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  • Beth Lantinga

Daniel Szabo: Seminary Rebel

After the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, some Reformed bishops and professors resumed the imposition of an ideology sympathetic to the ideals and practices of communism. Because Daniel Szabo and other dissident seminarians continued their pre-revolution resistance, they remained in the bishop’s black book and were destined for expulsion from the seminary. When Daniel returned from Budapest with Bishop Peter’s daughter safely in tow, he was offered a reprieve. At this point his story continues.


“Sometime later Bishop Peter called Professor Czegledy (Daniel’s mentor) and told him that the ways of God were mysterious because the student whom he had wanted to kick out of the seminary had brought home the daughter he had thought was dead. He told the professor that he would like to reward this young student without conditions. This is how the other part of the story started. The bishop had to leave for a congress in Helsinki, but he asked the person left in charge to start the request for a scholarship for me. By the time he returned home he wanted to see the process in place. I became one of the most privileged persons of this new system, and I could have stayed in it if God had not shown me another way.


An Incendiary Paper


During this time, we were preparing for the first of the graduation exams. I was writing a paper about Walter Luthi, an extraordinary person in the last century, a prophetic trumpet, protesting the terrible situation in Germany and predicting the future of the church. Luthi wrote about the growth of an empire, its distortions, its growing distance from God, and finally its collapse. He was a great preacher, and I was lit by his personality and touched by his evangelical, historical view.


This paper of mine came from a need in my soul; I felt so very much that I had to talk about it. I have to say that I have quite a calm nature, and I was a mild child, but now, this was different. I felt that I must write about the Soviets like Luthi’s wrote about the Germans. I wrote that the ideological distortions of the Soviet empire were like those of Nazi Germany. No-one could yet see its collapse; we were seeing its rage. I really felt that Luthi’s historical view was valid and applied to our present situation; I had to be honest. When others read my paper, they made the connection with Hungarians, though I never stated any. They felt that the situation I described in my paper exactly described ours.


The tone of the paper was restrained, but for the system, it was unbearable. I wrote it under the guidance of Professor Czegledy, and he was shocked by the content. He gave me a mark 2 to slide it through the exam with the minimum, barely passing grade. You must know that by that time I was a candidate for a scholarship in Scotland, so the professor didn’t know what to do with me.


Daniel Szabo - Beyond Rebellion

The situation was very tense but we dissidents decided to continue taking the exams. I believe that we were very much blessed by God in our studies because individually, one-by-one, we got many very good marks and praise from several professors in the seminary during our last year. I wasn’t an especially talented student, but God blessed me during the last year. So, I was sitting there among a talented group of fellow dissidents facing a board of professors that had expanded to include Tibor Bartha, the man destined to become bishop when Janos Peter left the office.


Incendiary Sermons


The next part of the exam included preaching. My text was, “Make the work of our hands constant” from the end of Psalm 90. I asked, ‘How can our hand’s work be constant? Even the empire will fall apart and our empire building dreams will also fall apart. There is there is another nation that if we work for, it can be established and will remain forever, not with socialism or by building any other system, but by building God’s kingdom it will remain forever. This will be a blessing for even the socialist system and any other system that requires healing and improvement.’ On hearing my preaching, the committee said that it was a decadent understanding of God’s kingdom. Only Professor Czegledy said that independent of its decadence, my sermon was standing on biblical ground. He was the only one who said it was a good sermon. I learned that Tibor Bartha seriously questioned my preaching.


My friend Gyula Szücs got the the Caiphus and Pilate pericope, and he began by talking about Pastor Jozsef Berényi who in that time was again under constant interrogation. Szücs said that it was shocking that in history it turns up once again that Caiphus was behaving more cruelly and with more hatred than Pilate. He asserted that sometimes the police offered to let Berenyi to go home because they often believed that the reports made against him were not fair. They were gentler to him than were the church authorities who made reports against him. Bartha was sitting there and it was clear that he was responsible for the troubles of Berényi and others. Szücs told all these things to the committee.


Pastor Jozsef Berenyi

Jozsef Berenyi was a pastor whose fervent preaching in a Reformed congregation in Debrecen drew many young people that the regime wanted to claim for its own.


Soon-to-be Bishop Bartha revealed his opinion and said that he was shocked to see how this younger generation had been influenced by Jozsef Berenyi. It made him worried and anxious, and he promised that the consequences would be harsh. It was not enough, he said, that Berenyi became a shame for himself and his own family. But he shamed his congregation, the church, and on top of it, the young generation influenced by him.


I was shocked by Bartha’s attack on Berenyi because we students were really committed to him. By the end of Bartha’s speech, I received a spiritual peace and asked to speak. The exam board thought that I would defend myself and would want to set myself apart from the speech of Szucs. I was, in their eyes, a man of privileges, the favorite of Janos Peter who had wanted to give me the scholarship to Scotland.


Then I said, ‘It is not only you, Mr. Candidate - Bishop who are anxious about the situation of today’s youth, but we, the youth, are also anxious for God and for today’s church leadership. We are anxious because in the future God will make an account of what we are doing now, and what was said about Jozsef Berenyi will be true for you. Your actions will be a shame for your family, your church, and the whole nation. This is the difference between your anxiety and ours. We are anxious and worried about your future.’


The effect of my speech was that of an explosion. I was worried that a tragedy might come out of this event. I was worried that one of them might have a stroke because several were gentlemen, men of order. Such men honored and accepted church authority without any doubts, so they were not able to handle such a student protest. Their faces turned red and they were speechless. We sat there for a long time it seemed, and everyone was silent. It could have been 6 or 8 minutes. Finally, Bartha said, “Now you are in deep water and you will see the consequences. I don’t want to make a decision now, but stand up and leave the room.” We students were also in a state of shock, and we left. Everyone went home.”


Because consequences for Daniel and the other dissidents had not been decided, like other seminary graduates, Daniel assumed the position of an assistant pastor in a small town and waited for the next scene in his drama.


“I became an assistant pastor in Zsolca and had moved into the manse that week but had already been visiting the congregation. After only one week, a party functionary came to me and said that I had made a scandal within the church, frightening the leaders with a new revolution. It was not enough, he said, that there was one counter revolution against this leadership, now I wanted another one. He said that because of that speech of mine I would never get any bread in Hungary; he would guarantee it. Rudely he demanded that I should immediately collect my things from the manse and leave.


I politely answered that of course, I would pack my things and leave, but then I said, ‘I will always have bread in this country.’ He was quite angry by this time and shouted, ‘What makes you think this?’ I replied, ‘I like to work. There are many things that I know how to do, beside this. If I am arrested, even in prison I would receive bread. If I am sent to the hospital, there I would receive bread, but if I don’t get bread here or there, I still will be able to put together my hands and pray for my daily bread. Although I don’t know how and in what way, I’m sure that I will get it. No matter how small it is, I will be grateful and will be able to live on it.’


He told me that I am stupid and would soon see the results of my actions. So, with my decrepit bicycle I took my things to the railway station. People were watching me and surely thinking that because this young pastor drank too much he was kicked out of his job after only a week or he made some other scandal in the congregation. Later they found out what had happened and why I had to leave them.

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