My conversion to Orthodoxy began one day while I was reordering the Library catalogues of the monastery I belong to. This monastery belonged to the Franciscan order, founded in my country of Spain. While I was classifying different old articles concerning the Holy Inquisition, I happened to come across an article that was truly impressive, dating back to 1647. This article described a decision of the Holy Inquisition that anathematized as heretic any Christian who dared believe, accept or preach to others that he supported the apostolic validity of the Apostle Paul.
It was about a horrible finding that my mind could not comprehend. I immediately thought to calm my soul that perhaps it was due to a typographical error or due to some forgery, which was not so uncommon in the western Church of that time when the articles were written. However, my disturbance and my surprise became greater after researching and confirming that the decision of the Holy Inquisition that was referred to in the article was authentic. In fact already during two earlier occasions, namely in 1327 and 1331, the Popes John 22nd and Clemens 6th had condemned and anathematized any one who dared deny that the Apostle Paul during his entire apostolic life, was totally subordinate to the ecclesiastic monarchal authority of the first Pope and king of the Church, namely the Apostle Peter. And a lot later Pope Pius 10th, in 1907 and Benedict 15th, in 1920, had repeated the same anathemas and the same condemnations.
I had therefore to dismiss any possibility of it being due to an inadvertent misquoting or forgery. So I was thus confronted with a serious problem of conscience.
Personally it was impossible for me to accept that the Apostle Paul was disposed off under whatever Papal command. The independence of his apostolic work among nations, against that which characterized the apostolic work of Peter among the circumcised, for me was the unshakeable event that shouted from the Holy Bible.
The thing was totally clear to me who he was, as the explaining works of the Fathers on this issue do not leave the slightest doubt. "Paul- writes St Chrysostom- declares his equality with the rest of the apostles and should be compared not only with all the others but with the first one of them, to prove that each one had the same authority". Truly, together all the Fathers agree that "all the rest of the apostles were the same like Peter, namely they were endowed with the same honour and authority". It was impossible for who ever of them, to exercise higher authority from the rest, for the apostolic title that each had was the "highest authority, the peak of authorities". They were all shepherds, while the flock was one. And the flock was shepherded by the apostles in conformity by all".
The matter was therefore crystal clear. Despite this, the Roman teaching was against the situation. This way for the first time in my life, I experienced a frightful dilemma. What could I say? On one side the Bible and the Holy Tradition and on the other side the teaching of the Church? According to the Roman theology it is essential for our salvation to believe that the Church is a pure monarchy, whose monarch is the Pope. This way, the synod of the Vatican, voting together all the earlier convictions, it declared officially that "if any one says ....... that Peter (who is assumed to be the first Pope) was not ordained by Christ as the leader of the Apostles and visible Head of all the Church .......... is under anathema".
I am addressing my confessor.
Within this psychological disturbance I addressed my confessor and naively described the situation. He was one of the most famous priests of the monastery. He heard me with sadness, aware that it involved a very difficult problem. Having thought for a few minutes while looking in vain for an acceptable resolution, he finally told me the following that I confess I did not expect.
The Bible and the Fathers have harmed you, my child. Set it and them aside and confine yourself to following the infallible teachings of the Church and do not let yourself become victim of such thoughts. Never allow creatures of God whoever they may be, to scandalize your faith in God and the Church.
This answer he gave very explicitly, caused my confusion to grow. I always held that especially the Word of God is the only thing that one cannot set aside.
Without allowing me any time to respond, my confessor added: "In exchange, I shall give you a list of prominent authors in whose works your faith will relax and be supported". And asking me if I had something else "more interesting" to ask, he terminated our conversation.
Few days later, my confessor departed from the monastery for a preaching tour of Churches of the monastic order. He left me the list of authors, recommending that I read them. And he asked me to inform him of my progress in this reading by writing him.
Even though his words did not convince me in the least, I collected these books and started to read them as objectively and attentively as possible.
The majority of the books were theological texts and manuals of papal decisions as well as of ecumenical synods. I threw myself to the study with genuine interest, having only the Bible as my guide, "Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths". (Ps 118:105).
As I progressed in my study of those books, I would understand more and more, that I was unaware of the nature of my Church. Having been proselytized in Christianity and baptized as soon as I completed my encyclical studies, I continued with philosophical studies and then as I speak to you I was just at the beginning of the theological studies. It concerned of a science totally new to me. Until then Christianity and the Roman Church was for me an amalgam, something absolutely indivisible. In my monastic life I was only concerned with their exterior view and I was given no reason to examine in depth the bases and reasons of the organic structure of my Church.
The preposterous Teaching about the Pope.
Exactly then, within the bouquet of articles, that wisely my spiritual leader had put together, the true nature of this monarchal system, known as the Roman Church, started to unravel. I suppose a summary of her characteristics would not be superfluous.
First of all, to the Roman Catholics, the Christian Church "is nothing more than an absolute monarchy" whose monarch is the Pope who functions in all her facets as such. On this papist monarchy "all the power and stability of the Church is found" which otherwise "would not have been possible". The same Christianity is supported completely by Papism. And still some more, "Papism is the most significant agent of Christianity", "it is its zenith and its essence".
The monarchic authority of the Pope as supreme leader and the visible head of the Church, cornerstone, Universal Infallible Teacher of the Faith, Representative (Vicar) of God on earth, shepherd of shepherds and Supreme Hierarch, `is totally dynamic and dominant and embraces all the teachings and legal rights that the Church has. "Divine right " is extended on all and individually on each baptized man across the whole world. This dictatorial authority can be exercised at any time, over anything and on any Christian across the world, whether lay or clergy, and in any church of any denomination and language it may be, in consideration of the Pope being the supreme bishop of every ecclesiastical diocese in the world.
People who refuse to recognize all this authority and do not submit blindly, are schismatic, heretic, impious and sacrilegious and their souls are already destined to eternal damnation, for it is essential for our salvation that we believe in the institution of Papism and submit to it and its representatives. This way the Pope incarnates that imaginary Leader, prophesied by Cicero, writing that all must recognize him to be holy.
Always in the roman teaching, "accepting that the Pope has the right to intervene and judge all spiritual issues of everyone and each Christian separately, that much more does he have the right to do the same in their worldly affairs. He cannot be limited to judging only through spiritual penalties, denying the eternal salvation to those who do not submit to him, but also he has the right to exercise authority over the faithful. For the Church has two knives, symbol of her spiritual and worldly power. The first of these is in the hands of the clergy, the other in the hands of Kings and soldiers, who though they too are under the will and service of the clergy".
The Pope, maintaining that he is the representative of Him whose "kingdom is not of this world", of Him who forbade the Apostles to imitate the kings of the world who "conquer the nations" and nominates himself as a worldly king, thus continuing the imperialism of Rome. At different periods he in fact had become lord over great expanses, he declared bloody wars against other Christian kings, to acquire other land expanses, or even to satisfy his thirst for more wealth and power. He owned a great number of slaves. He played a central role and many times a decisive role in political history. The duty of the Christian lords is to retreat in the face "of the divine right king" surrendering to him their kingdom and their politico-ecclesiastic throne, "that was created to ennoble and anchor all the other thrones of the world". To day the worldly capital of the pope is confined to the Vatican City. It concerns an autonomous nation with diplomatic representations in the governments of both hemispheres, with army, weapons police, jails, currency etc.
And as crown and peak of the almightiness of the Pope, he has one more faithful privilege that even the most ignoble idolaters could not even imagine- the infallible divine right, according to the dogmatic rule of the Vatican Synod that took place on 1870. Since then on "humanity ought to address to him whatever it addresses to the Lord: you have words of eternal life". From now on, there is no need of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church "to all the truth". There is no more need of the Holy Bible nor of the Sacred Tradition for thus there is a god on earth, based on the infallible, the Pope is the only canon of Truth who can even express things contrary to the judgment of all the Church, declare new dogmas, which the faithful ought to accept if they do not wish to be cut off from their salvation. "It depends only on his will and intention to deem whatever he wishes, as sacred and holy within the Church" and the decratalian letters must be deemed, believed and obeyed "as canonical epistles". Since he is an infallible Pope, he must receive blind obedience. Cardinal Bellarmine, who was declared saint by the Roman Church, says this simply: "If the Pope some day imposed sins and forbade virtues, the Church is obliged to believe that these sins are good and these virtues are bad".
The answer of my confessor
Having read all those books, I felt myself as a stranger within my Church, whose organizational composition has no relation to the Church that the Lord built and organized by the Apostles and their disciples and as intended by the Holy Fathers. Under this belief I wrote my first letter to my superior- "I read your books. I shall not contravene the divine warrants so that I may follow the human teachings that have no basis at all in the Holy Bible. Such teachings are a string of foolishness by Papism. From the provisions of the Holy Bible we can understand the nature of the Church and not through human decisions and theories. The truth of faith does not spring but from the Holy Bible and from the Tradition of the whole Church".
The reply came fast- You have not followed my advice- complained my elder- and exposed your soul to the dangerous impact of the Holy Bible, which, like fire burns and blackens when it does not shine. In such situations like yours, the Popes have pronounced that it "is a scandalous error for one to believe that all the Christians could read the Holy Bible", and the theologians assure us that the Holy Bible "is a dark cloud". "For one to believe in the enlightenment and clarity of the Bible is a heterodox dogma" so claim our infallible leaders. "As far as the Tradition, I do not consider it necessary to remind you that we should primarily follow the Pope on matters of faith. The Pope is worth in this case thousands of Augustinians, Jeronymuses, Gregories, Chrysostoms...........".This letter accomplished to strengthen my opinion rather than demolish it. It was impossible for me to place the Holy Bible below the Pope. By attacking the Holy Bible, my Church was losing every worthy belief ahead of me, and was becoming one with the heretics who "being elected by the Bible turn against it". This was the last contact I had with my elder.
The Pope is everything and the Church is nothing
However I did not stop there. I had already started to "skid due to the skid" of my Church. I had taken a road that I was not allowed to stop until I found a positive solution. The drama of those days was that I had estranged myself from Papism, but I did not accost any other ecclesiastical reality. Orthodoxy and Protestantism then were for me vague ideas and I had not reached the time and opportunity to ascertain that they could offer something to soothe my agony. Despite all this I continued to love my Church that made me a Christian and I bore her symbol. I still needed more profound thinking to reach slowly, with trouble and grief to the conclusion that the Church I loved was not part of the papist system.
Truly, against the monocracy of the Pope, the authority of the Church and of the bishopric body, is not intrinsically subordinate. Because according to the Roman theology "the authority of the Church exists only when it is characterized and harmonized by the Pope. In all other cases it is nullified". This way it is the same thing whether the Pope is with the Church or the Pope is without the Church, in other words, the Pope is everything and the Church is nothing. Very correctly did the bishop Maren write, "It would have been more accurate if the Roman Catholics when they recite the "I believe" would say "And in one Pope" instead of "And in one .......Church".
The importance and function of the bishops in the Roman Church is no more than that of representatives of the papist authority to which the bishops submit like the lay faithful. This regime they try to uphold under the 22nd chapter of St John's gospel, which according to the Roman interpretation "the Lord entrusts the Apostle Peter, the first Pope, the shepherding of His lambs and of His sheep", namely, He bestows on him the job of the Chief Shepherd with exclusive rights on all the faithful, who are the lambs and all the others, Apostles and Bishops, namely, the sheep.
However, the bishops in the Roman Church, are not even successors to the Apostles, for as it dogmatizes, this Church "the apostolic authority was lacking with the Apostles and was not passed down her successors, the bishops. Only the Papist authority of Peter, namely the Popes. The bishops then, having not inherited any apostolic authority, have no other authority but the one given to them, not directly from God but by the Extreme Pontiff of Rome.
And the Ecumenical synods also have no other value than the one given to them by the Bishop of Rome, "for they cannot be anything else except conferences of Christianity that are called under the authenticity and authority of the Pope". Suffice the Pope to exit the hall of the Synod saying "I am not in there anymore" to stop from that moment on the Ecumenical Synod from having any validity, if it is not authorized and validated by the Pope, who could impose through his authority on the faithful.
The frightful answer of a Jesuit.
I almost gave up on my studies during that period, taking advantage of the hours that my order allowed me to retire to my cell, to think of nothing else but my big problem. For whole months I would study the structure and organization of the early Church, straight from the apostolic and patristic sources. However, all this work could not be done totally in secrecy. It looked obvious that my exterior life was greatly affected by this great concern which had overwhelmed all my interest and sapped all my strength. I never lost an opportunity to enquire from outside the monastery whatever could contribute towards shedding light to my problem. This way I started to discuss the topic with known ecclesiastical acquaintances in relation to the trust I had in their frankness and their heart. This way I would receive continuously impressions and opinions on the topic which were for me always interesting and significant.
I found most of these clerics more fanatical than I expected. Even though they were deeply aware of the absurdity of the teaching on the Pope, being stuck to the idea that "the required submission to the Pope demands a blind consent of our views" and in the other maxim by the founder of Jesuits by which "That we may possess the truth and not fall in fallacy, we owe it to always depend on the basic and immovable axiom that what we see as white in reality it is black, if that is what the hierarchy of the Church tells us". With this fantastic bias a priest of the order of Jesus, entrusted me with the following thought:-
"What you tell me I acknowledge that they are most logical and very clear and true. However, for us Jesuits, apart from the usual three vows, we give a fourth one during the day of our tonsure. This fourth vow is more important than the vow of purity, obedience and poverty. It is the vow that we must totally submit to the Pope. This way, I prefer to go to hell with the Pope than to Paradise with all your truths.
A few centuries ago they would have burnt you in the fires of Holy Inquisition.
According to the opinion of most of them, I was a heretic. Here's what a bishop wrote to me, "A few centuries ago, the ideas you have, would have been enough to bring you to the fires of Holy Inquisition".
However, despite all this I intended to stay in the monastery and give myself to the purely spiritual life, leaving the responsibility to the hierarchy for the deceit and its correction. But could the important things of the soul be safe on a road of super physical life, where the arbitrariness of the Pope could pile up new dogmas and false teachings concerning the pious life of the Church? Moreover, since the purity of teaching was built with falsehoods about the pope, who could reassure me that this stain would not spread into the other parts of the evangelical faith?
It is therefore not strange if the holy men within the Roman Church started to sound the alarm by saying such as: "Who knows if the minor means of salvation that flood us, do not cause us to forget our only Saviour, Jesus...."? "Today our spiritual life appears like a multi-branch and multi-leaf tree, where the souls do no more know where the trunk is, that everything rests on, and where the roots are that feed it".
"With such a manner we have decorated and overloaded our religiocity, so that the face of Him who is the "focus of the issue" is lost inside the decorations" Being therefore convinced that the spiritual life within the bosom of the papist Church will expose me to dangers, I ended up taking the decisive step. I abandoned the monastery and after a little while I declared I did not belong to the Roman Church. Some others seemed prepared until then to follow me, but at the last moment no one proved prepared to sacrifice so radically his position within the Church, with the honour and consideration he enjoyed.
This way I abandoned the Roman Church, whose leader, forgetting that the Kingdom of the Son of God "is not of this world" and that "he who is called to the bishopric is not called to any high position or authority but to the diaconate of all the Church", but imitating him who "wishing in his pride to be like god, he lost the true glory, put on the false one" and "sat in the temple of God as god". Rightly did Bernard De Klaraval write about the Pope: "There is no more horrible poison for you, no sword more dangerous, than the thirst and passion of domination". Coming out of Papism, I followed my voice of conscience that was the voice of God. And this voice was telling me, "Leave her ....... So you may not partake of her sins and that you may not receive of her wounds". How after my departure I fell in the embrace of Orthodoxy, in the light of the absolute and spotless Truth, this I will describe at a later opportunity.
Secondly, as my departure from Papism became more broadly known within the ecclesiastical circles and was receiving more enthusiastic response in the Spanish and French protestant circles, so was my position becoming more precarious.
In the correspondence I received, the threatening and anonymous abusive letters were plentiful. They would accuse me that I was creating an anti-papist wave around me and I was leading by my example into "apostasy" Roman Catholic clerics "who were dogmatically sick" and who had publicly expressed a sympathetic feeling for my case.
This fact forced me to leave Barcelona, and settle in Madrid where I was put up - without my seeking - by Anglicans and through them I came in contact with the Ecumenical Council of Churches.
Not even there did I manage to remain inconspicuous. After every sermon at different Anglican Churches, a steadily increasing number of listeners sought to know me and to confidently discuss with me some ecclesiological topics.
Without therefore wishing it, a steadily increasing circle of people started forming around me, with most being anti-papists. This situation was exposing me to the authorities, because in the confidential meetings I had agreed to attend, some Roman Catholic clerics started to appear, who were generally known "for their lacking and weakening faith, regarding the primacy and infallibility of the Highest Hierarch of Rome".
The fanatical vindictiveness that some papists bore against my person, I saw it fully expressed and hit its zenith the day I replied publicly to a detailed ecclesiological dissertation, which they had sent to me as an ultimate step to remove me from the "trap of heresy" that I had fallen in. That work of apologetic character had the expressive title: "The Pope vicar of our Lord on earth" and the slogan that the arguments in the book ended up with, was the following: "Due to the infallibility of the Pope, the Roman Catholics are today the only Christians who could be certain for what they believe".
In the columns of a Portuguese book review, I replied: "The reality is that due to this infallibility you are the only Christians who cannot be certain about what they will demand that you believe tomorrow". My article ended with the following sentence: "Soon on the road you walk, you will name the Lord, vicar of the Pope in heaven".
Soon after I published in Buenos Aires my three volume study, I put an end to the skirmishes with the papists. In that study I had collected all the clauses in the patristic literature of the first four centuries, which directly or indirectly refer to the "primacy clauses" (Matt 16 :18-19; John21: 15-17; Luke 22: 31-32). I proved that the teachings about the Pope were absolutely foreign and contrary to the interpretation given by the Fathers on the issue. And the interpretation of the Fathers is exactly the rule on which we understand the Holy Bible.
During that period, even though from unrelated situations, for the first time I came in contact with Orthodoxy. Before I continue to recount the events, I owe it to confess here that my ideas about Orthodoxy had suffered an important development from the beginning of my spiritual odyssey. Certain discussions I had on ecclesiological topics with a group of Orthodox Polish, who passed through my country and the information I received from the Ecumenical Council regarding the existence and life in Orthodox circles in the West, had caused me a real interest. Furthermore, I started to get different Russian and Greek books and magazines from London and Berlin, as well as some of the prized books that were provided by archimandrite Benedict Katsenavakis in Napoli, Italy. Thus my interest in Orthodoxy would continue to grow.
Slowly, slowly in this way I started losing my inner biases against the Orthodox Church. These biases present Orthodoxy as schismatic, without spiritual life, drained group of small churches that do not have the characteristics of the true Church of Christ. And the schism that had cut her off, "had the devil for father and the pride of the patriarch Photios for mother".
So when I started to correspond with a respected member of the Orthodox hierarchy in the West- whose name I do not believe I am permitted to publish due to my personal criterion that was based on those original informations, I was thus totally free from every bias against Orthodoxy and I could spiritually gaze objectively. I soon realized and even with a pleasant surprise that my negative stance I had against Papism was conforming completely to the ecclesiological teaching of Orthodoxy. The respectable hierarch agreed to this coincidence in his letters but refrained from expressing himself more broadly because he was aware that I lived in a protestant surrounding.
The Orthodox in the West are not at all susceptible to proselytism. Only when our correspondence continued enough, the Orthodox bishop showed me to read the superb book by Sergei Boulgakov, "Orthodoxy" and the not less in depth dissertation, under the same title by metropolitan Seraphim. In the mean time I had also written specifically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In those books I found myself. There was not even a single paragraph that did not meet completely the agreement of my conscience. So much in these works as in others, that they would send to me with encouraging letters -now even from Greece- I clearly saw how the Orthodox teaching is profound and purely evangelical and that the Orthodox are the only Christians who believe like the Christians of the catacombs and of the Fathers of the Church of the golden age, the only ones who can repeat with holy boasting the patristic saying, "We believe in whatever we received from the Apostles".
That period I wrote two books, one with the title "The concept of Church according to the Western Fathers" and the other with the title "Your God, our God and God". These books were to be published in South America, but I did not proceed with their release, so that I may not give an easy and dangerous hold to the protestant propaganda.
From the Orthodox side they advised me to let go my simply negative position against Papism, in which I was dirtied and to shape my personal "I believe" from which they could judge how far I was from the Anglican Church as well as the Orthodox.
It was a hard task that I summarized with the following sentences: "I believe in everything that are included in the Canonic books of the Old and New Testament, according to the interpretation of the ecclesiastical Tradition, namely the Ecumenical Synods that were truly ecumenical and to the unanimous teaching of the Holy Fathers that are acknowledged catholically as such".
From then on I began to understand that the sympathy of the Protestants towards me was cooling down, except of the Anglicans who were governed by some meaningful support. And it is only now that the Orthodox interest, despite being late, as always, started to manifest itself and to attract me to Orthodoxy as one "possibly Catechumen".
The undertakings of a polish university professor, whom I knew, cemented my conviction that Orthodoxy is supported by the meaningful truths of Christianity. I understood that every Christian of the other confessions, is required to sacrifice some significant part of the faith to arrive at the complete dogmatic purity and only an Orthodox Christian is not so required. For only he lives and remains in the substance of Christianity and the revealed and unaltered truth.
So, I did no more feel myself alone against the almighty Roman Catholicism and the coolness that the Protestants displayed against me. There were in the East and scattered around the world, 280 million Christians who belonged to the Orthodox Church and with whom I felt in communion of faith.
The accusation of the theological mummification of Orthodoxy had for me no value, because I had now understood that this fixed and stable perseverance of the Orthodox teaching of truth, was not a spiritual solidified rock, but an everlasting flow, like the current of the waterfall that seems to remain always the same yet the waters always change.
Slowly, slowly the Orthodox started to consider me as one of their own. "That we speak to this Spaniard about Orthodoxy- wrote a famous archimandrite- is not proselytism". They and I perceived that I was already berthed in the port of Orthodoxy, that I was finally breathing freely in the bosom of the Mother Church. In this period I was finally Orthodox without realizing it, and like the disciples that walked towards Emmaus close to the Divine Teacher, I had covered a stretch close to Orthodoxy without conclusively recognizing the Truth but at the end.
When I was assured of this reality, I wrote a long dissertation on my case, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the Archbishop of Athens through the Apostolic Diaconate of the Church of Greece. And having no more to do with Spain - where today there does not exist an Orthodox community - I left my country and went to France where I asked to become a member of the Orthodox Church, having earlier let some more time for the fruit of my change to ripen. During this period I further deepened my knowledge of Orthodoxy and strengthened my relationship with her hierarchy. When I became fully confident of myself, I took the decisive step and officially became received in the true Church of Christ as her member. I wished to realize this great event in Greece, the recognized country of Orthodoxy, where I came to study theology. The blessed Archbishop of Athens received me patristically. His love and interest were beyond my expectations. I should say the same for the then chancellor of the Sacred Archbishopric and presently bishop Dionysus of Rogon who showed me patristic love. It is needless to add that in such an atmosphere of love and warmth, the Holy Synod did not take long to decide my canonical acceptance in the bosom of the Orthodox Church. During that all night sacred ceremony I was honoured with the name of the Apostle of Nations and following that, I became received as a monk in the Holy Penteli Monastery. Soon after, I was tonsured deacon by the Holy Bishop of Rogon.
Since then I live within the love, sympathy and understanding of the Greek Church and all her members. I ask from all, their prayers and their spiritual support that I may always stand worthy of the Grace that was given me by the Lord.
From the "Theodromia" magazine, Issue 1, January -March 2006
This article of the then Hierodeacon Fr. Paul Ballester-Convollier was published in two follow up articles by the "Kivotos" Magazine, July 1953, p. 285-291 and December 1953 p. 483- 485. The previous Franciscan monk who had turned to Orthodoxy was made titlebearing bishop Nanzizian of the Holy Hierobishopric of North and South America with its seat in Mexico. There he was met with a martyric death, the confessor of the Orthodox faith. The news of his murder was reported on the first page of the newspaper "Kathemerini" (Saturday 4 February1984) thus: "THE GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP PAUL WAS MURDERED IN MEXICO. As it became known from the city of Mexico, before yesterday the bishop Nianzizian Paul Di Ballester of the Greek archbishopric of North and South America died. He was murdered by a 70 year old Mexican, previous military and suffering from psychiatric illness. The funeral was attended by the Archbishop Jacob who was aware of the work of the active bishop. It should be pointed out that Bishop Paul was of Spanish origin, was received into Orthodoxy as an adult and excelled as a shepherd and author. The Mexican authorities do not exclude the possibility that his murderer was driven to his act through some sort of fanaticism.