His very being reflected his Greek and Rumanian ancestry.

When Prince Ghika was five years of age, his family moved to France after living two years in Moldavia. Some years afterwards, Prince Ghika felt the appeal of the spiritual life offered by a Church other than the Rumanian Orthodox. Although he was a descendent of Rumanian royalty, Prince Ghika became a Catholic. When he did so, it unleashed a veritable tempest. Princess Alexsandrine, his mother, considered it a calamity. The newspapers treated him as a renegade, as if he had committed a crime. He meekly accepted this criticism and continued to deepen his faith in God, which prepared him for his vocation to the priesthood and, much later, his embrace of martyrdom. As a Catholic, the prince loved Rumanian Orthodoxy; he respected it. That is why he often said, "I became a Catholic in order to become a better Orthodox."

Msgr. Ghika also played a "decisive role" in Madame Danubia's own reception into the Catholic Church:

I was sixteen when I began my medical studies at the University of Geneva. At that time I had both Swiss and Rumanian citizenship papers. Today, I no longer possess Rumanian citizenship. I renounced it after I was condemned to ten years in prison by the then-Communist regime. I was accused of espionage for the Vatican and was at the end of my studies that I found myself confronted by the choice: to become Catholic or to remain Orthodox. I knew Msgr. Ghika was in Paris. Our families were close. We met at the headquarters of the Foreign Missions on the Rue de Bac. He received me as if I were his own child. "I understand you very well," he told me. He himself has waited a very long time before seeking ordination in order not to distress further his mother, Princess Alexandrine. She had actually gone to see the Pope to ask him to prevent her son from being a priest; he became a priest only after his mother's death. He proceeded to encourage me: "Do not fear. Accept your crossing over, even if it means you will be treated as a turncoat. Speak to the good God in your heart. Accept everything. Be a Catholic in order to be a better Orthodox." This saying was his motto.

Madame Danubia made some interesting comments concerning the great obstacles encountered by Eastern Orthodox seeking to become Catholics:

Passing over to Catholicism offends the Orthodox' sense of nationalism. Thus, if you are an Orthodox who becomes a Catholic, you are no longer, say, Russian. I am from a Russian family as Msgr. Ghika was of a Greek family. Thus, you are no longer Greek, you are no longer Rumanian, and so on. As soon as you embrace the Catholic religion, you are regarded as having lost in some manner the right to your nationality. You are, in effect, a traitor. The Orthodox do not wish to understand that one can be Catholic and yet love Rumania...Msgr. Ghika gave his life for the union of the separated to the sheepfold, to Rome. This was the purpose of his own spiritual journey to the Catholic Church. This changed nothing of his love for Rumania. If Msgr. Ghika is beatified, it will be as a blessed, a saint, and a Rumanian martyr who realized in his own person the union of the Byzantine-rite churches with Rome.

Madame Danubia's book contains some precious information concerning the intellectual and religious influence exerted by Msgr. Ghika in Paris and Bucharest, as well as the terrible suffering and torture he endured in a Rumanian Communist gulag before his death in 1952. Called the "Apostle of the Danube" (whose beatification is being considered), Msgr. Ghika belongs to the "cloud of witnesses" to the Catholic unity of the Church, a man who foreshadowed the final healing of a disastrous schism so injurious to Christian peoples.

In preparation for the Great jubilee of the year 2000, Pope John Paul II has called upon all Catholics to plead with our Blessed Lord for the unity of all baptized Christians. Surely, the members of CUF should be foremost in such supplication.

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Helene Danubia's book: Prince et Martyr: l'Apôtre du Danube - Tequi, 1993.

James Likoudis' Ending the Byzantine Schism is perhaps the best work on Catholic Apolegetics dealing with the dogmatic differences between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy. This classic may be obtained directly from the author, P.O. Box 852, Montour Falls, N.Y. 14865 for $17.95 (includes shipping and handling).

This article appeared in CUF's "LAY WITNESS" magazine, Jan./Feb. 1996