Yugoslavia Lecture and Research Visit 1981

by Graham Kings

Date added: 25/04/2023

Visit to Yugoslavia

of Hugo de Waal, Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge

and Graham Kings, Curate of St Mark’s Harlesden, London

1-13 April 1981

Report to Stella Alexander, Keston College

Author of Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 (CUP, 1979)

 

This visit was at the invitation of Endre Langh, the Reformed Pastor of Vinkovci. Endre knew Hugo from his year’s study at Westminster College, Cambridge, and Graham from Graham and Alison’s holiday in Yugoslavia in July 1980.

We were invited to preach at Endre’s churches and to lecture at the Reformed Pastors’ Conference and at a conference of Pentecostal students and Pastors. As in my report of last year’s working holiday, I will give a brief chronicle of our visit, a summary of various interviews and finally an analysis of certain topics.

Chronicle

Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 April: Beograd with Reformed, Baptist and Orthodox

We flew from Heathrow to Beograd arriving at 13.20 and were met by Barry Brown, the Anglican Chaplain in Yugoslavia  (whom I met briefly before he left Britain in January 1981). Having looked around the Orthodox Church of St Mark, we took a taxi to the home of the Reformed Pastor Baksha, where we were to stay the night; the Pastor of away but we met him later at the conference. Radomir Rakic (editor of Pravoslavlje) was not at the Patriarchate and after lunch Hugo and I visited Kalemegdan Fortress. We took a taxi to the Baptist Church (Branka Cvetkovica 33) for the midweek Bible Reading and arrived near the end of it (we had the wrong time of the meeting).

The Pastor, Dr Alexander Birvis, welcomed us and we gave short greetings from England. Jovan Vlasic, whom I had met last year gave me news of a student on military service, whom I also met last year. Marko Djuric is a lawyer and about to study theology at the Orthodox Faculty in Beograd (we learnt later from Radomir that he had studied for the Priesthood with Radomir but had dropped out), and he writes articles for Pravoslavlje); he promised to send us some records of the Orthodox liturgy and of some folk songs (which he has now done). Ivana, Marko’s wife, is a literature student and she promised to send us some of her prose poems which have been published.

We had dinner with Barry in a restaurant and then chatted to the Reformed students who were our hosts for the night.

Thursday morning we saw Bishop Danillo (Vicar Bishop) at the Patriarchate for one and a half hours, then Radomir Rakic for three quarters of an hour and Bishop Stefan of Zica (in charge of ecumenical affairs) for half an hour. All three offered us plum brandy and Bishop Stefan’s was 20 year old: after arranging for us to meet the theological lecturers at the Faculty on Monday 13 April, just before we were to fly home, we had lunch in a park and took the Sava Express, a very impressive train, to Vinkovci. Endre met us at the station.  

Friday 3 April: Vinkovci with Reformed and Pentecostal

In the morning we had one hour with Weljko Bogodanovic, the National Overseer of the Church of God, with his assistant, Brother Jo, and in the afternoon we met Kokaj (Director of the Children’s Bank in Vinkovci) and his assistant Kiki (nickname). The rest of the day we spent in preparation and in catching up on all our news.

Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 April: Two Czech-Speaking Reformed Churches

As we were driving to Bjelisevac during the morning (about 90 kilometres west of Vinkovci) we saw a large group of young people planting 88 trees just outside their village in memory of Tito’s 88 years (they could choose trees or roses). In another village a group of young people were marching behind a flag.

Bjelisevac is a small farming village of about 150 inhabitants; Brother Slavko is the Chairman of the Church Board and he and his family gave us a wonderful welcome. He built the church meeting room and takes the services for the three Sundays of the month that Endre is not there. The service at 2.30pm was attended by about 10 men (high proportion), 15 women and 10 children. Hugo preached on Christians being signposts to God and having to point in the right direction. After coffee with two members of the church I had a refreshing game of football with the young lads of the village (and scored my first goal in Yugoslavia). The evening service was at 7.30pm and there were about 50 present, one third of the village, including some of the footballers. I preached on ‘the writing on the signpost’ ie the heart of the Gospel. That night we stayed with a young family in a nearby town (where there was running water) and had to disown the winning UK entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Sunday morning service, of about 50 people, was at 10am. Hugo preached on ‘the position of the signpost’. We had coffee with Zdenka and her house-bound mother and lunch with our host family, whose two young daughters were Tatiana and Miriama. The father was a workman, who made heating elements, and the mother was brought up as a Catholic in Zagreb.

It took just under an hour to drive to Pleternica where the service started at 3pm and Hugo preached on the ‘signpost’ theme and I gave a short testimony. There were about 20 present, 10 women, 6 men and 4 children. We had coffee with the Chairman of the Church Board, Brother Franja, and his family. His son is a carpenter and a strict Baptist and, according to him, is the only ‘saved’ person in the village. Both Chairmen of the Church Boards had pictures of the Czech Protestant martyr Jan Hus in their living rooms. We drove hope in the late afternoon.

Monday 6 April: Vinkovci

This was a day off, which included preparation for the Reformed Pastors’ Conference.

Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 April: Feketic, Reformed

We left at 4.45am, picked up Endre’s Dean, Pal Narancsik, crossed the Danube and arrived at Feketic at 8.15am in time for breakfast. We were welcomed by Bishop Csete and Hugo gave his first talk on ‘Seeing God at Work in the World’ in the morning session. Feketic is the Reformed Conference Centre which was originally set up as a Theological College but changed its role when numbers dropped. Hugo spoke to the Bishop in German and I in French with Endre translating, or occasionally, the Bishop’s son, when we had difficulties. After lunch Hugo spoke on ’Living by Justification by Grace’ and while the Pastors voted on who should be the next Bishop, we went for a lovely walk across farmland.

There were three candidates for Bishop, one of whom was Endre, and Pastor Kochis won the vote. Endre was very pleased for he had tried to persuade Kochis to stand at the last election. We had interesting conversations with Pastor Rohrig, Endre’s guru, who is a fine linguist, with his daughter, Klaudia, who is the first woman to be a Pastor in the Hungarian Reformed Church of Yugoslavia. She had studied in Switzerland and met John Stott in Zagreb in April 1980. I also had time with Pastor Shandor Gonczo, whom I mentioned at the bottom of page 4 of last year’s report and who was not allowed to study in Holland. After dinner I spoke on ‘The Gospel in a Multi-cultural Society’.

Wednesday morning I gave a Bible Reading on Luke 11.1-13 on Prayer and Hugo gave his final lecture on ‘A Christian Response to Global Issues’. We left after lunch and called in at a fine wine cellar on the way home (150 years old): we tasted four white wines and thus felt more relaxed about Endre’s driving. Having called in on a Pastor who had been unable to attend the conference because of a bad leg, and having shared all the latest news with him, we dropped off Endre’s Dean, pausing to greet his wife and play her piano, and arrived home in the evening. The Dean’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been Reformed Pastors. His two daughters had married strong Christians: one is a Pastor in Holland and the other is an engineer in Hungary whose father was involved in the Hungarian ‘Revival’ in the 1930s. The whole conference was conducted in Hungarian.

Thursday 9 April: Vinkovci

We were due to travel to Zagreb to lecture at the Bible-Theological Institute, during Thursday and Friday, but the Director, Peter Kuzmic, sent a telegram cancelling the conference because of ‘military manoeuvres’ in Zagreb: most of the staff and students had been called up to join the exercise. Not going to Zagreb also meant seeing Dr Turcinovic and Dr Branko Lovrec (the Catholic theologian and Baptist publisher). Endre arranged for us to visit the Catholic Bishop of Dakovo and a Catholic priest the next day.

In the afternoon a local doctor and his teenage daughter, whom Endre teaches English, came to see us. Vesna, the daughter, is coming to stay with friends of Hugo’s in July this year. We discussed Christianity among the ‘intelligentsia’ with her father, who is a practising Catholic.

Friday 10 April: Dakovo and Slavonski Brod – Catholic

We had one and a half hours with the Bishop of Dakovo in the morning, Ciril Kos, who had been imprisoned for several years after the war. We discussed, amongst other matters, the memoirs of Blazevic (the public prosecutor at Archbishop Stepinac’s trial) and the reaction of Archbishop Kuharic. The Bishop’s assistant then showed us around the cathedral, which is dedicated to the unity of Christians and was built by Bishop Strossmayer last century. The Bishop gave a present to each of us of a photo-guide to the cathedral.

Leaving Dakovo, we drove to Slavonski Brod, which lies just south of the Beograd-Zagreb road about half way along, to have lunch with Marko, Endre’s Catholic Priest friend, who had helped arrange that morning’s visit. We first saw the children in the Catholic Kindergarten, who presented to us some of their artwork and a short dramatic sketch (this Kindergarten is unofficial – illegal? – and meets in the house next to the church). Then we looked at the church, which had been built in the garden of the house and we spotted an overhead projector, which they use for teaching. Two other priests, one of whom is a poet and a songwriter, and Mark’s curate, joined us for lunch. We ate fish because it was Friday. Marko had been a Catholic priest in Tordinci when Endre lived there as the Reformed Pastor, and they are great friends.

After lunch we visited the ‘house church’ of one of the priests and a new church, which is nearing completion. There the priest was conducting a catechism class for about 15 young teenagers. The new church is in the shape of a diamond: the ground floor includes a hall and classrooms; the middle two floors are the church (one large room) and the top flat is the priest’s flat. It is ingenious and practical and paid for by the congregation, which for four years has met in the house next door, with confessions being held in the priest’s car. On the way home we discussed the gifts of the Spirit.

Saturday 11 April: Vinkovci – Catholic and Baptist

Brother Jo and ‘arranged’ for me to see Dr Stjepan Orcic, the Principal of the Baptist Seminary at Novi Sad on Saturday morning. I wanted to discuss the future of the Evangelical Fellowship – see the bottom of page 2 of last year’s report. However, the rain, together with Endre’s and Hugo’s advice the night before, dissuaded me from making the long journey. I phoned up to apologize, only to discover that I would have had a wasted journey, for he was away from home till the late afternoon.

Endre was very pleased I had not gone for he was preparing a Hungarian speciality for lunch that day. It certainly turned out to be special: Hugo and I had upset stomachs for two days. After lunch we visited Miroslav, who had been a Catholic Priest in Tordinci after Marko and having married now worked in a shoe factory (see page 5 of the last report). In the evening I spoke to Dr Orcic on the phone.

Sunday 12 April: Vinkovci and Tordinci – Reformed

After a bad night, I was still not feeling well and I missed the early morning service at Vinkovci, where Hugo preached on the theme of Palm Sunday, the morning service at Tordinci, where he preached on the theme of Witness, and the midday feast at Tordinci. One of the ladies who prepared the feast had embroidered some serviettes for Brigit (Hugo’s wife) and for Alison (my wife). Endre and Hugo picked me up in the car after lunch and I preached at the afternoon service at Tordinci on the ‘heart of the Gospel’. We had a short visit at the house where the feast had taken place and then called on Mirko, the former police chief of Vinkovci (see page 7 of the last report), and admired his shooting ‘trophies’.

Monday 13 April: Beograd – Orthodox

With sad farewells we left Vinkovci on the Sava Express in the morning (Endre’s friend, who is head of the Railway Station, gave us two extra reserved places just before we left) and we arrived in Beograd in time for our meeting with the Orthodox theologians at the Faculty at 11am. The Principal, Dr Dusan Kasic, lectures in Serbian Church History up to 1945, Dr Amfilohije Radovic (see page 2 of the last report) lectures in Religious Instruction and there were also present the lecturers in Canon Law, Music and Philosophy. Radomir Rakic translated for us. Here we heard another side to the latest Stepinac row. On leaving the Faculty, we met Bishop Stefan in the street, and then took a taxi to the airport.

 

Interviews

Dr Alexander Birvis – Baptist Pastor in Beograd, an ‘open’ Baptist, scholar and sensitive, who sometimes writes for Pravoslavlje.

He had been unable to attend the Novi Sad conference last year but had listened to the tapes of John Stott. As regards the Evangelical Fellowship, some in his denomination are for it and some against it. He considers the way forward is to start and Evangelical Theological Journal.

Jovan Vlasic – Baptist layman.

Tomo, whom I met last year, is now on this military service where no Bibles are allowed and religion is not spoken about, but he is still going on strong as a Christian. He receives regular letters from the church.

Marko and Ivana Djuric – Baptist lawyer and his wife, who is a student of literature.

Dr Amfilohije Radovic is the best theologian in Yugoslavia. Marko, at one stage, studied for the Orthodox priesthood but dropped out. He is now about to start reading theology again. Radomir is a good friend, who said that Marko is fine when he is not trying to proselytise. Ivana was looking for the truth when she was 16, found God by herself, and joined a Pentecostal church before meeting Marko and joining the Baptist church. The Ecumenical Women’s World Day of Prayer took place at the Reformed church. This tends to be the only time the Protestant churches in Beograd get together.

Barry Brown – Anglican Chaplain in Yugoslavia.

The floods in the previous few months had caused great concern. Last month the price of meat went up by 30%.

Archbishop Kuharic is to blame for starting the present row about Archbishop Stepinac. Patriarch German’s view is that it is “Two old men fighting an old battle” and “Better a weak peace than a fat war” (a Serbian proverb).

The trouble in Macedonia is about students’ concerns for the poor – maybe Albanian influence.

Two Reformed Students of Veterinary Medicine – lodging at the Pastor’s home

Their classes include Marxist indoctrination, but they are allowed to ask penetrating questions.

Bishop Danillo – Vicar Bishop, Editor of ‘Theological Views’, very conservative and anti-Catholic

Mary did not give birth to Jesus in the usual manner, but the baby passed through his mother’s skin, just as Jesus’s resurrection body passed through the tomb. Thus, Mary remained literally, perpetually, a virgin. This ‘metabolism’ is also at work in the Eucharist.

One Maundy Thursday they consecrate the reserved host for the whole year and on Holy Saturday it is put in the Tabernacle.

All the disciples, apart from John, were crucified.

Before the war there 3,000 priests. Now there are 2,500 priests.

The Government are afraid of the Polish situation but context there is completely different from Yugoslavia. The Polish Catholics were persecuted by Hitler: here they were collaborators.

The cult of Stepinac is shameless: there is nothing Christian in it.  Stepinac was the Chaplain of the Ustasa Army. If there is a consecration (canonisation?) of this Great Inquisitor there is not hope for Yugoslavia. Hopefully, the Pope will stop this.

Even the young Catholics are contaminated with ‘nationalism’. Some Orthodox Bishops met the late Catholic Bishop of Ljubljana, who said, “All our youth are Ustasa – I mean nationalists. Our priests are good educators.”

Serbo-Croat may one day become Croatian-Serbian and then Croatian. He would prefer the name, ‘Illyricum’.

The Croatian Communists are closer to the Orthodox Christians than are the leaders of the Croatian Church.

Croats take fictions for reality.

Tito’s quote on the title page of Blazevic’s third volume is, “Stepinac was an Ustasa.”

Stepinac kept gold from the teeth of dead Orthodox Christians and tried to hide it.

The Catholic/Orthodox theological conferences on Patmos and Rhodes started with the sacraments and not with the ‘Filioque’ clause.

If the Pope came to Yugoslavia, there would be Catholic triumphalism. All Slavs who are Catholic are neurotic. Croats are not pious, just nationalists.

Poles go to church because they hate the Russians not because they love Christ. Croats go to church because they hate the Serbs. There are, however, some noble Christians amongst the Catholic Croats [!] eg Sagi Bunic, but even these are reduced to passivity.

In Bosnia, some Catholics were in prison recently.

Families still keep their ‘Slava’ day when even nonbelievers go to church and the house is sprinkled with holy water the day before. Most people have a Christian burial – even communists. Some communists go to the monasteries incognito.

The writer Cosic is a communist and a dissident and his recent novel, The Time of Death, is about Serbian nationalism in the First World War. He often goes to Mount Athos. Poets, also, openly admire the monasteries.

The sons of important party people are being baptized and there are religious discussions in the Maths Faculty.

The making of icons is not wrong because the ban on images refers to sinners. Images were made of the cherubim on the ark for they were sinless. So, also, it is right to make icons of saints for, after baptism, they too are sinless.

Luke, in oral tradition, made the first portrait of Mary.

Radomir Rakic -    Deacon and Editor of Pravoslavlje

There was a fire in the monastery at Pec, which was started in two places [implying arson] recently. This is near Albania.

There are 17 Serbian Orthodox parishes in Hungary. The dioceses in Hungary and in Romania are vacant at the moment.

Pravoslavlje prints 22,000 copies on a State printing press. He is thinking of writing an article on the theology of plants and herbs. Soon they will be using better paper and four colours.

In Macedonia the position has remained pretty much the same in the church. There is, however, a new Theological Faculty but the standards are low for none of the Professors has doctorates. It is difficult to help them for they are a nationalist movement and felt that they are under Beograd. The monasteries in Macedonia allow state guides to work there and show people round with such words as, “This is what they call Christ” and “This is the legend of his baptism”. The church there prints a paper once in two months and each priest has only two copies.

Church-State relations in Dalmatia are not too good.

Pravoslavlje has not mentioned the Blazevic and Kuharic row.

Bishop Stefan of Zica – in charge of ecumenical affairs, previously Bishop of Dalmatia, likely, according to Radomir, to succeed German as Patriarch.

He lived in England for one year after the war.

There is deceasing animosity between believers and nonbelievers.

He fears the propaganda of Western sects such as the Adventists, the Jehovah Witnesses and the Nazarenes.

The Orthodox have no strong influence on the young.

The Serbian Orthodox Mission work amongst the poor.

In Beograd fast urbanisation calls for smaller parishes.

Young people are asking more and more to know something of religion: we have not prepared priests to meet this need.

The ‘Christian Community’, a lay pietistic movement, preach in the open air after the liturgy in church.

There is a stagnation of vocations to the priesthood. There are about 500 students, including 150 here and that is enough for the moment.

When he took up his post in Dalmatia in 1959 there were 88 parishes and only nine priests. When he left to be transferred there were 80 priests.

In March students in Beograd University invited Amfilohije Radovic to a Christian-Marxist dialogue. A few Marxists did not turn up and a newspaper report spoke of Amfilohije’s monologue rather than dialogue. However, 20 students followed him home to the Patriarchate asking many questions on the way. (See the interview with Amfilohije below.)

Brother Weljko Bogdanovic and Brother Jo – Pentecostal National Overseer, based in Vinkovci, invalid in a wheelchair, self-educated: his assistant and interpreter.

Around 1915 there were a number of spontaneous spiritual experiences in different parts of the country. These remained uncoordinated till a Yugoslav who had been converted and baptised in the Spirit in America returned home to organise the church in 1925. Before the Second World War there were three churches based in different regions:

  1. Around Subotica, with beliefs in visions, infant baptism but not foot washing.
  2. In Slovenia, with beliefs in adult baptism in the name of the Trinity, not foot washing and stressing the ‘word’ above the ‘gifts’.
  3. In the Czech speaking area of the Banat, with beliefs in adult baptism in the name of Jesus only, in foot washing, and in the balance of ‘word’ and ‘gifts’.

After the war, with the Church-State separation they had to register separately under the overall title of “Fellowship of Christ’s Spiritual Church”. They did so under the following names:

  1. Christ’s Spiritual Church of Infant Baptism.
  2. Christ’s Pentecostal Church (Assemblies of God).
  3. Christ’s Spiritual Church of Footwashing.

Eventually, part of 1 (Christ’s Spiritual Church of Infant Baptism) accepted adult baptism and moved in with 2 (Christ’s Pentecostal Church): only a few remained.

In 1967-78 there was a radical reorganization of 3 (Christ’s Spiritual Church of Footwashing) and from it split off the Church of God, of which Brother Weljko is the National Overseer. So there are now four churches. The Church of God believes in adult baptism in the name of the Trinity and in footwashing.

Numbers of members are approximately:

  1. Christ’s Spiritual Church of Infant Baptism              600
  2. Christ’s Pentecostal Church                                 2,000
  3. Christ’s Spiritual Church of Footwashing               1,100
  4. Church of God                                                       400

The Church of God has its international base in Cleveland, Tennessee, USA and in Britain it is mostly West Indian. Their magazine for July 15-20 1981 mentioned the youth camp held at Vinkovci with an attendance of 30 and five young people were baptised at the end of it.

Brother Jo is in charge of the youth camps, which take place twice a year. In winter the numbers are around 20 and sometimes in summer up to 60. There is some talk of having one large joint Pentecostal camp. There has recently been some coming together of the separate churches. Often personalities caused the splits and these people are now being replaced by younger leaders.

In Romania the Pentecostal churches wanted to register as four separate churches but were not allowed to do so. They had to work out a common agreement and since then their numbers have exploded to 150,000. Their divisions were not worth their breath.

Brother Jo sees the main problem for the Church of God in Yugoslavia as being education. In 1973 their Bible School for Europe moved from Switzerland to Germany. Vinkovci is a centre for Peter Kuzmic’s Theological Education by Extension.

Christ’s Pentecostal Church (Assemblies of God) have just begun a mission amongst Muslims led by their Pastor in Mostar.

When I asked Brother Jo whether any Catholics would be saved on the Last Day, he thought hard and replied, “Yes, some.” To the same question about Muslims, he answered, “None.”

Brother Slavko – Chairman of the Church Board at Bjelisevac.

His son’s friend is in the police force and had recently returned from Macedonia. People there were setting light to cars and the demonstrators had their children with them, which caused extra problems for the police.

Bishop Csete – Reformed Bishop, see the bottom of page 4 of my last report, plays his cards close to his chest. He resigned at the conference to the delight of Endre.

To my question of what he found attractive in the Pentecostal or Baptist churches he replied, “Nothing”. Concerning the Orthodox, “the liturgy is the only thing that has kept them alive, I suppose.” Concerning the Catholics, “Nothing”.

In his last parish, in the year before he arrived, 40 had defected to the Baptist church: within his first year, 38 had returned to the Reformed church.

He knows the Methodist Minister in Novi Sad, who trained as a Lutheran and one day, in his friend’s office, he saw a letter he was typing giving figures of converts. He recognised some of the names and later visited one of them to ask if he had become a Methodist. The man said he had gone to that church once. Thus conversion figures are forged to keep the flow of money coming in from churches abroad.

The Novi Sad conference, when John Stott spoke, was at the wrong time of the year. Nothing is organised to encourage vocations and they are running short. At the conference there were only four young Pastors, including Klaudia Rohrig.

Total membership of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Yugoslavia is 25,000. Only about 25% attend regularly.

A total of 300 young people come to the three youth conferences held at Feketic each year. Church meetings can only take place on church premises, with the exception of funerals. These are taken seriously because there is a chance to reach outsiders. Lately, party members have been under instruction not to go into homes during a funeral service.

There are 117 parishes and 21 Pastors (about 15 were present at the conference).

If a Christian invites a few people round to meet the Pastor in an informal way, then it is allowed.

Children are indoctrinated at school that the Pastor tells lies. Parents do not say much to their children because they are frightened to lose their jobs, but the grandparents often instruct the grandchildren.

20% of Reformed members live abroad and 30% of these will never return. The average age of church attendance is over 40.

The furthest ‘diaspora’ church away from its Pastor is 450 kilometres.

When people work in factories, Sundays are their only day off for the family to be together and to clean the house etc. Hence Sunday Schools have ceased.

There used to be a problem of young Pastors’ education, especially with difficulties of obtaining passports. A Theological School was set up at Feketic with 9 students, but the atmosphere was not pleasant. It was then decided that before Pastors studied theology they should study another subject at university, and it turned out that having received these other degrees they were then able to gain a passport to study theology abroad. Emil went to Vienna, the Bishop’s son to Belfast and Edinburgh (see the bottom of page 4 of the last report) and Endre to Cambridge.

(At this point, there was an understandable outburst from Shandor Gonczo, who had been refused permission by the Bishop to study in Holland). Now, they use the Reformed Seminary in Hungary.

There are three ‘backgrounds’ of Reformed churches:

  1. Those that date from the time of the Reformation.
  2. Those that date from the Tolerance Edict of Franz Joseph (1781), which allowed churches in the country.
  3. Those that date from 1881, when Reformed churches were allowed in the towns.

Some churches have only 90 members and contain 450 seats. They find it very difficult to sell the buildings and have only sold two.

Pastor Shandor Gonczo – bright young Pastor who feels rejected by the Bishop (see above). Speaks Dutch.

He is moving soon to Budapest to live in his mother-in-law’s house and to work under a better Bishop. He will do further study at the Seminary.

Endre’s Doctor Friend, Vesna’s Father – former head of Vinkovci hospital

In reply to my question whether the majority or minority of his colleagues at the hospital believed in God, he said “About 85% - much more than 30 years ago.” Through losing its privileges Christianity had become more intellectually respectable.

(Endre told us that the hospital had been run on self-management lines but some objected to this man being the Head, perhaps because he was a Catholic, and now it is no longer self-managed and he is no longer the Head. Endre’s daughter works there.)

Bishop of Dakovo, Mons Ciril Kos

There are 1,200,000 people in his diocese including about 500,000 Catholics. There are about 200 priests and 50 Friars, and 30 in the Seminary (of which he used to be the Spiritual Director).

After the war he spent seven years, and a further two years, in prison because of his lectures to his students. The prosecutor had picked on part of a lecture on 2 Timothy 2 and accused him of persuading them not to fight in the Yugoslav army.

He has heard confession from a Party Secretary.

The Pope was invited to the Non-Aligned Conference but did not attend. He is due to come to the Eucharistic Conference in 1984.

He had Blazevic’s four volumes of memoirs and took back volume three (about Stepinac’s trial) from me when I asked for the translation of part of the Preface. The situation at the moment between Church and State is unstable.

If the Church had preached Equality, Fraternity and Liberty before the war then all this need not have happened (communist rule). However, the Church has benefitted from being stripped of her privileges for her priests are now more genuine and idealistic. They do not enter into the priesthood to avoid military service and the priests do not have to spend their time administering large estates.

The Church is allowed to speak out on subjects such as abortion but not to touch on politics.

Bishop Strossmayer had a great vision for church unity and a motto about unity is written on an arch of his cathedral. The official Roman calendar has two Yugoslav saints, and the bishops go to Rome for their feast days. The calendar includes St Cyril and St Methodius, and he is going to invite the Orthodox Bishop to Dakovo for that feast.

The Bishop was dressed in a black cassock. Some high school students were visiting the Bishop’s Palace.

Marko – Catholic Priest at Slavonski Brod.

There are marriage preparation groups centred in Dakovo, 10 days of about two hours, and the numbers attending are in the hundreds. Thus, the Church has some influence on young couples and other issues apart from marriage come up for discussion.

The row over Blazevic may be a storm in a teacup, but anything could happen in the future.

Vatican II confirmed their thinking at the time.

The strategy for church growth is to buy a house with a very large garden, start meetings in the house and then build a church in the garden. Slavonski Brod is about to expand because of new industry, so the church is putting a lot of resources into the town.

He though at lot of the Bishop of Dakovo.

Endre Langh – our host and Reformed Pastor.

As usual, he was full of pointed jokes. A Yugoslav and an American were discussing their countries: the Yugoslav said, “we have the highest standards of education.” The American replied, “so have we.” He went on, “We have the finest cars.” The American replied, “so have we.” He continued, “We have excellent food.” “So have we.” The Yugoslav searched for something the Americans did not have and triumphantly declared, “Ah, but we have Tito.” “And so have we” said the American in desperation. “No, you can’t have Tito and the highest standards, the finest cars and the best food!” came the reply.

The official figures of the Macedonian riots were: 24 wounded, 12 police injured. He thought the figures were much higher than that. The factories there are still on the alert all night.

He dislikes the dishonesty of the system: There is no unemployment but a labour surplus, there is not inflation but economic reform.

Inflation is about 23% and recently the Government had increased the equivalent of VAT by 136% without the permission of ‘Parliament’.

In Bjelisevac (see page 2 above) a Baptist teacher had once lived (he did not attend the Reformed Church). After each Reformed service the Police had called, for at that time the meetings were in Brother Slavko’s house. Then Brother Slavko built the meeting room but still the police used to pay regular visits. When the teacher moved out of the village the trouble with the police stopped.   

A census took place while we were there. The previous ones were in 1952 and 1959. The earlier one mentioned religion and Endre was in the army at that time: his captain insisted that all his men were atheists. One day during target practice his Lieutenant asked him why he believed in God, and several other questions: these took up all the practice time. He had to report to the Captain, who accused him of religious propaganda. However, the Captain laughed when he replied that he was only answering questions and the initiative had not come from him.

A few months ago, an Orthodox deacon and his 10 followers wanted to join the Reformed Church. They were attracted by the teaching of Calvin, especially on predestination. They had previously tried the Baptists and Pentecostals, but these had insisted on rebaptism. Bishop Csete refused, giving the reason of wanting to avoid trouble with the Orthodox. Endre thought the real reason was because the deacon wanted to say the services in Serbian not Hungarian.

Four years ago, Tito was nearly assassinated while opening a new bridge: the whole bridge caught fire, but Tito escaped because of bad timing.

In 1968, at the border some soldiers had guns but no ammunition, others had ammunition but no guns. One night they were petrified because they heard the sound of tanks over the border. In the morning, they discovered that they were combine harvesters.

There are many Reformed churches near the Danube because they are the one who survived the Turkish invasion by hiding in the reeds.

When Yugoslavia was being ‘liberated’ by the Russians, the Russians were on the east bank of the Danube and the Germans, in their retreat, were holding the west bank on higher ground. The Russians suffered many losses and then hit on the idea of driving Yugoslav peasants before them for protection. Later, these ‘liberators’ raped peasant women and pillaged the villages.

Before the war, Priest and Pastors had great privileges and the churches were not intellectually respectable. In Tordinci, the Pastor had 17 acres of land and the church had another 17 acres. Pastors needed no stamps for church letters and avoided military service. The church, by becoming poor, is now more respectable.

Endre was converted by the faithful Pastor in his hometown. He could not reconcile what school taught about Pastors and Priests and the life of this man and chose what he saw to be the truth.

Bishop Csete had asked Endre to attend the Catholic Committee for Ecumenical Affairs in Zagreb. There was no official Orthodox observer, but an Orthodox priest was present. However, the priest prefaced every statement he made with the phrase, “Speaking in my own private capacity…” A Catholic reported on the Rhodes discussions and lamented the fact that they only had two days there while they had been entertained for four days in Athens before the theological discussions began.

Neither Endre nor the Lutheran observer made any contribution. Endre wrote up a report for his bishop.

Orthodox Theologians – Dr Dusan Kasic (Church History), Dr Amfilohije Radovic (Religious Instruction), Canon Law Lecturer, Philosophy Lecturer and Radomir Rakic.

Amfilohije had been invited to a Christian-Marxist dialogue by the Student Cultural Centre of Beograd University (see above page 9) and will be going back again. Thus the dialogue is restarting after about a 10 year gap.

He now lectures on the Psalms every Sunday afternoon in the Patriarchate and several nonbelievers and even Muslims attend. Total numbers about 80.

“So you see, God is alive.” Students are searching for something spiritual not just philosophical.

The four leading students of the Philosophy Faculty have just been baptised and one of them is going to become a monk.

Two daughters of a Regional Party Secretary are studying Theology.

Radomir thought that Archbishop Kuharic was a State candidate. The Canon Law Lecturer agreed. Amfilohije disagreed and though he was a Vatican candidate. Radomir winked at us and said that he is the Editor and he is the one who knows what is really going on. There was more sympathy for Blazevic than for Kuharic (generally speaking). The Canon Law Lecturer pointed out that Blazevic after all had all the documents about Stepinac.

The Pope’s visit would not be welcome although Patriarch German would, of course, lay on a fine official welcome.

There are good theological relations between the Orthodox and Catholics in Yugoslavia. There is a biennial conference between theologians from Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Beograd. This is an increase in theological interest amongst students, including amongst women.

The Church-State situation has not changed much since the early seventies and they are not prophets to forecast the future. The Canon Law Lecturer lamented the extra complications in Canon Law since 1945.

 

Analysis of Certain Topics

In evaluating the above, prejudice and bias, however understandable, must be taken into account. Our visit took place at quite an exciting time with problems in Macedonia (a colleague of Endre’s wife thought the presence of two Englishmen in Vinkovci was very suspicious) and with a new Church-State row on the boil.

Macedonia

There is a general fear of the situation there. The official figures fool few people and Albanian influence is blamed. We kept very quiet about the subject.

The Evangelical Fellowship

This was proposed at the Novi Sad conference in April 1980 and launched with a lecture by John Stott in December of the same year. There are mixed opinions as to its value, but I feel it is crucial. It cannot rely on ‘star’ outside preachers, and maybe an annual conference is too much to ask for, but at least a journal would be a good step forward in trying to work closer together.

The Pope’s Visit

Triumphalism amongst Catholics and suspicion amongst Orthodox is likely to be the result, whatever the official reactions may be.

Blazevic v Kuharic over Stepinac

It is difficult to decide who started the present row. Stepinac has certainly been revered as a martyr and the special Mass each year highlights this. I think Blazevic was seeking more than just publicity for his memoirs, he was furious with the Catholic acclaim of Stepinac, for it reflected on himself. It seems unlikely that this row was instigated by the State, though they may not be too displeased. Rather it is one old man against a dead ‘hero’, championed by another old man and backed by a considerable number of nationalistic Catholics.

 

The whole visit was fascinating, and we learnt far more than we were able to give. We returned to England with prayers for God to raise up leaders in all the denominations with the vision and yearning for unity of Bishop Strossmayer.

 

                                              Graham R Kings, May 1981

                                              Curate of St Mark, Harlesden

 

My 1980 report to Stella Alexander is here and 1984 report is here.

 

 
Graham Kings

Graham Kings

 
 
Interweavings

A bronze

Wood panel

Wood panel