Yugoslavia Lecture and Research Visit 1984
by Graham Kings
Date added: 26/04/2023
Visit to Yugoslavia
Graham Kings, Curate of St Mark’s Harlesden, London
20 February to 3 March 1984
Report to Stella Alexander, Keston College
Author of Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 (CUP, 1979)
This is the third such visit I have made to Yugoslavia, meeting various members of the leaders of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches. The first was a holiday with my wife in July 1980, during which we also made contact with Stella Alexander’s friends in Zagreb (Catholic) and Beograd (Orthodox) and stayed for a few days with the Reformed Pastor of Vinkovci, Endre Langh, who is a friend of Hugo de Waal (Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge). The second was in April 1981 with Hugo, when we lectured at the Reformed Pastors’ Conference, preached in Endre’s churches and met the Catholic Bishop of Dakovo and two Orthodox Bishops and Theologians in Beograd. Endre invited us back this year: I went in February and Hugo will be going in April. As in the previous two reports I will give a chronicle of the visit before the summaries of various interviews.
Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 February: Beograd with Baptist and Orthodox
I was met at the airport by Charles Sherlock, the Anglican Chaplain in Yugoslavia, at 7.15pm. He drove me to meet Marko Djuric, a Baptist lawyer with an Orthodox background (see p. 1 and p. 6 of my 1981 report), at St Mark’s Church and together we went to the flat of Ivana Djuric’s grandparents where I stayed the night.
The flat was richly furnished with fine furniture and paintings: the grandfather, Mr Bogdanovica, is 90 and a retired heart specialist. He is the uncle of Peter Bogdanovica, the film producer now living in America and a famous ‘son of Yugoslavia’. Ivanna’s friend, Frances Furnell, shared a meal with us. She is a middle-aged Englishwoman who is helping train Sunday School teachers in the Baptist churches around Beograd, but officially is learning Serbian. She has had some trouble renewing her visa each time but has been there for about five years. We discussed suicide and whether it was a mortal sin (Ivanna’s strong view), and about corruption amongst lawyers. Ivanna’s grandmother reads The Plain Truth magazine every month.
Tuesday morning Charles and I visited the Patriarchate, suitably cassocked. The Patriarch’s Secretary discussed the Church Times front page photograph of the Archbishop of Canterbury shaking hands with the first woman priest (Hong Kong) in the Anglican Communion, before leading us to be received for half an hour by Patriarch German. Radomir Rakic (the editor of Pravoslavlje) and Bishop Danilo were also present. We then saw Bishop Danilo for one and a quarter hours and had lunch in a restaurant together with Trevor Moore, a young diplomat at the British Embassy and Charles’s churchwarden. They put me on the Sava Express to Vinkovci and Endre’s son met me at the station. Endre had the flu and I stayed the night at the home of Weljko Bogdanovic, the Pentecostal Pastor in Vinkovci.
Wednesday 22 February: Feketic – Reformed Pastors’ Conference
I was picked up at 5.45am by Karol Andel (Reformed Pastor of Osijek) in his car, who also had with him Tibor and Ibolya Weiss (a married couple, Pastors respectively of Laslovo and Koroj). We arrived at Feketic at 8am in time for breakfast. I was welcomed by the new Bishop, Imre Hodosy, and gave a lecture on ‘The Birth of the Church’, with Emil Poth translating, a young Pastor who had spent last summer in Cambridge brushing up his English..
The Bishop only speaks German, apart from Hungarian – the language of the Reformed Church in Yugoslavia – and found communication at the WCC preparation meeting in Ottawa so difficult that he did not go to Vancouver. After some discussion on the lecture the former Bishop, Csete, a very dour character, gave a talk on Zwingli and the morning finished with a lively debate about whether those educated in theology abroad should still have to sit the Reformed Church in Yugoslavia’s exam before election to the Pastorate.
Generally speaking, they split old and young, with the older Pastors insisting on the exam and the younger ones disagreeing. The Bishop let things ride and did not seem to chair it very well. After lunch, the debate continued, and we left about 3.30pm. I stayed the night with Tibor and Ibolya and their little daughter Debora in Laslovo.
Thursday 23 February: Daroc and Lug – Reformed Churches
Debora, who had been ill with flu, was slightly better. Karoly picked us up in his car for the 2pm service at Daroc. The Pastor there is Csati Lajos. I preached on ‘The Bread of Life’ and Tibor translated: 35 present, including 3 men. We then drove to Lug, where Csati lives with his wife and son, and I preached at the 6pm service: 50 present, including 7 men. A feast of a dinner followed in the Pastor’s house, and I spent the night again in Laslovo.
Friday 24 February: Kopacevo and Bilje – Reformed Churches
Endre had now recovered from his flu and picked me up at Tibor’s house just before lunch. We drove to Kopacevo, where the Dean of the area is the Pastor, Pal Naranscik. I preached at 3pm, with Endre translating: 50 present, including 3 men and children, in a room at the back of the church, which had been formed by building a window partition.
In all other Reformed churches the services were in a special meeting room in the Pastor’s house, as in usual in winter to save on heating. We then drove to Bilje, the Dean’s other church, and I preached at 5pm: 35 present, including 8 men. We had a meal with the Church Board – the eight men – and after dropping off the Dean returned to Vinkovci.
Saturday 25 February: Osijek – Pentecostal Biblical Theological Institute
I gave two lectures to the Biblical Theological Institute (BTI) at Osijek, which had been set up by Peter Kuzmic, a Pentecostal theologian. It is a four-storey building, recently finished, at the back of the church, which is a renovated synagogue. Some of the funding came from America, but most was raised in Yugoslavia. At the moment, it acts as the centre for Theological Education by Extension, but soon it will a residential institute. Peter moved from Zagreb a couple of years ago, where he also set up a BTI and where he also teaches regularly. There were 70 students at the two afternoon lectures, mostly in their 20s. I spoke on ‘The Birth of the Church’ and on ‘Breaking Barriers: some Theological Principles’, with Peter translating. There were a few Pentecostal Pastors present too.
Sunday 26 February: Vinkovci and Tordinci – Reformed Churches
I preached in Endre’s meeting room at 8am (Communion Service) in Vinkovci - 12 present, including 2 men – and at Tordinci, where he is also Pastor at 10.30am – also Communion, with 40 present, including 3 men and 10 young people. We had lunch with the Chairman of the Church Board, Dragon, and his family. He had worked for 12 years in West Germany and had saved enough money to build a smart house and set himself up as a small farmer. Dragon and Endre discussed the planning of the Area’s Women’s Meeting, which is taking place in the spring in Tordinci. I preached again at 2pm – 24 present, including 1 man.
Monday 27 February: Kotlina, Kamenac and Karanac – Reformed Churches
Janos Hajek is the Pastor of these churches. I preached at Kotlina at 1pm – 33 present, including 8 men – and over refreshments afterwards had a long talk to a retired schoolteacher. Then on to Kamenac at 3pm – 23 present, including 8 men – where the church tower had been used by the Nazis as a gun placement against the Russian advance, and on to Karanac at 6.30pm where Janos lives – 33 present, including 5 men. Janos had a picture of Tito in his vestry as well as one of Calvin.
Tuesday 28 February: Slavonski Brod – Catholic and Koroj and Laslovo, Reformed
Marko, the Catholic Priest in Slavonski Brod (which lies just south of the Beograd-Zagreb road about half way along), used to be the priest in Tordinci and is a great friend of Endre’s (see my 1981 report, p 4 and p 13). We arrived about 11am, looked round the Catholic Kindergarten and then visited Marko’s pride and joy, his new Retreat Centre just outside the town. This had a remarkable crucifix, which was a vine branch naturally twisted into the shape of a hanging human body. The builders were still finishing the Centre, but it had been in use for two years.
Another priest and a layman, who is involved in Family Education and publishing, joined us for lunch. The latter has set up Marriage Encounter weekends for the Church, starting first in 1966, when he had seen them in America. He was the most bigoted Croatian Catholic I have met!
Marko had tried to arrange a meeting with the Bishop of Dakovo, but he was at a Bishops’ Conference in Zagreb. I had told the story of God asking the Pope whether there would be married priests, women priests, and reunion with the Anglicans. “Not in my lifetime, Lord!” came the reply. The Pope asked God whether there would be another Polish Pope and God replied, “Not in my lifetime!”. Marko said goodbye to us promising that when he became Pope where would be reunion. I replied that by then our Deaconess at home would be the Archbishop of Canterbury and Marko could marry her, thus bringing about reunion.
We then drove to Koroj, where Ibolya Weiss is the Pastor, and at 5.30pm I preached to the largest Reformed congregation of the visit – 70 present, including 10 men – and then on to Laslovo, Tibore’s church, at 7pm – 45 present, including 5 men.
Wednesday 29 February: Suza, Knezevi Vinograde – Reformed – and Osijek – Pentecostal
I preached at Suza at 10.30am where the Pastor is Peter Matkovics - 17 present, including 3 men – and, after lunch with Peter and his wife, at Knezvi Vinograde – 17 present, including 3 men. The latter village has a fine new recreation ground with swimming and football facilities, and the Reformed church was built onto a Roman watchtower, which dates from about 300 AD. There the canons of the Reformed Church were drawn up in 1577 and the constitution of the Reformed Church in Yugoslavia in 1935.
We then drove on to Osijek and I preached at Peter Kuzmic’s Pentecostal Church at 6pm – about 100 to 120 present, including about 30 men. Peter was in Zagreb and a young American Presbyterian looked after us, who is helping Peter at BTI. Brother Jo (see p. 9 of my 1981 report) from Vinkovci translated.
Thursday 1 March: Hrastin and Retfala – Reformed Churches
The morning was free… At 5pm I preached at Hrastin where Karoly Andel is the Pastor, and some Catholics were also present. There were 36 Reformed and 20 Catholics, including a nun and five girls, who had walked for two hours to get there. This was very encouraging: the Catholics use the Reformed church for their own services. Then on to Retfala, in the suburbs of Osijek, where Karoly lives and I preached at 6.30pm – 19 present, including 3 men. After a magnificent meal and great fun with Karoly’s children, we returned for my last night in Vinkovci.
Friday 2 and Saturday 3 March: Beograd – Orthodox and Baptist
With fond farewells, I left Vinkovci on the Sava Express at 8.20am and met Radomir Rakic as arranged at the Patriarchate. We went over the road to the Theology Faculty and had 50 minutes with the Dean, Amfilohije Radovic (see p. 15 of my 1981 report), the Canon Law Professor, Gardasevic, and the Professor of Dogmatics, Gosevic. We discussed women priests and the Filioque clause amongst other matters.
Then on to lunch at Radomir’s house, where I also met his wife and son. We then visited the Baptist Pastor, Alexander Birvis, who is involved in a ‘dynamic equivalent translation’ of the New Testament, and then back to Ivana Djuric’s grandfather’s flat (where Radomir and Ivana argued about post-baptismal sin) and onto Mrs Spasovic’s flat with Marko and Ivana for dinner. Dr Stanimir Spasovic is learning English in England at the moment, while acting as a Deacon at the Serbian church in Ladbroke Grove, and he had lunch at our house before my visit. Finally, we returned to the grandfather’s flat for the night.
Saturday morning Marko saw me onto the JAT coach by St Mark’s church and I caught the 9.35am flight home and started preparing my sermon for the next day, on the plane.
In the 10 days amongst the Protestants, I had given 3 lectures (2 of which were the same) and 17 sermons (4 different subjects, ‘The Bread of Life’, ‘Zaccheus’, ‘Forgiveness’, and ‘Wake Up’).
The Patriarch’s Secretary
The Patriarch was very upset about the Church Times photograph, particularly because at the 1948 Lambeth Conference, after the ordination of the Chinese woman to the Priesthood in Hong Kong in 1944, the Bishops had rejected it. If Anglicans really wanted closer relations with the Orthodox, we would have to take account of Orthodox principles.
Patriarch German – very welcoming, warm, and looking younger than his 84 years.
He asked after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s health, and age, whether it was my first time in Yugoslavia, and what my schedule was. Did the ‘high’ and ‘low’ division still exist in the Anglican Church? (I mentioned the different stresses of the Anglican Catholics and Evangelicals, but also of those in the centre: that we were, in many ways, an ecumenical church in ourselves and this had advantages as well as disadvantages – one of the latter being the difficulty of other churches relating to us.)
Were there any intelligent people in the Anglican Church? (A wonderfully ambiguous question, which I took to refer to the ‘intelligentsia’ and mentioned my experience at Oxford and Cambridge.)
How was Spasovic’s English coming on? He told an anecdote about a man who spoke very good English, but the trouble was that the English just did not understand it.
Bishop Danilo chipped in with the matter of the Chinese woman priest and the Patriarch said that the Archbishop was not just shaking hands but using two hands.
Were there any women priests in the Anglican Church? (Charles Sherlock did most of the answering, differentiating the Church of England and the Anglican Communion; the photo did not mean that much; the Archbishop was not for ordaining women to the Priesthood in the Church of England etc.) But it was on the front page, said the Patriarch. (Radomir then tried to play it down and I thought later that we should have pointed out the difference between Pravoslavlje and the Church Times, which is an independent, ‘self-managing’, paper that can blow up a story however it wishes. Charles said our church was being pulled various ways and, no doubt, they would try and pull it their way in June – he hoped so.) The Patriarch said women should not be ordained because Jesus did not make his mother a priest, as he would have done if he believed in it and St Paul said women had to keep silent in church.
Was Christianity strong in England? (I mentioned the different areas of suburbs, inner-cities, the West Indian Pentecostal churches etc.) As we left, Charles assured him that no women priests would be coming in June with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Bishop Danilo - based at the Patriarchate, vehemently anti-Croat and anti-Catholic, though very pleasant to talk to, but has a tendency to the monologue. He kindly gave me a gift of a block-mounted icon.
The Orthodox Priest Associations are recognised by the Holy Synod at Diocesan level, but not centrally.
There have been no new moves concerning Macedonia.
The Pope may be coming in October (see later - now postponed) and the Orthodox have said he ought to visit Glina, the scene of one of the worst Ustasa massacres, where all the male villagers (Serbs) were locked inside their church, with their Orthodox priest, and burnt alive. The Pope had visited Auschwitz and so ought to see Glina, but he probably would not do so.
The Pope must come to Beograd because it is the Capital and it is a State visit – in Turkey, he went to Ankara as well as to Constantinople.
After the last war the State tried to portray Bishoh Nikolaj as a Cetnik to match, on the Catholic side, Stepinac as an Ustasa, but this was totally false. Nikolaj suffered in Dachau with Gavrilo (later Patriarch) ie he should be compared with him, rather than with Stepinac, and later settled in America. Only one priest, in Dalmatia, joined the Cetniks and he defrocked himself by taking up arms.
Tito had proved himself a Catholic by being so anti the Serbian Orthodox – not allowing the building of St Sava’s church – and since his death it has been easier to talk to the State.
He went to the WCC Assembly Vancouver in 1983 via Moscow: all the Eastern bloc representatives travelled together on Aeroflot. He met Peter Kuzmic in the corridor and had a pleasant chat, but had not read his new book.
Their Pope was the Holy Spirit.
Radomir Rakic – deacon editor of Pravoslavlje, speaks very good English, friendly and open ecumenically.
The idea of the Pope visiting Glina was published in an unsigned article in Pravoslavlje, written by Bishop Danilo.
Three years ago, just before visiting Poland, the Pope had mentioned all the Slavonic languages in a speech, except Serbian. This was pointed out strongly in Pravoslavlje and the Pope apologised – the first time the Pope had ever apologised – but the Patriarch was angry that Pravoslavlje had made such a big thing of the Pope apologising.
In the edition just before I arrived there was an interview with the Patriarch reprinted from a student newspaper, where he was questioned on the Macedonian church, an article about Mother Teresa, and another on Hungarian Church-State relations.
The edition published just before I left was criticised on State radio on the 3pm news on Thursday 1 March, because of an article by the former Professor of the Serbian Language reviewed recent Serbian novels and brought out three types of Orthodox priest in them. The State radio said it was nationalistic and implied the Church was basic to Serbia rather than the State.
He wants to give up that editorship if he can find the right successor (this was mentioned before the criticism on the radio). I met a probable successor, who speaks no English but does speak Russian…
The Patriarch now says that the Macedonian church should be autocephalous, but only an Ecumenical Council can grant that (?) – there will never be an Eighth Ecumenical Council, so autocephaly will never be granted. The former Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, had tried hard to organise the Council, meeting Pope Paul three times and visiting Serbia in 1967, and also Canterbury, but he is now dead, and the Council will never meet. Anyway, how would they vote? The Serbians have 17 bishops for 8 million Serbs, the Greeks 70 bishops for 8 million Greeks and the Russians have 70 bishops for countless million Russians.
Amfilohije Radovic (Dean of the Faculty) is Montenegrin. He was educated at Beograd in 1962, then Berne (Old Catholic University) then Rome and finally studied for his doctorate at Thessalonica on St Gregory of Palamas (given by Athens University). There is a long summary in German and the Berne Professor has said it is excellent. In Thessalonica he tore up his passport and never thought of returning to Yugoslavia. When he was over 40, he returned to be Professor at Beograd: he was no longer liable for military service. He has the leanings of a martyr.
Gosevic is the lay Professor of Dogmatics. He is very lazy and never wrote any reports on the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogues in 1976, 1982 and 1983. He is liked by the Patriarch but was reprimanded by him because of the lack of reports. Canon Allchin has asked for him to be replaced on the commission (he is very hard line), and he has been, by Bishop Lavrentije.
Irenaeus is a brilliant young teacher of the New Testament. He also studied for his doctorate in Greece.
Athanasius is the editor of many books.
Artemije is the fourth of the four leading disciples of Popovic, who teaches at the Faculty; the others being Amfilohije, Irenaeus, and Athanasius.
Gardasevic (Professor of Canon Law) was also on the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue but was never sent. When he is retired from the Faculty, soon, he would probably go to teach at the Macedonian Faculty at Skopje.
Professor Draskovic (born 1916) had been the best theologian in the Faculty but was pushed out when he allowed a monk to study there, who came from his region, and who was not entitled to do so. The Patriarch sacked him. He now teaches, every fortnight, at the Macedonian Faculty and will eventually produce Doctors of Theology there. The Faculty there buy books from Beograd and transliterate them. Draskovic was influential in the Priests Associations. Radomir is a member.
Radomir, since Vancouver, is no longer on the central committee of the World Council of Churches. His place is taken by Simic, the lecturer in liturgy. Radomir was at ‘Amsterdam 83’, the conference for itinerant evangelists, and afterwards preached at Zemun and Beograd for 23 minutes instead of 10 minutes. He was taken off the list of preachers, but the Patriarch ordered his reinstatement, after his written protest.
Three years ago, in the Titograd deanery there were no baptisms in one year. The State, which supports the Priests Associations, was pleased with this.
The choice for the next Patriarch is liable to be between:
- Bishop Stefan – who would be best.
- The Bishop of Tuzla - who is the State candidate, but against whom many letters (anonymous) have been received.
- Bishop Sava.
In 1979 it was Radomir who insisted to the Patriarch that he ought to give a lunch to the Anglican delegation. Concerning the Church Times photograph, it was he who tried to play down its significance.
The General Secretary of the Holy Synod asked him on 1 March to print the ‘dynamic equivalent translation’ of the New Testament, by Birvis, under the stamp of the Ecumenical Council of Churches. (The Synod was going to back the translation until very recently, when the Patriarch refused to print a heretic’s translation – see the interview with Birvis later.)
Dr Turcinovic, a Catholic theologian and publisher with TDKS in Zagreb, is a very fine businessman. If a book cost 20 dinars to publish he could charge 60 dinars and sell it. The Orthodox would charge 30 dinars, but not make enough to plough back into more adventurous publishing.
Seven years ago the Holy Synod decided that no non-Orthodox person should give a lecture in the Theology Faculty.
Lecturers in the Theology Faculty
Amfilohije is planning to build a new Faculty building and has grants from Russia, Athens, Mount Athos and the WCC. Any chance of one from England? (I said it would be mentioned.) At the moment, no non-Orthodox study there because of the lack of room, but with the new building that may be possible.
He and others had written articles for the secular university journal. He wrote on ‘Water and Spirit’. He has been invited to take part in science seminars and during the last three years relations with the university have been more open. In October 1983, he was invited for a dialogue by the Croatian Communist Party.
On the night of the 6 January 1984 there will be a youth vigil at the church led by the Patriarch, attended by about 2,000 young people.
Gosevic asked about women priests and stressed that Orthodox principles had to be respected in any dialogue. What about the Filioque? Why had not the Anglican Church removed it when the Anglican-Orthodox conversations had agreed on this point? (I mentioned the difference in authority in the two churches.)
Charles Sherlock – Anglican Chaplain, very hospitable and efficient in his arrangements and sensitive in his relations with the Orthodox.
The Anglican Church worships in the Catholic church in Beograd and the Lutheran church in Zagreb. The Lutheran Pastor has a doctorate from Tubingen. There are 70 in the Beograd congregation, including the Ambassador and many Ghanaians and Nigerians.
He found Ivana’s attitude very difficult. Until the Protestants recognise that others are Christians they will never grow much.
Bishop Danilo was a Marxist doctor in Paris when he was thoroughly converted. The Orthodox complain that they are not allowed to build new churches on new estates. The Catholics just go and build them. Stella Alexander should just cross the frontier. They are so inefficient she would not be recognised (?). The Catholics have outmanoeuvred the Orthodox over the Pope’s visit. He would also visit Skopje because of Mother Teresa.
The Slovak Lutherans are the largest Protestant denomination. Some still preside at Communion facing eastwards and wear frilly surplices.
Trevor Moore – young diplomat at the British Embassy, late 20s, read American and Russian studies at Manchester; has been in Beograd 18 months; churchwarden, just elected at the Anglican church; at home attends St James, Muswell Hill, London.
He had been the one to pass on the telegram to Torville and Dean from the Queen. It was received in Beograd two hours after the BBC had broadcast the news of its sending.
He had pushed Stella Alexander’s application in the last two weeks.
He wanted to visit the Macedonian church, for his job, soon. Charles Sherlock asked him to wait until after the Archbishop’s visit in June, because the Patriarch would be upset if a member of the British Embassy were officially received there.
Many students are flocking to the Serbian Orthodox Church in the last few years, and also to the late-night Russian services.
The present Prime Minister of Yugoslavia makes noises like Mrs Thatcher about ‘tightening our belts’ etc. She is the only hope for the economy since inflation is 56%.
The old Presidency was made up of old men with a ‘Federalist’ attitude. The new Presidency is younger but not so ‘Federalist’: they are all fighting for their own corner.
Alexander Birvis – Baptist Pastor in Beograd, late 50s; Greek and Hebrew scholar; studied at the Orthodox Faculty, but before he finished, he was converted; very good English; leading Baptist in Yugoslavia; warm, with a gentle sense of humour.
The Serbian Philosophical Society has invited Professor Jurgen Moltmann to lecture at the Student Cultural Centre on 5 March 1984. He is Professor of Systematic Theology at Tubingen and the leading Protestant theologian. This is the ‘happening of the century’ for Birvis. He and Peter Kuzmic have managed to get him to stay on an extra day to give a lecture to theologians on ‘Jesus Christ our Hope’.
Birvis wrote an article on ‘Conversion’ for Pravoslavlje, but it was printed as ‘Conversation’. The Patriarch refused permission to back his translation of the New Testament - Matthew is already finished – because it was done by a ‘heretic’. (See above in the summary of Radomir’s interview. Radomir is going to publish a trial run of 500 of Matthew’s gospel for critical appraisal.)
He is also writing a new Tyndale (IVP) commentary on Hebrews, Peter Kuzmic is going to write the one on John’s gospel and Miroslav Wolf (a colleague of Peter’s) one on Peter’s epistles. The rest are being translated from the English.
He helped to promote Peter Kuzmic’s fine book on The Vuk-Danicic Text of The Holy Scripture and the Bible Society at the Beograd book fair. Catholic priests are the best customers for the Tyndale Commentaries. The Patriarchate did not allow Peter Kuzmic access to their archives during his research for his book.
The Orthodox revision of the Serbian New Testament, now underway, is more archaic then ever. They have deliberately transliterated, not translated, the Greek word for image (icon) wherever it occurs to back up their own theology of iconography. It was due to be published now but has been held up for two reasons: whenever they proofread more revision is needed and they do not like the paper suggested and have ordered better paper from Germany.
Emil Poth – Reformed Pastor; studied classics at Beograd and theology in Vienna; good English.
Amfilohije Radovic was a student with him. Emil invited him to speak at Feketic to the Reformed Pastors and he enjoyed doing so. He is becoming well known among non-Christians, because of his involvement in the Marxist-Christian dialogue. Walter Hollenweger, Professor of Mission at the University of Birmingham, gave a lecture at Feketic last year, on ‘How to Study the Bible in the Modern World’. He did not express himself very well: some found it difficult to follow and some sidestepped the implications of the lecture by saying things were very different in the East.
Tibor and Ibolya Weiss – young Reformed couple, both Pastors, sharing Laslovo and Koroj; warm and welcoming, eager to learn more about God; Tibor speaks quite good English; Ibolya is Hungarian and speaks little Croatian.
A lot of people in Reformed congregations need converting and so do some of the Pastors. There are 23 Pastors including 3 women. Klaudia Rohrig (see p. 3 of my 1981 report) has lectured in Hebrew in the past at the Biblical Theological Institute in Zagreb and now does a little at the Baptist college at Novi Sad. There are two Pastors in training in Hungary at the moment. Tibor’s father was a converted Jew, and he loves studying Hebrew.
The Charismatic Movement in the Hungarian Reformed Church is lively and growing, especially among the young and in other churches.
Many are dying in hospital because of the lack of proper medicines. There is a lot of flu.
A typical week for them is as follows:
Sun: Tibor has Sunday School at 8am at Koroj and services at 10am and 2pm with Bible School at 3pm. Ioblya has services at Laslovo at 10am and 2pm and Sunday School at 4pm.
Mon: Day off, except once a month there is a Pastors’ Conference at Feketic.
Tues: Tibor looks after little Debora, Ibolya is in Koroj with the Needlework Group at 2pm (for the Basle Mission), women’s prayer meeting at 3pm and Elders’ Bible Study at 4.30pm.
Wed: Tibor is in Laslovo with children’s education - one group 8am to 12 noon; second group 2pm-3.30pm; Needlework Group 3.30pm – every February the Basle Mission sends a representative; Bible Study 6pm.
Thur: Ibolya is in Koroj, sometimes takes Debora; children’s education 8am-11am and 12.30-4.30pm; youth bible study 4.30-5pm; women’s bible study 5-6pm.
Fri: Preparation and visiting.
Sat: Preparation and visiting.
Tibor was somewhat wary of Pentecostal worship, which he had experienced as rather man-centred (he had heard a visiting preacher from America at Osijek) but enjoyed our visit to BTI: Endre persuaded him to come with us.
Peter Kuzmic – Pentecostal Pastor and Theologian, now based in Osijek, where he has set up the Biblical Theological Institute; very good English; studied at Zagreb and Harvard and for a Doctorate at Zagreb on ‘The Vuk-Danicic Text of The Holy Scripture and the Bible Society’; welcoming and not overpowering.
He had been invited to the 1983 WCC Assembly in Vancouver at first as an observer but then was asked to speak at a main session on ‘Life in All Its Fulness’. The Serbian Orthodox had complained directly to Philip Potter, General Secretary of the WCC, that they had been coming to WCC Assemblies for years and had never been invited to speak, and now this Pentecostal was on the platform. But when he met Bishop Danilo in the corridor the Bishop was very pleasant. The Patriarch came off the Central Committee of the WCC, under pressure from extreme nationalists like Athanasius, and Radomir went on it (now off, see above). Athanasius is likely to be in trouble soon because he gave a nationalist interview recently to a secular newspaper.
The Pentecostal movement in Yugoslavia began early in this century in Vojvodina. On various occasions, in 1901 and 1906, people spoke in tongues, independently of each other, and without foreign influence. Some stayed as Slovak Lutherans, but believed more in adult rather than infant baptism. When the Germans lost the First World War many left the area. Then there was a second stream, with the Slovenian Revival in the 1930s and the influence of a Hungarian man, Mihok.
Peter’s father was converted in the 1930s and founded a church in his home in Vescica, Slovenia. In 1953 his father was imprisoned for holding a service, but he knew they were coming to arrest him and buried Bibles and songbooks in a cornfield before they reached him. His father, who had only three years of basic education, is still alive today, at the age of 81, and his conversion meant reconciliation with his wife.
The Pentecostal church in Zagreb was started by a medical student from Subotica. In 1951 there was a union of Pentecostal churches but this broke up in 1956. The Pentecostal Church of Christ, the denomination Peter is linked into (see pp. 9-10 of my 1981 report), has 91 congregations with the largest in Novi Sad and Subotica having 200-300 members. There is a mission from Subotica in Kosovo, working amongst the Albanians there in Pristina, the second largest University (about 35,000 students). Two Albanian brothers, who are lawyers, have been recently converted and an evangelistic chapel is being bought and dedicated on 7 October this year there. In Mostar there is a house church and some Muslims have been converted.
Christ’s Spiritual Church of Footwashing is the second largest Pentecostal denomination. They are the descendants of the Slovak minority (see above) and are also called ‘Jesus Only’, because they insist on baptising only in the name of Jesus and not the Trinity (Peter feels that they deny the Trinity). They have about 12 congregations and these are very large, with many young people. At Padina there are about 400 members and they have recently opened a new church in the Banat area with 350 members.
The Church of God, a third Pentecostal denomination, split off from Christ’s Spiritual Church of Footwashing in 1967-68. They believe in baptism in the name of the Trinity, but continue to practice footwashing. They have 14 congregations of about 30 each and their services are very dynamic. Weljko Bogdanovic is the Pastor in Vinkovci (where I stayed on the night of Tuesday 21 February) and the national overseer of the Church of God.
In the past, some Pentecostal Pastors have been trained at Gdansk. The European Bible Seminary there was set up by a Belgian Baptist. Some Bulgarian Pastors also trained there. For the last few years Peter has been involved in Theological Education by Extension in Yugoslavia: there are six centres, including Novi Sad, Vinkovci and Subotica. The four-storey Biblical Theological Institute, at the back of the Osijek church, was paid for by Yugoslav Christians, with help from Evangelicals abroad and local Christian labourers. It will soon become a residential Institute. The caretaker is 29 and on a State pension because 12 years ago he was a drug addict. Through becoming a Christian, he came off drugs and is a powerful witness in the area.
Peter gave a paper on ‘The Church and the Kingdom of God’ at the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) conference in Chicago in 1983. In June 1982 he gave a paper on ‘History and Eschatology’ at the conference at Grand Rapids on ‘Evangelism and Social Responsibility’ organised by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and by the World Evangelical Fellowship. From 6-10 August 1984, he will be in London, lecturing at John Stott’s London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
He was very pleased that Moltmann was coming to Beograd and staying on to lecture to theological students (see above) but rather upset that he was charging about £90.
Sagi Bunic, the leading Catholic Croatian theologian is seriously ill and dying. Peter is the only Protestant member of TDKS (Theological Association for Christianity Today) of which Sagi Bunic is the Chairman.
Marko – Catholic Priest in Slavonski Brod; former priest of Tordinci; and open Catholic and shrewd entrepreneur for the Church.
Archbishop Kuharic is very approachable.
Vocations were up the last 3 years, after many years of decline.
The Mayor is a secret Catholic and has a crucifix in his house.
The Catholic Kindergarten has stimulated the State to provide their own ones.
He owns an Apple Juice Factory near the town, which is doing very well, and the profits have helped build the Retreat Centre (see above). Caritas also helped and Catholic labourers offered their services very cheaply. Permission was not asked before the building of the Retreat Centre and when confronted by the State he explained as follows. 10 years ago, after the earthquake, there was a law passed stipulating that all buildings damaged should come down and be rebuilt. The wine cellar on the site, which had been left to the church, had now been pulled down and another building replaced it.
The Centre has four storeys and accommodation for up to 35 people. It is widely used already and nearly finished.
He is currently fighting a court case over the building of a new church on the outskirts of the town, again started without permission, on a housing estate. It is built in the style of the surrounding new houses, and he is arguing that it is a house too.
Neither he, nor the layman also present at lunch, would talk much about the difficulties between the Bishops and the TDKS (the self-managing Theological Association), nor about the postponed visit of the Pope.
Endre Langh – Reformed Pastor at Vinkovci and Tordinci (and three outlying churches); perfect English; supports himself by teaching English for about 40 hours a week; a Don Camillo character, well known in Vinkovci; studied at Beograd and Cambridge (Westminster College for a year).
As usual full of political jokes. The Prime Minister (‘our Iron Lady’) and the President of the Presidency were in a rowing boat together. The boat overturned. Who was saved? The people of Yugoslavia.
Since Leopold Mandic has recently been made a Catholic saint the people of Yugoslavia have become particularly religious. They now cross themselves when seeing a shop window and light candles every three days. They cross themselves because of the price rises and light candles because of the power cuts.
When the President of the Presidency opened the Winter Olympics he started his speech, with “O, O, O, O”, until someone pointed out that that was just the Olympic symbol.
What happened to ‘Olympiad’ after Sarajevo? ‘Olymp’ went back to Greece and ‘iad’ (meaning ‘misery’) stayed here.
The Prime Minister recently sacked her finance minister, who had the best brain in the Government.
At Gaddafi’s last visit he said that each time he comes he is dealing with a new leader: he did not know who is running the country and would not return.
There is a problem in the Reformed Church with drunken Pastors, especially among the young ones. It is wrong to send them to Hungary for training for six years because drink is part of the Hungarian culture, they stay out late and there is no spiritual oversight. Others become smoking addicts. There must be something wrong when a Pastor cannot go without a cigarette for an hour but can go four days without reading the Bible. It would be much better to send them to England where they could learn an international language and have some oversight.
Suza had one of the biggest and most generous congregations two or three years ago, but the Pastor questioned the accounts and without telling the elders invited a three-man commission to check them. They found that the accounts were ‘honest’, while not being mathematically perfect. Many of the best men left the church and encouraged others to do so. Endre has been trying to help the Pastor with his drink problem.
There is also some corruption in obtaining positions. Some try to bribe the Church Boards into accepting them.
The previous Bishop, Csete, was worse for the church than the Regime, because of his attitude of superiority and his wheeling and dealing in the church. The new Bishop, Hodosy, is a fine Pastor of the Pastors, a spiritual man but rather weak in dealing with problems. Last July, at the European Reformed Conference at Feketic, the organisation was terrible. At first, they were told that only 10 Yugoslav Pastors could attend and they would receive invitations. But none were sent and so the Pastors only turned up for one day and the people from other countries were wondering why the host Pastors were not there all the time. The Romanians complained about the lack of reverence during the Communion service, which was completely in Hungarian and not translated.
The Reformation came to this area very early on, and in two waves. In the 1520s the Lutheran wave arrived and Tordinci, and 18 other Croatian villages, became Lutheran. In the 1540s the Calvinist wave arrived, and the villages became Reformed. During the Counter-Reformation many of these villages became Catholic again, but the villages of Tordinci and Koroj and a few others were very poor, and the villagers hid in the reeds while the Counter-Reformation troops razed their villages to the ground. Later they rebuilt them and remained Reformed, with the local Catholic Count, who had Reformed sympathies, protecting them.
Last year Glas Koncila, the Catholic newspaper, gave a false history of this period in Tordinci and mentioned massacres by the Reformed people. Endre wrote a letter to the editor, but it was not published. The editor wrote privately that he was only printing what his sources had given him.
Later last century, and early this, Franciscan monks came to the area and told people that the Reformed church was Hungarian and not Croatian, and they were being traitors to Croatia if they continued to attend the Reformed church. Many left. After Vatican II, there have been no great changes and seven young Catholic priests have left the priesthood in his Catholic Deanery.
Last summer eight Shiite Muslim intellectuals were arrested in Bosnia.
The Co-ops in the villages do not work very well, because too often they are in the charge of a corrupt family and the villagers prefer to take their produce elsewhere.
In the Reformed Church there is a minimal level of giving. 15 kilograms of wheat per person above 18 years, plus 5 kilogrammes per acre owned. This is usually translated into dinars, but, being based on wheat, is inflation proof. If a person is salaried, the minimum is one tenth of one month’s salary. If people do not pay for many years, they are not entitled to have baptism, wedding and funeral services in their family.
Endre thinks this system is awful. The Pentecostals have no minimum level, and their giving is enormous, mainly because over 80% of them are really converted, unlike the Reformed.
Tibor wanted to start a Croatian service in Laslovo but the Church Board would have no services apart from Hungarian. If the Reformed Church keeps struggling to maintain its precious Hungarian identity, then it will die.
Retired Teacher at Kotlina – Reformed, very interested in church life in England.
When he was a schoolmaster, it was suggested to him by the officials that he would be a hypocrite if he went to church on Sunday after teaching in a Marxist school during the week. He remained a firm Christian and now that he is retired, he is a member of the Church Board.
Four or five years ago there was an official poll in Croatia concerning the religious attitudes of teachers. Of the older ones, 80% were believers and of the younger ones, 40%.
He had enjoyed reading Karlo Steiner’s book, 7000 Days in Siberia, which was published while Tito was still alive. Steiner was an Austrian and had been a communist before the war helping Tito, but in the book, he is openly critical of Stalinism and near the end says that he has “left the ideals of his youth behind.”
Jelana Spasovic – 15-year-old daughter of Stanimir Spasovic, Orthodox Protodeacon who is studying English in London at the moment.
Her music teacher has been giving the class lessons on Handel’s Messiah and explaining all about the Christian background to it, but she finished the lesson with the firm remark, “But we are communists, not Orthodox.” The teacher was surprised that so many young people go to church.
Marko Djuric – husband of Ivana; Orthodox background, now attends Beograd Baptist church; very open and warm lawyer.
He was reading a Doctoral Dissertation written by Spiro Marasovic (OFM Conv. Zagreb, 1978) from the Zagreb Theology Faculty, entitled, ‘The Place of the Church in the Theory of Self Managing Socialism’.
I am very grateful to God and to the people who made this visit possible. The warm hospitality, the openness in talking about difficult issues, and the sharp contrast in cultural atmospheres have all been exciting experiences.
The Serbian Orthodox: deeply spiritual but fervently nationalistic, cooperating - not really compromising - with the State, always seeking permission before acting.
The Croatian Catholics: equally nationalistic but confronting the State with imaginative building and publishing programmes.
The Hungarian Reformed: clinging tenaciously to their Hungarian identity, but with many looking for renewal.
The Pentecostals: brimming over with life but somewhat schismatic and growing in numbers for both reasons.
The Baptists: sometimes fiercely dogmatic but eager to share the Good News.
There is no place, or comparative size, quite so varied as Yugoslavia. Like the Church of England, it faces many directions at once and is indeed ‘the despair of tidy minds’.
The Revd Graham Kings
Curate, St Mark, Harlesden, London