Whatever shines is not always gold
I was not even 20 when my life changed. I became Roman Catholic! I was born and raised in Chania, Crete (Greece) into the Orthodox faith. In my last year of high school I studied Italian with a Franciscan monk. (Like my older brother and many other students we looked in those days to study abroad—Italy, Germany, England.) I even sung Panis Angelicus in his church. The nuns loved it. It never occurred to me to inquire into the RC faith. It was not my Church. I was Orthodox.
I went to Italy to study engineering. Instead, in the middle of my second year I happened to walk into a religious bookstore run by the Daughters of St. Paul, a Roman Catholic religious congregation. I was immediately impressed by the religious fervor and zealous missionary spirit of these young, vibrant, educated, and intelligent nuns. This religious congregation was dedicated to spreading the word of God through the modern means of communication. The male congregation was called The Pious Society of St. Paul. A “family” of a total of ten congregations and institutes founded by Don James Alberione, who has now reached beatification (the last step before being declared a saint). They started their “apostolate” primarily in publishing, but soon they moved into recording, production of documentary movies—they even owned and operated radio and TV stations, and much more, all over the world.
After I found out about their mission I became convinced that they were living in the present, whereas we Orthodox lived in the past. What I witnessed in Italy was life-changing. I realized that they were carrying out The Great Commission (Acts 1:8). The goal is to reach the people where they are. When “Come to me” does not work, the good shepherd goes out to seek the stray sheep. The doors of our Orthodox churches were open, but empty of people, especially young people. I saw that the people of these organizations were on the right track, spreading the word in the only way possible: in the language and manner appealing to the culture of the time and place. I had not witnessed anything like it in our Orthodox lands. I was converted almost instantly. I abandoned my studies in engineering and, after a short trip back home to advise my parents of this turn in my life, and as it happens with many converts, I joined The Pious Society of St. Paul. On May 30, 1961, at age 19 and a half, I officially entered the RC Church. Shortly thereafter I took my temporary vows, with the intention of eventually becoming a monk and a priest. The irony is that when, at age 18, I was leaving Greece to go to Italy I was convinced Greece was in need of missionaries (now more than ever before).
I was first at Ariccia, near the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, outside of Rome, in the beautiful Alban hills, then in Rome proper, near St. Paul “Outside the Walls.” I’ve seen two popes: John XXIII and Paul VI. I was in Rome during the Vatican II Council.
Like everyone else I was working, while studying the courses leading to the Licenza: philosophy, Latin and Italian languages and literature, etc. I worked as a proofreader. I also worked with printing machines and record presses. I was very happy at the Institute. Yet, something was missing. I prayed hard during the four years I stayed at the Institute of St. Paul. But life became less and less fulfilling. In private I was studying very hard, the Fathers and the history of the early Church. I just couldn’t reconcile certain beliefs and practices of the RC Church with what I was studying, particularly the primacy and infallibility of the pope. My superiors thought it was a matter of Roman rite—and that too played a role. They put me in touch with the Byzantine Catholics. They arranged for me to meet with the Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV. It was to no avail. Other dogmatic issues bothered me: Filioque, Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, rationalism, scholasticism.
I have found out that whatever shines is not always gold. I thought that if I stayed any longer I would suffocate. In the meantime my temporary vows were expiring. Soon I would have to take permanent vows. At that difficult juncture of my life I met with Archimandrite Maximos Agiorgousis (now the former Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh). He received me back paternally: “You were too young to know what you were doing.” Later he would tell me: “I saved you from the wolf’s mouth.” After staying a month close to him, I returned to Greece, where I served my two years in the Greek army, pondering all along what to do with my life.
My intention was to go to a monastery—an Orthodox monastery. I was thinking of St. Catherine’s, on Mount Sinai. But I was without a spiritual guide. I hesitated. So when my sister, who was married in Cleveland, Ohio invited me over, I went, to clear my head. A year and a half later, instead of cooling off, I met a Polish-American girl. Within six months we were married. I’d forgotten about my vocation. But not for good. Sixteen years later I found myself dissatisfied with my work in the insurance business. The old “calling” returned. With my wife’s consent, at age 45, I enrolled at Holy Cross in Brookline, MA, parting from my wife and our three children in St. Louis. With credits for previous studies at Cleveland State University, Oberlin College and The University of Chicago, and a very heavy load, I finished my theological studies in two years obtaining my Masters of Divinity “with distinction.”
Before I was even ordained a priest I was translating hymns from Greek to English, striving to render them in such a way as to preserve precisely the original melody. I have composed non-liturgical songs and hymns for children, who know next to nothing in English. I have written Orthodox Christmas plays for the youth. I’ve also written two liturgies for youth choirs. I always made all the services available to my parishioners—not only the Liturgies, but also Matins, Vespers, Supplicatory Canon, Complines. I also produced literature, for distribution in the narthex for free, for everyone, but particularly for inquirers.
It bothered me that as Orthodox we were content remaining an unknown entity in our own cities and neighborhoods. Then the Pauline Congregations came to mind and their “apostolate”: how they spread the word through the modern media of communications around the globe. However the difference between religious orders unified under a vote of obedience and us, disunited jurisdictionally, made our effort difficult. When I began to talk about making a unified effort to evangelize the people around us, I met resistance, both by our hierarchs and our fellow priests…
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis
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