I learned a great deal about Barna Horkay from the conversation with friends, but our June 2003 meeting with Dolorosa and Barna Horkay in their home was warm and illuminating. The pathway to their door was lined with pots overflowing with brilliant geraniums. Dolorosa greeted us warmly and welcomed us into their sitting room. She was ready and eager to talk about the importance of the Psalms and the Genevan Psalter in her life.
A Woman of Courage and Faith
Early in the conversation Dolorosa told us that Psalm 16, sung and preached in church, led to her confession of faith. Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. Her story reminded me of Klara Dobri and Julia Visky. All three were wives of Reformed pastors whose resumes included long stretches as political prisoners. These women were all were equipped with courage, determination, and faith. Dolorosa said, “God kept me from crying too much because I had to take care of the children and my ill father-in-law. Because I had so much work to do, I couldn’t take time to dwell on my situation.”
She said that one of the reasons the Reformed Church survived in Transcarpathia was because of the Revival movement. “These people,” she said, “were filled with such love for God and each other that, like the early church, they took care of the widows and orphans. They shared the little they and tithed to support all those in need.”
Not long after Barna was taken, Dolorosa contacted tuberculosis. The words of Psalm 118, especially verse 17, gave her comfort and courage. “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge, I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73: 28 kept her strong during the long years that Barna was in prison.
The Grease Bible
I had known that Psalm 90 was important for Reformed Hungarians and asked whether she shared that love. In response she told us the story of her husband and the Grease Bible.
A few months after his arrest, Barna was transferred to Siberia, and later she was able to send him packages with food and other basic things. These packages could only arrive during the summer months because the camp was located so far north that the nearest harbor was frozen for most of the year. So one page at a time, she sent him the New Testament and Psalms hidden between layers of calorie rich biscuits.
She showed us the treasured “grease” Bible, and much to my surprise and gratitude, she gave me the Psalm 90 page, the very page that had traveled to Siberia and back.
She told us that after Barna was released from prison, they agreed to tell each other everything and share each other’s cares. During the following years he secretly tutored pastors in a private seminary because the borders were closed and so was access to seminary training. Although the penalties for such activities would have been severe, he continued to teach and preach with deep commitment to his churches.
After the Hungarian 1956 revolution, there was a brief window of opportunity for the family to move to Hungary so that the children could receive a good education. Dolorosa had her heart set on moving, but when she brought up the subject, Barna said nothing. He could not leave his people.
Then she said, “Neither of us can leave the house now, so we two sing the psalms together. They connect us in time and space with all those who have loved and experienced God’s presence through the Psalms.” At the close of the conversation she sang a verse from Genevan Psalm 116. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
Note: We revisited the Horkays in August of 2003 so that Linda Welker, of Calvin College’s theater department, could get a first-hand glimpse of life in formerly communist countries and hear stories directly. Much credit goes to Welker who took hours of rough translations and transformed the Psalm Project interviews into Calvin College’s 2004 theater presentation, Divine Reverberations.