Chapter 13 // Contents // Chapter 15
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
In the autumn of 1964, Father George Pap was recalled back to Rome by his superiors, to carry on his studies in Eastern Ecclesiastical History and to receive his doctoral degree from the Institute for the Unification of Christians. During this period, the 2nd Vatican Synod had entered it's third phase. Father George lived the events of the Synod day by day, and he felt as if his life was at stake. When he heard them talking about rapprochement between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, he wished with all his heart that the unification of the two churches, each with it's own idiosyncrasies, would be speeded up. And when that day would finally arrive, he would feel part of the Orthodox faith. Therefore, his personality crisis would also be over.
But certain events were tī occur that would change his whole outlook in life. A few weeks after returning back to the Institute, he received a letter from his friend Gregory Pevchoff, dated November 8th. Opening the letter, he began reading:
"My dear friend George, I have finally decided to become Orthodox...".
George's eyes widened in disbelief as he continued to read the letter in which Gregory expressed his wishes to live the life of a secular clergyman, and to marry. This letter was just the kindling stone for all the changes that were about to take place in the soul of our young monk. The start of a real chain-reaction.
As the 2nd Vatican Synod was reaching it's conclusion, Father George received a phone call from the editor of the newspaper "Unification", who was going to publish his article on the Uniates. The editor was calling from Rome, where he was attending the Synod.
"Well, my dear father, do you now believe that the Uniate Melchites, the so-called forerunners of unification, have now lost their respect? At the Synod, they voted for a format which has been turned down outright by the Orthodoxy. The Uniates can no longer represent the Orthodoxy. Re-examine your article and re-write it with this in mind".
In fact, George now felt that the Melchites had failed in their role as mediators for unification between the churches. Before voting commenced on the various topics which had been discussed by the Synod (which included Ecclesiology and Ecumenism), the Pope intervened and attenuated the topics by adding and subtracting clauses. Therefore, the notorious "college of bishops" of the 2nd Synod could not strike a balance between the over-accentuation of primacy and infallibility, which had been established by the 1st Vatican Synod. Pope Paul VI eulogized the role of the Pope inside the church. He continued to retain absolute power inside the Catholic Church, and this authoritarian intervention by Pope Paul VI in the 2nd Synod proved conclusively that the Pope was, and is, the main obstacle towards unification with the Orthodox Church.
But what are these assertions of Rome based on? Some one recommended that George should read a book called "The Structure of the Church" by Hans King. The author quoted various authoritative Roman Catholic theologians and sociologists, who confessed that it was possible for a Pope to become either heretical or schismatic, and therefore not be as effective as he should be in his role as the leader of the Catholic Church. In these circumstances, who will examine the legalities and the wisdom and the accuracy of the papal teachings? Indubitably, the people who should perform these checks and balances belong to the church itself, and are the subjects of the Pope himself. Therefore, how much uncertainty prevailed in the Latin teachings of Papal authority?
Father George Pap had started researching the various attempts for Eastern and Western church unification in the 14th and 15th Century quite a while back, and soon had a clear conception of the Orthodox teachings on primacy. Nicholas Cavasilas, Simeon of Thessaloniki and Joseph of Vryennios all recognized that the first bishop of the church was especially charismatic and talented, but they all underlined the fact that exercising these extraordinary talents presupposed certain conditions. The primary condition of primacy was, according to these Orthodox theologians, respect for the complete system of the Church, or the mutual dependence by the first bishop on the other bishops. With this condition, Father George could now comprehend the correct teachings of the church. This radical re-examination of his views, which he had had since almost the day he was bom, and the intellectual transformation that was going on, was paralleled by the transformation his heart was undergoing. His best friend had written that he was becoming an Orthodox priest - a friend, who had been his co-functionary around the same altar up until a few days ago, had left him. An intangible wall had arisen between them. It was at this moment in time that Father George Pap personally felt the rift in Christianity -not from his friend's conversion, but from his own. A part of him left for the Orthodox world.
He started going to the Russian Orthodox Church in Rome and it felt like home. Father Gregory Pevchoff was not the only Catholic priest who had become Orthodox; Father George Pap was right behind him -mind, soul, heart and body.
High above the roofs of Rome, a young monk paced the roof of the Institute for the Unification of Christians. Several hours each day, Father George paced and thought and planned for the future. He wanted to change to Orthodoxy, but how would he go about it? Would it be enough if he just left Rome?
He felt his emotions taking over his mind. Was he really mature enough to change his faith and his church? Had he a clear and assertive conviction for what he was about to do? He felt that he should wait awhile before taking this decisive step.
Another consideration was that he still felt very attached to the Hungarian Uniates. He often sent them books, liturgical patens, slides on various Orthodox subjects, copies of icons, etc., hoping to kindle their interest in Orthodox matters. Some time later, he translated an abridged version of the book by Virgil Georgiou, "From the Twenty-Fifth Hour to Eternity", and sent them three hundred copies. This book, which described in detail the life of an Orthodox Rumanian priest who was married, caused a great impression with the Uniate clergy, who were often persecuted for being married.
This small edition had been approved by the superiors of the order. Therefore, the Uniate bishop, who was of Latin discipline allowed the book to be used as reading material by his students. In reality, this bishop was waiting for the opportunity to stop the positive movement towards Orthodoxy. His reasoning was that if the leader of this movement, Father George Pap, became an Orthodox, he could then ban the rapprochement with the schismatics, since he had always considered this rapprochement sinister and dangerous. Therefore, Father George's personal work for Orthodoxy was preventing him from becoming Orthodox.
Since Father George lived close to the "factors" that determined the policies of Rome concerning the unification between the churches (he attended lessons at the Institute for the Unification of Christians, and also lived with his superiors), he really understood how unfair the Pope was towards the Orthodox people.
"Today we have a new method", explained Father Gabriel Savici, a lecturer at the Institute. Looking around the room, he continued, "Is your Orthodox colleague here? No! Fine, I can then interpret it honestly. Today, we are following the ecumenical method and we are against conversions. So, if one day, your Orthodox colleague came to me and told me that he had been converted by the wisdom and the righteousness of Catholicism, I would still refuse to advise him to return to Constantinople and to rise up through the ranks of the hierarchy. And when he reaches the highest level then, in my opinion, he should become a Roman Catholic with his flock!"
This shows how certain people from Rome were using ecumenism as a Papal "method" for the transformation of the Orthodoxy.
Other than the hard papists, there was another group at the Institute called the "progressives", led by Father Martino Lopez of the Canon Law Department. Father Lopez, or as his rivals called him, "Caudillo" (Spanish for leader; it was also Francisco Franco's title), was the son of a fascist general and who even looked like a dictator. As the fashion changed regularly, so did Father Lopez - he was now fanatically left-wing! One day, while walking through the streets of Rome, wearing civilian clothes, Father Lopez bumped into Father George, who was still wearing his cassock even though he had left the order. Father Lopez then proceeded to give George a lecture on the reactionary custom of certain clergy in still wearing their cassocks, in a tone which reminded George of the Spanish Inquisition. "Caudillo" was even interested in the theology concerning the "death of God".
"The atheists are the people who revolt against a mistaken conception of God. But we also reject this conception. Therefore, we are all atheists", he preached one day. George felt disgusted with a person like Father Lopez.
"I understand very well how Catholics can lose their faith and become atheists, but I can't understand how Catholics can become Orthodox. It is a completely irrational step", commented a young priest, who was planning to become a lecturer at the Institute for the Unification of Christians.
These then were just some of the attitudes held by officials who were officially working in the ecumenical movement. But, luckily for Father George, there was a small minority of priests in Rome who were more reasonable and more broad-minded. One advantage of the Institute was the large and well-stocked library/reading-room, where a person could work all day.
Chapter 13 // Contents // Chapter 15
Page created: 12-7-2008.
Last update: 12-7-2008.