Chapter 16 // Contents // Chapter 18
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
Since the day of Pentecost in 1969, Father George Pap was in Comano in the Swiss canton of Tessino. He had finally broken away from the Jesuits and was now a vicar at the convent of Saint Scholastic. It was difficult for him to adapt to the quiet countrylife after years of stress and problems in the large cities of Europe, but he soon settled in. He felt isolated, as the nuns of the convent showed absolutely no signs of their internal spiritual problems - it was as if they wore masks.
There was no spiritual contact between Father George and the nuns. Once a week, he used to travel to Lugano, the nearest city, for a change of scenery. To relieve his boredom in the evenings, he used to read detective novels.
Was the life that he was now leading, far from the organization and restrictions of the Jesuit Order, just a way of satisfying himself by trying out different temptations? Every week he used to roam around the streets and shops of Lugano, buying whatever he had not been allowed to buy previously -things like decorations for his room and alcohol. But why was he acting like this? He reflected for a while, until he finally realized that this behavior did not suit the indigent character of the monk. He basically bought these items for his friends, so he could entertain them while they sat on comfortable armchairs around his desk. Decorations and hospitality are earthly goods, which are able to serve a heavenly virtue, such as love. In this way, the physical tangibles lead towards the spiritual tangibles, as is illustrated by the following example: One day, Father George bought a very old Russian icon of the Madonna. He probably bought the icon more for the sake of his spiritual consolation rather than to decorate his office.
At the beginning, Father George found it difficult to perform so many services each day, which was basically his mission at the convent (he was performing only a few services each day when he was still with the Jesuits), but he soon got used to it. The number of services each day and the number of holidays each year draws us into the secret life of the eternal God. Therefore, these services soon became a part of Father George's personality, and through them he felt his joy going hand in hand with his prayers.
The convent of Saint Scholastic was the site of a number of ecumenical meetings, white many different devout pilgrims spent their holidays there, especially in the summer. One time, Father George met a Belgian, who had been a civilian delegate at the 2nd Vatican Synod. He listened very carefully to Father George's views as he respected very much the Orthodox thoughts that the father was trying to introduce him to. But he also realized that Father George was not a true martyr in the cause of Orthodoxy.
Other pilgrims who came to the convent were a Serbian Orthodox priest-monk and a married clergyman, who had a passionate interest in the peculiar theological doctrine of the late Father Serge Bulgacoff", the study of enlightenment". They were followed by an Orthodox theologian who was not happy with his church, two other Rumanian Orthodox theologians, and a young Rumanian theology student. This student seemed to have fascinating ideas and got on well with Father George. "It's true that these emotional inclinations towards impropriety exists and with us Orthodox. However, the crisis in the West is not just a plain and simple temptation from without; it is also the internal disintegration of Catholicism", he said, talking to Father George. It was a pity that this bright young lad, who could have contributed so much Rumanian theological insight, was killed in the large earthquake that hit Bucharest.
Another group of visitors arrived at the monastery in cars. Father George travelled with them, showing them the beautiful natural scenery of the Alps and Northern Italy, which were almost at the doorstep of the convent. The Tessino region was one of the most beautiful areas Feather George had ever seen. The sprouting greenery of the North intermingled with that of the Mediterranean, with fir trees growing next to palm trees in the convent's garden. Most of the old houses in the region were two-storied, with arches decorating the ground floor and balconies with colonnades on the first floor of each house, where the housewives used to dry out their corn.
Lugano was situated in a small inlet of the lake, between two large hills. The lake was surrounded by hills and forests and small picturesque fishing-towns, with paved streets built in the Middle Ages. Some old Romanesque churches could also be found, having a similar architectural style with that of the Orthodox churches. Some of the wall-murals found inside were well preserved. One of Father George's favourites was Torello, an old Romaic church, situated next to an old monastery, both having been built around the 12th to 13th Century. It lay high on a hill overlooking Lugano, surrounded by an endless valley and having a clear-blue spring running out of the ground. The cottage itself, having been deserted for many years but still had a magnificent stairway in a reasonably good condition, reminded Father George of Mount Athos. Some of the wall-murals were reasonably well preserved. An underground tunnel connected the monastery to the lake. The forest that surrounded the buildings was Nature's way of offering seclusion to the monks.
When the nuns of Saint Scholastic first built the con vent, Torello was being sold. The possibility of them establishing themselves in Torello was considered, which would have pleased the monks of Athos immensely, but was rejected for materialistic reasons: extensive repairs were required, electricity and telephone lines had to be installed and the monastery was too far from civilization - this indicates how the monks and the nuns conceptions have changed over the period of time.
The three years that Father George remained in Comano benefitted htm, as he used the free time he had, which was considerable, to study all the topics he had not learnt in Rome. He researched the various Orthodox writers, such as Lossky, Blum, Meyendorf and others, who had been enriched by the data of ecclesiastical life which was supplied by the experiences of the church fathers. This was the main reason why their books were filled with real life. This helped to replace the emptiness Father George had felt by the absence, in the Catholic world, of the renaissance by the church fathers. It was exactly these theological experiences that he wanted to learn and to study, and then to live them. But he also had the urge and the ambition to look further into these sources. At the university in Rome, the lecturers never asked for arguments or reasonings directly from the works of the church fathers. At the Institute for the Unionization of Christians, the spiritual achievements of these church fathers, which were taught by an Orthodox lecturer at the Institute in all its glory and respect for the "saints of saints", were taken very lightly by the Catholics, almost to the point of absurdity.
Hence, Father George began to study the church fathers at the pre-eminent school of theology. The library at the convent had several volumes of the church fathers series "Sources Chretiennes", while the library at the old hieratical school in Lugano had both the Greek and the Latin editions of Migne's Patrology. It is difficult to enumerate what he learnt from each church father - for instance, from the teachings of Irenaeus of Lyon, he learnt about the Holy Eucharist being a psychosomatic medication against attrition; and from Cyprian of Carthage, he learnt about harmonious or congruous ecclesiology. He learnt about sin and deliverance from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria; the traditions and meanings of the sacraments from Saint Basil of Caesarea; the correct Triadology and theology of the various feast-days from Saint Gregory of Nazianzo; the transformation of the body with leather tunics from Saint Gregory of Nyssa; the free association between man and the grace of God from Saint John of Kasos; the church fathersí "agreement" from Saint Vincent of Lerins; the fundamental beauty of human nature from Saint Maximilian the Confessor; the respect for the icons from Saint Theodore the Studite; the affirmation that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father from Patriarch Photius; the survival of theology and other related subjects from Saint Simeon the New Theologos; the distinction of the inaccessible substance of God by His undeveloped actions, which permeates and sanctifies the crowd from Saint Gregory Palamas; the eternal life, which must start from this world, from Saint Nicholas Cavasilas.
The following fathersí contributions should not be omitted: the works of the apostolic fathers; the two Cyrils from Jerusalem and Alexandria; Saint John Chrysostom; John Damascene; the Fathers of the Wilderness; Isaac from Syros; and John of the Sinai. The works of the church fathers deserve the highest esteem, as they're always relevant and it feels as if they apply to us personally to such an extent, our contemporaries could not believe it.
Whatever Father George learnt at the Catholic Institutes was now left to sink into oblivion! The teachings of the Orthodox Fathers, which were discovered only after he personally probed deeply into their works, slowly formed a dynamic wholeness inside him. His index of the works of the church fathers filled 163 type-written pages, which he would use in all his future publications. He even tried to give some lessons to the nuns of Saint Scholastic, without success. On many occasions, Father George found himself having to explain to them that the liturgy is the sole sacrifice and the endless sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who offered himself "for all and for everyone" and not just for the sake of one person or another. In spite of this, the Mother Superior wrote to Patriarch Athenagoras, assuring him that the service performed that day was "in honour of his Holiness". Unfortunately, a person usually preaches "and having ears, hear ye not" (Mark 8, 18). But we cannot judge those poor people who cannot understand, because their willingness is equalled by their intelligence.
Chapter 16 // Contents // Chapter 18
Page created: 17-7-2008.
Last update: 17-7-2008.