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The Myth of a Christian Revival in Eastern Europe

It takes a village to get a 50-foot Christmas tree into a Hungarian school’s common area. On a gray afternoon in early December, seemingly half of my school’s student body was deputized to help city workers drag an enormous fir into our entrance hall. Class was supposedly in session, but many students exempt from the corvée managed to find their way over to yell encouragement and snap photos of their classmates. Once the students had dragged in the tree, someone used a chainsaw to shape the base of the trunk for an oversized stand. Why this extremely noisy job was done in the school common area while class was in session, and not somewhere outside, is a Christmas mystery on par with the Virgin Birth. After much difficulty, and thanks to the creative use of several ropes, a ladder, and the school’s load-bearing columns, the students finally raised the massive tree. Christmas season in Hungary had officially begun.

The school where I teach is a public institution, but its enthusiastic observance of the Christmas season would put many American parochial academies to shame. From Christmas markets to school pageants, Hungarians celebrate the holiday with a verve that is both charming and somewhat disorienting to an American accustomed to our secular public square. In this corner of Eastern Europe, the War on Christmas is over, and Christmas has decisively won.

What Christmas markets and colorful lights can’t hide, however, is the underlying weakness of Hungarian Christianity, which is gradually degrading into a collection of shallow cultural signifiers. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán often speaks of building a “Christian Democracy” as an alternative to Western European liberalism, but such grandiose pronouncements raise the question: what does Christian Democracy mean in a country that is gradually forgetting its Christian heritage?

From Orbán’s rhetoric to the recently revised constitution’s proud affirmation of Hungary’s “Christian culture,” the political climate in Budapest suggests near-medieval levels of piety. Just as American politicians only began referring to the United States’ Judeo-Christian heritage after the onset of secularism, these public pronouncements are best understood as a sign that all is not well within Hungary’s historic churches. Catholicism and (to a lesser extent) Calvinism have long been Hungary’s dominant religious traditions, but any theological differences have been submerged under vague nostrums about the country’s historic Christian identity. In a country whose second city, Debrecen, was once known as “the Calvinist Rome” for producing generations of combative Protestant theologians, this bland ecumenicism is particularly striking.

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In Eger, a mid-sized Hungarian town two hours northeast of Budapest, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most visibly active religious communities. The native denominations have their traditions, history, and the town’s beautiful old churches, but energy and conviction are on the side of the foreign imports (Orbán’s own son is a Pentecostal preacher). Meanwhile, local enthusiasm for the Christmas season masks widespread indifference to anything that might be described as regular religious observance. In Eger, Christmas means lights, music, and festivals, not Midnight Mass.

Data on church attendance [1] confirm this picture of a rapidly secularizing society. Although a majority of Hungarians identify as Catholic, only 12 percent regularly attend church. Less than 15 percent of Hungarians say religion is “very important” in their lives. Christmas markets, generous public subsidies to religious schools, and beautifully preserved churches have done little to arrest this steady decline.

The combination of public enthusiasm for Christian symbolism and declining religious participation is not unique to Hungary. Despite the fall of communism, church attendance throughout Eastern Europe has dropped significantly since 1990. Countries whose churches are associated with national resistance to imperial rule, such as Catholic Poland and Orthodox Serbia, are generally more pious than countries where the dominant Christian tradition was tainted by foreign interlopers. Hungarian Catholicism probably suffered from its association with the Habsburgs, and the famously secular Czech Republic is a product of the Austrians’ brutal suppression of that country’s indigenous Protestant churches. In The Good Soldier Svejk, perhaps the most notable work of 20th-century Czech literature, “son of an Archbishop” is just about the worst insult imaginable. Not coincidentally, the Czech Republic is the one country in Eastern Europe where a majority now identify as non-believers.

Regional and national variations aside, the trend line is clear: institutional Christianity is in decline, even as religious symbolism and the rhetoric of Christian identity have experienced a post-communist revival. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, the national significance of figures like Saint Stephen and Saint Wenceslas have eclipsed their religious origins. Christian traditions and symbols are gradually being repurposed by Eastern Europe’s newly reawakened national polities, which are eager to distinguish themselves from both their avowedly secular communist predecessors and the liberal, atheistic West.  

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There is, however, considerable tension between Christian universalism and religiously tinged nationalism. Members of the Polish clergy have vocally criticized Pope Francis’s liberal views on immigration. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently responded to Russia’s de facto annexation of Eastern Ukraine by officially breaking with the Moscow Patriarchate. In both cases, national identity overrode theological considerations.

Just as Eastern European nationalism is a necessary constraint on an overly ambitious European Union, the revival of distinctly national religious traditions may prove a useful corrective to theological overreach. Pious Polish Catholics are under no obligation to embrace Pope Francis’s vision of a Europe without borders, and perhaps the theological split between Ukraine and Russia will prompt the Moscow Patriarchate to reconsider its relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is possible that the persistence of Christian symbolism in Eastern Europe’s public square may yet inspire a genuine religious revival in the region.

There is, however, a less hopeful alternative. Shorn of its theological commitments, Christianity in Eastern Europe is in danger of being co-opted by a particularly narrow and mean-spirited brand of nationalism. Orbán, perhaps the most visible spokesman for Eastern Europe’s nationalist revival, is once again leading the way. His government recently banned the homeless from sleeping in public spaces, a move that has more to do with making Budapest palatable to foreign tourists than building a genuinely Christian society. A few months later, an Orbán spokesman accused those protesting a new labor law of spewing “anti-Christian hatred,” an absurd statement that reduced the Christian faith to a crude political attack.

This is not be the first time that Christianity has been ill-used by Hungarian politics. At the turn of the 20th century, the adjective “Christian” was adopted by those—usually minor members of the gentry—who wished to stress their non-Jewish, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal bona fides. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Hungary’s quasi-authoritarian regime under Admiral Horthy stressed its “Christian and National” character to similar effect. Neither Horthy nor the minor Hungarian nobility were known for their piety, and their opportunistic use of Christian rhetoric is a worrying precedent.

Christmas in Hungary is undeniably charming, and Hungarians on the whole are a generous, kind-hearted people, whatever their Sunday habits. But the gradual transformation of Eastern Europe’s great churches into museum pieces devoid of spiritual meaning is a sad fate for a region once steeped in the Christian faith. After a long period of dormancy under the Soviets, the revival of national identity is now a fact of life in Eastern Europe. How the region’s great churches will fare in this new political environment is still an open question.

Will Collins is an English teacher who lives and works in Eger, Hungary.

48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "The Myth of a Christian Revival in Eastern Europe"

#1 Comment By Furor On January 7, 2019 @ 12:20 am

Finally somebody wrote the obvious truth. Russia, Ukraine and Hungary are probably less religious than Portugal or Italy

#2 Comment By Jim Jatras On January 7, 2019 @ 12:25 am

Re: “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently responded to Russia’s de facto annexation of Eastern Ukraine by officially breaking with the Moscow Patriarchate.”

Actually, that’s not at all what happened. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church neither asked for nor received what is called autocephaly (“officially breaking with the Moscow Patriarchate”). Rather, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople purportedly (since his claims of authority to do so are, to put it charitably, highly questionable) created a new entity out of two schismatic groups but with less independence than the canonical Church already has. Of course the Ukrainian government, the State Department, and LGBT advocates (gotta love them “European values,” ya know!) all have their thumb in a very messy pierogi. Meanwhile, we are waiting to see what position the other self-governing Orthodox Churches will take as well as how quickly and with what force attempts will be made to seize churches and monasteries from the canonical church.

#3 Comment By Greg On January 7, 2019 @ 12:29 am

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has in no way split from Moscow – quite the opposite, its Bishops, priests and parishes have affirmed the canonical Church, which is an autonomous part of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Poroshenko has attempted to elevate some schismatic sects into a nationalist cult, playing on the megalomania of a Bishop in Istanbul. The nationalist group was never a part of the Orthodox communion worldwide.

For the record I love Ukrainian culture and people – my own family is from what is now western Ukraine.

#4 Comment By Thymoleontas On January 7, 2019 @ 2:51 am

“The Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently responded to Russia’s de facto annexation of Eastern Ukraine by officially breaking with the Moscow Patriarchate.”

Actually, this is incorrect. No one in Ukraine broke ties with the Moscow Patriarchate in response to the annexation of the Crimea.

The Autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Kievan Patriarchate broke ties with Moscow in the 1990s and have been in bad standing with all the rest of the Orthodox Church since that time.

What happened on Jan. 6 , 2019, was that these two splinter groups joined forces and were recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople as an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

By contrast, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) never broke ties with Moscow.

The only recent breaking of ties was between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

When writing about Christianity in Eastern Europe, you gotta pay attention to the details.

#5 Comment By JonF On January 7, 2019 @ 6:20 am

Re: Hungarians celebrate the holiday with a verve that is both charming and somewhat disorienting to an American accustomed to our secular public square.

Huh? While American Christmas revolves around “Shop till you drop” with stores starting to stock Christmas decor while shoppers are still wearing shorts, it’s not like the holiday passes in obscurity the way Epiphany does.

#6 Comment By Michael Kenny On January 7, 2019 @ 7:14 am

The author isn’t really saying anything other than that Hungary is a typical modern European country.

#7 Comment By John Gruskos On January 7, 2019 @ 7:19 am

“a move that has more to do with making Budapest palatable to foreign tourists than building a genuinely Christian society”

On the contrary, this move have everything to do with obedience to 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

Orban is simultaneously discouraging begging, and making jobs available.

“There is, however, considerable tension between Christian universalism and religiously tinged nationalism.”

The real tension is between the globalist heresy preached by the likes of Pope Francis and Russell Moore on the one hand, and authentic traditional Christianity, which respects national identity and sovereignty, on the other.

#8 Comment By Johann On January 7, 2019 @ 8:02 am

As the bible says, Christians will always only be a remnant. Even among church goers, true Christians are but a remnant no matter the denomination. And yet they are the salt of the earth. They make our world better.

#9 Comment By Petrus On January 7, 2019 @ 8:44 am

His government recently banned the homeless from sleeping in public spaces, a move that has more to do with making Budapest palatable to foreign tourists than building a genuinely Christian society.

Or, avoiding that homeless people get frozen on the streets. That seems a rather Christian act to me.

an Orbán spokesman accused those protesting a new labor law of spewing “anti-Christian hatred,”

How else would you describe the attempt to set fire to the nations’s Christmas tree in front of the Parliament, or the obscenities concerning Nativity scene?

#10 Comment By Kent On January 7, 2019 @ 8:56 am

Christianity is on the decline everywhere. It has been replaced by a new God: Materialism. The old God simply cannot provide that which Materialism can provide: abundance. And it is abundance that we all seek. If ever given a choice between YHWH, His Son, and abundance, abundance will always win.

#11 Comment By mark_be On January 7, 2019 @ 9:42 am

Well, this should put the knickers of TAC’s resident Orbanistas in a twist.

Reminds me of my neighbours, who a few weeks back managed to complain about how in some city the traditional Christmas market had been renamed Winter market, a faux controversy if there ever was one since the name change dated to four years back, with exactly zero complaints since then, until a certain nationalistic party which had recently lost an election decided it needed another stick to beat immigrants and leftists with. Completely unaware of any irony whatsoever, the same neighbours, days later, wistfully remarked how commercial Christmas markets had become in recent years, with any remaining Christian symbolism carefully neutered and tucked away in inoffensive corners. A complaint, incidentally, which dates back from a time when animals could still speak. Something about having your cake and eating it, too.

Rod Dreher, recently, has more than once brought up how people living under communism went through the motions without believing anything their leaders told them to believe. National Christianity seems to be the exact same thing: you’re a Pole, Hungarian, Russian, thus you must believe. Or at least pretend to. There is no difference between a shopkeeper who hangs up a plaque stating “Workers of the World, Unite!” in 1980 and one who prominently displays a crucifix in 2019 when both are done to appease the powers-that-be.

#12 Comment By polistra On January 7, 2019 @ 10:08 am

The author seems to think that only Rome is Christian. He cites the growth of Pentecostals and Mormons as evidence that Christianity is weak. Culturally speaking, both of those groups are emphatically and enthusiastically Christian. Their theology differs from Rome, but considering Rome’s 1000-year record of wickedness and inquisition, that’s probably a good thing.

#13 Comment By Petrus On January 7, 2019 @ 10:33 am

Re: mark_be

National Christianity seems to be the exact same thing: you’re a Pole, Hungarian, Russian, thus you must believe. Or at least pretend to.

Based on this statement I’m pretty certain you haven’t been to this part of the world for several decades.

#14 Comment By Petrus On January 7, 2019 @ 10:56 am

#15 Comment By mrscracker On January 7, 2019 @ 11:04 am

“Orbán’s own son is a Pentecostal preacher”

**********
That sounds at least hopeful to me. How many of our recent presidents have children who are preachers?

#16 Comment By Ready for the Apocalypse On January 7, 2019 @ 11:08 am

Re: “Admiral Horthy stressed its “Christian and National” character”

I don’t know if this is true, but I read somewhere that when a YMCA delegation was visiting Hungary, Horthy said he was delighted to meet with “such an important American anti-Semitic organization!”

#17 Comment By Cornelius von Ebsdorf On January 7, 2019 @ 11:44 am

While I somewhat agree with the author’s thesis, he’s obviously an American protestant who clearly shows the simplistic caricatures and misunderstandings of history and other faiths that come with his protestant background. As just one example, he says, “Members of the Polish clergy have vocally criticized Pope Francis’s liberal views on immigration.” The author clearly expects Catholicism to be the same as papolatry, a heresy within Catholicism, because that’s what his American protestant background tells him Catholicism is. Immigration policy is not an infallible dogma of the Catholic Church, come on!

Overall, the article seems poorly researched. All one has to do is look at the birth rate (a rejection of the traditional Christian teaching on the evil of contraception) and the abortion rates to see that these Central/Eastern European nations have a long way to go before we consider them saintly. That being said, Poland (where abortion is illegal) is far ahead of America where over 1 million unborn children a year are murdered by their own mothers, and this is declared a “right” with no strong or serious opposition. Over 50 million Americans murdered since 1973–the number of those murdered by their own mothers in America could themselves form the population of an entire European country.

#18 Comment By Tom Cullem On January 7, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

The fact remains that the Russian Orthodox church is making a huge comeback after the fall of communism that no one could have prophesied between 1930-1980. And is is dangerous to underestimate the force of “cultural Christianity”, a sense of having Christian cultural roots, as opposed to diligent church goers. Eastern Europe may be succumbing like the rest of the effete West to the Church of Mammon and Secularism, but that doesn’t mean that in these countries, which are still quite different from places like France, Britain, Germany, and Sweden, there isn’t a profound sense of identity that is also composed of a Christian history.

#19 Comment By Brendan On January 7, 2019 @ 12:35 pm

Very encouraged to see that TAC commenters understand the situation with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
I would like to add some background- a Greek Orthodox Church was at Ground Zero and destroyed during 9-11. In turn, they accepted 25 million from the Feds to rebuild the Church. However, there were irregularities revealed and money embezzled or certainly unaccounted for.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Constantinople who presides over fewer than 1 thousand mostly elderly Congregants tried to enlarge his power by encouraging the split between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches.
In addition, this led to Pompeo sending another 25 million to Constantinople , laundered through Kiev. President Poroshenko actually tried to skim 15 million, and sent only 10 million to the Metropolitan, who confronted him over his scam and forced him to send the rest of the money!

#20 Comment By William Foster On January 7, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

What?!? A resurgent Christianity serving as a pious fig leaf to cloak a nasty ethno-nationalism? I’m shocked – shocked! – to learn of this. Thank God it could never happen here!

#21 Comment By M. Orban On January 7, 2019 @ 12:56 pm

@Petrus
In your opinion, what is the state of Christianity in Hungary today? What are the trends? How do you measure those trends? Weekly church attendance? Monetary contributions to the church by individuals (tithes, offerings, gifts)?

#22 Comment By mark_be On January 7, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

@Petrus

For matter of fact, I’ve lived and worked in Poland for two years almost a decade ago. I’ve met and worked with people of all stripes: traditional Catholics, observant Catholics, Easter and Christmas Catholics, agnostics, atheists, and people who just didn’t care. With none of them I’ve had a problem regarding their faith, nor they with mine. Obviously, back then National Christianity wasn’t yet quite the thing it is growing into today.

However, my point is that once a country declares itself to adhere to a certain faith (or, like with the concept of Christianity, a collection of faiths), and actively promotes that religious identity, non-believers (in the broadest possible sense) might find it prudent to pay lip service to the faith. I’m not saying that this is happening right now, but it is something that could happen, especially in the quasi-dictatorship that is Hungary.

#23 Comment By Mark B. On January 7, 2019 @ 1:24 pm

Yep, Orban is a corrupt con. Enriching his family by means of administrative power.

Now, who does that remind me off?

#24 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 7, 2019 @ 3:17 pm

That sounds at least hopeful to me. How many of our recent presidents have children who are preachers?

Beata Szydlo’s son is a Catholic priest, as well.

That shouldn’t take away from Will Collins’s main point, which is absolutely correct, religion in Eastern Europe serves more as a tribal and ethnic signifier than as an index of belief in the doctrines of Rome or Geneva. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, personally: tribes serve an important role in the world, we’re better off for living in a world of distinct tribes and nations, and so I think some measure of tribal signifiers is a good thing and not a bad one. We shouldn’t mistake the supposed religious revival in Eastern Europe for something it’s not, though. People are identifying as Christian most of all to underscore their distinctness as a nation and as an ethnic group, not particularly because they believe all the dogmas.

What?!? A resurgent Christianity serving as a pious fig leaf to cloak a nasty ethno-nationalism

I’m struggling to see anything particularly ‘nasty’ about the idea of Poland for Poles, Czechia for Czechs, Slovakia for the Slovaks, Hungary for Hungarians and so forth.

The reverse of that ideal is the ideal of an Eastern Europe amalgamated into multinational empires. Which is exactly one of the things that precipitated two world wars, the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s, the various wars attendant to the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, and so on. Most people don’t particularly like being subjects of a cosmopolitan empire and would prefer to have a nation state to call their own. To undermine the nation state in the name of a cosmopolitan universalism is to invite decades and centuries of more ethnic division and conflict in the future.

#25 Comment By Petrus On January 7, 2019 @ 3:40 pm

Re: Mark_be
However, my point is that once a country declares itself to adhere to a certain faith (or, like with the concept of Christianity, a collection of faiths), and actively promotes that religious identity, non-believers (in the broadest possible sense) might find it prudent to pay lip service to the faith. I’m not saying that this is happening right now, but it is something that could happen, especially in the quasi-dictatorship that is Hungary.

So your experience is only from Poland, almost a decade ago, and that has allowed you to make broad-sweeping generalization about contemporary attitudes of peoples in countries you have never been. No wonder it is so foolish, as especially in Hungary non-PC mentality works both ways, just as much as the Hungarian conservative politicians don’t give a damn about SJW sensitivities, so do non-religious folks openly insult and ridicule believers.

#26 Comment By KD On January 7, 2019 @ 3:53 pm

I think even in times of greater superstition when the Church had a monopoly on education, and atheism and heresy sufficed to get you torched, the actual percentage of “real Christians” was probably as low or lower than the percentage of “real Christians” today in Hungary.

To be a Christian has always been to denote what you are not: Pagan or Jewish. Later, a Christian was not a heretic or not Jewish (having wiped out pagans). Today, it means you are not an atheist and not Jewish. It will continue so long as it meaningfully distinguishes one group of people from another. When it doesn’t, it will disappear into the mists of time.

[As far as the Pope on immigration, the amount of $$$ the Church receives for its “refugee work” puts the profits from the sale of indulgences to shame. Of course, anyone who threatens a major revenue stream for the Church is an enemy of the Church, it doesn’t take a Jesuit to figure that out.]

#27 Comment By Jay C On January 7, 2019 @ 3:59 pm

“At the turn of the 20th century, the adjective “Christian” was adopted by those—usually minor members of the gentry—who wished to stress their non-Jewish, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal bona fides.”

And what exactly would lead one to believe that things are any different today?

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 7, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

So your experience is only from Poland, almost a decade ago, and that has allowed you to make broad-sweeping generalization about contemporary attitudes of peoples in countries you have never been.

+1000.

Poland is of course a much more religious country than Hungary both then and now, it has a history of being oppressed by neighboring states to a much greater degree than Hungary, its experience under communism was worse, and in many ways it’s really dissimilar from Hungary, so “Mark’s” experience in Poland is neither really here nor there. Never mind the fact that personal anecdote is a really poor way to reason about world politics, in general.

Petrus, I always really value your commentary from the other side of the no-longer-Iron Curtain. (I use that term quite deliberately: even though there’s no longer a curtain up, eastern and western Europe remain very different places). We don’t hear this kind of perspective very often in the American blogosphere, so thanks for your very insightful commentary!

#29 Comment By mrscracker On January 7, 2019 @ 4:25 pm

Hector_St_Clare says:

“Beata Szydlo’s son is a Catholic priest, as well.”
****************
I didn’t know that, thank you.

#30 Comment By Petrus On January 7, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

Re: M. Orban

As a Calvinist, I am in no position to judge the general “state of Christianity” in Hungary. The important denominations all have their primary and secondary schools, there is some mutual acceptance of various branches, so for example the Gymnasium run by the Cistercian order in our city offers Protestant faith classes given by our pastor. All churches that are considered as “historical” receive state funding, and are eligible for 1% of income tax from taxpayers. Another 1% can be offered to any organization of choice with registration, including church-run charity organizations. All together pretty chaotic IMHO.

#31 Comment By Quartermaster On January 7, 2019 @ 5:49 pm

@polistra Mormons are not Christian. You need to look at their doctrines, particularly their theology proper. God, to them is an exalted man, not the uncreated being, “I am” of scripture.

A couple commenters here are simply propaganda on the Ukrainian situation. The Ecumenical Patriarch withdrew the letter of 1686 granting Moscow authority over the Kyiv patriarch because the conditions of the letter were ignored. The act is well within his authority.

The Russian Orthodox Church is allowing itself to be used as an imperial tool once more. This time by Putin. By breaking communion, Kirill has placed his own church in a schismatic state.

#32 Comment By jay kalend On January 7, 2019 @ 8:20 pm

The author’s implication that Ukraine is more nationalism than religion is a bit unfair and uncognisant of Ukrainians.

I live not too far from the Saint Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has reason to celebrate this year. It was established to specifically unify the faithful scattered largely between New York,Canada and Pennsylvania. It was an immigrant dream, establishing housing and a cemetery in what would seem an improbably remote and rural area (now having sported some of the wealthiest townships in the US). That was particularly prescient 2 years before WWI and then during WWII: It serves in part as a ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’ to the victims of and refugees from Soviet Russia, who would never allow ‘autocephaly’ in any form, much less as a denomination.

So if religion is not a migration and a public work to recognize it, what is?

#33 Comment By 7ytenburg On January 7, 2019 @ 9:21 pm

Please, can wither Dear Author, or some more knowledgeable commenter here, name a time period in the human history when:

A-1) The organized religion was totally divorced from the politics

A-2) The organized religion lacked any national/ethnic character whatsoever

B) Was the Mythical Age of Sincere Piety?

Thank you in advance.

P.S. The fact, that our Dear Author resorts to the “Judeo-Christian” intellectual crutch, shows that he has no leg to stand in the discussion of the organized religion – and that he’s neither Christian nor a follower of the Judaism.

#34 Comment By wojtek On January 7, 2019 @ 11:48 pm

It seems that the Author is forgetting about some recent historical context. Communism affected some of the nations in a way that only a few others (e.g., like us, Poles) were not affected. I remember a small town in southern Bohemia from the 80s. Spent there a month, got to know the place. Besides us, there were 6 old ladies who went to church on a Sunday. In a town of about 10,000. Looking at pictures today, it seems that that same church brings in a couple hundred people for regular masses. On the one hand, it is maybe 2-3% of the town’s population – essentially nothing. On the other hand, it is 40-50 times more than 30 years ago. There are children in a Sunday school, a youth group, young parents, etc. I’d call that a revival. But I remember what it used to be like.

#35 Comment By Istvan Szabó On January 8, 2019 @ 12:42 am

It is a most telling article about Eastern European nationalisms, from the point of view of an American nationalist (pace, Mr Collins). Of course, Eastern Europe is also spotted by one of the monstrous ideas of 20th Century, i.e. nationalism. Of course, the Christian communities in this region can be led astray by their own circumstances and the nationalistic ideas of their countries as well (plus by American liberalism and by American conservativism as well, why not?) The sum of the article says: “After a long period of dormancy under the Soviets, the revival of national identity is now a fact of life in Eastern Europe. How the region’s great churches will fare in this new political environment is still an open question.” I would like to agree, as for the question. However, I do not find any help in the diagnosis: “after a long period of dormancy under the Soviets…” Was it the dormancy of nationalism? If it were, then, for instance, the 1956 revolution of Hungary was just a blatant nationalist rebellion against the internationalist Soviet system. Or was it the dormancy of the churches? In that case, I’m sorry to say, the author does not know anything about the realities of communist rule. It is not easy to give any good answer to a question based on wrong analyses and simple lies.

#36 Comment By Robert On January 8, 2019 @ 1:40 am

We are told:

Although a majority of Hungarians identify as Catholic, only 12 percent regularly attend church. Less than 15 percent of Hungarians say religion is “very important” in their lives. Christmas markets, generous public subsidies to religious schools, and beautifully preserved churches have done little to arrest this steady decline.

There are two problems with these remarks.

First, in much of modern Europe (Western as well as Eastern), dismally low week-by-week church attendance coexists with great enthusiasm for having church weddings, church funerals, and church baptisms. This is true even in laïcité-obsessed France.

Second, I remain thoroughly skeptical of the allegation that “Less than 15 percent of Hungarians say religion is ‘very important’ in their lives.” If the events of 2016 have taught us anything, they should surely have taught us the frequency with which people tell outright lies to opinion pollsters, through fear of seeming unpopular with bien-pensant talking-heads.

#37 Comment By Petrus On January 8, 2019 @ 7:58 am

Re: M. Orban

I am sorry, I though I had responded yesterday.

Anyway, as I belong to the Reformed Church in Hungary (Calvinist – so minority) denomination, I have no information on the general status of Christianity – my feeling is that it slowly rebounds in a sense that people openly admit being religious, derive spiritual guidance and thrive for achievable norms (admittedly without being knowledgeable about the average Roman Catholics’ depth of devotion). So you need to tap someone else for answers to your religious-sociological questions. Amongst Univ students I certainly see more and more devoted religious young people, of course challenging dogmas and theses, but nevertheless, choosing various churches for sharing community, in addition to the increased number of church-run elementary schools (Protestants as well as mostly Roman Catholic).
Finances: kind of complicated, the “historical churches” receive state funds, plus 1% of income tax can be offered to any church of choice possessing the legal requirements for being eligible, and another 1% can also be donated to any civic organization, including Church_owned ones (homes, cultural ensembles, etc).

#38 Comment By Petrus On January 8, 2019 @ 8:07 am

Re: Hector_St_Clare

First, thank you for your encouraging words – I try to be factual (although my Hungarian temper sometimes overtakes me), while I admit I am biased for being old-fashioned conservative-right wing.

Poland is of course a much more religious country than Hungary both then and now, it has a history of being oppressed by neighboring states to a much greater degree than Hungary

It certainly is – some time ago with friends we visited north-east Poland and the Baltics, all the way up to Tallinn, a wonderful experience. In Poland the Catholic churches (even on weekdays) were not just open for visitors, but as far as I could see, in “full service” (no pun intended), including holding confessions, mass, etc. in the middle of day. And certainly, John Paul II statues everywhere, quite deservedly (for a Catholic…. of course :-).

#39 Comment By RMM On January 8, 2019 @ 11:17 am

What would be the significance of the ROC “reconsidering its relations with Putin”?
He is not a tsar, and has no official role in the church: his supports to the ROC and to the three other “Russian traditional religions” is mandated by law. When he leaves his post in a few years, the next president will do the same.
He also happens to be a practicing Christian years, so he attends church services and other ceremonies. But he also attended the opening of the Moscow “cathedral mosque” [2]
– and the dedication of Jewish synagogues, etc. [3]
– and frequently visits Buddhist monasteries, pagodas and community centres built with state funding: [4]
The author should have done a bot more research, or else confined himself to the countries he knows well.

#40 Comment By RMM On January 8, 2019 @ 11:26 am

Don’t know about Hungary, Czechia & neighbours, but no observer has so far denied there is a Christian revival in Russia.

#41 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 8, 2019 @ 2:14 pm

A-2) The organized religion lacked any national/ethnic character whatsoever

All religions have some ethnic and national character, but some religions are a better fit for ethnic and national identity than others. Christianity and Islam are harder to fit into a nationalistic framework than, say, Sikhism, or European neo-paganism, or Judaism, or many of the world’s various tribal and pagan religions. And some brands of Christianity, e.g. Lutheranism, are easier to fit into a national framework than, say, Catholicism.

Don’t know about Hungary, Czechia & neighbours, but no observer has so far denied there is a Christian revival in Russia.

This is true, but it also misleading. The Christian revival in Russia was starting from a really really low base (official and widely professed atheism and/or secularism under the communists), so in spite of the revival the level of religiosity isn’t all that high. Even after twenty years of Putin and his regime promoting Orthodox Christian revival, Russia still has fewer churchgoers, and is more liberal on some questions of, say, sexual ethics, than the United States.

If the events of 2016 have taught us anything, they should surely have taught us the frequency with which people tell outright lies to opinion pollsters, through fear of seeming unpopular with bien-pensant talking-heads.

Wrong, there’s no real evidence that social desirability bias played any role in 1) Brexit referendum, 2) trump’s election, or 3) the relative success of ethnic nationalist movements in Europe since 2014 or so. Trump actually *underperformed* his polls in liberal leaning states, and European ethnic nationalists over the past few years have generally performed on par with or slightly below their polls (outside the Czech Republic in 2017, I guess, which is probably the *one* country where social desirability bias is *least* important).

#42 Comment By Furor On January 8, 2019 @ 6:05 pm

“there is a Christian revival in Russia”

There is a Christian revival in Russia, just like number 2 is bigger than number -15000.

The so called “Christian revival” is shallow in Eastern Europe. It is only accidental and symbolic. It doesn’t transform into stable and regular forms in society.

If you say you are religious, then some deeper consequences follow this. That for instance you attend some religious services or that you abstain from sexual promiscuity.

In Eastern Europe abortion, contraception, pornography, eroticization of public space is of the same size as in Western Europe.

Again, this notion of “christian revival” is just for some conservatives and christians, to create some hope for them, that decadence of the West can be overturned.

#43 Comment By mrscracker On January 10, 2019 @ 9:46 am

Quartermaster says:

“@polistra Mormons are not Christian. You need to look at their doctrines, particularly their theology proper. God, to them is an exalted man, not the uncreated being, “I am” of scripture.”

***********************
I have LDS friends who would certainly consider themselves Christians. As a Catholic,I can’t begin to understand their theology but I do know their behavior, values, & lifestyle puts many Christians to shame.
And I know some fundamentalist Christians who would also dispute that Catholics are true Christians.
I’m just glad to hear that more people of faith are present in Hungary & elsewhere. That has to be a positive thing.

#44 Comment By Sid Finster On January 10, 2019 @ 10:00 am

Quartermaster wrote: “A couple commenters here are simply propaganda on the Ukrainian situation. The Ecumenical Patriarch withdrew the letter of 1686 granting Moscow authority over the Kyiv patriarch because the conditions of the letter were ignored. The act is well within his authority.”

For some 300 years, the Ukrainian lands raised up saints, hierarchs, monks, teachers, administrators and ordinary believers, none of whom complained about any “Muscovite yoke” or believed that they needed some kind of nationalist organization to promote their faith.

But now you claim that some unnamed “conditions” were not met, 300 years later, and that these unnamed justifies the armed daylight robbery of the canonical Church in Ukraine?

Talk about a pretext.

#45 Comment By Sid Finster On January 10, 2019 @ 10:05 am

jay kalend wrote: “The author’s implication that Ukraine is more nationalism than religion is a bit unfair and uncognisant of Ukrainians.”

The fact that, in spite of intense political and paramilitary pressure, the monks of the Lavras and all the major monasteries in Ukraine have remained faithful to the canonical Church tells you nothing?

That they would be greeted with hosannas if they were to defect to the schismatics?

That the schismatics can only muster a few dozen monks total?

That the pseudoheirarch Denysenko has called for the citizens of Novorussia to repent of their “crimes against Ukraine” with their own blood?

#46 Comment By Greg On January 10, 2019 @ 10:35 am

Quartermaster’s comment is incorrect on several counts. First of all, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions have clearly been over reach by any stretch of the imagination and his reversals of even his own recent positions require mental gymnastics that most people aren’t quite capable of executing. He has also invented a new concept for granting autocephaly that departs sharply from his own proposals not just a few years ago (As an aside, the 1686 Ukrainian Church and the modern Ukrainian nation are not really conterminous concepts, so even the concept of what constitutes “Ukraine” is a bit of a problem.)

However, by entering Communion with deposed and anathematized schismatics, the EP has also violated the canons of the Church, which *require* him to now be deposed. While non of the other Orthodox Churches seem willing to recognize the nationalist “church” he created, I very much doubt they have the fortitude to gather in council together to depose him, but that is their obligation: there is no question his divisive actions demand his removal.

As I say, a chunk of my family is from Ukraine and I’ll further add I normally attend a parish under the EP. I would very happy to see a legitimate autocephalous Church in Ukraine, but this project is diabolical.

#47 Comment By Corey M On January 10, 2019 @ 1:04 pm

There are a lot of odd comments to this piece that seem to ignore Will’s point in an attempt to defend Eastern European nationalism. Will is right to point out the danger of associating Christianity with a national politics, as this generally results in a shallow ecumenism less about Christ than about national pride. One would hope that any revival in Eastern Europe could avoid this pitfall, but Will shows that at least some of this supposed revival is really about nationalist politics.

#48 Comment By Zoltan Papp On January 13, 2019 @ 6:08 pm

To the author : I’m a christan hungarian , and im living in this country since 65 heavy years , most of the time under communist rule , my father was a freedomfighter against communist butchers in 1956 ,at the time when you guys was promised a support to our fighters , but it was a lie ! Business as usual . Now you are lying about our patriotism and our belives in christianity , telling ridiculous statistic about the percentage of the hungarian christians 🙂 I’m remember in this case what Mr Winston Churchill has said ” The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself ! ” Now our old commies turning to be liberals ,now they are called theirselfs ” progressive left” 🙂 and found a good allies in your country , just like this author ! Don’t belive him !