Chapter 10 // Contents // Chapter 12
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
Once George Pap finished his studies in philosophy, he firstly went to Saint Sigismund in the South Tyrol. This is where the students of Spassky College, who were studying to become Catholic priests in various Orthodox countries, spent their summer holidays. George enjoyed walking around the scenic paths of the Alps and listening to the Byzantine services. The college staff did not concern themselves with too many questions concerning Orthodox matters. But there was an elderly Polish priest at the college, Father Vronislav Saskievich, who was a member of the Jesuit Order and a Russian linguist. The father was very hostile towards the Orthodoxy and his fame had even reached George in Grenwald. He even criticized certain Catholic colleagues who liked the Orthodox people, calling them "pacifists". Contrary to the other Jesuit members, George was not mesmerised by the radiant and magnetic feeling emitted by the father. It was said that he became a Greek reformist against his will, as it was forced upon him by his superiors. The father himself did not seem to like the Byzantine form of services.
The elderly Father Saskievich and young George Pap did not get along at all. Down in the innermost part of his soul, George felt very close to these pacifists (some went on to become Orthodox priests), even though they were not members of his order.
Our young theologian discovered that he could probably make more friends outside the order rather than inside it. At St. Sigismundo therefore, he found himself feeling that the pacifists were his brothers.
A certain parish priest friend of George's once commented, with a smile in his voice:
"My, we used to believe up until now that the Jesuits were willingly educated to such a degree, they could hold up their pants without a belt, using only their will and faith! But you being here... that is, you..
Let no one imagine that the "pants" on our favourite young priest kept on falling down due to his lack of will or faith. Simply, whenever the Jesuits asked him to read out aloud a pious passage, George thought it was so funny he would burst out laughing.
It was still summer when he arrived in Rome. He gazed at the various sights with admiration as he wandered around the city, and soon left for the town of L'Aquila. This was where the college of St. Joseph was situated, where George would be learning Italian. The college was situated in a drab, dry area of central Italy, the surroundings giving him a feeling of sombreness. This sense of melancholy was further fuelled by the spiritual and intellectual emptiness hidden in most of his fellow Italian students. Every time they returned from their holidays, this emptiness caused George more and more suffering, but these were the people that commanded and dominated all matters having to do with Rome.
The theological lectures at the college began in October. Every morning, before leaving for the university which was situated elsewhere, the students would firstly meditate either in their rooms or by pacing the corridors outside; they would then attend the morning service. It seemed as if they wanted to meet the Holy Spirit every day:
"The wind bloweth where it wishes, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit" (John 3, 8).
George used to wake up in the morning feeling the way he did previously in Grenwald - an unbeliever. He wandered around the college as if he was just exercising his body. For hours on end, he tried to make himself believe that he was a Christian and a monk. The "test of meditation, " which he had to do twice a day, seemed more like the "conscience test." Nostalgia filled his heart, reminding him of the carefree period when he felt free and popular, and a deep spiritual joy surged inside him, filling his soul and replenishing his faith, and always feeling the presence of God! It was only after many years that George was able to overcome this heavy atmosphere of temptation. He had finished his studies and was visiting France. He spent one morning walking around an old castle, which housed a huge library. George meditated while he walked through a beautiful park situated near a small scenic lake. When a fellow student saw George reading "The Pilgrim" (the adventurers of an anonymous Russian worshipper), he remarked:
"What worldly religiousness you have!"
Inside this book, George came across a village in which every being searched for and ached for the freedom of being the children of God. This searching was through prayers!
This was when George realized that the absence of God, which made him suffer terribly, was due to this searching, and which was also a guarantee representing the presence of God deep inside his soul. If he had not been molded to love God, then he would not be suffering in his absence. It was also at this point that he finally realized that he must reach into the core of his personality and to search deep in his heart to find the presence of Jesus Christ; he needed this presence so much!
But, returning back to the university in Rome, George found himself being unsatisfied, both intellectually and spiritually. He heard the lecturers giving many dry, sterile explanations concerning, for example, the original sin which, according to the Tridentine Synod, was the personal sin of every person. Theology, after the synod, was orientated towards the interpretation that the whole human race was responsible for the sins of Adam. But, according to the teachings of the Fathers, which George was to read later, it was obvious that the only inheritance we received from Adam was the transmitting of spiritual and physical death.
There were, of course, many knowledgeable lecturers at the university in Rome. One of them was a certain Canadian priest, absent-minded and with a stutter, and was therefore mocked by the students.
"As the years passed", he bragged to his colleagues, "I am so much closer to perfecting my theological system, but my students do not pay much attention to me".
The ideal theology student in Rome was the mediocre one, the one who accepted his lecturers ideas without any misgivings, the one who did not ask questions whenever there were gaps in the lecturers teachings. A fellow student of George failed the final examinations, even though he seemed perfectly suited to becoming a priest; another Italian student seemed to pass with honours each time, even though he had just leamt to cope with the summaries of the courses. Since there were many students of theology from many colleges from all over the world, it was impossible for the lecturers to realize the potential of each student. Therefore, the results were dependent on the examinations and not on the circumstances. After failing in his final examination, George should have been sad, but he learnt that a fellow student from Brazil, who had almost no theological knowledge (he once wrote about "Saint Gregory of Nice" instead of "Saint Gregory of Nyssa"), passed his exams with honours, as he had a cool head.
At the college of St. Joseph there was a small group of Jesuit students who followed the Byzantine form and rituals, which George soon joined. However, most of their Italian fellow students ostracized them. The monks, who were of the Latin form and rituals, respected the Greek disciplined students for only two reasons: their beards and, curiously enough, the fact that they were allowed to marry before being ordained; in other words, "a beard and a woman!" Nevertheless, several Sicilian students used to attend the Divine Service being performed by their "Eastern" colleagues in the beautiful small chapel. This caused the college dean more unhappiness, as he looked upon the East with a suspicious eye. Suddenly one day, the student president, bearing wine, joined the "Easterners group saying
"Come on, boys! Let us all drink together as good friends"
Even before the students could overcome their surprise over this unexpected event, they discovered the price they were to pay: Early the following morning, they were taken to the Eastern chapel, where the Sicilian students were then returned back to the Latin service.
"Roman methods", murmured the Easterners, who felt they had been cheated. The Easterners had a reading-room with a library, and George soon found himself in charge of the library. His predecessors were interested only in the subscription of the Soviet "Literature Newspaper" and the humanistic magazine "Crocodile", but George soon added Hans-Georg Beck's manual on the Byzantine Theology, the beautifully illustrated book on Mount Athos by Father Chrysostom Dam, followed by other books on Orthodox theology and spiritualism. The cost of some of these books was covered by George himself, who used to pay with money received as gifts from relatives. Officially, he was supposed to get permission from Father Joseph Machivelick before ordering any books (the father was in charge of the Easterner's group).
Therefore, one day, George asked the father if he could order a certain book that he had seen and had liked very much - this book was "The Surreptitious Theology of the Eastern Church" by Vladimir Lossky. The request was denied, but George decided to go ahead and buy the book and then tell the father he had bought it.
"It's happened! But the only people allowed-to read the book are the ones who want to refute the works of Lossky", replied the father distainfully.
This attitude towards Orthodoxy by the officials of Rome did not satisfy George's expectations in the least.
George's small group of Eastern monks had friendly and ecclesiastical contacts with the students at Spassky's College, but the problem of Eastern Orthodoxy also existed here. The majority of the college officials, who were also members of the Jesuit Order, and the students were Catholic Slavs and Germans. Their interest was focused mainly on Russian ideologies and politics and not on the vibrant faith of Eastern Orthodoxy. A few years before George's arrival in Rome, Father Alexander Grigoriev, of Russian descent, complained about this narrow-minded thinking, using cynical language as he described the recruitment policy of the college:
"Whoever did not reach Rome with Hitler, will reach Rome with Kraimer (the college dean). But the Lord be praised! The Virgin Mary and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin have protected us 'till now!"
In reality, the only "eastern" quality these "Easterners" had was in their attire. Their outlook was mainly one of rational and Catholic or Protestant pedantry. It was said that once, Father Augustus Kraimer (college dean and famous author) had just finished administering the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom with a new priest, when he spoke to him in a voice filled with anguish:
"As I was reading the words of the Sacrament of the Precious Gifts (the only words which Catholics will accept as the introduction to the Supper), I observed that your mouth was not moving. I therefore conclude that your administering of the liturgy was not valid".
The moment when you observed me, I had already finished the words of the Sacrament." replied the clever young priest.
"My God! So you administered the Sacrament before me? Well then, there was no bread or wine left for me to offer them Communion. Therefore, my own service is not valid!"
Other than these rationalists, who acknowledged that the Eastern form was a clever way in which the Catholics could entice the Orthodox, there was another group in the college with different sympathies and inclinations. They were called "Cuk ou Nas", which in Russian means "The same with us". This phrase was first uttered by the vicar of a large church of Byzantine form and which was dependant on Spassky's College:
"With us, in Russia, it's done like this, " he often used to say. So the students used this phrase as his nickname, as he had never been to Russia. He had always lived in the West and was a Catholic.
Geza Kenieres was another example of this group. A fellow Hungarian, he left the German-Hungarian College after a three-month vacation, and came to Spassky's College, earning him the nickname "Gleb". He used to walk around with his long hair and flowing beard, and dressed the part of a typical Orthodox monk, with his wide-sleeved cassock, his rosary and believe it or not, his boots. It was easy to imagine the "batushkas" or Russian priests wearing their boots in Siberia. But wearing these same boots in the hot streets of Rome was another matter. His long hair earned him the nickname "Messiah".
"We Russian Orthodox priests..." he used to preach in front of the congregation, even though he was not Orthodox, nor Russian, nor a priest. The need to flaunt, hidden under the nostalgia for eastern folkloric rituals, had taken over his soul. But in this way, it is easy to ridicule and to pervert the Orthodox traditional rituals. Since then, whenever George Pap came across these Greek-styled Catholics, he would murmur to himself:
"The longer the beard the lesser the amount of Orthodox faith present".
When Gregory Pevchoff, the only true Russian student at the college, finally met poor "Gleb", he decided to shave off his beard.
Chapter 10 // Contents // Chapter 12
Page created: 7-7-2008.
Last update: 7-7-2008.