Thursday, May 1, 2014

Still in Romania ~ With Istvan Tokes

I looked forward to the  prospect of meeting Professor Istvan Tokes, father of Laszlo Tokes, the Reformed pastor famous for his courageous stand against Romania's Communist dictatorship.

Professor Istvan Tokes - June 2003
Professor Tokes, a retired seminary professor, welcomed us with a warm, firm handshake, a delighted smile, and glass of his own sweet wine. The crew set up quickly, and Andras placed him in front of his desk, surrounded by books. Plaques of Reformers dominated the wall behind him.

We politely mentioned the names of the people who had already been interviewed as well as the names of those still on the list. We reviewed the reason the interviews had been
 set up – to understand the survival of faith and the way that the Genevan Psalter reflected the suffering and the survival of the Reformed believers.

The Entryway
Apparently eager for polite introductions to be over, he seemed pleased when the interview began in earnest in Hungarian. I could sense that the topic we proposed was only tangentially related to other questions and topics important for him. The translation proved that I had guessed correctly. The long version of his
Rev. Laszlo Tokes
interview is being edited for inclusion in a book. It will include his discussion of the episcopal structure of the Reformed Church in Hungary and Romania, the confessing church vs. the folk church, and theological influences that shaped the response to the Communist dictatorship.

I’m not sure how long this interview lasted, but when it was over, Tokes spoke for a few minutes in English. Urged to comment on the Genevan Psalms, he spoke briefly, sort of an afterthought, I think. “The psalms,” he said, “were and are very important today in the church liturgy. They are loved by church members and sung with joy. Although there are only 40 Genevan psalms in the version most used by Reformed churches in Transylvania, these 40 are well-used. He explained that after WWI a new psalm book was required, and the committee appointed to handle the revision decided to include more hymns, choosing only those psalms that are most easily sung and understood.

Although the psalms are excellent literature and can stand on that basis, they should also be understood to contain the Word of God. Singing the Psalms is important only to the extent that singing conveys the meaning of the psalms. Singing was and is not as important as the preaching.” Spoken like a true preacher.

With that, we all stood up and stretched. While equipment was being dismantled, Tokes showed us his rosegarden and cut two long-stemmed roses, one for Bernadette and one for me.

Ah! He loved flowers; he was a gardener too.

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