The Role of the Church in a New Eastern Europe

by Rev. Dr. Laszlo Lukacs

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“Once upon a time” there were two global superpowers. Each power had consumed one half of the European continent: the western portion was referred to as the developed world and her eastern counterpart was designated as the second.

These worlds were divided by a dynamic political and economic force, a force with expansionist ideas in the underdeveloped third world – communism.

This period, however, was not one of fairy tales, but an era of harsh reality. And no one could foresee the collapse of this setup without a major armed confrontation between the two superpowers.

This second world was arbitrarily created shortly after World War II. Hungary, my native country, lost two-thirds of its territory and a third of its population. My generation had to accept the brutal fact that the world was divided and that our homelands in Central and Eastern Europe were donated to the dominant communist power, the Soviet Union, to be suppressed, colonized and exploited.

Dramatic events such as the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968 showed clearly that the division was definite – we lost hope in the West when these quests for freedom were brutally suppressed without any help from the “free world.”

However the unexpected did take place. In just a few years the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving both hope and despair. This collapse provided the tremendous opportunity for more than 20 nations, encompassing millions of people, to generate and nurture freedom and democracy.

It has now been more than three years since the fall of the Berlin wall, the symbol of our world’s division. And the role of the church, which has also changed following the revolutions of 1989-90, remains clouded in uncertainty. What is certain is the birth of three illusions:

The illusion of freedom. In 1990 the people of Central and Eastern Europe basked in the euphoria of freedom. Full of joy and hope they cherished the illusion that freedom is happiness. Political freedom, independence, free markets and private enterprise were supposed to bring prosperity automatically.

Now most realize that such an idealized abstract freedom does not exist. Without moral responsibility, social justice and a solid value system, freedom leads to anarchy. Chaos endangers public and private security and eventually imperils the survival of culture and, ultimately, humankind.

The illusion of atheism. Atheism was the official ideology of communism. Other forms of atheistic thinking were irrelevant or ignored in the cultural horizon of these Soviet-dominated societies. The phenomenon of secularization was known only by the learned.

Although communism has collapsed, atheism is still proclaimed by the same ideologues, but in a different manner – it is propagated by the media as a form of liberalism.

We have to acknowledge that Christians are a minority in an overwhelmingly secular world and the task of evangelization is a complex and enormous challenge. The church has to start a consistent, but patient, dialogue with all people, with all prevailing ideologies and religions, without any complexes and arrogance.

The illusion of the institutional church. As a sign of solidarity and dissent many groups oppressed by the government embraced the church, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

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Tags: Christianity Eastern Europe Communism/Communist Soviet Union