Chapter 15 // Contents // Chapter 17

 

WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH

CHAPTER 16.

An about-face!


Father George Pap returned back to the Institute for the Unification of Christians the following year (1968), with his two suit cases and a hand-written copy of his thesis in French. The theme of his thesis was "The Unification Attempts in the 14th and 15th Centuries." All that remained for him to do was to type the thesis and to present it to the Institute committee. He had earlier contacted. Father Joseph Miller, the house-keeper of the Institute, concerning accommodation. The father had replied saying that the Institute would offer him accommodation for the period of time required to present his thesis. But when Father George met Father Joseph to arrange a room, the good father had other ideas:

"I promised you a room for your presentation? Never! But come and let us drink a liqueur together".

 

Father George blamed himself for his naivety in not bringing Father Joseph's acceptance letter with him. He was also certain that the dean, Father Machivelick, was behind the housemaster's refusal. Listening to Father Joseph inviting him for a drink, he thought:

"Roman methods...false and sanctimonious".

The truth was as follows: In Rome, where the Order of the Jesuits had hundreds of houses and rooms for it's members. Father George Pap was homeless. He then had the idea of checking in at a place he detested, Spassky College, which was situated opposite the Institute, and had Catholic Russian clergymen. Father Ramon Soares, an old friend had been placed in charge of college day-to-day affairs by Dean Jacob Dubois. So when Father George met Father Ramon, he was greeted with open arms. Father Ramon hoped that one day Father George would be the librarian at the college, so while he gave our young father some work to do in the library, he also offered him a special assignment: to act as an interpreter for one of the two Russian Orthodox priests who were completing their studies in Rome.

It was natural that under these circumstances Father George did not have much time to type his thesis. Father Jacob Dubois had already restricted the time required for the thesis:

"It is not important that your thesis has scientific value; it is important that you get your piece of paper, your degree!" These were not words of encouragement for someone who lived for his work. Father George had a year to complete his thesis, and his problems increased as time passed. He needed a Greek typewriter, which he borrowed from Father Ramon. But since Father Ramon also needed it, the typewriter was moved back and forth. A typewriter with Latin characters was also required, having the same character type and size as the Greek typewriter. The dean had a thirty-year old machine, but after sending it in twice for repairs, Father George looked for another machine. He eventually found a typewriter, old but somewhat usable.

 

So with all these inconveniences, with his work at. the library, and his interpreting work, not much time was left to actually work on his thesis. As time went by, Father George found himself becoming more and more irritable. And it was becoming more and more apparent that Father Dubois was looking for an excuse to get rid of Father George:

"You were not present at our public speech evening!" he observed.

"I was present, but not in the Italian group where you searched for me. I was with the English group", was Father George's reply. The dean had not realized that Father George knew English as well as several other languages.

"Last night you sat talking with your friend Soares nearly all night, thus keeping your neighbour awake", Father Dobois tried again.

"I'm sorry but the poor person must be suffering from delusions. Last night I did not visit my friend at all - you may even ask him, he will tell you the same."

"Fine, you're innocent this time, but I accuse you of something else: A few days ago, when I walked into your friend's room and you were also present, why didn't you stand up and greet me?"

Father Dobois' attitude reminds us of the wolf in Aesop's fable of the wolf and the sheep.

 

After Christmas, Father George felt another surge of spiritual agitation inside him. For over two years he had been corresponding with Mark Legran, a young member of the Jesuit Order, who was interested in the rapprochement of the Orthodox only for his own personal spiritual needs. He asked George, in his first letter to George when he was twenty-one, whether he should also adopt the Byzantine rituals. George replied, in all sincerity, that this step could lead to schizophrenia. This was the first of many letters that they exchanged over the years. When Mark was serving in the military. George sent him a cutting from a Parisian newspaper, of an article on the syntax of the young at Teize. The article stated that the speakers seemed as if they were speaking gibberish, while the only speaker who seemed to be able to communicate with the young was an Orthodox bishop.

Another time, Mark and Father George were discussing, through their letters, the state or quality of being improper. Mark observed that the Orthodox countries had this inclination towards impropriety, but which does not deeply affect the church, as it did the West. The "injuries" in the Western Church dates back to the Middle Ages, from when it broke away from the Eastern Church.

 

It was truly disturbing to realize that all this had been written by a young Jesuit, so Father George showed the letter to a friend at the Institute.

"Let me tell you, this boy will not remain with the Jesuits", was the comment.

In fact, as soon as the Christmas festivities finished, Father George learnt that the young man, who was neither "left-wing" nor "right-wing", but was just searching for a balanced spirituality, left the order. His feelings for Orthodoxy and for Father George were so intense that not one other person in the order came even close to these feelings, and he could have become George's own "comrade in arms" in the order.

That day was one of the worst for Father George; he felt as if he had lost something very dear to him. It was fortunate that the dean sent him to Belluno in Northern Italy, to perform the liturgy and also to preach. The invigorating cold air and the fresh white snow relaxed Father George so much, he felt that Mark had not been lost completely.

When Father George returned to Rome, a letter from Mark Legran was waiting for him. In it, Mark related at length his complete spiritual journey. His decision to become a member of the Jesuits Order was not voluntary - his parents and other people near him had persuaded him to join. Therefore, he was always searching for his lost freedom. But the more liberated he became, the more he lost his religious foundation. Even when he was writing this letter, he still could not say for certain if he believed or not. But, he still felt that the Orthodox faith was the only form of Christianity that could reconcile personal freedom and true religiousness.

 

Father George had read Mark's letter many times when the dean asked to see him. Father Dubois seemed nervous and his appearance showed that he had something to hide. He sprouted out all the priest's misconducts: he was always last to appear at mealtime (his room was the furtherest away), he used to sit late at night conversing with his friends (his only consolation), he used to perform his services too slowly, and many more petty faults, which all finally lead to a final demand: Father George was to follow the example of the other Jesuits who, in order to earn some money, used to perform Latin services at a Roman Catholic monastery during their vacation.

Father George was seething with anger over the dean's petty reprimands, but he really blew-up when the demand was presented to him. To add the "Filioque" (the affirmation that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father), which he felt was heretical, to the "..." ("I believe..."); to leave out the invocation of the Holy Spirit during the consecration of the Holy Gifts on the altar and to which was given sanctification value; all of these would be unacceptable by Orthodox theologians and by Father George himself. The only true link with Orthodoxy was the common Byzantine form. If Father George began to apply the double-standard form practiced by his collegues, the so-called spiritual bigamy, the extreme Latinization (which even the most Latinized Uniate in his home country would not dare attempt), he would not be the same. He would lose his identity, his inner spirit. And this is exactly what Father Dubois hoped to accomplish; to tear apart the personality of his subordinate.

Father George Pap spent several days thinking what he should do, and finally,- he reached his decision. There was no longer any ties with the Jesuit Order; they had all been severed. The departure of Mark Legran was the final straw. He was not willing to compromise any more, as Father Dubois would like him to. He therefore asked to break away and join a Greek-disciplined diocese. He went to Munich to discuss his situation with a high-ranking Hungarian clergyman, an old friend and an honest person. The clergyman tried to persuade Father George to remain in the order, without success.

Father George then travelled to Calabria to meet his future Greek-disciplined bishop, who spoke to him in great detail concerning the replacement of all the Latin customs in the provinces with Byzantine customs. But Father George noticed something strange - there was not a single Byzantine icon hanging in the large cathedral!

 

The day finally arrived when Father George had to present his thesis. The committee was comprised of the dean, Father Machivelick and four other professors. Father George opened with a brief introduction, then the committee started asking him questions concerning his thesis. The first professor seemed fair and logical, but the second professor, Father Pidacuda, immediately attacked Father George, saying that the tone of his thesis indicated that he had declared war against the Latin priests and customs.

"You complained about the Latinization of Crete in the 14th Century. Do you happen to know to which diocese Crete belonged to in the first church?" asked Father Pidacuda.

"The rights and the historical claims do not shed much light on our queries", replied Father George. "We Hungarians, for instance, have been arguing with the Rumanians for centuries, as to who first settled in Transylvania. What is important is reality, not history; which nationality is now residing in the region is what counts."

A cousin of Father George's was in the audience, enthralled with what he was hearing. He ran out of the hall to call his wife.

"Come and listen to the boy. We knew him as a quiet and reserved person, but he is now battling like a lion!"

The discussion on the thesis continued.

"Do you still contend that Maxim Chrysovergis was a Catholic   extremist?   I   don't   consider  his   views  extreme", continued Father Pidacuda, without giving Father George an opportunity to answer.

"Excuse me for interrupting, but I cannot allow your comments to go unanswered. If you turn to page 54, note 2, you will observe that Chrysovergis considered the Greek formula heretical, and this formula was later recognized by the Catholics at the Synod held at Firenze. According to this formula, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.' Do you accept this?"

 

Becoming confused like the student who had not done his homework, Father Pidacuda rambled on and on, without answering any questions, and not allowing Father George to reply. Finally, the dean interrupted him to allow and the other members of the committee to take part. But Father George felt that he had to interrupt:

"Since the accusations of Father Pidacuda, concerning the so-called fighting-tone' of my thesis, covers a wide spectrum, I would like to give a general reply concerning my thesis. Please examine these four typewritten pages. These are the observations of your illustrious predecessor, who as you all know is a wise and world-renowned expert on the Firenze Synod, concerning my thesis. All the changes I made in my paper were based on these remarks. There is no mention in these remarks concerning my 'fighting-tone.' And since my mentor is not here now, I would prefer it if we get on with the job in hand and not waste time discussing how every critic sees the tone of my thesis. This is all I wanted to say".

When the presentation of his thesis was completed, all the members of the committee, except Father Pidacuda, congratulated Father George. One member went on to make the following sly comment:

"There is a saying, concerning the professor that left the Institute and his successor, which states that it is better to have a live jackass rather than a dead lion!"

 

With the presentation of his thesis over, Father George Pap travelled through Europe - Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Austria - looking for a job.

In Munich, he met an old Hungarian Jesuit friend, who was involved with young people. In front of other friends, the Jesuit confessed that he had doubts about life after death, and had shared these doubts with his small congregation. Father George had doubts about his friend so the next day he began to criticize the Roman Catholic Church and the Jesuits. His "faithless" friend immediately began to defend the church and the Jesuit Order, while criticizing Father George. Coincidently, Father George was reading about the fated person in Dostoyevsky's "Great Inquisition", who battled the ecclesiastical class because he did not believe in the God of freedom. Father George praised God with all his heart because, while he was thinking of leaving the order, this little Inquisitor" appeared in his path to show him clearly the ties of the Papal institution, and consequently showed him God's road, the road to freedom.

While passing through Belgium, Father George took this opportunity and contacted Mark Legran. He felt very close to Mark since that last letter. Mark seemed rejuvenated, happy, breezy, and was planning to get married. It was a joy to see someone taking the path shown by God. Their friendship helped them to understand each other. Compared to his young friend, Father George now felt alone and lacking in something. He had never thought about marriage until now. He was sixteen when he had decided to become a celibate Catholic priest. Since entering the Jesuit Order, he had had no psychological problems due to celibacy, but he was now planning to leave the order without knowing what he was going to do next. He had chosen celibacy without knowing anything about life or about the love he was rejecting. Was his choice a conscious and freely elected one or was it due to the result of alienation? Many Catholic priests were now leaving their orders to get married. The members of his order did not look upon monkhood with enthusiasm. Only the love of God which embraces the monks could replace the love from a marriage. But Father George was not a true monk - he was just a celibate and lonely person thrown out into the streets of Europe to earn a living, and with little chances of success.

 

Arriving in Paris, Father George wanted to contact a famous Orthodox theologian, so he phoned him at home. His wife answered.

"Hello, Madame! You don't know me, but I'm a priest and I would like to meet your husband'.

"Yes, father. Why don't you come over this afternoon at five?"

"Father!" George Pap did not feel that this was just a formal expression from the lips of this Orthodox woman. She said it as if she really meant it. George knew that the Orthodox priests were truly the fathers of their parishes. They accepted confessions from their parishioners the same way they accepted it from their own children.

Father George began to feel a new dimension for his priesthood. The Orthodox parishes were like large families. He had in his possession a small metallic icon of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by the saints. The role of the mother was emphasized here, shown by the affectionate manner in which she was holding the baby Jesus. This picture bears no resemblance to the pale, girlish Catholic nuns who are usually depicted on the rocks at Lourdes.

 

Two different job opportunities were offered to Father George: to teach young children catechism in Vienna, with the possibility of becoming a lecturer at the university, or to be the vicar at a convent in Comano in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. He did not feel that living in a large city while having doubts about his feelings for the priesthood and teaching Latin sermons which he did not believe in, would suit his character. He preferred his future to be in a monastery, as his calling and nature had always been for a monastic life.

When he moved to Comano, Father George confided to a friend, who happened to be an Orthodox head priest, that he had left the Jesuit Order, became a vicar in a Uniate parish, stayed in a Greek- disciplined monastery in Switzerland, and all out of nostalgia for the Orthodox faith. The head priest replied that this was not the answer to George's dilemma. Father George even wrote to his Serb friend, Father Serapion Savich, asking for advice.

"My dear Father George, there is no intermediate condition, just as there is no third gender in nature. The neuter form can only be found in a technical world, such as grammar. The neuter gender is associated with what Gregory Palamas calls "unrequited love". It is like purgatory, where one neither dies nor is resurrected. "Unrequited love" is a terrible definition, but so true for historical movements who have their death sentence already embedded in the roots of their origin. Neither history nor faith could never accept this intermediate condition. This applies especially to the Christian faith, which is far too radical to accept this type of condition. There is no compromise between truth and heresy, and this is the fundamental law of the Gospel", was the theologian's reply. And his letter continued:

"I believe that the substance is truly the "unrequited love". This reminds me of the condition of a sick man, which seems to be and your condition, who is suffering without knowing the cause and is trying to persuade himself that his condition is normal, even as his behaviour indicates his spiritual abnormalities and imbalances. I believe that a solution, both gradual and collective, for these contemporary problems cannot be found. As for you, my dear friend, leaving the Jesuits and becoming a vicar at a Uniate cathedral is not the solution - I know your convictions and your doubts.   To live and to acknowledge "unrequited love" while at the same time wanting to taste "love" (Orthodox) is impossible.

 

One and only one solution exists: do a biblical "salto mortale" (leap of death) with the conviction and faith that the Lord will help you take the necessary steps. I believe that one day you will also reach the same conclusions, as you will be guided by your pure soul, which loathes lies and hypocrisies, and by the pain you feel, which is caused by the absence of genuineness. On the other hand, you can't find purity where it does not exist; therefore, your pain will grow and grow, and deliverance from this pain will become more difficult as time goes by.

And why all this? Why should you walk away from something that belongs to you? Why shouldnt you go and find your true spiritual shelter and the reward for your whole existence?  Please forgive me, Father George, for using harsh words, but I can't hide the truth. ETERNITY IS NOT A GAME!"

This letter was the last drop in a completely filled glass.

"Deliverance will become more difficult as time goes by" -this is what Father George was frightened of. He finally decided, without telling anyone (including Father Serapion), to embrace the Orthodox faith after three years. He needed this time to prepare himself spiritually, and also not to break his promise given to his Uniate bishop.

 

Chapter 15 // Contents // Chapter 17

Page created: 16-7-2008.

Last update: 16-7-2008.

TOP