Apart from the fact that I left an umbrella in Wales and forgot to retrieve my camera
from the airport security in Heathrow my third trip abroad to England and Romania went
quite well. It all began when Estelle Mosher's good husband, Ed Mosher, took us up to
Braintree to catch the Logan Express. Estelle and I flew together on an American Airlines
flight which took us to London where we had about an hour to switch over to Malev, the
Hungarian airline, which took us to Budapest. The rest of our party of six--Chris Stokes,
Judy Campbell, Helen Casoli and our translator, Bill Polcsa--arrived at different times on
different flights and airlines, but eventually we all met up at the Hotel Garden in
Budapest where we stayed for two days at the beginning of our trip and two days at the end
of our trip.
Our first night in Budapest we ate at a very pleasant restaurant a few blocks around the corner from the hotel--excellent food including wine and beer all for $68 split six ways--and on top of that we were royally entertained by a smiling piano player who played American show tunes and ballads while we sang and applauded and Bill and Estelle even danced in the aisle by our table. It was a good beginning to a 13 day venture into Hungary and Romania. We began our journey as tourists to an interesting part of the world, but before it was over we realized that we had become pilgrims to the origins of our liberal religious Unitarian faith in the heart of the Carpathian hills. It was a journey we will never forget.
On our second day in Budapest we took a bus tour of that marvelous city. During our tour I was struck by a message that was painted in large letters on the side of a old building: "God Is Matter Embodied In You", which I thought was pretty good theology for those of us who believe that the divine is part of the world as we know it and encounter it in ourselves and others. Budapest is divided into two parts, Buda on one side, Pest on the other, and the beautiful blue Danube River running between. Buda comes from a Slavic word meaning water, because Buda is known for its many natural thermal springs. Buda is on a higher elevation on the hills that overlook the Danube. It is known as the castle area and among other things has the National Gallery of Art and the beautiful Hungarian Catholic National Cathedral, St. Mattias, where we attended an evening concert of Vivaldi's "Gloria."
The Cathedral has ancient intricate ornate paintings on the walls, pillars and ceiling of the church. During the Turkish occupation many centuries ago the paintings were covered with white wash because the Turks, who were Muslims, did not believe in religious art, they considered it idolatry. After the Turks were driven out of the city artisans later were able to restore the sanctuary to its original beauty. It was truly a holy place and while there Judy and I, independently of one another, lit a candle of healing for our friend and colleague, Elizabeth Tarbox.
The next day we were met by our van driver and tour guide, Denes Farkas (which means "wolf" in Hungarian). Denes had once been a guest in the Norwell parsonage during a visit here a year and half ago. It was good to see my friend and to introduce him to our eager party of tourists and pilgrims. Denes is an ordained Unitarian minister and is a special assistant to the Bishop of the Unitarian Church in Kolozsvar. He knows all the back roads and villages of Transylvania like the back of his hand. As we drove from Budapest to the Romanian border we were struck by the rather flat and boring farm land of eastern Hungary. We were also struck by the presence of highway hookers walking back and forth along the sides of the highway in the rural countryside hoping for a pick up and a day's wages. We joked a bit about it, but it was kind of sad to see. These young women no doubt helped support their families by this most ancient of professions. For them it was a way of life.
When we crossed the border into Romania the hookers disappeared. The landscape also changed as we drove up into the Carpathian hills of Transylvania. This beautiful land had once been part of Hungary, but was ceded to Romania at the close of the First World War and again after the Second World War. The Hungarian minority is still a strong and visible presence in Transylvania and they have endured and survived through centuries of trial and oppression under various rulers and regimes. The Unitarians are a minority within a minority and their struggle and survival has sometimes been doubly difficult, but they have endured, and the fact of their endurance is a testimony to their deep religious faith.
Eight hours after we left Budapest we arrived in Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvar to the Hungarians). We stayed at Diaconia House, owned by the Calvinist Reformed Church, which houses students and other guests and visitors. It was a fairly pleasant place to stay and we had our own private dining room where we were served quite good food. We spent only one night there, but we would come back to Diaconia House four days later where we would stay for the remainder of our time in Transylvania. The next morning we set off on our journey to Kadacs, the site of our sister church and village in the county or region of Harghita. Along the way we stopped at some important holy sites of the origin of our Unitarian faith, the most important being the Catholic church in Torda where the famous religious debate among Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and Unitarian leaders took place in 1568.
The champion for the Unitarians was Francis David who convinced the young 23 year old king, John Sigismund, to pass an Edict of Religious Tolerance permitting ministers and laity to practice their form of religion according to their conscience since faith was the gift of God and could not be imposed from without. This was the first time such a thing had been allowed in any state in Europe and it became enshrined in law. The king not only passed the Edict, but became himself a Unitarian. Unfortunately, he died seven years later, but the legacy of his actions has endured for more than four and a quarter centuries. Some five days later we would visit the oldest standing church in all of Transylvania (now Catholic), dating back a thousand years, which for a period of 150 years had been Unitarian. It was here in the church in Gyula-feher-var that the young Unitarian king had been buried. His sepulcher is still there, but unfortunately the site was desecrated and his body stolen and disposed of by invading Turks centuries ago. It still had the feeling of a holy place and the kindly 85 year old Catholic Vicar who told us the history of the place with warmth and enthusiasm, welcomed us as if we were all brothers and sisters in a common faith. The Edict of Religious Tolerance had indeed left its imprint upon Catholics and Protestants to this day.
We began to have some appreciation as to why Catholics make a pilgrimage to Rome and Muslims to Mecca. We were touching the origins of our own Unitarian faith and it was hitting home. After the death of John Sigismund, the court preacher Francis David met an untimely end. An intolerant Catholic king came to the throne and David was thrown in prison in Deva where he languished and died. But the faith he helped establish endured and could not be stamped out. Denes later took us to Deva where we saw the old prison still visible on the top of a distant hill. We did not have time to make the trek up and back, but the sight of it helped imprint upon us the price that was paid for the establishment of our free Unitarian faith.
We arrived in Kadacs around 5:00 P.M. on a Friday and were welcomed with hugs and kisses and tears. Jozsef Biro said they had awaited our arrival like the coming of the messiah. This was the first time that women from Norwell had made the journey to Kadacs and they were especially welcomed with open arms. Estelle and Helen were guests of a family who resided next door to the parsonage. The rest of us stayed in the minister's house with Anna and Jozsef Biro. However, we all ate our meals together in the parsonage. Anna had an entourage of kindly women from the village who helped cook and serve meals to their American guests. After we got settled Anna and Jozsef told me a sad story of the tragic death of a woman and her family. She had been one whom I had sent a monetary gift of $200 because of a case of special and dire need. Her crazed psychotic husband murdered his wife and children in their beds with an ax and then hung himself. Nothing like this had ever happened in their village. We tried to comfort them and let them know that such things also happen in America and other parts of the world, a tragic fact of human nature everywhere.
The next day, Saturday, we were treated to a special welcome and entertainment put on by the people of the village in the town cultural hall. Little children in native dress sang songs and recited poetry, young teenagers did Hungarian dances, and a chorus of women also sang for us. The President and Treasurer of the church spoke to me and thanked us for making the effort to come all the way across the waters to visit with them and even to try as best we could to speak a phrase or two in their native language. That meant a great deal to them. They told me that every time they worship in their church on Sunday morning they see the American flag and the quilted banner crafted by Judy Campbell with our two churches displayed and they think of us with fond remembrance and wait for the day when we might return. I was deeply moved by their expressions of affection and approbation.
At the end of the program Judy and I expressed our gratitude to the people for their warm welcome. I told them that though we are separated by a wide ocean the distance between us is only a matter of inches when we think of each other in our hearts. Among the gifts I brought with me were boxes and boxes of the First Parish Norwell 350th Anniversary Cup Plate which I gave to each of the women in the village. It was a symbolic linking of our church with theirs.
At the Sunday morning service the next day Judy and I each preached with Bill Polcsa translating our remarks. Judy shared with you her reflections a few weeks ago. My reflection was called "The Beautiful Gate" which referred to the miniature gate they gave to me as a gift in 1992 with an inscription which means: "You Can Be At Home Anywhere, But You Only Have One Homeland." I told them that home is where the heart is and that we were pleased to be able to call Kadacs our home away from home. I assured them that our hearts were with them and that their gentle village of Kadacs was no less the gate of heaven and the center of deep faith than the church and town of Norwell.
I wish you could have been there when Judy Campbell and I had the privilege of participating in the Christening of two little girls at the close of the service in our partner church in Kadacs, Transylvania. We certainly were not expecting this until Jozsef Biro told us that morning that there would be a Christening ceremony after the service and that we were invited to do the act of pouring the water and saying the words of Christening in English. One of the girls was around two to three years old, the other was an infant. The two sets of parents and godparents all came forward and stood beneath the pulpit in a semi-circle, much like we do here at the First Parish in Norwell.
The ceremony began with the minister, Jozsef Biro, giving a brief homily to the two families. The gist of his message (we were later told) was that their children were a gift from God, born innocent and sinless, and it was their responsibility to provide a loving home and moral guidance for their future growth and development. Judy and I were then invited to come forward and take the Christening Cup from the table beneath the pulpit and administer the baptismal rite. I had the pleasure of Christening the older child, Judy the infant. We held our left hand on top of the child's head, our fingers spread apart, poured some water on our hand and the child's head, and said, "I bless you and Christen you in the name of the one holy God." I think I poured a little too much water on top of the little girl's head, so much so that some ran down the back of her neck, but she never flinched, and no one else knew.
It was a beautiful ceremony, to say the least, and Judy and I were deeply touched that both the minister and the families wanted us to participate in the Christening of their children. What made the ceremony doubly meaningful to me was that the Christening Cup was none other than the silver Christening/Communion Cup which I brought as a gift to the congregation in Kadacs during my first visit in 1992. Some of you will recall that we had the cup (which was one of six from our communion set of 1836) inscribed with the words in Hungarian meaning: Gift from the First Parish in Norwell to the Unitarian Congregation in Kadacs, March 1992. So here we were some six years later pouring water from that same cup in a Christening ceremony for two lovely children in Kadacs. I felt then as I had never quite felt before a loving connection across the waters to our brother and sister Unitarians in Transylvania. We were truly welcomed into their spiritual family as fellow ministers and friends.
At the end of our visit when we were back in Budapest, our translator, Bill Polcsa said to me that our journey to Romania was all worthwhile because what we did made a difference in the lives of the people of our partner church village in Kadacs. We brought a sense of hope and encouragement to them and the knowledge that we and they were not alone in our faith, that there were brother and sister Unitarians across the waters who held them in their hearts and hoped and prayed for their well being. The truth of the matter is we were changed also by our encounter with these loving and courageous people of Transylvania. Here we made not only new found friends, but discovered the roots and origins of our free faith and the realization that Unitarian Universalism is a global faith with many local expressions around the world.
I discovered it anew in my visit to England, which I will share with you in a future sermon next fall, but suffice it to say that I shared something of my pilgrimage to Transylvania with a small congregation at the Stockton Unitarian Church. I cited the centuries old courage and faith or our Unitarian brothers and sisters in Transylvania and told them not to lose heart though they may be going through a difficult period as a congregation, which they were. At the end of my talk they all applauded and told me afterwards that they had never known anything about the origins of Unitarianism in Transylvania and they thanked me profusely. Once again I was able to make loving connections across the waters and found my own faith deepened and enhanced in the process. I would wish the same for each and everyone of you.
Isten Aldja. I bless you in the name of the one holy God.