Part of my quest in Timisoara is to understand why a Revolution that would topple the Ceaucescu dictatorship would start in a Hungarian-speaking church.
And since the building is not open during the week, the only way to get inside is to be there on Sunday morning. Where else would I be at that time of the week?
The special challenge, of course, is that the service is totally in Hungarian. Now, I have travelled a distance into the Romanian language, but that would not get me far here. Far from it, in fact. And you may know that Hungarian is for many a uniquely impenetrable language, part of neither the Germanic nor Romance families.
But I could recognize what was happening during this reformed or Calvinist service. An Advent candle was lit. People repeated the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer. One of the hymns was written by “Luther Marton.” They stood for the Gospel, after singing a verse of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to the tune Nicaea just as I had every Sunday morning of my youth.
During the sermon, the lengthy sermon, I had some time to observe the congregation. The demographic represented most heavily were seventy-year old women, but there were others. Proud couples wearing their best dark long coats. Families with all the children. A building that seated 200 was a good three-quarters full, some up in the balcony.
The Minister preached from that pulpit high above. He had no notes, speaking freely and firmly. The Bible was open in his left hand, and he read a few verses during the sermon as well. A fellow maybe in his thirties.
About the same age as Laszlo Tokes would have been about 27 years ago when he refused to be reassigned from this, the downtown church in one of Romania’s biggest cities to a small parish in a tiny village. Tokes would not be silenced by his Bishop, a collaborator with the Ceaucescu regime.
And his parishioners were not happy either. As Tokes was being evicted from his Manse, a couple of hundred joined on the street to protest. Some started shouting “Down with Ceaucescu,” and soon they were joined by some of their Romanian neighbours.
By the next day, the crowd included far more than just the congregation from the Reformed Church. Thousands massed in the main square of Timisoara, even as the regime sent machine guns to shoot at the crowds. Signs read: “Jos Communism” (Down with Communism), “We’re not leaving”, and — possibly the most subversive thing to say to a Communist regime — “Dumnizeu exista” (God lives).
Sure, there would have been no revolution without the support of thousands of Romanian citizens who risked their lives, and many who sacrificed it. And, even if Laszlo Tokes had not been the one to spark the Revolution, as all the other Communist regimes had fallen, it would likely have taken place later, another way, eventually.
But I looked into the determined faces of the folk sitting there. They hold to a minority faith within a minority community, a group that cannot be pushed around. And I am not surprised that a revolution might be started by people like these.