Over the Border: Interest in Unity

2014. február 06., csütörtök

Although many people blame communism, and for good reason, we experience godlessness today as well, and our problems stem from this – István Csűry, bishop of the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District. Among many other things, we spoke with Csűry and Béla Kató, bishop of the Transylvanian Reformed Church District, about why Hungarians need Mohács and how ecumenism comes to fruition in Transylvania.  

A year after Béla Kató took up office, for the outsiders the biggest change in the life of the Romanian reformed was the growing intensity of the relationships between two church districts. 

Béla Kató: Indeed, a lot has happened in this area in the last few months, but nothing that could not have been foreseen. There are several reasons that co-operation is difficult. The last hundred years was not an easy period from many perspectives, moreover the Romanian authority had no interest in maintaining a good relationship with neither of the two church districts, nor their two bishops. The recent situation, when the Hungarians in Romania are limited in every area, and their number decreases, teaches us to share our experiences and resources with each other. We can both learn something from the other party, and that is why we have decided: we will co-operate with each other in the field of organizing programs and institutions. According to this we have consolidated the synod, which often had difficulties in operating and where the atmosphere was mistrustful. The already existing collective institutions – the pedagogic and pension institution and diaconia – were placed next to a theological faculty, and above this we have started a collective post-graduate institute for pastors and a mediation service in order to help prevent disciplinary cases. These embody the Romanian Reformed Church, and of course solving the local problems of its church districts belongs to its tasks as well. Our western partners were happy about the developments as well, because it made no sense to be represented as two separated churches at international forums. We will send a joint representation to the autumn congress of the World Council of Churches and to the pastor-qualifying exam too. Divided we perish, but united we are strong and can fight our common enemy.

An enemy? Who would that be?

B.K.: Who wants to eliminate us as a church and as a nation as well, who wants to assimilate and force us to leave – so who endangers our existence. We live in a system of homogenization today and we cannot ignore that.

Would it be so simple to ask: is the nationalist Romanian policy the enemy of the Hungarians in Transylvania? In a former conversation you have mentioned that often we are our own enemies.

B.K: There is no contradiction. The oppression from outside and our own weaknesses make our lives harder at the same time. We cannot blame all our problems on the people around us. First we should concentrate on our own renewal, or at least so much as they take us seriously, and until then we can’t expect any change from the others. 

István Csűry: We do not only tend to blame other people, but often we consider the past more important than it should be. Today many people blame communism, and although they have reason to do so, they still ignore that the sins of the communists were our sins as well. Godlessness, unfortunately, still appears in our world today, and now it attacks even more treacherously than before. The problems stem from this. In this recent state of Hungarians, where our number decreases and we are under constant attack, our task is to show the source of strength – that is not only some reserve, but strength coming from above. We should hold our heads up high again and turn to God.

"Divided we perish, but united we are strong." - Béla Kató

How do you keep contact between the Reformed church and the hostile Romanian state?

I.Cs.: Through the State Office for Church Affairs, where while the RMDSZ was in power a Hungarian co-worker could help our case. Since then we do not have powerful assistance there, which is a loss we can feel. That is why in the recent situation we have turned to the public more intensely.

B.K.: Our contact might be sufficient in a formal way but its content has not convinced us that we are treated on equal terms with the Orthodox Church, which without being officially admitted, operates as a state church, and this means several privileges for it. We just have to think of the special arrangements between the state and the Orthodox Church in the fields of education and social work. Not to mention that with state support 800 orthodox churches are being built in Romania at the same time, while we could hardly finish our 2-3 small churches. The state does not acknowledge the more than hundred-year old traditions of the reformed education either, which is a constant source of tension between us, and it does not give us enough support to maintain our social institutions. Of course we could manage with financing our institutions on our own, with the financial retransfer, but the state apparatus hinders this, as much as possible. We could only get back one of our real estates in Cluj-Napoca after 12 years of litigation, which was an enormous waste of time and money for us.  

In the World Council of Churches the Protestant and Greek-catholic churches are involved in ecumenism together. Would there be a possibility of the powerful and influential Romanian orthodoxies raising their voice against the discrimination the Hungarian minority churches have to suffer?

B.K: At the international interdenominational forums – it is a general Central-Eastern European custom, but Romania is doing extraordinarily well in this area – they show their best side at these forums, but reality is more complex than this. We have been requesting to establish an ecumenical council in Romania since the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu (2007). Forming the Council of Romanian Religious Denominations was only just achieved, which meets once a year under the chairmanship of the orthodox patriarch. We have reached an agreement in a few concrete issues, but deeper co-operation will only be possible if the orthodox can benefit from it as well. Perhaps this is not a utopia: although in Romania and in the east the Orthodox Church is stronger but at other parts of the world the Protestants are in the majority. However, on the European or global Christian scale of values we will not succeed without each other.       

The ecumenical week of prayer took place not a long ago. Regarding that, are the Transylvanian experiences as uncomfortable?

I.Cs.: The Orthodox Church often intentionally does not take part in the occasion. When it still sends a representative that appears in a lay clerical outfit, to signify to believers that this is an occasion of lower rank. In practice the ecumenical community does not work, only in form of a bilingual liturgical publication.

In pastoral letters, declarations and preaching, the necessity of a Hungarian-Transylvanian reconciliation has always been stressed. Could the co-operation of the two church districts set an example in the political life as well?

B.K.: It is up to other people to judge. But one thing is certain: we are interested in unity; we do not support divisive politics. This comes from the essence of the church, if we put it this way it is a theological constraint for us. It is unacceptable if unity breaks apart due to greed for power and materialistic ambitions. Our actions should be led by much greater motives than these. Furthermore, if we cannot reach an agreement, the ones who are not able to compromise will lose their power and livelihood. Not to mention the disadvantages the community has to suffer. Today most of all the democratic election system of the reformed church can be a good example for the Transylvanian-Hungarian political community. In this system the mandate of the leaders is bound to the period and everyone can be re-elected only once. This system ensures that no one can seize power for long, and like this no one is forced to found a new party or church, because the new generation also has a chance to win the trust of the community and, besides what has already been accomplished, achieve their own ideas. 

I.Cs.: Not long ago we blessed a church in Németszentpéter, a village in Arad County where in the 1950’s only one Hungarian lived. During the next decades the size of the community reached fifty people, with the help of reformed moving there from Szilágyság County. Instead of being lost or scattered, they gathered around the cloak of the pastor coming to them from Arad and organized a congregation. Why? Although they belong to different parties, the Word of God and the Hungarian heritage is the same importance to all of them. The task of the church is to create such wonders, by preaching unity and gathering the people. 

"The task of the church is to create such wonders, by preaching unity and gathering the people." - István Csűry

During the autumn march of the Székelys, there was a huge crowd, never before seen, raising their voices for autonomy. Does this give hope for collaboration as well

I.Cs.: The participants of the march or the ones praying for it at home have realized that the will declared together and the collective actions shows a great strength. On one hand it sends and important message to the outside and on the other hand strengthens the community.

B.K.: During peaceful times, we Hungarians are always in rivalry with one another, but in misfortune we always co-operate and find unity. The Hungarian community of Transylvania may have finally realized that a lack of unity endangers the existence of our community. According to the Romanian railway company, the train transporting participants to the march broke down. This news was spread in mere moments over the radio, and the drivers who had additional space in their cars immediately went to the train station to help the participants. This shows why we really need a catalyst like Mohács, because these challenging times bring to life our instinctive defensive mechanisms.  

In the spring there will be elections in Hungary, which this time the people over the border can participate as well. Do you recommend they should go and vote, or should they stay away from Hungarian politics?

B.K.: We should definitely make use of our right! From our point of view, this election will not only be about the next four years, but it will determine if the Hungarians over the border will remain unimportant or if they will become and unavoidable factor in Hungarian politics. This does not only apply for our home-country elections: it is in the best interest of the Hungarians over the border to participate at any referendum, to increase their power to enforce interests.

I.Cs.: That is why we are ready to help the ones in the election registrations, who turn to the church. There may not be many of us, but with our active participation we can set an example for the younger generation who tries to succeed in Hungary or in western countries: if participation is so important for us, the ones on the other side of the border, then they might be more active as well.  

Can you also say who you will vote for?

B.K.: We do not interfere with the daily politics; at best we stress the values important to us when we encourage participation. The Hungarian community in Transylvania is well-informed, the necessary information for making a decision is available; everyone – a Christian person too – can decide who represents the most important values for the individual and the church as well. It is always a question if the political party in power will carry its program out after the elections, but the Church has a task here: as a living conscience it should always remind the politics of its obligations and pledges. 

Which are the important values for the Church?

I.Cs.: Faith, family and the community of the church and nation. People must ask themselves which political party’s concept is the closet to their faith, national consciousness as well as their individual and national future prospects. Which represents the basic Christian values, and dares to declare: we need God in this miserable world?



Written by: Sándor Kiss; translated by: Anita Polgári
Originally published by: Reformátusok Lapja 2014/5
Portraits: Krisztián Sereg

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