Chapter 7 // Contents // Chapter 9
WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
"Lord, have mercy..., Christ, have mercy..., Lord, have mercy..."
Young George Pap was on the train heading for the village of Nagykata, about fifty kilometres from Budapest, as he chanted the long prayer. The train had just started and George had hidden himself in the one place where no one could see him praying with a prayer-book in his hands, and this place was the toilet - not very suitable for a place to pray in.
"O God hear us... and accommodate our descendants for our sinning and have mercy upon us".
But even here he could not find some peace and quiet to finish his prayer, as someone was banging on the door. George Quickly finished his prayer and walked out, followed by the scowling looks of his fellow traveller. Since he would be spending quite some time in the train, he had to take precautions to be certain that no one would observe the contents of his prayer-book as he read all his prayers.
But an observant young man noticed George and commented: I see that you're reading the Bible. I am a Baptist pastor. Which religion do you belong to"?
"Catholic", was the reply.
"Fancy that! The Catholics have begun to read the Bible!"
As soon as George arrived in Nagytaka, he went to the school where he was teaching Russian. Arriving there, he cheerfully greeted his colleagues and gave them the stuff they had asked him to get from the capital. For doing these little favours George had become popular with the other teachers. He was thankful that he was not still guided by Father Pomenski, who had told him to keep his distance from the other teachers...and to be formal in his dealings with the school.
Among the teachers at the school was also a nun, whom George recognized immediately. Catholic nuns always stood out from other women, even when dressed in ordinary clothes. Their education stamps something on them, something not in the least feminine, something that is reflected in the way they dress.
Every week-day George used to return to Budapest in the afternoon or in the evening. Having no free time, he used to look forward to the week-ends. It was only then that he could meet his new mentor, father John Tarka, who was forced to live in a hovel. Living a hermit's life, the father kept only a few books which he used in officiating the Liturgy. Most of the secret monks had been banned from their churches. Still, he wore his vestments whenever he celebrated mass, which made him the odd-man out amongst the other priests, as most of them wore plain clothes when performing the liturgy. But these priests, who were the forerunners of the 2nd Vatican Synod, usually left the priesthood.
When George started leaching Russian in Nagykata, he asked Father Tarka:
"Our order has a rule saying that we are not allowed to touch the face of a person. Can I slap my girl students, aged ten to twelve years old?"
The reply was negative. The girls, who had been used to harsh methods of teaching, soon realized that their Russian teacher would not touch them. As a result, unruly behaviour soon erupted in his class. Finally, George was forced to explain to Father Tarka that slapping was a method used by all his colleagues, and his mentor allowed him to give the odd slap or two.
The mischievous girls were so upset by their teacher's new attitude they wrote a letter of protest to the radio station.
Georges colleagues showed their indignation by gathering round George and supporting him. At the end of the school year, none of the teachers accepted gifts from this class.
The people of the village considered George to be an atheist because he taught Russian. Therefore, he decided to do the opposite of what they expected from him, and on Holy Thursday in 1956, George administered the Holy Communion in the village church and with the whole village present. He usually performed this service in Budapest.
After returning to the capital on the afternoon of the 23rd of October, George Pap went to the Franciscan church to attend the evening service. But instead of entering, something unexpectedly happened that caused him to pause outside. The students were marching in the city and were shouting: Down with Rakosi! Imre Nagy for the government!"
These slogans against the until recently powerful Stalinist leader unsettled George. He was hearing people saying and shouting words which they wouldn't have even dared to think about a little while ago. The heavy chains of repression, which had tied him down for years, were now breaking. He just could not go into church now.
Civil war soon broke out. The Hungarian people, who were famed as individualists, proved otherwise and nearly all banded together. A large open safe was placed in one of the public squares with the aim of collecting money for all the people who suffered in the hands of the present regime. No one dared to touch this money; nor were shop-windows looted. George found it difficult to understand how the people showed so much kind-heartedness to each other. Nor could he understand how he, who before was only interested in church matters, was now so poignantly moved by political matters.
Later, after searching deep inside the Orthodox perspective, he realized that freedom is the form of God in man. That is why, in moments of spontaneity, the soul brings out the true hidden beauty, which is also the religious qualities of man. The demonstrator in the streets was a fine example of this, and was something for the theologians to emulate.
"Father, can I escape to Austria and carry on there my monastic training?" asked George, when soviet troops again invaded Hungary.
'George, caution is required, " replied the Jesuit official. "I would not risk it if I were you. But if you decide to attempt it, at least get yourself a passport from the military or civilian authorities, to be able to enter the border zone".
Young George was placed in a quandary. The church official who was advising him had already been to jail for helping young priests to escape. Since obeying the law is the correct thing to do, the official could not disclose his true feelings, which were to help all the young to escape! There was already a rumour circulating that the leaders of the Jesuit Order wanted to send all aspiring priests abroad, to be educated in the proper subjects. If George did not now follow his secret desire, the Order might again consider him as "unsuitable". Frankly, most of the young priests had already left the country, so George had to get to Austria.
"Father, to avoid being bothered by the police, the Order has not officially told me if I am a novice priest or not. I have observed all the necessary obligations of the novice". The official pondered awhile, then replied: "Well, it must be considered that, let me see... from the 13th of November last year (1955) you are a novice priest". So we now find young George Pap at the station, saying goodbye to his parents. After many adventures, he finally arrived in Austria on December 18th, 1956. But his flight from Hungary weighed heavily on his soul for many years. His parents felt bitter that their son was not with them to celebrate Christmas, which, to them was a family occasion. Meanwhile, George was enjoying religious freedom with no restrictions whatsoever.
Chapter 7 // Contents // Chapter 9
Page created: 23-6-2008.
Last update: 23-6-2008.