Among the many religious pastors in Galway, Fr Tudor Ghita of the Romanian Orthodox church is surely one of the most remarkable. We had first arranged to meet in the bar of NUIG, because Fr Tudor works as a kitchen porter there. An apologetic phone call from him told me he could not meet because he was required to serve as a translator at a court case. And when I suggested we might meet or chat later he informed me he was working for a local pizza company from teatime onwards. It is all a far cry from the nine to five routines of our Catholic priests.
When I did get to catch up with Fr Tudor and his hectic life schedule I began by asking where he hailed from and when he first got a religious vocation; “My family are from Bucovina near the border of Ukraine,” he tells me. “There was no specific moment when I knew I wanted to be a priest. When I finished high school I decided to do the exams in theological school and they were very hard. I did not get them in my first year but in my second year I was in top 20 of 100 people so God helped me with that. It was not my dream to be a priest; I think God had a plan for me. That region of Romania I came from people believe deep in their souls and respect all the saints, they have a strong faith in religion, and I got that from my parents and grandparents, they were important examples for me. I am not a saint, but I have to do what God requires of me.”
I ask to what extent religion was oppressed in Romania during the Communist era; “After World War II, the Russian Communists took over Romania and put lots of intellectuals and priests in prison, many of them died there,” Fr Tudor replies. “They destroyed the intellectual elite. Patriach Iustinian Marina stood up to the Communists up to 1989 and kept the Orthodox Church alive. Up to 1989 the church was the only place people could find peace; the political pressure was very bad but the churches kept the faith in people despite the persecution of the communist era. And now the only place you don’t feel alone is where you can go talk with God; that is the thing about the church.”
The split between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic church in Rome occurred in 1054. Fr Tudor mentions some of the differences between the faiths; “There are some deep theological differences that I will not go into. The Orthodox church recognizes the Pope as a bishop but not as the head of all churches. We also use Communion bread with yeast while the Catholic church uses bread with no yeast. Another difference is to do with the belief around the Trinity; the Orthodox church says the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father while the Catholic church professes it comes from the Father and the Son.”
Fr Tudor tells me how he came to Galway; “I was sent here by Metropolitan Joseph, in connection with Patriarch Joseph in Bucharest. I first came to Ireland in 2006, I had worked as a teacher in Romania in primary and high school. When I came to Ireland I was working in construction. As a priest you have to be married, and I was not then married but I was singing in the church in Dublin, and I asked if I could be anointed as a priest and then I got married to my lovely wife Paula. I was then made deacon and later became a priest and was asked to go to Galway, from 2010 I travelled to Galway and Limerick every weekend. It was hard to start with, I had to go to Tuam to get food tickets for SuperValu, then I got a job delivering pizza, then I got another job as kitchen porter in NUIG bar. Now I go to Sligo, Athlone, and Limerick. Our Easter liturgy is biggest feast in our calendar and worshippers will travel here to Galway from miles away.”
As we approach the festival of Christmas, I ask Fr Tudor how that holy celebration is marked in his church; “The priest and people have to pray together,” he replies. “I try to make people sing. The Orthodox liturgy is continual singing, it is a dialogue between the priest and the congregation and I like to get people to sing because the songs are very nice and we have a long tradition in Romania of singing carols. There is a custom there of children going from door to door singing carols, and adults also go in groups of 20 or 30, I remember doing it in school. It was nice spreading the word of God through song from house to house. I want to do that here and I drive round with children going around houses to sing.”
Given that Fr Tudor has to work two day jobs, how does he find the time to fulfil his priestly duties? “I have to manage my time very well,” he answers with a warm laugh. “At this time of year people want me to bless their houses, they call me, I have my priest robes in the car, and I jump in my car and go. My boss lets me off early when I tell him I am needed. I remember my longest trek was someone in the north of the country died of a heart attack and I had to drive for four hours to be there but I enjoy doing this work. I do sport and fitness and try to keep healthy, I am 39, and I love to read David’s psalms from the Old Testament; they are deep literature.”
Fr Tudor concludes with an expression of gratitude for the Church of Ireland and St Nicholas’s church which hosts Romanian Orthodox services. “I could not do my work without the support of the Church of Ireland, Reverend Gary Hastings, and Katherine Moore, and Bishop Patrick Rooke. They called me and offered me a slot. We do not have money so without their support we could not do anything. God wants to pray, not to build, but the Church of Ireland here in Galway are so open; they help me so much. All our faiths can help each other.”