Interview with Fr. Pantelimon of Ghighiu about Father Arsenie Boca
By Claudiu Târziu
Words and Examples for One’s Spiritual Awakening
– Do you remember any particular advice that Fr. Arsenie Boca would give to people?
– Father Arsenie could see that people loved him and he was afraid they might fall into idolatry. He used to tell everyone: “You all come here for useful advice and then expect me to save you, but I cannot do that. I can only wake you up from the sins you have been living in. Because this life is short and the other one is eternal and I wouldn’t want to see you cry on the Judgement Day”.
This is why Father Arsenie wouldn’t let people kiss his hand. And yet, he would allow some to do that.
Once, I asked him why he would let some of the people who would come to see him, kiss his hand.
He told me: “These ones see me for their last time.”
They were from among those who opposed communism and who died afterwards up in the mountains or in prisons.
– Did you ever see Fr. Arsenie get agry?
– No. He had the serenity of a great prayer. But when something would upset him, he would only frown a little – but his face would never turn angry. And if you were guilty, he would look at you and you’d feel that you couldn’t hide anything from him.
– Was it sheer authority, or was it love, too?
– As I said before, if you knew Fr. Arsenie, you would feel his love. He was like those peasants who kiss their children only when they’re asleep. When you’d do something wrong, he wouldn’t raise his voice, but he would just look at you in a certain way. Just as when you deserved to be praised — he wouldn’t make a big case about how well you had done, he’d only look at you and you knew that you deserved to be praised.
– Did you ever see him cry?
– Yes. He would cry when he was praying. Once, I caught him in his cell with tears running down his face. Then I also saw him tearful at the altar, during the Liturgy. He would cry for people’s sins. He was suffering for the fact that people wouldn’t do the right things and thus turn away from God’s Face.
– Father Arsenie is considered to be a Saint, especially by the people of Transylvania. Why is there such a cult for Father Arsenie, in Transylvania?
– Because of his good deeds. He was exactly according to the word of God. He took people out of darkness. He taught them how to live according to God’s teachings. The people felt his love for them. Because he was good seed; and that seed, which Fr. Arsenie sowed has been bearing fruit to this day.
– How would he speak: directly or through examples?
– Most often, Fr. Arsenie would speak about sins openly, he would speak about them in public, but the issues of a more personal nature, he would talk about them through examples. He used to tell the sins of some directly, so that the others could hear and learn. After the Liturgy, many people would gather in the monastery yard and Fr. Arsenie would walk through and stop and exchange a few words with each of them.
– Once, a woman told him: “Father, things aren’t going well for me at all”. And he said:
“I know, but you know why, too; remember the ones you have killed.” – The woman had had several abortions.
Another time, a young man and a girl came to him and asked him to give them his blessing, so that they could marry each other; Fr. Arsenie told them not to, because they were brother and sister and that they would go through much suffering if they did that sin. They didn’t believe him and they got married, had three children and one of them was deaf and dumb and two were possessed.
– You were confessed by His Holiness. How was he as a confessor Priest, was he tough, or was he lenient?
– He was very patient. He wouldn’t confess anyone and wouldn’t give penance. Because he knew that you can do your penance in a formal way while your mind would continue to live in sin. Whereas if he didn’t give you penance, but you’d be truly sorry for your sins, you’d have more zeal for prayer and would refrain from sinning, better.
– Were there also people who would doubt Father Arsenie?
– Yes, there were. There are always people like that. Once, a peasant swore at some people who were going to Fr. Arsenie – and the moment he did that, his mouth got wry in a funny way and stayed like that. He was no longer able to open it – not even for as much as a glass of water. The people took him to the monastery and when the Father approached the cart in which this unfortunate fellow was, he asked him: “Hey, man, what has that guy, Arsenie, done to you? Come on, open your mouth and tell me!” And the man was instantly able to open his mouth and speak, then he fell to his knees and started crying and saying how sorry he was for the things he had said.
A Miracle of Fr. Arsenie, After His Death
– How long did you stay around Father Arsenie?
– Not too much; for about a year, because he was arrested, afterwards. Later on, we were arrested, too – myself and five other monks, because we didn’t want to leave the monastery and hence were considered “mystical agitators”.
– Do you know how Fr. Arsenie was arrested?
– One day, five men from the Security came, together with an attorney. But Fr. Arsenie had known beforehand that they would come to pick him up, because that was his gift. And when they arrived, he met them with the words: ”You guys, I know why you’ve come, but why don’t you go back home, because if the people see that you’re taking me away, they’ll chase you off with stones. I’ll come to you myself, tomorrow morning.”
The guys didn’t say anything, they just left with their heads down.
– Were they afraid of him?
– Maybe not. But they were afraid of the people possibly rioting, because it was early in the period of terror; the worse hadn’t started yet, it was around ’48, when they weren’t sure how the people would react and there were already rumors about the partisans in the mountains. Fr. Arsenie knew about the partisans, as he would help them and receive them for confession. Maybe the Security guys were afraid of the partisans, too.
– Did you see Fr. Arsenie again later on?
– Yes, all the time, until the end. After he got out of prison, Fr. Arsenie was taken under Patriarch Justinian’s protection… He was painting the Maicilor Skete (*in Bucharest) and that’s where I saw him again for the first time after he came out of prison. And once, when I was talking to him, he told me, all of a sudden: “You go home, in Făgăraş, and start badmouthing me, [you hear?] – and if you don’t badmouth me, don’t come back here to see me, any more!” I asked him what I should say.
And he said: “That’s ok, you’ll think of something.” (What he meant was that we all knew how to badmouth, if we wanted to.) I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t do what he had asked me to.
– And what did he say later on, when you saw him again?
– He was painting – and as I opened the door, he told me: “I told you not to come back to me any more if you didn’t badmouth me.” I replied: “Well, if I had badmouthed you, Father, you wouldn’t have seen me any more.” ”Why?” “Because they would have broken my head.” He laughed.
– What was the reason for this test?
– I think there were two reasons: first, to find out how the people felt about him, whether they’d stand up for him if they heard someone say anything bad about him… And then, to see if I had kept my sound judgement after having come out of prison.
– Have you ever experienced any miracle that was related to the Father’s spiritual power?
– Several, but I can’t talk about them, because people wouldn’t understand. He told me once:
“You [all] come to me, I give you advice, but you also expect miracles. But let me tell you this: I will help you more after I have gone to the Lord, than I do now.” And he was right. I have always felt his help after he passed away. And I lived a miracle, three years ago. I went to the Commemoration that they hold for Fr. Arsenie every year at the Prislop Monastery. I had not been there before so I had set my mind on going there and serving the Liturgy before I [get too old and] die. It was very beautiful.
At about 4 in the afternoon, I left to go back to Bucharest, with somebody who had a car. It was only the driver and myself. But throughout our way back, we felt like there was someone else with us in the car, in the backseat. And I can honestly state that the car didn’t touch the ground until we arrived here in Bărcăneşti. (*village outside Bucharest)
– What do you mean?
– It was like floating… We got back in three hours, although when we had left to get there, we had driven for eight hours. On our way back, we came across stops, accidents, but we didn’t stop, we drove through all of them as if we were going through the air. I was looking at the driver and was wondering, why does he cross on the red light, is he asleep? He didn’t say anything; neither did I. It was like we were both afraid to speak. When we got closer to the Monastery here in Bărcăneşti, we could hear how the car was [finally] running on the ground.
And the driver said: “Our car is running on the ground.” I asked him: “My good man, what did you feel?”
He said: “I felt like there’s been someone in the backseat; that’s all. I wasn’t the one driving all the way up here; all I know is that the car went by itself”. At that point I heard a voice in the back: “That’s as far as I will accompany you.” When I turned around to see who had been talking, there was nobody.
– Have you told this to anyone else?
– No, because today’s people don’t believe any more.
– What is the most valuable teaching that you are left with from Father Arsenie?
– We should be prepared for the moment of our death by the way in which we lead our lives here, so that we can give a good answer at the Last Judgement. And through the courage of our confession, we should tell the truth, come what may. I have listened to him, which is why I was put in prison.
– Were you ready to die?
– Yes. I am now, too.