Chapter 12 // Contents // Chapter 14
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
At this point, one could ask oneself: 'Since Father George Pap had discovered how much he was drawn to Orthodoxy, why did he still remain in the Roman Catholic Church and not just join the Orthodox Church?"
The answer is easy for those that know the Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church usually imposes itself on people in a very human and logical manner. The Church itself resembles a large global all-embracing country. This logic, which is accepted by the Catholic masses, states that the Church is a type of "company", which in turn needs one and only one person in charge, i.e., the Pope. "We need a superior chief", one Russian Catholic priest was fond of saying. It was difficult to escape from this form of predisposition, which has been drummed into the Catholics since childhood, and also to find a democratic Orthodox reply to this false excuse.
There is also another reason. The Roman Catholic Church has the "iron-curtain" syndrome - it is like a country surrounded by barbed-wire and minefields. Psychological pressures such as contempt, scorn, etc. are exerted on those people that want to leave the Catholic Church for another church, often causing injuries which have the same effect as an exploding mine. Words like "miserable", "defector", "apostate" are used to describe these people, and also affects the people that surround them.
All relatives and friends and even acquaintances are considered suspect by church officials, since they know the "guilty" person. The power and the strength of Catholicism are in its cohesion.
Before the 2nd Vatican Synod in the early 1960s, who was brave enough to try and break through the "iron-curtain?" To be willing to risk such an explosion, a person had to have an unshakable faith, enjoy living dangerously or even be suffering from psychological disorders and not really understand the consequences. Father George knew several of the priests who did leave the Catholic Church and become Orthodox, and they seemed to have one or more of the aforementioned characteristics. These were not examples to be remembered.
This was why he felt that he had to approach the Orthodox faith slowly and discreetly. In 1960 he published his first historical article, in which he supported the Uniates cause against Orthodoxy, but with reservations. His next article, which appeared two years later, had the Greek-disciplined Hungarian Christians as its theme. It was here that Father George's leanings towards the Uniates and the Orthodox faith were more obvious. Amongst other things, he praised the Uniates return to the functional rites of Orthodoxy, which was a specific movement from the Latin discipline and rites to the Orthodox discipline and rites by certain Uniate Churches in the West. This article was favourably accepted by the Hungarian Uniates, with whom Father George was renewing his ties, and also by the Hungarian Orthodoxy, who devoted a full page in their "Ecclesiastical Chronicles" on Father George.
Father George Pap corresponded often with his Uniate friends in Hungary, who were at that stage very enthusiastic with the initial discussions at the 2nd Vatican Synod on the rapprochement with the Orthodox. As soon as he received his Theology Degree, he decided to write another article, based on the ideological orientation of the Uniates, which of course, was also an extension of the ideological orientation of the himself, since his superiors intended that Father George would work together with the Hungarian Uniates.
In this article, he supported the view that the Uniates revive all the traditional Orthodox rites, such as theological, spiritual, functional, liturgical, canonical, etc., but to still retain ties with Rome. What a dangerous delusion indeed! In this manner, a "second Orthodox world" would be formed, and the pressures of reality would certainly cause it to become an adversary of the real Orthodox world. Father George Pap did not realize then that this proposal was really the idea of the wily leader of the Uniates. This proposal would certainly not bring together the two churches. The delusion that a person could be a true Orthodox and be with Rome at the same time caused Father George to be guilty of this serious offence. In the ensuing confusion, he asked another young Orthodox priest to perform his services.
When the young Jesuit students completed their theological studies, they had to spend a year in spiritual meditation. Father George Pap had heard many things about "Orthodox Paris" from his friend Gregory Pevchoff, so he asked his superiors if he could spend his year of mediation in Paris. So in the autumn of 1963, he arrived at the Jesuit monastery in Auxerre, which was especially suited for spiritual meditations. There were priests there from all over the world, even from as far of as Australia. The father superior seemed to be a clever but hard person.
I offer you my heart, but not my time", he declared to one of his subordinates.
At the monastery there was a large group of priests called "the shrewd ones". They were hard, active and extroverted. Since Father George's character was different from theirs, they ignored him completely, and this applied and to other priests who were not of their mold. Having the reputation of not being ascetically-inclined, the mornings that they spent in meditation were also spent mocking Father George, as he spent hours pacing up and down the corridor, engrossed in the planning of his new article. Another German-Jewish priest, who had become a Christian at an advanced age, liked and respected Father George, as they had both discovered their faith by themselves and not like the majority of "the shrewd ones, "who had grown up in the various colleges of the Jesuit Order".
"I had a feeling about your spiritual inclinations", he later confessed to Father George.
Ramon Soares, a Greek-disciplined priest from Portugal, was another of Father George's companions at the monastary. Being more organized and methodical than George, Ramon transformed a small room into an Eastern chapel. He hung paper copies of icons on the walls and used a high table as an altar. He used to speak nonstop about the Easterners:
"The easterners are like this, the Easterners do this, you are not doing it as the Easterners would do it...".
"You are more of an Easterner than Ramon, so you don't have to keep using the word' Easterner' as he does", confided a mutual friend to Father George.
One day in January of 1964, our two young clergymen, George Pap and Ramon Soares, went from Auxerre to Autun by train - Autun being where the bishop resided. They were going there to celebrate a week of Christian unity. While travelling, they discussed the extraordinary events they had just witnessed on television at the monastery. All the priests had gathered in front of the TV set to watch the pilgrimage of Pope Paul the VI to Jerusalem. A resounding "Aaaah" filled the room when the Roman Catholic clergy saw the majestic figure of the Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras on the screen. Even though he was a controversial figure inside his own church, he still impressed the Catholics with his charm and glamour, while exuding the power and mysticism of Orthodoxy.
At the train-station, the two young clergymen bought some French magazines (Paris Match, Jour de France), which were filled with photographs of the meeting between the two church leaders. Father George was planning to send some magazines back to Hungary, so his fellow-countrymen could see what was going on, religion-wise, in the outside world.
When they arrived in Autun, Fathers Ramon and George agreed to perform the Byzantine service the following day. Father Ramon Soares taught some of the local religious students to chant part of the service in French, while Father George Pap used an abridged version of the benedictions, but he did read out aloud, in French, some of the holy prayers. The congregation, who was just getting used to hearing the liturgy in their language (after the reforms issued after the 2nd Vatican Synod), really appreciated the majestic rites of the Byzantine liturgy. Soon after, Father George performed the services at the large church in Auxerre, and here again, the congregation showed it's appreciation of the Byzantine style. The only person who was unhappy was Father Ramon Soares, who did not like the service being performed in French. One day, after going alone to Mouluis to perform the service at the church there, Father Ramon returned triumphantly.
"I performed the complete service in Greek, down to the last letter", he crowed to Father George.
At the monastery in Auxerre, the days passed by, filled with prayers, studying and pastoral ministrations. Often, Father George took confession in the monastery. This was when he discovered the dimensions of Grace, which hides the sacraments of penance. Father George found himself hearing confessions about routine, mundane everyday problems, but he also witnessed true religious transformations, which was happening quite often during that period of time. Since then, the young father made it a habit to pray before starting confession.
One day, Gregory Pevchoff came to visit Father George. Gregory had just been ordained, but it was obvious that he was having problems with his faith and his beliefs. The days and nights were spent going from restaurant to restaurant. Later, Father George reciprocated by visiting Gregory in Paris. They met at the station, then went immediately to a small Orthodox church.
At the festival of the Three Hierarchs, the two friends followed the eulogy at the Institute of Orthodox Theology at Saint Serge (the festival of the Three Hierarchs is celebrated here at the Institute using the old calendar, with all the Orthodox bishops in Paris taking part). Gregory introduced his friend to the secretariat of the Institute. When he saw our young priest, with his beard and his collar, he whispered something to Gregory, who nodded his head. Later, while eating at a restaurant, Father George asked what the secretariat wanted to know?
"He wanted to know if you were from the 'same place'" (the Spassky College in Rome).
Father George was furious. The Spassky College was certainly the black sheep for the Russians, but should he - who was so against this college and everything it stood for - be considered part of it? But there was not much he could do after this.
"You look great when you get mad", was Gregory's statement.
Chapter 12 // Contents // Chapter 14
Page created: 9-7-2008.
Last update: 9-7-2008.