Father Nicolae Georgescu-Edineț, a frontier priest

There is undoubtedly a vocation to the frontier, to the place where things mix and collide. The inhabitants of the edges of the world, who are in a constant state of tension, have simpler and more radical ideas than those who, from the centre, look at things in a more relaxed way, less concerned with the clear demarcation of things. 

Nicolae Georgescu-Edineț has managed to bring the vocation of the frontier to the heart of the Romanian capital.

With firm, unequivocal convictions about the destiny of the Romanian nation and the mission of the priest in national life, the priest has been shaking up church life and beyond for decades, for better or worse, but driven by the good intention that Romanians should no longer be a numb and identity-less nation. 

Nicolae Georgescu was born on 27 November 1891 into the family of the priest Toma Georgescu from Vălenii de Munte. Continuing the family tradition, he attended the Central Seminary in Bucharest and then the Faculty of Theology. 

Mobilised on the fronts of the First World War, in the religious service of the Great Headquarters, the young theologian, on his return, worked for a time at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Arts, in charge of the theological seminaries. Later, in April 1925, his desire to become a priest was fulfilled and he was ordained a priest in the parish of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Filipești Târg, Prahova County. 

On the banks of the Dniester 

On 1 September 1925, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Public Instruction, which was in charge of the theological seminaries, appointed Father Georgescu director of the theological seminary at Edineț, in the diocese of Hotin. The local bishop, Father Visarion Puiu, entrusted him with the parish of Voronovița, 30 km from Edineț. 

Coming from an ethnically homogeneous region of the country, where “Romanianism” was as natural as possible, Nicolae Georgescu found himself in a completely new situation in the Hotin area. There were places where Romanians were a minority or where Romanian values were insufficiently promoted. Wanting to contribute to the affirmation of the Romanian nation and values in the area, Father Georgescu engaged in this struggle with the excessive zeal of the newly converted, who had no other understanding of the people of the border area, who, although more tenacious in preserving their own traditions, had a highly developed sense of neighbourliness towards the “other”, due to the permanent state of relativity of the situation of the region in which they lived. 

Not understanding this side of frontier life and the fact that the situation in the Hotin area was different from that in Prahova, Nicolae Georgescu, as director of the seminary, initiated large-scale nationalist demonstrations in which he involved the seminary students and the inhabitants of Edineț. Based on correct premises (the Romanian nation as the creator of the state, the affirmation of Romanianism in an area where Romanians had been denationalised), this movement initiated by Father Georgescu nevertheless caused great unrest, a fact correctly intuited by the Bishop Visarion Puiu, who asked him to stop, although he himself was a great nationalist. 

When Father Georgescu refused to obey the hierarch’s order, he had him defrocked on 1 February 1927. Nicolae Georgescu appealed against the censure to the Metropolitan Consistory of Iași, on which the diocese of Hotin depended for ecclesiastical justice. It found that Father Georgescu had acted as a seminary director under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and not as a priest under the authority of the hierarch. For this reason, the sentence of defrocking was annulled and replaced by the punishment of “archpriestly counselling and admonition”, so that later the Holy Synod, in agreement with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, would also decide to remove Father Georgescu from his position as director of the seminary. 

Returning to Filipeștii de Pădure for a short time, in 1928 Nicolae Georgescu was assigned to the parish of St. Anton-Curtea Veche in the capital (he became parish priest in 1929). From now on he would sign his name Nicolae Georgescu-Edineț, to distinguish himself from other Bucharest priests with the name Georgescu, but also in memory of the Romanian countryside that had so influenced him.

In the heart of Bucharest 

The parish of Curtea Veche was in some ways reminiscent of Edineț. There were only 14 Romanian Orthodox families in the parish, the rest belonging to other religions or ethnic groups. For this reason, Father Nicolae welcomed the idea that the church of “Saint Anton-Curtea Veche” should become a meeting place for the students from Bucharest and that he should act as their spiritual director. The testimonies of his contemporaries show that the priest was totally involved in this activity, becoming a true spiritual father of a restless and restless generation that dreamed of a great destiny for the Romanian nation. Nothing could be more fitting for Father Georgescu, who fed on the energy of these young people and gave himself to them, becoming for many of them a true member of the family. 

Encouraged by the idea of a Christian Romania, the Bucharest students saw in the crossless tomb of the Unknown Hero the symbol of a new paganism, of a departure from the Christian tradition of our nation. Rejecting the argument that the tomb was a symbol of all those who had sacrificed for Romania, regardless of ethnicity or denomination, the students continued to campaign for a cross to be placed on the Hero’s grave.

The initiative took shape on 24 January 1932. The marble cross, made from the students’ donations, was consecrated by Father Georgescu-Edineț, who then led the procession to the tomb of the Unknown Hero in Carol Park, together with other personalities.

Here the demonstrators were met by the gendarmes, who were ready to retaliate. It is said that, in front of this sight, “the priest Georgescu-Edineț, with the cross in his arms, knelt down in front of the weapons loaded for killing, saying: ‘If it is for the cross that blood must flow, I want to be the first to give it to myself with joy'”. The whole crowd knelt down with their priest”. Without waiting too long, the gendarmes brutally intervened, the priest Nicolae was injured and arrested, with the intention of sending him before the judges.

“Hero of the Cross” or criminal? 

The situation has caused great upset among the clergy, led by Patriarch Miron Cristea. He condemned the over-zealousness of the authorities who, in the face of an outpouring of public sympathy, released Father Georgescu from custody and he will be tried in his freedom. On 29 January, Father Georgescu led a delegation to lay a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Hero, with the blessing of Patriarch Miron, who called him a “hero of the cross”. 

The trial dragged on for years until 1938, when King Charles II decided to remove the student body from the influence of the Legionaries. Nicolae Georgescu-Edineț was arrested on the night of 16-17 April 1938 and interned in the Tismana camp. He was tried on 17 June 1938, along with 20 others, for alleged participation in the events of 1932 and for alleged involvement in various legionary activities. He was charged with “conspiracy against the social order” and “participation in an illegal political organisation”. 

In his testimony, the priest said: “I did not organise any legionary commemorations. As part of my mission, I held masses for everyone, not just for the Legionaries. There was no propaganda in the church, first of all because the Legionaries did not ask me to do it and I did not allow it. I don’t know where it was concluded that I was a legionnaire, especially that the legionnaires were surprised by what I was doing among them. I wasn’t interested in political colour, I was interested in the order I had to work with”.

In the end, the priest was acquitted of “conspiracy against the social order”, but sentenced to one year in prison for “participation in an illegal political organisation”. With characteristic tenacity, Father Nicolae lodged several appeals. Finally, in April 1939, the Military Court of Cassation and Justice upheld his appeal and he was pardoned by royal decree. 

Nicolae Georgescu was then able to return to his parish, where he served quietly until 17 December 1945, when the new authorities interned those considered to be legionary leaders in camps. 

An “administrative” death 

After his release, the priest was arrested again in the spring of 1952 and sent by administrative order to a work unit (of the type later known as work colonies) for “re-education”. Shortly after his arrest, however, Nicolae Georgescu-Edineț died. This fact is recorded in Certificate No. 225/1952, issued by the Jilava Prison Medical Service, which states that Georges died in the prison infirmary on 21 May 1952 of “decompensated heart failure with generalised oedema”.  

This was the end of a life lived in the context of the great upheavals and searches of the Romanian nation at the beginning of the 20th century. Beyond Father Georgescu’s achievements and mistakes, the fundamental idea of the fight against indifference and inertia and the objective fact that everywhere there are frontiers, even where we see only the centre, remain.

(George Enache – Ziarul Lumina, electronic edition of 29 May 2010)

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