When the idea of investigating the role of the Genevan Psalter and the survival of faith began to percolate, I had a somewhat naïve and narrow focus. I suspect that my Hungarian colleagues and friends would have made the same assessment – that if I wasn’t naïve, I certainly had much to learn. They were simply waiting for my eyes to open wide and then hoping and even trusting that I’d have the sense to ask the right questions. Remember, my colleague was not one to volunteer much.
The right questions began to take shape during informal visits in March of 2003. Janos Erdos was my Ars Longa Foundation contact. He not only arranged for preliminary introductions to some of the people we hoped to film and record, but also provided transportation in his legendary white van. We traveled to Rumania and met Denes and Ilona Fulop and also spent some time with Ferenc and Julia Visky.
From them I heard that after they had been freed from prison, the suffering did not stop. All of them, including their children, were frequently interrogated by the Rumanian Securitate (secret police), and their homes were subject to frequent unannounced searches. The pressure never stopped. Denes Fulop revealed that he had recently received his dossier from Bucharest and was troubled to learn that some of his closest acquaintances had regularly reported on him to the Securitate.
Ferenc Visky described an event when the interrogation of one of his sons had included a beating. The next day the captain who had administered the beating summoned Visky. His first words to the captain were, “I don’t hate you.” When he saw the surprise on the captain’s face, Visky continued. “Though you forbade my son to describe what had happened, the damage was evident on his face. At first I was angry at the treatment of my young boy who had never before been beaten. But then when I remembered the words, ‘Love your enemy.’ I simply hugged my son and kissed the marks of your beating on his face. The captain was shocked and quiet. It was the Christian’s revenge. Not many weeks later, the atheistic Communist was buried in an Orthodox cemetery. Only God knows what happened in his heart.”
A Hungarian I had met when she attended Calvin Seminary had become more than an acquaintance; she had become a friend. In Hungary, Gabriela Racsok introduced me to her grandfather, Jozsef Berenyi, a pastor who was banished by the bishop from his church in Debrecen to a vermin-infested house in a distant village near the border of Rumania.
So in this first visit, I heard hints of the complex history of the Hungarian Reformed Church especially during the post-WW II period. Gabriela’s master’s thesis while at Calvin Seminary opened another whole area for research. How had it happened that for some pastors, the official church leaders were the instruments of oppression, more harsh than the communist officials? There was certainly more to that story.
These Hungarians and many others were both kind and generous, and I remain grateful. In addition, I’d like to thank David Pandy-Szekeres and Robert Hunlich as well as Janos Erdos of the Ars Longa Foundation for helping me hear the stories.
I also want to thank Eszter Dani, Anita Barnozki, Hajni Hos and Steve Ross who generously provided links to the stories of the Genevan Psalms and Reformed heroes. They made phone calls, drove me across borders, and introduced me to wonderful sources of information. I saw photos of old, old psalm books and heard about places where the Genevan Psalms are still taught and still sung.
So you can see that the Genevan Psalms played a part in a bigger story. The psalms have also touched many North Americans, and I want to thank those from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship who encouraged and supported the effort to collect the stories. Thanks Emily Brink, John Witvliet and Kristin VerHulst. Julia Nagy, my former PCCA colleague and loyal Hungarian, cheered me on, and thanks to Worldwide Christian Schools for providing logistical support as well. Soli Deo Gloria.