Chapter 14 // Contents // Chapter 16
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
While in his second year at the Institute for the Unification of Christians, Father George Pap received a visit from a high-ranking Hungarian clergyman. He showed great understanding for Father George's ideas. Our young monk then decided to compromise which, in reality, proved to be the opposite, as later it was to change his life completely. He decided, for the good of the Catholic Church, not to move from his position with his own accord and to remain in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Jesuit Order. But, parallel to this, he would speak out honestly and straightforwardly, in public and in private, and to defend his Orthodox convictions. Of course, these convictions opposed the official views from Rome. Therefore, when his superiors would decide to punish him at a later stage, either to suppress him or to remove him from the order, it would be an act of God and not his fault that he would have to leave the order.
With complete honesty, Father George also wrote a letter to Father Jacob Dubois, who headed the Greek-disciplined group in the order: "I am presently living in an environment which is not to my liking. I want to ' speak the truth with love'(Ephesians 4, 15) as often as I can, and to reach a dialogue with love, if the true dialogue is unattainable. It is incomprehensible I can be both Jesuit and "Eastern" at the same time. I must confess that I feel more "Eastern" (or Orthodox, as I just can't describe my feelings) than being a member of the Jesuit Order. But since the Catholic Church is now evolving,
I feel that I should endure this apparent paradox. I am not a true ecumenist, using the current meaning of the word, I can't represent the Orthodox Church because I do not have a true canonical relationship with them; nor can I represent the Catholics, as I disagree with them in almost everything. I want to work amongst the Uniates, to help them to become Orthodox through stable and peaceful means."'
What was Father Dubois' reaction to this honest outpour by Father George? His answer was plain and simple - absolute silence! He did not reply to Father George's letter, but from that moment on, he showed nothing but hostile feelings towards the young priest.
This decision of Father George's, to air his views honestly, caused him to give two public speeches. In his first speech, he re-examined his soon to be published article on the Uniates. His second speech was given in front of members of the Hungarian Catholic Universities Movement.
The convention of this movement took place in the autumn of 1966 in Luxemburg. It was a good excuse for taking trips to scenic areas and to forming new friendships. The main topic of the convention was the 2nd Vatican Synod. The other main speaker, other than Father George, was a Protestant pastor.
Father George's speech was on the Orthodox view of the 2nd Vatican Synod. He underlined that the Christianity of the Franks in the 3rd and 4th Centuries could not assimilate the teachings of the Greek Fathers of the Orthodox Church. For this reason, it was vital to define, initially, the meaning of the term "traditional". The "genuine" Roman Catholics conjured up traditions from the period of Pius XII, but did not realize that these traditions were illegal modernizations of the true traditions of the Church Fathers. In contrast, the so-called "progressives" were inclined to abolish certain eternal values of Christianity, such as fasting. But, both the progressive and the genuine Roman Catholics believed that these values had their origins in the temporary will of their ecclesiastical leaders. In continuation, Father George spoke about the participation of the uncreated Grace, which is the cornerstone of the sacraments of Orthodox theology. In the Christian West, only a few of the rationalist faithful comprehend. He went on to analyse the respective passages for the realistic mysticism of Orthodoxy, and carried on with a report on the Eastern theology of the Holy Spirit, which basically characterizes Eastern ecclesiology. One of the Papal edicts which surpass "love" is not legally binding, as "love" is the First Commandment. And if the West is worried about anarchy in the church, the Catholics must realise that the Orthodox are just as worried about the signs of oppression that Rome has shown in various disputes in the past.
"These are terrible things you told us about the Pope!" objected a young person. "The promise that Christ gave to Saint Peter: And upon this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16, 18), is clear proof of the Roman Catholic position".
"I agree with you that the problem is a serious one", replied the speaker, "but I disagree with the interpretation of the passage you quoted. It must be interpreted in accordance with the context, and the interpretations of the Holy Fathers should be used as they were more reliable chronologically wise. Did you know that even in the Western Church, Saint Cyprian in the 3rd Century taught that the bishop in Rome was not the only successor to Peter; every bishop in the Church, who was faithful to the gospel of Peter, was a successor."
It was difficult to determine how much tradition the Catholics actually ignored. Father George was now beginning to comprehend the words of the Russian theologian Chomiakoff, who believed that "the Pope was the first Protestant because he was the first person to interpret the Bible without consulting tradition" ("the Bible only" a stereotype phrase used by the Protestants, who rejected tradition).
The lecture was followed by a discussion. Father George was enthralled that even the most distinguished members of the audience showed their appreciation of his lecture by clapping enthusiastically. Only two theology lecturers kept silent. One of them, a lecturer of dogmatics at Budapest, later spoke to a friend of Father George's:
"I did not realize that there were Orthodox priests in your Order."
"I just learnt it today", was the reply.
Father George met many students at the Institute, each one having his own talent. One student was a Hungarian Uniate priest, with whom Father George was planning to collaborate with in the publishing of the dialogue of the Orthodox Metropolitan Chrysostom with the Melchite Archbishop Elia Zogby, concerning the return of the Uniates to the Orthodox Mother Church. Unfortunately, the Hungarian publisher refused to print this article. The Uniate priest studied every article he could find, concerning Orthodox theology, and he would send back home all the copies of icons he could find. Once, hoping to amuse his countrymen, he sent them bottle tops with the Pope's emblem stamped on them - traders in ecclesiastical items sold everything and anything - which shocked quite a few naive people.
Another student at the Institute was a Corsican priest, who was a collector of Byzantine icons. When an Orthodox nun saw one of his icons, a genuine 15th Century Byzantine icon of the Madonna, she remarked that the Orthodox religion was indeed a "gem". This Corsican student was writing his thesis on Greco-Italian iconography. He become so engrossed in his work, he almost lived in the Middle Ages. He used to get together with Father George every day, to discuss the faces and the illustrations that he came across in his work, which livened up their discussions. They used to visit secondhand shops together, admiring the wonderful icons they would come across. Other times, they would stop off for a sandwich and a capuccino at a cafe.
During his first year at the Institute, Father George met a young dark-haired student, having a penetrating but kind look in his eyes, and who seemed to give off an aura of spirituality and extraordinary intellectual power.
"What language do you speak? Italian, French, German, Russian?"
"For now, I speak better Russian. I've just arrived here. My name is Branco Savich and I'm a Serb".
Their friendship soon grew as a result of their cause. Father George felt his heart bounding with joy as he now had a true Orthodox friend, a person he could trust and could confide in, to talk to about his problems, his agonies and the nostalgia that drove him towards the Orthodox faith. Due to the fact that Branco liked George very much, he was very severe with George. He had no time for cordialities or placidness.
"I just don't understand you! Why are you torturing yourself for the sake of church unity? So what if the Melchites lost their cause in the recent ecumenical dialogue? How else could you expect them to act, since they are not Orthodox? Be a realist and look to save your own soul!"
One day, they went off to Subiaco, where Saint Benedict of Nursia lived a monastic life(founder of the Benedictine Order, which was the first order to be established in the West). Branco climbed the wall of the monastery, which was situated near a precipice, and sat on top, admiring the wild beauty of the area. "Tell me, why do you sit and vegetate inside the Institute for the Unification of Christians, when you could be living in this beautiful place and you could really pray to God?" he asked Father George.
Branco Savich kept in touch with a compatriot, Father Cyril Dragomitrovich, a priest-monk, who was in Athens completing his thesis for his doctorate. Even though he disliked the Roman Catholics, Father Cyril came to Rome one day on a pilgrimage for the remnants of the undividable church. His charm, mixed with a touch of dogmatic sterness, impressed everyone he came into contact with. One day, Branco introduced him to a Uniate nun:
"Father Cyril, let me introduce you to a Russo-ltalian nun".
"I don't understand, are you Russian or Italian?" asked Father Cyril.
"My body is Italian but my soul is Russian", replied the nun in an affected and unnatural tone.
Father Cyril could not stand this type of deceit, so he persisted with his questions:
"I don't care about your nationaity -it's your religion that I'm interested in".
This was a difficult question for a Uniate to answer; nevertheless, the nun replied:
"I belong...to the ecumenical religion". A statement without meaning.
This reply raised the father's ire even further:
"With all due respect, this form of religion does not exist". This reply left the nun open-mouthed and speechless.
Later, Father Cyril performed the liturgy in the room known as the "Greek chapel", in the beautiful Priscilles catacomb. In here, one of the wall-paintings depicted the first Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) Supper. When Father George and another Catholic priest tried to approach the minister, he motioned to the Catholic priest not to approach him and to move away. The Orthodox Church expressly forbids the co-worshipping with heretics.
After the service, the Catholic priest approached Father Cyril in a teasing frame of mind:
"You know, we others... we heretics that is...".
The priest-monk interrupted the Catholic priest by hugging him, smiling and tilled with love for his fellow-priest. This was an example of "true love".
After a two-year stay in Rome, Father Branco Savich joined Father Cyril Dragomitrovich in Athens, to begin his thesis for his doctorate. After several years, he became a priest-monk and took the name Serapion. During this period, he kept in touch with Father George, giving him advice and comfort. His letters on mystical theology included the following passages:
"As the days go by, I'm feeling the wonderful majestic power of the Orthodox Church in my soul more and more.I hope that one day, with the grace of God, I will become a freedman-meaning His freedom. The Orthodox Church has suffered Babylonian-type bondage throughout the centuries and has lost everything, but has been able to preserve it's soul, it's heart - which means that the church still has everything. The church has never lost the feeling of eternity because it never allowed time to enter the bosom of the church without glorifying it. The church's time was, and is, dedicated exclusively to the gallantry of God. And this is exactly where the latent power of Orthodoxy is situated, and which attracts the sad and undercharged human hearts. What has brought joy to my soul? Well, it's the feeling of eternity inside the chronicles of time; it's the distinction, which is a major characteristic of the Orthodox Church, that the church does not impose itself on man, but respects every inch of freedom that he possesses and allows him to decide whether he wants to rejoin the synodical community or to lose himself in the tragic emptiness of individualism. This is our only hope for the future.
There where it seems there is no hope, that's when the true creation and the life of the faithful begin. When all the earthly powers crumble, that's when the church is born.
You write to me saying that you choose this road or that road because you like the spiritual beauty. It would probably be better if you said that you decided to choose this road or that road because the roots of your existence felt hungry and thirsty without being satisfied.
Faith is discovered everyday, otherwise it dies everyday. The daily routine death frightens me. The venerable Father Paisios, a monk from Mount Athos, recently stated that people live and die without realizing the true potential they had inside them.
One time, a priest friend of mine wrote to me, asking if food would change my outlook, in life. Then, I had smiled, but now I'm not smiling. It concerns a deep sense of realism or, if you want, a sense of Orthodox materialism; but this materialism frees nature itself, it frees man and allows him to meet existentially with his Lord and Saviour at the borders of the Created and the uncreated. Fasting is the freeing of the essence from historical and naturalistic determinism. Without this deep sense of realism, a person cannot understand the sacraments of freedom and faith. Without fasting, one or more stones are transformed into bread, as was asked by the devil. (The devil said: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made into bread." "Matthew 4,3".) So man is transformed into rock and man's history into a number of rock.
I am tired of this so-called "ecumenical Christ", who almost resembles the Triple God of India, while he's losing more and more of his existence each day, and seems to be slowly dematerializing.
Father George Pap had almost completed his studies at the Institute for the Unification of Christians when he sent a re\ é ed edition of his article on the Uniates to the magazine "Unification". He asked the editor of the magazine to print the article anonymously, as the article would have had to have been censored by his superiors at the order if it was printed under his name. Father George had almost finished proofreading the article when the editor, prompted by a colleague, asked for certain changes to be made, and also asked Father George to sign the article. Officials from the Greek-disciplined group refused to support him, so he went to a jovial American official and asked him if the article could be given to two specific clergymen for censoring. These two clergymen were the only two in the order that would approve his ideas and therefore sanction the article. The American agreed, and the article was published after being "censored".
The article clearly stated that the Greek-disciplined churches were opponents of the Orthodox Church, but whose ecclesiastical characteristics of certain recent Roman texts have been recognized. At certain times, the existence of the Uniates supported the Catholics in their illusions that they are the "world's church". The article also rejected ecumenism and accordingly, the dogmatic values of the various Synodical decisions - amongst them was the 1st Vatican Synod decision concerning the Pope. In continuation, the article went on to state that political pressures had forced the majority of the various "unifications" to take place. Examples of these unifications were the first Rumanians to join with Rome and who wanted to retain their religion; the Carpatho-Rutherians, who wanted to retain their old faith; and even the Bulgarian Uniates continue to call themselves Orthodox. The conclusion was obvious - the unifications were formed under a misapprehension, and for this reason the Uniates must return to Eastern Orthodoxy. By doing this, the major obstacle to unification would tie removed.
When the article was published in the autumn of 1966, it created an uproar at the Institute. Coincidently, it was during this period that an official from the Institute was attending a meeting for the re-establishment of the Uniate Church in Czechoslovakia. The church had been closed during the Stalin era and was reopening after "The Spring of Prague" had fought for religious freedom. (Alexander Dubcek allowed all religions to be re-established.)
"Are you really the person that wrote this article? And you're still a Catholic?' This was a question that many church officials asked Father George.
In the meantime, a monk, who happened to be the brother of the editor of the magazine "Unification", travelled throughout Rumania, to see first hand the problems the Uniates were facing. Returning to Hungary, he wrote to Father George:
"Have faith, the Rumanian bishops and theologians were all very impressed with your article!"
"My dear sir, I did not write this article to deceive the Orthodox and to present them with an official' Catholic position, for which I have been condemned. I wrote this article with the aim of changing the mentality of the Catholics, but unfortunately I failed".
The new dean at the Institute, Father Machivelick, commented ironically:
"I read your article. Your comments and views are already known by almost everyone. Basically, you have opened doors that were already open".
But he did also mention to Father George that a room would not be available at the Institute the following year. For the small period of time that the scholarship covered his thesis, hospitality would be extended to him on the condition that he contacted the official in charge of the boarding-house in advance. Father Machivelick also gave orders that all letters addressed to Father George should be sent back.
Chapter 14 // Contents // Chapter 16
Page created: 14-7-2008.
Last update: 14-7-2008.