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  • Beth Lantinga

Abiding Faith

When I met the Horkasy in 2003, a spirit of peace and joy filled their small sitting room. When I learned about their life experiences in Ukraine and their abiding faith, it was a wonder and reassurance for me. In previous posts I mentioned the preserving power of faith among those who suffered during communist times. This post introduces Barna and Dolorosa Horkay. They embraced the life-sustaining, spiritual renewal that swept through Reformed circles after WWII. The following history is from Barna Horkay’s book, A Keleti Barati Kor. Thanks to Anita B. for the translation and her patience.

A Great Renewal

Barna Horkay was a young pastor in the small area of western Ukraine where Hungarians of Reformed persuasion had lived for centuries. At the conclusion of World War II, a church renewal movement that had been bubbling for years, burst forth in Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine. For many, the movement marked a shift in the Reformed church from a cultural church to one that confessed Christ and the power of the Gospel. Through potent preaching there were many conversions, sometimes occurring at retreats and conferences and sometimes in worship services.

Barna Horkay undated

Out of their love for God emerged a strong conviction that the fruits of faith must be shown in one’s actions. Believers began a mission to Roma; collected funds to build a Christian hospital; provided food and fuel for the elderly; and shared their food with the poor, collecting from those who had much to share with those who had nothing.

Many young people flocked to Renewal gatherings, hungry for the bread of life. However, many of their parents and many pastors were skeptical and mistrusted the movement. With the arrival of Russian troops, the mistrust turned into action. Forty Reformed pastors fled to Hungary. The remaining 20, members of the Renewal movement, stayed to minister to their people. Barna Horkay was one of the leaders of the movement, and through his leadership, six pastors formed a small support group and called it The Eastern Circle of Friends. Horkay and his colleague Joszef Zimanyi were members of the group and wrote the following letter to Stalin. It had life-changing repercussions for the Circle of Friends.

The Letter to Stalin

Mighty Stalin! God broke German fascism with the blood of the sons of many Russians and other peoples. You also attributed the glory of victory to yourself. In all things you placed yourself in God's place and with a tractor! Therefore the Lord will humble you like Nebuchadnezzar. Your own sons will despise you. As long as you have time, get up, give glory to the Most High God! It will also benefit your people.

Off to the Gulag

In January of 1947, the KGB, the Soviet secret police, began to collect information about this group of friends and their activities. Barna Horkay was ordered to keep in touch with them. But after deciding to ignore the request, Horkay soon learned that he would not be ignored. When he refused to be an informer, he was informed that he had a choice: either comply or go to Siberia. He refused, and for two months nothing happened.

Though there was fear and uncertainty, the Eastern Friends continued to teach and preach, but not for long. Barna Horkay was one of the first to be silenced. He was at home On Oct. 17, 1947 when soldiers arrived demanding to search his house. The soldiers searched and took all the family photos, even his collection of letters from Dolorosa. In that moment, Horkay really didn’t think the he would be arrested, but a man from his congregation came and innocently asked whether there would be Bible study that day.

Dolorosa Horkoy 2003

When the soldiers finished searching, they told him to gather a few things because he was going with them. |He took off his wedding ring, said goodbye to his pregnant wife, their two small children, his sister and father; then he left. Two soldiers accompanied him on a train to the prison in the city of Ungvar. While they were traveling, both soldiers fell asleep. Horkay could have escaped but didn’t. When they arrived, both soldiers said, “Viszlat” (which means, see you again) and Horkay responded the same way. They laughed and said that he would never see them again.

Church officials gave him and his family no help. He later discovered that they wanted him arrested. Within two years, almost all the members of Eastern Friends were arrested. Because the authorities needed time to organize the accusations, Horkay was kept in a prison in the city of Ungvar until June of 1948. There he learned that his seven-year sentence would be carried out in Siberia’s Kolyma camp.

In Kolyma there was never enough food or clothing, and even if you had a coat, you would likely lose it to a bigger or stronger prisoner. In the camp, the prisoners kept track of days with marks on wall, even noting holidays. One Christmas Horkay was nearly killed by a Ukrainian prisoner who wanted money. When Horkay said that he had nothing, the man took his coat. He was pleased to have escaped with his life, his best Christmas present.

After serving his sentence, Horkay still had to stay in Siberia and was not allowed to go home. The condition was called internal exile. To stay alive until he was allowed to leave, Horkay worked doing childcare. When he was finally allowed to return home, he had absolutely no money. When a woman from the village church heard of his plight, she collected travel money from her congregation to send him home.

Barna Horkay 2003

On Sept 7, 1955, Horkay arrived at Nagyszolos, the village where his family was living. It was the first time he held his son, the baby his wife was carrying when he was arrested. The bishop, a man who cooperated fully with the communist authorities, was not happy when Horkay returned. However, he grudgingly allowed Horkay to resume preaching but under a cloud. The KGB monitored his activities and threatened a return trip to Siberia if he stepped out of line. Because he received no salary and conditions in Ukraine were dire, his family lived on packages sent from Switzerland. Horkay taught fledgling ministers and continued preaching until 1987 when he and his family moved to Hungary. Horkay did not officially retire until he was well into his 80s and died on September 22, 2003, just two months short of his 96th birthday. His was a long and grace-filled life,


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