|Julia and Ferenc Visky, September, 1974|
Though there was plenty of suffering and guilt to go around in Romania, I would like to focus on Grace through excerpts from the story of Julia and Ferenc Visky, especially his reflections on the Psalms. If you would like to learn more than I include here, search for Ferenc Visky on the internet. You will find dozens of articles and references. First, though, a bit of context.
While the Fulops represent the classically Reformed, Ferenc and Julia Visky would fall within the renewal wing of the Reformed church. Following World War II, the remewal branch, sometimes called Bethania, experienced a powerful revival that touched thousands in Hungary, Romania, and Transcarpathia, Ukraine. By 1950 the movement had been forced underground by Communist persecution. Its leaders were kept under surveillance, and by 1958, many had been arrested and sentenced, some up to 22 years, including Ferenc Visky. Because of her continuing witness, Julia and her seven children were soon after sent to one of the camps of the infamous Danube Delta gulag. Their son, playwright Andras Visky, told her story in the play, Julia.
When we first met Julia and spoke with Ferenc Visky, I soon sensed that they lived and breathed in the presence of God. It was also apparent that one needed to be ready for his sharp wit. We had crowded into his small study close to the kitchen, and with a gleam in his eyes Visky began,
“Come, let us get close together like small piggies in this small room. I don’t mean that you are pigs; I don’t want to begin by hurting anyone . . . If the shirt doesn’t fit, don’t wear it!”
I described our mission of recording his understanding of faith and his perception of how the psalms reflected his life under Communism. The gleam had not yet disappeared and Visky inquired sweetly whether my congregation back in Grand Rapids ever sang any of the Genevan Psalms. Sensing a trap, I answered quickly that we sang some, but never Psalm 119 in its entirety. He smiled and appeared satisfied with my answer. Having thus established that we were not complete nincompoops, the conversation could begin.
Regarding the Genevan Psalms
“From a biblical perspective, singing and choirs or liturgical musical singing is prophetic according to Holy Scripture. Singing itself is not significant; it is significant only when inspired from above, and only when it’s directed from above, not only based on our emotions or other factors. It is most important that I listen attentively and wait for the one from above to touch with his fingers the person, the string. Somehow it is very nice when someone strums me. So this is very crucial that singing also be treated as the preaching of God’s word. Singing of the Psalms in itself is preaching too.”
I’d like to include everything from that first meeting here, but will jump to an excerpt from the June interview.
Singing the Psalms
"After my release, I was appointed to serve a congregation in the Nagyvarad area. In that congregation, every Sunday afternoon, after the worship, we spent ten minutes learning songs. We started to study the psalms, and somehow people began to like them. How does the Hungarian proverb go? “It’s easy to take Kate to the dance if she likes to dance.
If you teach with love, they learn more willingly, and if you sing with joy, then the songs stick. Maybe depression sticks too, but happiness does as well. If I like the psalms and sing them with love, they stick. We sang the Genevan Psalms from the official psalm book of 1672, according to the music’s prescribed tempos and rhythms.
The meaning of Selah
We were diligent, and in many of the Psalms we read the expression, Selah. When we visited Richard Wurmbrand in Los Angeles, he told me that the meaning of Selah had been unlocked. Some said that this was a musical pause, and some thought that it meant de capo al fine. There were arguments about this, but Selah – even its sound is fine – means something different. When a song finishes, it leaves an echo in the congregation or in the singer. It leaves a sense of holiness and happiness that lingers. Selah is the moment when you hear at once what has been sung, an impression beyond the melody and beyond the text. This congregation was not especially spiritually sensitive, but when we studied these ninety Psalm melodies, they understood that God was taking care of them.