Calin Ilea – Volunteer for God

“I’m from Romania and I’m proud,” says father Pavel Gheorghe. He is the priest of a small orthodox parish in Chicago. He does not get paid for what he does as the priests from Romania do.


Pavel Gheorghe brings the the light of Christ from the altar during the 2009 Easter ceremony at the Saint Andrew Orthodox Church in Chicago.


Pavel volunteers his time for the Saint Andrew’s church and many times he can be seen talking on the phone with the people that have him as their confessor. To support his family Pavel has a job as a building engineer.

The church is very important in the dynamics of the Romanian community in Chicago. Every Sunday morning people get ready and go to church. There is a big difference in the way Saint Andrews looks compared with the traditional orthodox churches from Romania but the place gathers people as family.

The Easter service is the most important one in the orthodox calendar. The mass goes on well into the night and has several symbolic steps. In one of them the priest brings out a burning candle form the altar and invites the parishioner to take the light, the light of Christ. It symbolizes the words of the Jesus Christ “I am the light of the world.” When someone lights that candle it means that he accepts the way of Jesus Christ.

In such occasions, to be a priest can be very exhausting. At the end of the day, Pavel is happy to have his family’s support. When his daughter was a young girl she asked him: “Daddy you go every day to church. When will you have time for me?” Pavel answered: “Daddy does not neglect you because when he goes to church he prays to the Lord for you. This means that you are always on my mind.”


Easter is one the most important Orthodox celebrations during the year and the ceremony has very specific moments such as receiving the light of Christ from the priest, circling three times the Church or knocking on the Church’s doors that represent the doors of heaven.




Pavel Gheorghe is a volunteer Priest for the Saint Andrew Church. For the Romanians in Chicago, the Church is a center point of the community that has not just a worship role but also represents a place for networking, communal activities, traditional festivities and religious celebrations.




Because of the size of the Church there is no specific place for the confessions and many times they take place in front of the altar. People tend to go trough this private moment more often before or during important Orthodox celebrations such as Easter or Christmas




The hands of Pavel Gheorghe show the marks of his day job. He works as a building engineer in downtown Chicago.




Pavel Gheorghe can be seen talking on the phone many times. He always talks with his parishioners about their problems and offers advice. His wife in the background is very supportive: “I couldn’t do it without my family”, said Gheorghe.




On important occasions such as Easter or Christmas the Church offers meals for their parishioners. Pavel Gheorghe makes sure that no food is left at the end and gives away to the participants any extra food that remains.




Pavel Gheorghe is found alone picking up cigarette buts in front of the Church the second day of Easter. He sometimes complains that people forget the importance of the this specific day and instead of coming to Church they prefer to stay home with their families.


Volunteer for God is one several stories covered by Calin Ilea in his project A Romanian American Experience in Chicago. The purpose of this project is to add to the understanding of the Romanian immigrant life in Chicago based on an extended photo documentary.

Calin Ilea is a freelance photographer based in Cluj Napoca, Romania. You can follow him on Facebook or twitter.