Our Unitarian Church In Transylvania (Rev. Mozes Kedei)
The Early History of Unitarianism
The Unitarian Church emerged in the 16th century as a logical and
natural result of the reformation, manifested in Christianity. The
place of its birth was in the Transylvanian principality. The ideas of
the reformation reached Transylvania early. The particular economic,
social, and political conditions of the principality and the general
discontent towards the Catholic Church, contributed to its penetrating
and quick development.
After Lutheranism and Calvinism came the Unitarian reformation, in the
second half of the sixties of the XVI century. Unitarianism is radical
in its theological system and progressive in its social system. Its
reformer and organizer was Francis David. He was born in Kolozsvar
around 1510. His father was a Saxon shoemaker, Hertel David. His
mother was Hungarian. He grew up in Kolozsvar, where the population is
mixed. He studied in Gyulafehervar, the center of Transylvanian
humanism. He became a clergyman. From the beginning he showed a great
interest in the reformation. In 1545 he went to Wittenberg, the center
of Lutheran reformation. In 1556 he became the parson of his native
town. In 1556 he became the superintendent of the Lutheran adherents
and in 1564 that of the Calvinists.
Francis David was a great theologian with humanist culture. He was a
"teologus incomparabilis", one of the greatest figures of
his epoch. He recognized the way and direction of the development of
the Christian religion, and led by this recognition, he became the
radical reformer of his time. He represented the most radical wing of
reformation, he became a hero of spiritual freedom and of
conscience's liberty in Europe of XVIth century. He considered the
reformation as God's hints for the man, looking for a new sky and
new earth. He considered his mission from God to serve this cause with
his knowledge, deep humanism and prophetical enthusiasm.
Francis David had three great theological debates: the first in 1566
in Gyulafehervar, the second in 1568 again in Gyulafehervar, which
ended with a shining victory for him. The news, that he won the
debate, went before him. A huge mass of people waited for him in
Kolozsvar, where he delivered on a round stone a speech so moving that
the inhabitants of Kolozsvar almost entirely were converted to the
faith of David Ferenc. The third debate was held in Nagyvarad, in
1569, when he crystallized his theological standpoint, and when he
said: "We do not build our religion from straw, but from the
values of the Bible."
Religious Freedom and Tolerance
1568 was a very important date not only for Transylvania, but for all
of Europe as regards religious freedom and tolerance. In that year, in
Torda, was issued the edict of Tolerance. This was the law which
defended the Unitarians in the most difficult times through the
centuries. The edict said literally:
"The preachers should everywhere preach the Gospel, each
according to his own belief, and the community might accept it or not,
nobody should compel it, as this would not ease anybody's soul,
but the community should have the right to keep such a preacher whose
teaching it likes. None of the superintendents or others are allowed
to do any harm to the preacher, nobody should be hurt for his religion
as a consequence of the former dispositions. Nobody is allowed to
threaten anybody with prison or with expelling him from his place for
his teaching, because belief is God's gift, it arises from
listening and listening exists by God's word."
It was very important that in 1568 the King, Janos Zsigmond, adhered
to Unitarianism. With the diet of Torda in 1568, the fate of the
religious strife that had lasted for years was decided. The radical
reformation: Unitarianism led by Francis David achieved its'
existence and got state recognition.
The diet of Torda sanctified the real religious state and it codified
the people's standpoint. This meant the significant victory of the
progressive forces, codifying the official recognition of Unitarianism
as "recepta religio". This was the foundation of the
Unitarian Church. Therefore, our church considers the decision of the
diet of 1568 as its fundamental law.
It was not a religious indifference or philosophical conception that
made Francis David fight for the liberty of religion and conscience,
but a deep religious conviction. We Unitarians stress that religion
must be free, that in problems of belief there is no place for any
constraint, weapon, or violence. In a word, Unitarianism forms an
inseparable unity with liberty of conscience and religion.
Our Distinctive Beliefs
The axle thesis of our theology is: "God is one." This is
written on the tower of many Unitarian churches. In Ujszekely, where I
served for 13 years, on the tower is written, "In honorem solius
Dei." In Szekelyudvarhely/ Odorheiu-Secuiesc/ on the tower it is
written, "Az egy Isten tiszteletere" — "For the honor
of one God."
Jesus was a great teacher, the leader of our spiritual life. We have
to follow him in our actions, in our words, in our lives, but we do
not pray to him. We could summarize Jesus' teaching in the great
commandment: "The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; and you shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second
is this: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The Holy Ghost is not the third person of the Trinity, but the
inspiring force of God in man, in nature, and in the universe. The
inspiration of God is not ended with the Bible, but there is an
everlasting process in the universe.
Our belief as regards man, life, and the world is optimistic,
progressive, dynamic, and open to the future. The essence of our life
is the struggle for a better world. Despite the weakness of man, we
believe in Him, in Her — we believe that with the common struggle of
humankind, the world could be transformed into a new promised land.
We believe that religion is a way of life and not a set of doctrines.
We believe in the salvation of character and not by the atonement of
We believe in evolution. Orban Balazs, a great ethnographer,
historian, and writer (he was born a catholic, converted to the
Unitarian church in adulthood, and belonged to our congregation)
"In every sphere of life we could experience the process of
development. I could not believe, that only the religious life is
where there is not any development."
We believe that, in fact, life, man, and the world are good.
Our Special Services During the Year
We have two special services, in which a lot of members of our
congregation take part: the confirmation and the communion.
Confirmation: every child starts Sunday school at the
age of six. After seven years training follows the confirmation, which
is a great festival of our congregation. We have a catechism, which
contains our beliefs. The seventh year is a special year, when we
progress step by step in learning the principles of our belief. It is
not important to learn by heart the answers, but rather understanding:
Why are we Unitarians? The confirmation is connected to a special
service/worship/, when the parents, grandparents, and godparents are
in the church. Usually the church is full of people, sometimes around
1,000 people. The essence of the confirmation is the conscious
confession of the Unitarian faith by our youth.
Communion: Communion is the other great special
service. In our church, we take the Lord's Supper four times every
year: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Thanksgiving Sunday (last
Sunday of September). The meaning of communion for us is on the
occasion of communion we give evidence, that we belong to our
congregation. We give evidence that the joy and sorrow of the other
members is not indifferent to us, it is our joy and our sorrow. We
show up in the ideal part of Jesus' life — what is hidden in
every man and woman. We measure our life with the life of Jesus, with
the lives of great men. We repent our sins and seek the way to a more
clean, to a more precious, to a more human life.
The Number of Churches and Members
Our Church has 120 congregations, 110 ministers, and 80,000 members.
You could put the question: Why are you so few? In the time of the
King John Sigismund and Francis David, the majority of the Hungarian
population belonged to the Unitarian church in Transylvania. The
Unitarian king died when he was only 31 years old. After him on the
throne, followed at first Catholic and after that, Calvinist kings.
Many of them persecuted our church. There was one time when 70
Unitarian congregations were converted by force at once. There was a
time when Unitarian ministers and lay presidents were killed during
the worship and the churches and schools were taken away. Unitarians
remained many times under the open sky without any defense. Only the
most faithful people remained Unitarians through centuries of our hard
history. In my former service place, centuries ago, when the village
was compelled to give up the Unitarian faith, the lay president of the
Unitarian congregation gave evidence in this way: "I and my
family would rather die than to give up the Unitarian faith."
Through these people our faith survived. Through centuries of
persecution, of depravation of our rights, we learned well the lesson
of history: we could survive only if we help and love each other. It
remained a proverb from those times: "They love each other like
Almost every congregation has a minister. In order to preserve the
people in the church, we have to employ a minister in every
congregation. Growing could be experienced only in those churches
where the minister lives together with the believers.
Our church was never a militant church, an aggressive church. We are
convinced that our Unitarian belief is strong enough to find those
people who would like to become Unitarians. Our religion is a religion
of reason, of light, and of tolerance. Bela Bartok, who was the
greatest Hungarian composer in this century, once said: "There
are churches that have their strength in their numerous members. The
Unitarian church has its strength in its truth and its message."
It is good to know, that once Albert Schweitzer, when regarding the
religions, said: "My hope is in the Quakers and the
Our Church in Udvarhely
The first Unitarian worship was held on Oct. 6th 1872, in that time 90
Unitarians lived in the town. At the end of the XIXth century, the
number of the congregation was around 300. Between 1906 and 1908, the
congregation built the present church.
During the Communist era there was a forced industrialization, when
the people from the villages came to the towns. Now about 6,000
Unitarians in two congregations live in Szekelyudvarhely. I have been
elected by the first congregation in 1990.
We very much enjoyed, when in 1990 we took the news that our sister
congregation in the USA was Atlanta. At first, Carol Payne was the
bridge of friendship between us. We were very sad when he died two
years ago. He visited my family and our congregation two times. Now we
are happy that this role was taken over by John and Barbara Dale.
Our Present Life
Before the 1989 revolution our country reigned in terrible terror — a
terrible fear — fear of everybody, fear of everything. We have had
many shortages of food, medicine, light, and heat, but most we
suffered because we were compelled to live during so many years
Now we are free, but we live in a very hard economic situation. The
average wage of an adult person is about 100 dollars per month.
Despite the many difficulties, we hope that our life slowly, little by
little, will become better. The fact that I am here, with my wife,
means that the times change and go forward.
Thank you all for the invitation, first to John and Barbara Dale, and
to the senior minister: Dr. Edward Frost. Thank you for your