Orthodox America

  The Lost Gospel

Archpriest Feriz Berki

Translator’s Introduction

Following Hungary’s liberation from the Turkish yoke at the end of the 17th century, companies of Greek meurchants, in northward flight from the same oppression began to arrive in its capital and in its provincial centers Establishing themselves for the long term, the members of these immigrant mercantile colonies soon undertook the erection of churches and schools, grouping themselves into solid Greek Orthodox parishes and self sufficient Hellenic institutions. Their descendants, assimilating into Hungarian society, ultimately outgrew the need for the latter and, in many instances, abandoned the former as well. Now, as mere remnants of once-flourishing, richly endowed communities, the surviving handful of Greek founded Hungarian Orthodox parishes constitute, since 1949, an Ecclesiastical Administration within the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. [1] It is the present Dean of this Administration, Archpriest Feriz Berki of Budapest, who originally published the following article in 1958 and, thirty years later, reprinted it in the November-December 1988 number of the Egyhazi Kronika (Ecclesiastical Chronicle), official organ of the Hungarian Orthodox Church. Its text is that of a sermon which Father Berki delivered in Holy Trinity Church, Kecskemet, on June 1,1958. Its logic, given the various stages of evolution and assimilation through which American Orthodox Christians continue to pass, is not at all without interest

 We read in Scripture that, fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus, on the Feast of Pentecost, another wonder took place in Jerusalem. The Apostles happened to be together at the time, when from heaven a Sound came...as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting (Acts 2:1-2). The Apostles themselves were filled then with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). And when they went among the people to preach the Crucified and Risen Christ, those in the crowds which had gathered there from all parts of the world heard them speaking, each in his own language,

      This was the fair wonder of Pentecost which, in an instant, rendered the disciples capable of fulfilling the Master's command: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... (Matt. 18:19). And after Pentecost the Apostles did in fact traverse the entire known world, announcing to all peoples the Gospel of charity and love. At once, wherever they passed, a new world arose: the world of Christianity, which does not admit distinction between man and man, people and people, but in which all of us who dwell on earth, whatever language we speak, are the children of one Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters of one another, through Jesus Christ.

      Our Holy Eastern Orthodox Church has always carried out faithfully the command of the Lord Jesus Christ and, walking in 'the footsteps of the Apostles, has announced and spread the Word of God among all peoples; and this, in such a way that she has never cloaked the Word in the mystery of one or another language, incomprehensible to the people, but has spoken instead to every people in its own language. Our Church has always kept in view the sublime example of the wonder of the Fiftieth Day without which, immediately on the Feast of the first Christian Pentecost, three thousand souls of various native languages would not have become Christians (Acts 2:41) and Christ's teaching would not have spread, as wildfire, throughout the world. To the Greeks in Greek, to the Slavs in Slavonic, to the Arabs in Arabic, to the Chinese in Chinese and in general to every people in its own language, our Church announces the Gospel and celebrates all her sacramental rites unto the salvation of souls.

      If two hundred years ago we would have surveyed our homeland, we would have seen that, after the Roman Unia, the members of our Church were quite without exception immigrants from other lands, carried to our borders on the tides of history Such indeed were the founders of the Kecskemet parish, who arrived here from sun-bathed Hellas, bringing with them their ancestral language, faith, traditions. Once settled in this Central Plains town, they built a church and called front their former homeland a priest who could extol in their native language, on what was still to them foreign soil, the glorious works of God and, according to their ancient Greek rites, baptize their children, marry, their youth, bury their dead.

      New generations were born; old ones reposed...And not many decades after the settlement of the Kecskemet Greeks, these new generations, born in a centuries old Hungarian environment, realized that it was no longer in Greek, but in Hungarian, that they were speaking, feeling, thinking. The sole link by which they remained attached to their old homeland was their Greek Orthodox faith. Yet this link, too, progressively weakened, becoming less and less binding, because the very language out of which it was forged passed more and more into oblivion.

      What would have been natural then, in keeping with the spirit of our Church, would have been for a Hungarian-language liturgical life to develop within the assembled parishes. This goal could even have been served, countrywide, through the Hungarian translations of Orthodox ecclesiastical works by Istvan Kiskolczi, Demeter Karapacs, Aron Georgievits, Theodor Steriady and Janos Popovics. [2] That this was not realized, however, was not the fault of the faithful .

      Thus, already a hundred years ago, the members of the Kecskmet parish went to the church which their ancestors had built mainly because their parents and grandparents had gone there. But what they saw there, and heard, became increasingly foreign to them. Though they listened to the wondrous words of the Gospel, though the majestic liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great echoed around them, though they were eyewitnesses to the wondrous drama of the Sacrifice on Golgotha- all this became for them strange and unintelligible ceremony, of which they were no more than uncomprehending, bewildered spectators. Oh, if only Sunday after Sunday, Feastday after Feastday, the holy wonder of Pentecost could have been repeated in the Kecskemet church, so that the words which the priest spoke in Greek would have been heard by the faithful in Hungarian!

      Because the Kecskemet faithful, despite all linguistic difficulties, were steadfast, and wanted to remain steadfast, in their faith. Slowly, however, this faith evaporated before them into an impenetrable fog, because they no longer understood the language in which its truths were proclaimed. In the same way, the Kecskemet Orthodox were steadfast in their Hungarian identity, for in their language, in their feelings, they indeed had become Hungarians. But according to the spirit of those times, Orthodoxy and Hungarian national identity strongly excluded one another.

      It is now ninety years since the last cry of alarm by the Greek Orthodox Hungarians was raised when, in the National Parliament, Legislative Act No. 1X for the year 1868, concerning the Orthodox Church was being debated. Then the leaders of many Greek-founded parishes, the Kecskemot parish among them, addressed memoranda to the Parliament, openly, protesting their inclusion, as adherents to the Orthodox faith, in any minority nationality group...

      Their call to alarm, however, had hardly any result. They achieved no more than that the Parliament appended: a paragraph to the legislative act, in which it designated them "neither Serbian nor Rumaninn adherents to the Greek-Eastern faith.'

    As so many of our fellow Orthodox in the past, the Kecskemet faithful had then to decide whether to accept for all times to be branded of ' neither Serbian nor Rumanian' nationality for the sake of their Orthodox faith, which in any event was becoming increasingly nebulous for them, or to persist in defending their Hungarian identity at the sacrifice of their father's faith.

       In time, most decided in favor of the latter and sought their spiritual salvation within other Christian church communities, where no one accused their foreign descent and no one thought of them in the terms of such impossible national designation as in the church of their ancestors. Yet within them as within their descendants there has remained at the depths of their hearts, up to this very day, a mystifying, enigmatic feeling: a feeling of thanksgiving and reverence toward these ancestors. Some still treasure in their homes, as the most precious bequest, the old, battered Orthodox family icons which they inherited from their parents.

       Thus, in the last century, the Kecskemet parish fell increasingly into ruin. Its liturgical vessels and vestments were carried off, its valuables were dispersed. It gradually began to seen', as if the parish, together with its church, would suffer the same fate as had claimed the Tokay, the Gyor and the Vae parishes. But at the very last moment, the Hungarian language Liturgy echoed through the Kecskemet church so that the greatly diminished congregation, its members standing firm in their Orthodoxy despite all the churning of fate, could share in the lasting reward of the wonder of Pentecost. 

    Not long ago a fellow clergyman discovered in one of the antiquarian bookshops of the capital a nearly three centuries old Greek-language Gospel Book. When, out of a sense of duty, he purchased the book, learned from the old, fading inscription on its now yellowed pages, that two hundred years ago it was the Gospel Book of the first Kecskemet Greek Orthodox church, consecrated in honor of Saint Nicholas, I have brought this priceless book back to you, and it was from it that today, before the Hungarian Gospel I chanted for you the Greek-language reading. I did this out of my solid conviction that reverence for our ancestors, which even those of our Greek descended brothers who have voluntarily abandoned our church assume, is for us who have remained in the Orthodox faith an imperative obligation.

     I see it as God's powerful, precious gift that precisely today, on the holy Feast of Pentecost, when I am serving here for the first time, I am able to replace this sacred book on the altar table of the Holy Trimly Church of Kecskemet. In the future, guard this old, much-battered book as you would the sight of your eyes. Let it be a double symbol for you. The first that the Church community which does not understand the proclaimed Word of God, neither hopes in the wonder of Pentecost, loses its faith-and itself as well. And the second: that if in such a Church community only a handful remain staunch in their ancestral faith, they will merit from God the wonder of Pentecost and will never lose Christ's Gospel. Because even in a handful of people the Holy Spirit is at work, to Whom, together with the Father and the Son, belong glory and power forever. Amen,

Archpriest Feriz Berki Translated by Father David Lesko

Duquesne, Pennsylvania


[1] The Administration is comprised of nine parishes of which eight are either Greek or indigenous Hungarian foundations while the last, the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Parish of Budapest, was until 1945 in the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. 

[2] Istvan Miskolczi of Kecskemet completed the Hungarian translation of Peter Mogila's "Orthodox Confession" which was published in Pest, 1791. Demeter- Karapacs of Gyula published a Hungarian-language "Prayer Book” in Pest, 1795, the first of seven complete editions of this compilation. Aron Georgievits, parish priest of Gyor, published a bilinguaI Greek Hungarian “Little Catechism" for Orthodox youth in Gyor, 1801. Theodor Steriady published a Hungarian selection of "Gospels, Epistles and Saints' Lives" in Vac. 1802. Janos Popovics, parish priest of Karcag, completed the Hungarian translation of the Greek "Synopsis" which he published in Nagyvard 1861. (Trans.)