“It is not to be taken for granted that Hungary is part of the EU. The presidency should not make us self-righteous. If, however, we as Hungarians can reconcile with God, ourselves and our fellow citizens, we can proudly and boldly stand before Europe as Europeans.” These words were spoken by the presiding bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei, head of the Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary, at the Hungarian opening of the Ecumenical Prayer Week. The event took place in the Fasori Reformed Church in Budapest on Sunday evening, and it also served as a church celebration of the Hungarian EU presidency post. The sermon was delivered by Péter Gáncs lutheran minister and Cardinal Péter Erdő.
The motto of the Ecumenical Prayer Week was “unity for Christians”. The worldwide topic of the Week is the origin of the first church in Jerusalem. The Prayer Weeks lasts from 16 – 23 January. The main Scripture verse has been selected from the Book of Acts, 2:42: “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching...”
The goals of man before the goals of authority
“Everybody is welcome to the house of prayer, at this hour of prayer. Prayer is a special genre, a unique human characteristic and a special opportunity. Humans can pray for themselves, which is not a selfish act, but the recognition of not being able to accomplish everything. Humans can pray for their friends and enemies, church, nation and politicians, for Europe, every people of the world and the whole creation. Every prayer carries within it the need for a dimension that only enfolds in prayer itself. And this is what we do at the official opening of the Ecumenical Prayer Week. Here gather those who see themselves as Christ's embassadors in this world.” These were the words of Gusztáv Bölcskei, presiding bishop.
As Gusztáv Bölcskei pointed out, “It is not to be taken for granted that we Hungarians live in democracy. Ours is a young and fragile jurist state where the protection of democratic values and institutions is an every day challenge. This power will only grow stronger, it can only face wider horizons if it places humankind's goals ahead of its own goals. The goal, the task can be none other than finding and maintaining humane values.”
Recognizing the possibilities in freedom
The bishop emphasized that the situation and roles of churches has been also to be clarified. “Christianity needs to have an ongoing dialogue with the state and other mental branches of society. Within the family of church denominations, an honest and ecumenical dialogue is necessary. Solidarity in society and its morals are also not self-evident... Only those communities can have the above qualities whose members can show a selfless and voluntary form of acting for each other. Only those communities can serve voluntarily which are free. And those that are free indeed can recognize the possibility found in freedom.”
Péter Gáncs, lutheran presiding bishop delivered a sermon based on Mt 5:21-26. “The Ecumenical Prayer Week is not about piety. We may consider it a form of communication practice in three dimensions. This is a holy moment, so let us stand still for a few minutes. This way we can find a connection to ourselves, our brothers and God. We will be very busy in this half year as we undertake the tasks of this great family, the European Union. Let us use well the time of grace we have received.”
A journey in faith
“The Prayer Week has a mission: to create unity. We believe in the same Christ, we pray to the same Christ. It is an uplifting feeling and also a great responsibility to strive for perfect unity with each other, and be faithful to the teaching of the apostles, persevering in prayer”, said cardinal Péter Erdős, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest.
“In both Europe and our ageing homeland, which has to face so many economic difficulties there is a great need for a feeling of community and its active manifestation. Solidarity is always mentioned as one of the fundamental values of the European Union. We share the same fate. The stronger must support the weaker, but most importantly, we have to face together the challenges that issue from the changes in the world,” said the Cardinal. “May God grant that the following half year, the period of Hungary's residency would strengthen the community of the peoples of the world, that Hungary would contribute to the service of fundamental human values and dignity of life, family and humanity. These six months should also support the appreciation and acceptance of minority groups and various language, ethnic and religious groups, thus helping the growth of sympathy and cooperation.”
The Prayer Week has a history of over a hundred years worldwide. In Hungary, it has been held for many decades. The motto from Acts 2:42 invites the people of Christ for a journey in faith. It also hopes for renewal through leading us into the historical and spiritual environment in which the people of the gospel nourish faith and brotherhood.
Time for blessings and peace
Tamás Fabinyi, lutheran bishop prayed for a solution for lack of unity and the families of the three victims of the Saturday night disco tragedy. In his prayer of confession he prayed for the church to be able to show the way in these times of loss in value. After the prayer the congregation greeted each other with a handshake, the symbol of peace.
Zoltán Bóna, the Chief Secretary of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary (MEÖT) gave thanks in his prayer for God's providence and the fact that the gospel reached Europe and provided a home for Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin as well as in the kingdom of heaven. He prayed about wrong decisions made in Europe, but he also gave thanks for grace manifested through strife for righteousness, peace and fairness, and the role and perseverence of Hungarians in history. He also prayed for wisdom for the time period of EU presidency, which, in his words, will be “a time of blessings and peace”.
István Szabó, bishop of the Reformed Church District in the Danube Region also participated in the liturgical service.
At the end of the church service, the bishops of the MEÖT member churches together with the foreign guests asked for God's blessings on the Prayer Week. Various representatives of the Hungarian government were also present.