Chapter 9 // Contents // Chapter 11
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
In the autumn of 1957, young George Pap went to Grenwald, near Munich, where all the new members of the order were attending courses in scholastic philosophy. The level of the course was very high as the lecturers of the course were famous throughout the world. They also stayed at the "Large House", together with the one hundred and fifty students and the reservist brothers. The college was situated in a picturesque forest. The students spent their time walking through the forest or visiting the various libraries in Munich or riding their bicycles to the "Country House, " situated next to a beautiful lake. Here, they would often pass the time satirizing everything and everyone (which included the officials who were in charge of the "Country House"). Their holidays were spent around the Alps.
But there was a problem that caused confusion amongst the students, and this was the fact that each lecturer had his own method of teaching, which often contradicted each other. They often tried to "prove" everything. It was a well known fact that according to Tommaso d'Acquino (12th Century Italian theologian, philosopher and a saint in the Catholic Church), there were five different proofs to indicate that God existed. One lecturer had even written a five-page reasoning of one of these almost mathematical "proofs." If proof of the existence of God was so clear cut, then why are there so many atheists in the world? There is a poem in Hungarian literature that describes how the ghosts of the people who had committed suicide lured desperate young people towards the waters of the Danube and, using their destructive example of suicide, swept them into a bottomless pit. George's thoughts were continuously filled with the never-ending number of unbelievers he knew from Hungary, and he felt himself being emotionally disturbed by the weaknesses of scholastic philosophy. These feelings shook his faith and a touch of atheism crept into his soul. When he was in Hungary, it had become almost second nature for him to doubt and to question a society filled with atheists.
Even now, living in a society with so many believers, he still found himself doubting everything. He used to hear people say that the existence of "possible beings" - in other words, beings who may or may not exist - presupposes the existence of a different Being, an all-supreme God, exactly as the example of a string of train carriages, which presupposes an engine to lead them and to pull them. But, he pondered, couldn't people believe that each "carriage" had it's own engine - in other words, the All-Supreme was the sum of all the possible beings and not just one separate God? Many students of scholastic philosophy found themselves facing this question.
It was natural that George Pap was not the only person who discovered disparities in the Catholic teachings. One of his closest friends and an honours student, Nick Kirty, was forced to desert his religious calling after having these doubts. Nick had written to a schoolfriend in Belgium, who was on his deathbed: "If there is something after death, send me a sign to believe it". After his death, several of his books were found by George to be in the possession of friends in Germany. George used to leaf through them hoping to find something of interest. One phrase remained in his mind: "You, monster!" Isn't this then... an ironic miracle?
Another example was one of their teachers, who took off his cassock when he stopped believing, the reason being the weaknesses found in the arguments put forth by the scholars of this philosophy. This teacher, an expert in Modern Physics, grew up schooled in the teachings of scholastic philosophy; therefore, most of the arguments he used to prove the Christian faith were borrowed from science. Consequently, most of these arguments broke down. The Orthodox theologians displayed their happiness whenever contemporary physics disproved the old classical theory on the creation of matter (creation of the world). On the other hand, the poor teacher, who had based all his reasonings on the scholastic "objectivity of the external world", while believing that the existence or creation of God could be proved by using syllogisms of the creation of the world, lost his faith. The theory of relativity and also the fact that this behaviour of matter was dependent of the judgement of the researcher caused great scandal amongst the scholars of scholastic philosophy. On the other hand, the characteristics of Orthodox Theology which authenticated various extreme thoughts and facts, could include all these facts and present them in a manner mainly mysterious and Christian.
With all this upheaval, George found himself having a vague feeling of uncertainty. He lived and based his religion mainly on emotions and not on logic. At the school, there was a teacher who happened to be a Greek-reformist priest. Many of the philosophy students used to frequent the small chapel he created nearby, filled with Byzantine icons. The choir which chanted the various Slavic hymns were heavenly, often giving concerts outside the college. There was also a small library near the Byzantine chapel, filled with religious books, books on Russian society and culture, and on dialectical materialism.
George tried to instigate a broad interest for Orthodoxy by organizing a series of courses on the Eastern Church, but without much success. The thoughts of the Jesuits were different from the Orthodox teachings; therefore, the members who attended these courses, and who later were to specialize in "Eastern" studies, were to become George's enemies.
On the whole, the students had only a superficial idea of Orthodox matters. One day, a student who used to frequent the Byzantine chapel, told George emphatically:
"I like the Byzantine liturgy, but I prefer the Latin service, which emphasizes the element of sacrifice in the service, which is very important for Christians".
George found himself thinking again. It was true that the Byzantine liturgy seemed to contain numerous prayers for the "seasonable weather, for the abundance of the fruits of the earth, for those who travel by water, for the afflicted, for captives", etc., and not enough on the death of the Saviour and on the Resurrection of Christ. He quickly found the solution. The most important part of the Eucharist, the account which contained a condensed version of the teachings of the salvation and had become, with the passing of time, a complete series of "mystical prayers", was ignored by the chapel priest. Out of the few but necessary liturgical reforms in Eastern Orthodoxy would be the high-pitched chanting of these prayers. George was later to discover that this account was loudly and joyously chanted by the priests in the various Orthodox parishes.
"It seems to me that the Catholic Church has become too monolithic, and probably needs to be decentralized, and also to re-evaluate the roles of the Eastern Patriarchs", George used to say to his fellow students. One day, his friend Nick Kirty mentioned an interesting item:
"I read that in the Middle East a group of Eastern Christians had joined with Rome to form the Maronites, and that they agree with the idea of decentralization that you are teaching us", he said to George.
Towards the end of the prelacy of Pope Pius XII (1876-1958), a Papal decree was passed which was not acceptable to the Maronites. George felt himself being justified by the reactions of the Maronites. It was during this period that George found himself with a split personality. He regarded himself a Greek-disciplined cleric of the Eastern Church, having a large majestic beard and a priest's cap, ready to fight for the rights of his local church. Wearing his Jesuit cassock made him feel guilty so he went to the college dean to discuss the system of the Catholic Church. The dean, being a conformant member of the Order, turned down George's arguments outright.
Being a passionate lover of the Orthodox Church and an expert in Russian, it seemed natural that George Pap was destined to continue his studies in related subjects. Who else in that school was more suited, more educated, more inclined to become a Greek-disciplined priest?
A person would have to go to Rome to attend these courses, but the Hungarian church officials voiced their objections concerning George, as did their respective counterparts in Austria. They rightly felt that this path could lead George to schizophrenia. One day, when it was too late to do anything, George yielded, saying that as their attitude was illogical.
But logic and truth were two completely different matters. George felt it was unfair that other, less-qualified students went on to study Eastern Courses, while he had been rejected. He then wrote a letter to a high-ranking official in Rome, setting out his dream. When an affirmative reply arrived, it seemed that all his dreams would come true.
Chapter 9 // Contents // Chapter 11
Page created: 5-7-2008.
Last update: 5-7-2008.