Chapter 11 // Contents // Chapter 13
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
Gregory Pevchoff was a young Russian youth who became a Catholic in Germany, and discovered his Orthodox roots when he travelled to Rome to visit the Spassky church. He was a thin, blond lad, very bright and soft-spoken, and got on well with other young people. Being also an excellent reader and a chanter, he had the basic merits for the Byzantine form. His weaknesses were a somewhat unstable character and a harmful sentimentation for Orthodoxy matters; nevertheless, his knowledge of these matters were unequalled by the other students.
"All of us Easterners", he used to say, "need a person in charge filled with understanding and love." Every time he used to take communion in church, he would shed many tears, without of course, having the extensive experience of tear-shedding of Saint Simeon, the New Theologos.
From the first moment, George Pap was attracted to Gregory Pevchoff, drawn by certain characteristics in his personality. But George felt somewhat guilty as he wondered if such a close relationship suited an introverted person like himself? Jesuit officials condemned these "special" relationships as they could disturb the delicate balance holding together the brotherhood of the monks, and could lead to perverted or even sexual relationships. George could see the danger. He really had to dig deep inside himself to see and understand everything and finally, with the guidance of God, he decided to carry on with Pevchoff.
When the XVIIth Olympiad was held in Rome in the autumn of I960, Gregory and George had already become two inseparable and happy friends. They chanted together at Spassky's College, enjoying every moment. One evening, when they all went out to enjoy the fireworks display, it was Gregory who had the idea of renting a horse-drawn carriage so that the students could ride back to college dressed in their cassocks.
"I'll bid you farewell as I'm leaving for Paris to continue my studies. The conditions there, both climatic and spiritual, seem better than the ones here in Rome, " Gregory announced one day to his fellow students. They were all surprised with this announcement, and George asked Gregory to take a walk with him through the city.
During their walk, our young monk confessed to Gregory how disturbed he had become since learning that his friend was leaving. He also said that the college needed him as he was the only Russian student who had direct and friendly associations with the Orthodox world.
The young Russian became so emotionally choked-up by the affection shown by George that he decided to stay in Rome.
Since then, the two young men became even closer. This friendship helped George to overcome certain taboos. Certain everyday mundane activities, such as reading a magazine quietly on the shores of Lake Leman in Switzerland or eating a meal at a restaurant, were out of bounds to the monks, but George had to learn them. George explained the ecclesiastical differences between Catholics and Orthodox to Gregory, while Gregory, drawing from his own experiences, described to George the vitality and optimistic faith shown by the Eastern Orthodoxy. This faith was a revelation for young George, who saw that his dreams could come true through the Orthodox Church.
The two friends discussed the contradictory and realistic book "The Eastern Form of the Catholics" by Nikolayief, and also the latest dissertations of a Russian Catholic priest against the "Latins" who were disguised as Orthodox. His main theme was that the ideology of the Jesuits was incompatible with the traditions of the Eastern Orthodoxy. This article helped to reinforce George's doubts- Later, George was to write a similar article, in which he lampooned the tendencies of the "Latins" who wanted to become "Eastern" priests. This article was published by Gregory in the small mimeographed college magazine, causing a great uproar with the college officials. They rushed to confiscate all copies of the magazine, as everyone seemed to recognize himself in the humorous passages of George's article.
George felt that unintentionally, he had placed certain well-meaning people in a difficult position, so therefore, he visited each and every student at Spassky College, offering explanations. After this, his relationship with the other students improved without him having to compromise in any way.
Gregory did not say anything to George or to the other students, but he found himself suffering more and more in Rome. The following year, being a third-year theology student, he left for Paris and the Catholic Institute.
One night, in a small study at St. Joseph's College, George Pap and Fritz Stimmer, who was two years older, sat discussing the reason why Fritz was averse to seeing the small hanging oil-lamp in front of the icon of the Madonna.
"These wretched objects of our adoration hide a work of art such as the icon of the Madonna", he declared.
"I protest, "replied George, "you're in a collision-course with tradition, and all because of your rationalism. I am in charge of the library. I will report you to our superior, Father Machivelick".
"I criticize your religious sentimentalism and your theatricalism during the service! And as for Father Machivelick, you can be sure that he will never take your side. Once, he even wanted to remove you from the library,” replied Stimmer.
This was a revelation for George. It was true that he did react somewhat emotionally to the rationalism of his fellow students, and it seems that he realized it a little too late. And as for the respect Father Machivelick had for him, Stimmer was right. Therefore, George found himself tolerating Fritz Stimmer, by allowing him to perform the offertory every morning without the traditional vestments, even though he was a priest and should be using the usual sacerdotal vestments. George realized that Stimmer had an ally in the father and that they could easily destroy his career. Father Machivelick had no time for people like George Pap.
Nevertheless, most of the time, the life of the monks was usually more tranquil. One Easter vacation, a group of students, who were followers of the Byzantine form, went to Capri, George amongst them. In the morning, they used to perform their service on a ledge above the Blue Caves. The fishermen in their boats gathered around the Caves like moths around a bright light, to listen to the harmonic psalmodies. The naive and unsophisticated Italians enjoyed the Eastern-styled prayers very much.
In the autumn of 1961, George finally received official permission to "pass from the Latin to the Byzantine form", written on a piece of bad-quality paper. In the Order of the Jesuits, this transfer took place requiring permission only from the officials. Nevertheless, the Canon Law of Roman Catholicism made provision for the priest who wanted to change form. The priest would f irst have to apply to his superior in writing -this application to be countersigned by the bishop of the other religious form - and have his superior give his written permission for the transfer to take place. George tried to explain to Father Machivelick that this procedure was preferable, as it showed the free actions of the applicant who is leaving the local church and the paramount right of the other bishop accepting him as a new obedient member. Here, there exists differing viewpoints between the Greek-disciplined and the Latin-disciplined officials. But the good father, being a believer of the omnipotence of his Latin superiors, was not prepared to help George through this canonial procedure.
Sometime later, our young monk began to learn the various duties of the priest. He went to a Russian priest to help him, who used to be an Orthodox priest. This priest, a man of prayer but somewhat slow when performing his services, transmitted a form of true Orthodox spiritualism to anyone who wanted to follow his moral standards.
George preferred the services to be shortened somewhat, so as not to be tiring and boring for the congregation; this included the private services which were performed everyday by the Greek-disciplined priests, as they were offered 'financial gifts".
By the time Christmas arrived, George had became a deacon. The bishop that ordained him, and who previously used to be Orthodox, was pleasantly surprised by the familiarity and ease the new deacon showed with the services; it seemed as if he had been ordained years ago. George showed great enthusiasm in his new duties. Two-three Russian giris, who often came to the church at Spassky College told George:
"It's a pity you weren't ordained a priest. With the other deacons we hear only the melody and the words, but with you we understand and feel every word".
The majority of the Russians did not come to Spassky Church as they could not understand the services which were given in Slavic, so the church officials placed great emphasis on the melodious sounds of the psalms and prayers.
The Saturday of Holy Week in 1962 was a special occasion for Father George. After the evening prayer and the prophetic utterances for the Easter Mass, after the hymns of the Jews for their deliverance from Egypt and after the Epistle and the "God is resurrected to judge the world", the clergymen wear their white vestments (which is a symbol of the Resurrection) and the bishop continues the service with the Divine Liturgy of St.Basil. After entering the Sanctuary with the Precious Gifts, two deacons - one of whom was Gregory Pevchoff, who had especially come to Rome for this occasion - guided Father George Pap to the sanctuary .He circled the alter three times, while the priests chanted the Martyrs Hymn. The bishop then placed his hand on the head of the young deacon, transmitting to him the dignity of the Roman Catholic Greek-disciplined priesthood. He then placed the sacerdotal vestments on him, while the congregation shouted in Greek: "άξιος, άξιος..." ("worthy, worthy").
Father George Pap felt his heart filling with the calling of the peace-maker. Two days after his ordainment, he was performing the service inside the Catacombs, where he commemorated not only the Catholic hierarchy but also the Orthodox patriarchy, one by one. The Roman Catholic Church did not allow this.
The following day, he performed the service with two other priests, a Rumanian and a Slav, to show his friendly inclinations towards the two countries bordering his country; his fellow countrymen often thought these two countries were their enemies.
Once, Father George also performed the service at the Latin chapel at St. Joseph's College. Before starting the service he spoke to the congregation:
"Please do not pay attention to the external details of the service, which gives an exotic flavour to it. Try and pray together with the priest. Keep the object of the service in your mind. Contrary to the norm, I'll deliver a few of the prayers in Italian".
At the end of the service, a Roman Catholic priest confessed to Father George that this was the first time he had really prayed during an Eastern service.
The young priest did not hesitate to defend Orthodoxy in front of his superiors. One day, the dean of St. Joseph's College gave the students an article to read, in which the Russian bishops were ridiculed because they had stated that they had faith in the Communist regime. George protested fervently:
"In my homeland, in Hungary, the Roman Catholic bishops are issuing the same statements as their Russian colleagues. Why aren’t they also being ridiculed in similar articles?"
"With all due respect, I chose this article only because it was interesting", was the dean's reply. He could not find a better excuse.
"Then it would probably have been better if you had chosen a thriller as reading material for us", was the bold reply from the young priest, whom the dean had thought was the quietest at the college.
Father George felt it was time to clear up a certain problem with the superior in charge of the Greek-disciplined students.
"We are preparing ourselves to serve the people who belong to the Eastern traditions. Therefore, 1 feel it is advisable for us to study theology based on the Greek Fathers and not on the scholastic school of thought", he told Father Machivelick.
"I have no sympathy with these strange views of yours", was the father's dry reply.
After a year or so, the fathers of the 2nd Vatican Synod voted, in the formation of the Ecumenical Council, for a passage which gave the "Easterners" the right to study theology based on the Greek Fathers. When George returned from France, he found an inspiring plan by Father Machivelick in the reading-room of the Institute for the Unification of Christians: the establishment of a university for Eastern Patrological Studies in Rome. In truth, this was just pre-election campaign promises, as the father was running for the office of the Dean of the Institute for the Unification of Christians.
Chapter 11 // Contents // Chapter 13
Page created: 8-7-2008.
Last update: 8-7-2008.