In early July, eight members of our youth group and two adult mentors spent 10 days in Transylvania, Romania. They learned about the Unitarian heritage of that Hungarian-speaking area of the country, and spent time in the village of Homoródkarácsonyfalva, where our partner church is located. Here are three reflections on that experience.
A second service was given on January 11, 2015 (Reflections from Transylvania), where three more reflections were offered by the youth. Click here to see them.
From Kate Kruckemeyer, an adult mentor:
An Encounter in Deva
“Look at the hands,” the Orthodox priest said, pointing to the painting of Jesus raising Adam and Eve from Purgatory. “We are not holding hands with God. Jesus grasps them by the wrists to show that God has all the power, and Man has none.”
I had stopped in the Romanian Orthodox church in the center of Deva, near the site of the martyrdom of Francis David, the founder of Unitarianism. While today it is practiced only by about one quarter of one percent of the population of Romania, Unitarianism is so deeply rooted in Transylvania that even the supposedly godless Communists gave it official sanction as one of the four historical faiths of the nation. So when the Orthodox priest (representing the faith of 80% of the population) asked me if I was a believer, I figured that telling him I was a Unitarian would buy me at least a small measure of credibility. What it did, however, was show me how radical our village partners’ faith seems to the religious establishment of their country. The priest and an English-speaking female parishioner brought me to the altar of the church and, for the next 20 minutes, gave me testimony of their faith. In a way, they were kind: they never told me my beliefs were wrong (indeed, they didn’t ask me anything more about my religious views), nor did they threaten me with the damnation they so clearly felt I was headed toward. Instead they professed their faith by touching upon matters of belief that were in clear opposition to what some have called “the Unitarian heresy,” particularly the Orthodox insistence on the divinity of Christ, the absolute necessity of confession in order to enter Heaven, and the inerrancy of the Bible as the Word of God. “This is true,” the woman kept telling me, “This is TRUE.” Faith not works, powerless sinners not worthy to hold the hand of God. In other words: stop thinking you have any power to change things, you crazy Unitarians!
Later that day, as our group stood before the memorial to Francis David in the citadel of Deva, I nearly cried with joy when our tour guide Csilla said of her fellow Unitarians: “We believe that the Bible was written by humans for the benefit of humans.” Although our partners in Transylvania profess an explicitly Christian Unitarianism, they embrace Jesus as a human teacher and guide, and their understanding of salvation extends to all people of good will, regardless of faith. Despite my own atheism, this was a vision of faith that I, too, could affirm. Here was a hand extended, not in supplication to God in hopes he would grab our wrists and haul us up to salvation, but instead outward to all people in faith and fellowship—and perhaps most importantly, in hopes for a better world, not in the afterlife but rather right here, right now.
“What is our calling?” young people are asked in the 55th question of the Hungarian Unitarian Catechism. And they answer: “Our calling is to build the Kingdom of God in this earthly life with the spiritual gifts received from God.”
From Valerie Ingmann:
Sunday was our last day visiting our partner church village. We were lucky enough to hear a translated version of Mihaly’s sermon that morning. His words stuck with me. At one point he said:
"We have so many languages in this world, so many foreign languages people don't understand. But there is one language everybody understands, and that is the language of love."
Before the trip, our group spent time trying to learn some Hungarian so we could communicate better when we got to the village. Unfortunately, none of us exactly became fluent before arriving...Thanks to our wonderful translator, it wasn’t the end of the world. As we were welcomed into Mihaly and Eniko’s home for dinner the first night, I didn’t need to hear any words to understand the amazing hospitality we were given. Some children from the village sang us a song and it was so beautiful it just seemed right for us to sing one back. We were embraced, given handpicked flowers, and welcomed as if we had met many times before. They were speaking the language of love.
Communicating with our new friends, assisted by our translator, was easy. We discussed similarities and differences in our schools and churches and I was grateful for the chance to understand more about our partner village and the individual stories of the people we met.
I also had a lot of fun pulling out my Hungarian phrasebook and trying to talk with the kids unassisted. A lot of them had learned a little English, so combined with gestures and smiles we were able to talk about basic things and enjoy together the simplest pleasures, mostly, baby animals. I think the kids enjoyed the rudimentary steps in Hungarian we took - or attempted to take! It was probably confusing and hilarious for them to listen to our pronunciation but I think the willingness to try out a new language, no matter how different it is, can show curiosity and respect for another culture. It is like the willingness to look at the world in another perspective than your own.
Our journey to Transylvania consisted of 10 individual journeys into new perspectives. Each one of us took something unique away from the trip -- so many different thoughts, realizations, journal entries and photos. Everybody looks at the world through their own lens, which is one reason I think travel is so important. To see and meet humans who live such different lives and yet can still connect with one another. To immerse yourself in a place or culture that you may fall in love with or disagree with completely - or both. I think it is beneficial and natural for us humans to explore each other’s places and each other’s ideas.
The first question of the Hungarian Unitarian Catechism young people learn
asks, “What is religion?” The answer states “Religion is love toward God and toward our neighbor (all neighbors).”
For me, an essential part of being a UU is the commitment to understanding the perspectives of others and respecting the inherent worth and dignity of every person and their thoughts. It is love toward our neighbor - ALL neighbors.
Love toward God is an essential piece of the Unitarian religion in our partner church, but they say it is possible to show love toward God in many different ways. In our Unitarian Universalist congregation, God is not explicitly mentioned in our principles or our purpose. But I think “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” is our way of asking and giving space for each other to show love, in many different ways, to whatever one may think is important or divine.
Here, we are blessed with the opportunity to speak about love and life in our own language, the language of our individual beliefs. Most religions are more structured and the religion in our partner church is as well - and the faith of individuals here varies in structure from opposite ends of the spectrum. I believe there are so many perspectives and types of religion that matter and so many worth exploring. Learning about Unitarianism in Transylvania increased my UU commitment while simultaneously making me want to explore and learn even more.
The words “Az Isten Szeretet” are decorated onto the pulpit of our partner church. It means “God is love”.
It is complicated and tedious to understand people who speak a different language, but when you are patient, it is worth it. It is the same with the language humans use to speak about God, or whatever they believe might represent love. The incredible welcome we received in the village reminds me of our tradition of welcome - we welcome everyone, including their beliefs. Come, come, whoever you are. As Mihály said, love is the language we all understand. I believe it is up to us to choose what we put in our vocabulary.
From David Banta-Garcia:
The Silence of Transylvania
From a different part of the world comes a different way of life. It is life we’ve all prepared for and yet were astonished by. I never saw such great companionship and such beautiful lands and
For all the miscommunication, came help from our guide and driver, Ishtvan, whom we shared a personal connection to. The young people of the village welcomed us and were grateful for us to come all this way and visit them. We heard them sing, watched them make bread, saw their precious animals, and learned some traditional dances. It was an honor to be in their homes, school and presence and being part of their sunday service was a moment of pure hospitality
We all received flowers and wooden plaques as tokens of our partnership as well as every activity we had together was a gift.
Hardly any words were shared between them and me, but rather expressions and motions, for this how I myself communicate with the outside world. We formed a silent connection and many laughs from the time we spent. The only language spoken was the language of love, the spirit of life. One only needed to see what they did to be grateful, as well as what we did learn in Hungarian was enough to connect with our fellow youth.
My UU experience served a greater purpose for me on the trip as well as the divine purpose of the teachings of the Bible. What the lord really is and what was taught was now clearer in the sense of how we honor each other and share our ways, especially in the memorial of Francis David, where I could almost see the legacy, the beliefs and the blood behind him.
It was a time of darkness that I saw behind the faith and traditions of every known religion and the conflicts it brought. Yet the UU always remains pure and peaceful and the memorial represented that, a candle that shines even in the darkest of times and honors the sacrifices of those that defended their beliefs.
All of this I reflected on in a moment of silence, to understand the purpose of it all. My own belief that God is just a given for meaning in life in the eye of the beholder corresponds with the Diet of Torda, which allowed people to practice the religion that suits one’s way of life to have faith. The traditions of the church I rejected for so long due to my belief and while it remains, the UU showed me a different God that is a union of many other beliefs. The belief in him as one person and the one being followed by all religious teachings. The group was very open to everyone’s point of view. There was always something we could start from and go deeper into the subject. It never felt like just one way of life, but rather looking into all the various lessons taught in the bible as well as the fabric of everyday life in general. I shared a lot with the Youth Groups and learned much from them, all under the very chalice of the U.U. Despite where we come from, there is this inner circle of hope we all seek to find the meaning of life. We are all the children of the Earth and God is the spiritual bond that holds us together.
There was so much I learned from them and so much there is to learn. A place so different, yet so similar with great cuisine, crafts and people is more than a vacation trip and a typical travel experience. It was a life changing experience that my four years in the Youth Group have been building up to. The trip was a final conclusion to my years here and a beginning to my many years in the real world.