Chapter 8 // Contents // Chapter 10
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
The Hungarian fugitives celebrated Christmas in Vienna at one of the houses of the order. George Pap was truly choked up with emotion as he listened to the religious hymns about the Holy Infant, unknown to him until then, it never occurred to him that, later in life he would visit many countries and learn how the faithful in each of these countries celebrated the Birth of Christ.
With time, George got to know the monks of this branch of the order. Amongst them, Father Paul Kibichek was the expert in a type of literature which George had never heard of. The father had penned several books on religious humour, which did not go down too well with certain "reservist brothers". These brothers, who were not priests, were members of the Order who basically did all the manual work in the house. They maintained a form of local or fundamental type of devoutness, which did not mix with Father Kibichek's cynical sense of humour. Frankly, whoever tried to study systematically and methodically in the Jesuit Order nearly always ended up changing for the worse. A certain caustic proverb was in circulation during that period:
"If you're a novice, you lose your piety; a student of philosophy, you lose your logic; and with theology, say good-bye to your faith..."
After the festivities, the young Hungarian monks scattered all over Austria. The monks, George amongst them, who had not yet taken their first vows, went to the House of the Novices in Wolfsberg, in the province of Karten. The first view from their new home was one of hills covered in fog, but when it cleared that Sunday, they were spellbound by the sight of the Alps reaching up to a height of two thousand meters.
Frankly, a person would have to have the soul of a hermit to enjoy the life of a novice at that stage, and George was one of them. The young Hungarians all seemed to have a well-developed zest for life, which was in complete contrast to their Austrian counterparts. Being a year older than the Austrian novices, the Hungarians abhorred the childish behaviour of the old novices who, in the 1920's, used to walk in the street wearing blinkers so as to discipline their eyesight. The novices' House always resembled a glass prism which reflected the black patches of the soul. The spiritual and mental shortcomings seemed to be magnified. One novice who seemed to be affected by this pious atmosphere was poor Matthew Retley, who ended up being a masochist.
"Out of all the jobs to be done here at the House, my favourite is cleaning the toilets", he declared happily.
Once, in the dining-room, while everyone was serving themselves from a large platter filled with potatoes, Matthew peered through his glasses looking for a rotten potato. When he finally found one, he gleefully picked it up and placed it on his plate, where he could contemplate it as much as he wanted.
The other extreme was an ambitious novice named John Kies. Later to become an acknowledged author (even though he was mediocre), he liked to take part in everything and to do everything and also liked to berate his fellow-novices. His speeches were full of rhetoric concerning devoutness. One time, during the music lesson, George Pap poked fun at one and all. His fellow-students loved it, while John Kies gave a sanctimonious speech. This was followed by "brotherly correction, " in which the novices criticised each other. John Kies was certain that George would speak angrily at him, after his recent self-righteous speech. As soon as George entered the classroom, he saw John smilingly waiting for him, ready for an argument. John Kies uttered the opening stereotype phrase for the beginning of the "brotherly correction:".
"Hail spiritual fathers!"
But George refused to take the bait by taking on the useless rote of the warrior. Moreover, his opponent knew very well that he had insulted George.
"I don't know anything", he merely replied.
John Kies was stunned! He couldn't believe his ears! From that day on, he got along very well with George. George's fame grew, as he rid himself of any and all false reverences and had acquired a zest for life and a sense of humour. Certain rumours were spread that he was considered unsuitable for the order, but these were soon forgotten.
That summer George found himself jumping with joy, when a brother of the order, a Greek-disciplined priest, arrived from Rome to stay at the House of the Novices. George was wearing a white Alb, as he had the privilege of ministering the Byzantine liturgy in Slavic, which he had learnt at the Russian chapel in Budapest. The young priest, who was also a teacher at the Institute for the Unification of Churches in the Eternal City, wondered how young George was so learned. George greeted him with great enthusiasm as he walked into the House:
"You're the first Greek-disciplined priest I've met in the Order!"
"It's not so dangerous", the priest replied in an apologetic tone.
On the whole, the people that surrounded George could not understand his passion for the Eastern Church. One day, he found an old Hungarian train-ticket in his coat pocket, covered with Russian words. His colleagues shook their heads in wonder. He had escaped from the Russians but spent all his time thinking about whatever was Russian.
Chapter 8 // Contents // Chapter 10
Page created: 28-6-2008.
Last update: 28-6-2008.