WHY I CONVERTED TO
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
I met Fr. Pataci in 1964 in Rome for the first time. We studied together for two years in the Institute of Eastern Studies. During that same period, an event was taking place, which was very significant for the Roman Catholic Church, an event that stirred up its otherwise calm waters: The second Vatican Council was ending. The presence of hundreds of Bishops from all over the world admittedly gave Rome an imposing image and displayed evidently the worldwide splendor and might of the Roman Catholic Church. It was clear to whoever had been following up that event that despite the prophesies of the past, the first Rome had not declined. On the contrary, Rome was opening new paths now, for her future dynamical presence in the world.
However, to a deep observer, that external glory and magnificence of the Council could not hide the internal rifts and the mutually conflicting currents within the bosom of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Roman Catholic Church in general. The main demand of the Council —the so-called aggiornamento— had already caused a great turmoil in all the strata, and great changes in all the structures of the Papal Church. At the same time, this situation caused great concern and uncertainly within the souls of many of its faithful. Via these changes which were accompanied by the spirit of the modern secularization, century-old structures of Papacy were now at the mercy of a landslide.
But on the other hand, out of this confusion something positive emerged: There appeared a current of return to the sources —the so-called «nostalgy towards Orthodoxy». The development of this current within the bosom of the Church of Rome was greatly contributed upon by the Liturgical Movement in the West and by the publishing of many Patristic works. A special role was played by the great interest towards Byzantine painting and namely by the discovery of the Orthodox icon and its theological content. The presence and the work of some brilliant Orthodox theologians in the West during that era played also an important role in the incitement of the interest towards Orthodoxy.
Fr. Pataci was one of those who proceeded from this current of the return to the sources of the Christian faith and to the indivisible tradition of the Church of the first eleven centuries. Being a refugee from Hungary to the West after the tragic incidents of 1956, and an only-born son, Fr. Pataci was a member of a Catholic family of the bourgeoisie of Budapest. The indifference of his parents towards faith and the path that he himself had chosen were his torture cross that he carried in this life. As a young Catholic having a zeal for the search of the truth, he first approached Jesuits. Their resistance against the Communist regime impressed him as a young man. He joined their order. He owes them his education and cultured erudition. But he could not withstand to the end the Jesuitic system of life and thought. H was not satisfied just with the knowledge only, or with the principles of the intelligence-mindedness and the ethicism of Jesuits. He was after the deepest spiritual experience and life which he could not find in the Roman Church. When he had already become an Orthodox, I asked him once: «What is the difference, in your opinion, between the Roman and the Orthodox Church?'» He said: «In the Roman Church 1 met many good people. But I have never found a really spiritual person».
Fr. Gabriel Pataci was a man of a «deep» heart. His thirst was a thirst for the unification of mind and heart. He intensely felt —both in himself and in the world around him— the schismatic disunity between mind and heart, knowledge and faith, action and existence. Although the greatest part of his conscious life he spent with Jesuits, they, on their part, have never been able to incorporate him fully into their system, though they employed all their refined, century-old and tried methods. Jesuits themselves admit that he remained «inadaptabie». He would internally resist against their idealized and intelligence-minded picture about God and the mystery of Revelation. The intelligence-minded ethicism and the mimetism of Christ's life that lies in their spiritual exercises used to literally torture him. He was looking for the spiritual fullness, and not finding it hurt him a lot. This pain —constantly marking his face as well-escorted him until the end of his earthly life.
A milestone in his life was his first contact with the Orthodox worship even before leaving Hungary, as well as his acquaintance with the Russian Literature and consequently with the theology of the Orthodox Diaspora. His then Jesuit guides, not understanding the existential cry of his soul, thought that —according to their own understanding of worship— it was sufficient for him to substitute the Byzantine type of worship for the Latin type, so that his wishes would be satisfied. Perhaps himself too, as a priest this time, was initially satisfied with the transition from the Latin to the Byzantine type of rites. But very soon he realized the adulteration of the Orthodox worship within Uniatism and the simultaneous adulteration of the very spiritual life as well. The external adaptation to the worship rituals did not mean a real approach to the substance and content of the worship. A worship segregated from true faith not only ceases being alive and an «intelligibie worships but it also runs the risk of being converted into mockery of God or into a pseudo-worship of man. Therefore, the forgery and thearticity of the Uniatic worship posed a serious problem for him and led him to the search of the very root of the worship and its truth.
Of course it was not easy for him to liberate himself from all those things that he had learned and lived with for so many years. However, his studies in Rome, in the Institute of Eastern Studies, together with Orthodox students, and the major fermentations that took place within the Roman Church at the time, helped him slowly understand that the equilibrium he was after, lay in the union of faith and worship, that is, in the integrated and alive tradition of the Church of the first centuries.
Fr. Pataci had already by that time realized that the Orthodox Church maintained this integrated tradition and internal interpenetration of faith, morality and all the aspects of life. However, for a while he thought that he should stay where he were, in order to bear witness in the bosom of the Roman Church, about the Orthodox tradition. But after his visit to Mt. Athos in 1971 and his contact with spiritual fathers and theologians in Mt. Athos and elsewhere in Greece, it was clear to him that he could no more compromise with his consciousness, nor could he play with his salvation. So he decided to accept Orthodoxy.
He applied and asked for his admission to the indivisible Church of our Fathers via the Russian Archbishopric of Paris. His request was accepted. During the last years of his life he studied thoroughly the Byzantine theologian Joseph Bryennios. He taught Byzantine Theology at the Institute of St. Sergius, living modestly and officiating at the small nunnery of Bussy-en-Otte at the outskirts of Paris, where following a very painful illness he passed away and rested in Lord Jesus after his toils and pains.
This book that you are holding now in your hands, dear reader, is a humble confession of a suffering and truly Christ-loving soul. Fr. Pataci held and carried on his feeble shoulders the cross of his era, and also the cross of the divided Christendom. Somewhere behind his simple and plain words there drops blood and lies the deep anguish of a crucified soul. Before his departure from this fake life, Lord Jesus gave him the strength to publish his work and bring it to the light of Truth. For this reason this book constitutes a very important testimony not only about its late writer, but also about the invincible power of our faith.
Metropolitan Amphilochios of Mavrobounion
Page created: 30-9-2006.
Last update: 30-9-2006.