WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
A joyful Saturday!
A Saturday in 1954, George Pap left the Higher Teaching School of Budapest, where he was studying Russian literature, and started for home - home being the family house in Bouda on the other side of the Danube. Instead of catching the tram, he decided to stroll by the river and visit the large Orthodox church in Petefi Square, which was situated on the banks of the river. He had been informed that anyone could visit the church after sun-set.
Feeling cheerful, George finally reached the church and entered it. It was a large building with a very high reredos of at least ten metres. After two hundred years of celebrating the divine service here, a peculiar smell of incense and oil filled the church, impregnating everything inside. This service had been held in Greek but was now performed in Hungarian. Even though the hagiographies did not all conform to Orthodox styles, the mysterious and alluring atmosphere of the church attracted the young Catholic student in a manner he could not explain.
George walked closer to the icons and examined each one carefully. They all had some sort of ancient fascination and awakened in him a feeling of eternity, which was not true with other western works of art. Noticing the latest copy of the "Ecclesiastic Chronicles" on the candle-stand, he leafed through it and decided to buy a copy later, but asked himself if it was right for a faithful Catholic to read such printed matter. This was the Cold-War era, which also included the relationships between the churches. But George was fated to visit this church as often as possible.
After a long and difficult search through Budapest, George finally discovered a small Russian Orthodox chapel. It was a wonderful discovery as he could now follow the services in the same language as that spoken by the atheist Soviets who occupied his country. This was another facet of Russia, little known to the Hungarians but very real! A friend of George's, who happened to be a respected monk, tried to influence him by assuring him that Patriarch Alexios, whose commemoration was chanted at the end of each Russian service, was "Stalin's bodyguard, " but to no avail. The devout and simple behaviour of the Russian congregation impressed him greatly, while the simple chorus singing of psalms sounded like angelic hymns. Every time he visited the chapel, he exchanged words with the priest, who seemed to be a very spiritual person and who had to work very hard every day to support his family. The clergyman's family showed great care and attention for the hall which was used for worship by the congregation, and these surroundings offered a warm feeling of hospitality.
By now, George had discovered a Slavic prayer-book from which he copied the divine service. Even though he knew only a few Russian words, he re-read the service continuously until he memorized it. On another occasion, he borrowed a Serbian catechism book and soon learnt a few melodic chants of the service in the old Byzantine style. But George's love was the simple Russian chants which were music to his ears: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us".
During his vacation, George visited a small village and stayed with the sexton of the Catholic parish. This monk had several issues of a German ecclesiastical magazine, which included some news concerning the Orthodox world. These were avidly read by the young student. On another occasion, while browsing in the large soviet library in the capital, he discovered a book on the old city of Pskov filled with photographs of churches - something very rare for that era.
In his enthusiasm, he found himself performing his penance in the Orthodox fashion and not in the Latin genuflection way, and he did this even when he was in a Catholic church but was unnoticed.
Returning to this Saturday evening, George left the large Orthodox church filled with happiness as he crossed the old bridges spanning the Danube. Feeling a strong force inside him, he felt it was strong enough to break down all national and cultural barriers and wanted to broadcast his love to a world starved for God, because he knew from first-hand experience what hunger for God really was!
Prologue // Chapter 2 // Contents
Page created: 30-9-2006.
Last update: 12-6-2008.