What Transylvania Can Teach Us – Rev. Anthony David Makar

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My sermon today is in two parts. Part one is what I preached at our partner church in Székelyudvarhely, although there I had to pause every once and a while for Rev. Kedei to translate what I was saying into Hungarian. I want you to hear what I had to say to them. Here we go:


I bring you greetings from your sister congregation 6000 miles away. But despite the distance, we are at one in heart:


Where there is faith, there is love;

Where there is love, there is peace;

Where there is peace, there is blessing;

Where there is blessing, there is God.

Where there is God, there is no need.




Now, I begin by noting something perennially tragic in human history. Always the haves and the have nots. Always insiders and always the rejected, the outcast. Two thousand years ago, Roman rulers spoke of this as a kind of peace. The peace of Rome was a way of life in which the Emperor was at the top of the pyramid, then wealthy men right below. Only these had inherent worth and dignity; everyone else was a tool to be used, controlled, subjugated, humiliated. No compassion for these people: women, poor men, slaves, and the conquered.


But this was the way of Rome, the way to a unified empire, the way to true peace. Fight Rome on this—serve any gods that contradict the Roman way—and it’s war.


And now begins our Living Tradition. It begins with the grungy followers of a discredited rabbi whose teachings were judged as treasonous and he was crucified. Pontius Pilate thought it would have been enough to crush the spiritual rebels but it was not to be so. The love of Rabbi Jesus was too powerful to die. Rabbi Jesus died but his spirit was resurrected in the lives of his followers, who refused the peace of Rome. They refused to be pacified. They resisted and it was all about Love. Justin Martyr, one of these early Christians, who lived around 70 years after Jesus’ death, said, “We who formerly valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies.” That’s what the Jesus followers did. Religion wasn’t so much a matter of what you believed as what you did. To care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick. Subvert the perennial tragedy of human history. Resist the peace of Rome. No more have-nots.


Everyone get inside the circle.


So you can imagine how Rome felt about the apostle Paul when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”—which is to say that everyone has inherent worth and dignity and not just some. Teachings like this made Paul and every person who received them into their hearts criminals.


Suffering is no stranger to our Living Tradition. One of the greatest gifts that our Transylvanian Unitarian Churches have given the world was Francis David. Back in 1568, he was warned by a debater from the Calvinist persuasion, “If I win this debate you will be executed.” He replied, calmly, “If I win this debate, you will be given the freedom due to every son of God.” Because David knew: faith is the gift of God. A person’s faith is their secret way of being with the mystery, and it cannot be compelled by any external force, it can’t even be compelled by the person in question gritting their teeth and trying to force themselves to believe. It comes from a place within that’s deeper than trying, it comes from the soul, it comes from God.


For almost 500 years, this has been our tradition. Tolerance is synonymous with who we are.


But suffering is no stranger. We know how the story ended for David. Tolerance met with intolerance. The power of Rome reincarnated. Rome rearing its ugly head yet again. The last book David ever wrote was one line scratched upon the wall of a prison cell, as he was sick and pitifully weak: Egy Az Isten. God is one. He died of neglect on November 15, 1579. His body was thrown into an unmarked grave, and not one person, to this day, knows where he actually lies.


But now listen to something else about our Living Tradition. It does not quit. It does not quit! Does not matter that the grave of the great Francis David is unknown. Does not matter how he died. The last book he ever wrote—those precious three words scratched upon a prison wall—are above the door of every Unitarian church in this land. They hang on the wall of my home congregation, on a beautiful banner which was a gift from you.


The spirit of Francis David, just like his Master Jesus, can never die.


And neither can the spirit of love that Jesus magnified and his followers caught and taught, despite the opposing power of Rome and every reincarnation of Rome up to this point in time, including Communism, including the Donald Trumpism of my own country. Despite all their promises of peace…


When Rev. Kedei visited my congregation back in May of 1998, he said, “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 Unitarians.’”


As we together–you here in Romania and we in the United States—navigate the complexities of the 21st century, let us love each other like Unitarians. Our partnership has lasted for 26 years, since 1990, and let it last for untold years more. We are both religious minorities surrounded by majority upon majority. We can feel so small at times. But our shared Living Tradition transcends geography and transcends time. It is like a river with a far distant origin and purpose and we are at the forming edge of it and it goes beyond us too, on and on. Our Living Tradition. All our heroes. All the stories. And also this: the something that is universal. How we are all one in the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Love, which bears all things, hopes for all things, endures all things, is greater than faith, greater than hope, never ends.


I don’t care how powerful Rome was, or its current versions.


Let us love each other like Unitarians, and all will be well.








SERMON, PART 2: “Pilgrimage to Transylvania” ANTHONY


The Living Tradition of Unitarian Universalism has a geography. At certain places on this earth, the finest things it stands for—and the incidents and people that embodied what was best in it—are made visible. We can touch and see and even smell them.


One of these places is most certainly New England—Boston and its environs—which was the cradle of American Unitarianism and Universalism. Another is the deep South where the Civil Rights movement began and so many of our leaders joined in the struggle, hand-in-hand-with others, and some even became martyrs.


And then there is Transylvania, a word that literally means “the land beyond the forests.” Before the French settled Canada in 1604; before the English established a colony in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607; before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620; before all of these, the Unitarians in Transylvania had already been proclaiming a Jesus who was not a God but a great teacher who affirmed the inherent worth and dignity of not some but all. They had already been proclaiming the political right to religious toleration, so that they could affirm Egy Az Isten (God is one) in security and in peace and others could affirm their own vision of the Divine in security and in peace as well. They had already been doing this for over half a century, before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth!


Don’t let visions of “I vaaant to suuuck your blooood” cloud over the amazing thing about our spiritual roots in Transylvania. It’s much, much more than that. I know it hits a funny bone. The Dracula connection is kind of funny, and folks in Transylvania tolerate it or even benefit from the T-shirt sales. But the historical truth is sobering: everywhere else in Europe in the 16th century, our ancestors were hunted down and killed mercilessly. Transylvania was the only place our people were safe. Poland too, but that’s another story.


It was the only safe place. And even that proved fragile….


It’s 1568. The brilliant Francis David has just returned to Kolozsvar (which is the Rome of Unitarian Universalism) after winning a debate with the leading Calvinist scholar of the time, and the townsfolk meet him at the gates. Today, that would happen to a sports team. But back then, the heroes were the religious leaders. They meet him at the gates and beg to know what happened. Francis David starts to go through the debate but you know what? The brilliant and charismatic man was also a short man. So they have him stand on a boulder so more people can hear him. He goes into impassioned oratory and inspires his countrymen and, that day, the town of Kolozsvar becomes Unitarian. The boulder marks the occasion.


We saw that boulder. It was in a room of the First Unitarian Church of Kolozsvar, and our pilgrimage guides ushered us there and we stood before it feeling a bit stunned because the great Francis David had been there. He had stood on that rock. We are face to face with history! I also loved it because I never knew that Francis David was short. He was just a mere mortal, proclaiming Love. It made me care for him even more. It reminded me of all our mere mortal limitations and failures, and yet our task today is to stand tall, no matter what.


A time like this is when you know you are on a pilgrimage. This is not mere tourism, where it’s all about entertainment. Pilgrimage is about understanding where your basic values come from; connecting with the stories of your faith tradition in direct ways; and even being transforming in who you are, reaching new depths of knowing….


One of those transforming moments was in the Homorod Valley. There, the communities are all small villages of farming families, and these families have been Unitarian for almost 500 years. They got the message from Francis David, and the message stuck.


So UUCA’s little band of nine pilgrims found their way to one the Homorod Valley villages called Homorodkaracsonyfalva. The evening we were there, dinner was at the parish house, and it consisted of a slug of polenka, sour cherry soup, mashed potatoes with meatballs, and dessert. During our walk back to the bed and breakfast, we saw cows returning home for the evening. Water buffalo also. Enormous moos. Excrement everywhere on the street, and the sour/rich smell blending in with everything. Clop-clop-clop of horses carrying wagons filled with hay. Sun-weathered farmers who could not possibly read William Ellery Channing or Ralph Waldo Emerson, never mind the scientists or postmodernists of current day. And I thought: who are we to say that only smart people or cultured people can “get” Unitarianism? Who are we to limit the forms it can take? A people almost 500 years old are proving all our preconceptions to be lies.


The next morning, we had a conversation with the minister’s wife Enikö Benedik. In this ancient village of 500 people, in an area more rural than you can imagine, she spoke about Match.com and how several village marriages had come out of it, but nevertheless there seemed in it to be a cheapening of the mystery of two people coming together. She spoke about email and Facebook and smart phones and the Internet but what does that do to family time together? What does that do to relationships?


What I heard in all this was the echo of our own worries 6000 miles away. We are so far apart but we are also right together in some of our concerns. More unites us than divides us.


It was crystallized in a T-shirt I saw someone wearing, while walking down a street in Kolozsvar: “Be with someone who makes you happy” but the word “with” was crossed out. The message was that no one else can make you happy. That’s for you to do yourself. “Be someone who makes you happy.”


More unites us than divides us.


It was a pilgrimage we were on. I wish it for you. I wish it for all of us.


And I will never forget. The sounds of place names:










I will never forget:


The smells that only thousand-year-old places can have.

Egg yolks that are the color of Orange Crush.

The sharp taste of palenka, and the burning that goes all the way down.

The richness of the Hungarian language, as when to say “welcome” is literally to say, “God brought you.”

The weight of the robe that Rev. Kedei lent me, to wear during worship.


And also this: Utterly unexpected moments of grace, as when the father of my host family explained why his family didn’t eat out very much, and he didn’t speak English very well at all but the limitations of language didn’t matter. The message was heart-to-heart. There are more hungers at stake than just for food. There is a hunger for belonging, there is a hunger for the feeling of being together, there is hunger for family. Home cooking has far more nutritional value, on more levels, than anything from a restaurant….


All of this. All of this and more.


There is only one way to end my message today.


From your sister congregation 6000 miles away, there in Transylvania, I bring you greetings. Despite the distance, we are at one in heart:


Where there is faith, there is love;

Where there is love, there is peace;

Where there is peace, there is blessing;

Where there is blessing, there is God.

Where there is God, there is no need.