If The Shoe Fits . . .
Over the last century for the majority of us in America, the idea of Europe holds historic fascination, excitement, even a beguiling of our common sense, often related to the fact that most of our bloodlines find their source here.
Over the last century for the majority of us in America, the idea of Europe holds historic fascination, excitement, even a beguiling of our common sense, often related to the fact that most of our bloodlines find their source here. Many of us travel here to locate our roots and feel affirmed! But something we unexpectedly observed last Saturday, made more striking by our recent 6 months of ‘home assignment’, can remind us all of the cultural anachronisms with which the present-day ‘Continent’ lives.
EU (the European Union) has been pouring large amounts of money into infrastructure improvements in Hungary, particularly in Budapest, since the country became a member in 2004. So, last Saturday, when we exited from our McCafe breakfast (a celebration for us for, once again, surviving the first 3 weeks of Fall semester), we weren’t too surprised to see another section of the city, around the oldest church in town, absolutely dug to smithereens. We were unable to walk further. On every side around the Belvárosi Templom there were drilled cement street slabs waiting to be removed, construction “camps”, equipment in motion, tall piles of earth and debris, gaping holes, red and white-on-yellow emergency barricades and warnings, stacks of metal rods and piping, piles of used and new bricks and tiles, loaded trucks and yelling workmen, and dust rising all around. Now, this kind of moonscape and racket we’ve become quite used to over the last several years.
What really stopped us was that positioned in different locations in this aural and visual cacophony were five unique tableau pieces. A small clergy-clad grouping stood at the venerable church’s door, ecumenical in appearance, waiting to enter first, – with an old-fashioned looking military figure arranging and re-arranging their positions. In what used to be the street to the left of the church waited a larger group of black-suited older and younger men participants. Alongside one ‘war-zone’ church wall milled a number of red, blue and white-suited (medieval-ish) “honor guard” with flags and daggers. In front of the church, barely stable on the up-torn street sections, constantly turning and re-positioning, was a lovely carriage and driver pulled by a matching light grey draft team trying actively to stay out of the way of the three already-mentioned groups and the buzzings of photographers trying for their best shots, and we few pedestrians, and an immense ( and immensely-scented) garbage truck on the right side of the church, wanting to get through the construction site to complete its scheduled stops.
We were amazed at the misfit of all this pageantry in such a decimated setting. Our dis-ease grew when we learned that this pomp was prelude to a Vitéz Induction. Some new worthy 14-18 year-old sons were to be sworn in to this 1920’s honorary organization founded by pro-German Miklos Horthy to reward those who joined him in his purchased efforts to wrest Hungary out of the hands of Béla Kun and his “Red” followers.* (Back then, in addition to the nobility-like Knighting, each could receive 10 hectares of free land (usually the Church’s) to help distribute the nation’s wealth.)
No more than one or two hundred out of Hungary’s current ten million were present at this particular ceremony. (Most of the Vitéz organization had fled to Germany during WWII and then gone on to Australia and South America.) But, new members were being Vitéz-ized this day (!) under the auspices of this wonderfully old and respected church.
What an event out of step with the times! This was not a historical re-enactment taking place. In the visible midst of the EU-funded re-building of Hungary all around us, this old 1920’s Trianon Agreement remnant of an attempt to keep Germany happy while fending off the Romanian, Czech and Serbian attempts at land grabbing was being vitalized with new membership! We were seeing a for-real though minority perpetuation of a nation still lacking cohesiveness about its present role and identity in this part of the world (and we were seeing the Church‘s participation in that befuddlement).
As each group followed the Clergy into the church, and the horses and carriage found a firmer place to stand, the odoriferous garbage truck carefully made its way through the debris to a street two blocks away, – and we stood and shook our heads at the incongruity of it all.
How hard it must be for a nation or a people or a Christian body to be a currently meaningful influence and contributor to its own well-being.
*This “Order Of The Valiant”, with its maximum membership at 29,000 in 1944, was disbanded in 1948 and re-established in exile!
Coralyn T. Medyesy, CGM missionary in Hungary
Laslo and Coralyn Medyesy are missionaries with the Reformed Church in Hungary, based in Budapest, Hungary. Laslo serves as professor of theology in the Department of Theology of the Gaspar Karoli Reformed University in Budapest. Coralyn T. Medyesy serves as a teacher of Social Work and Diakonia at the Nagy Koros School.