“The belief that life on Earth is not the end of it all gives us courage and makes us realise that living with love for each other is more important than life itself,” Cardinal Péter Erdő, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, said on Friday. According to Evangelical Lutheran Church head Bishop Tamás Fabiny, “God the comforter is with us even when we have to descend to our depths in order to appreciate the light from on High.” Meanwhile, the head of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church drew a parallel between the first ever Christmas and today in terms of hard circumstances.
The cardinal said Christians had a duty to share the hope and serenity they drew from their faith with others, adding that Christians drew their faith and courage from God’s coming into the world.
“God didn’t just join us, but became a fetus, a child for our sake,” Erdő said. He said there had also been epidemics and illness in Jesus’s time, and there were not as many ways to combat them as there are today.
Meanwhile, the cardinal said the lockdown had not discouraged believers to continue going to church, and had even resulted in more people attending masses in the capital. Erdő said he believed the increase in churchgoers could be down to the easing of the pandemic or the impact of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest this past September.
As regards the congress, the cardinal said the whole of Europe and the entire world had “watched with wonder our liberated gathering and the beautiful way in which we celebrated”.
“This liberated joy is what Pope Francis noticed after not having been able to meet with this many believers for the past two years because of the lockdowns,” Erdő said. “It’s no accident that the pope said he’d gladly return to Hungary.”
Balog: ‘Hardship helps us experience essence of holidays’
“A characteristic of Christian holidays is that the harder the outside circumstances, the more in tune we can be with their essence,” Zoltán Balog, the head of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, said on the occasion of Christmas.
Like at the time of the first ever Christmas, circumstances today are not ideal, “but if one has everything they want and everything goes right, one can easily come to believe that they are what makes the holiday a holiday”, Balog said. But the essence of the Christian holiday is that it is created by God, “and if the external props aren’t there, it’s easier to pay attention to this essence”, he added.
The Reformed bishop said what most people would miss the most this Christmas was loved ones they could not celebrate together with. Balog said many families, including his own, had members who were living abroad. “But this absence of the other person shows their value. Those whom we truly miss are truly important,” he said.
As regards the effect of the pandemic on church life, Balog said the number of churchgoers had dropped due to the lockdowns. Since churches reopened people are “more conscious” of how they attend church, because it also takes courage, he said.
Balog said the leadership of the Reformed Church had learned that closing churches was wrong, arguing that they were needed most in difficult times.
“If we observe certain restrictions, then going to church can’t be any riskier than going to the store,” Balog said. “And just like how we can’t give up buying milk, bread, fruit, we also have a daily need for bread and fruit for the soul.” He said attending worship service in a community satisfied this need far more than watching the service online at home.
Balog said one lesson to be learned from the pandemic was that “we can’t keep living the way he have been.”
“This pandemic is not a natural disaster which we can say isn’t our fault,” he said. “The coronavirus pandemic is connected to the global tendencies that conflate everything and don’t respect boundaries, because those are what led to the epidemic plaguing the whole world instead of remaining local. And we’ve been given a chance to learn from this.”
Fabiny: ‘God is with us even at our lowest’
“God the comforter is with us even when we have to descend to our depths in order to appreciate the light from on High,” Bishop Tamás Fabiny, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, told MTI.
“Christmas and our meeting with Jesus can once again bring light into our lives burdened by the pandemic, as it did for Joseph and Mary at the time of the first Christmas,” he said.
“Christians believe that God doesn’t abandon us even when we’re at our lowest because he is the God of heights and depths,” the bishop said.
Meanwhile, Fabiny said that thanks to the vaccines, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church were again attending worship services, albeit in fewer numbers than before the lockdown. He said the makeup of those attending church had also changed, adding that “many of the elderly haven’t found their way back yet”. However, the worship services are now being attended by more young people who found the church through the online services during the lockdown, Fabiny said.
The bishop also touched on the International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest in September, highlighting the cooperation among the various Christian denominations at the event.
featured image: Cardinal Erdő on 25 December 2020; via Tamás Kovács/MTI