08 January 2023

Ukrainian refugees in Budapest keep
alive the Christmas hope for peace

Ukrainians celebrate Christmas in Vörösmarty tér, the focal square in central Budapest, on Saturday night, 7 January (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Amber Jackson from the diocese communications team in the Diocese of Europe and Patrick Comerford from USPG are visiting Anglican chaplaincies in Hungary and Finland to see how they are supporting Ukrainian refugees with funding from the joint Ukraine appeal.

Patrick Comerford spent Ukrainian Christmas Day on 7 January with Ukrainian refugees in central Budapest

This is Christmas weekend in Ukraine, when Ukrainians should be at home celebrating Christmas together. In a Christmas tradition shared by Ukrainians of most traditions, Christmas Day still falls on 7 January, following the Julian Calendar still favoured by many churches in the Orthodox tradition.

The celebrations of Christmas in the Eastern Churches coincide closely with the celebration of Epiphany the day before in the Western Churches.

But Ukrainian refugees of all traditions came together last night in Saint Michael’s Church in the centre of Budapest to celebrate Christmas at the liturgy in the Greek Catholic parish, a Ukrainian church that follows Orthodox liturgy, customs and traditions but that is in full communion with the Pope and Rome.

The Churches in Ukraine have been deeply divided for centuries. But those historic divisions did not keep Ukrainian refugees apart in Budapest last night [7 January 2023] as they came together in their Christmas celebrations in Saint Michael’s Church in the inner city.

After the liturgy, a children’s choir sang traditional Ukrainian Christmas carols and songs before the congregation poured out in the streets of the Hungarian capital.

The singing throng continued to sing songs and carols with one voice as everyone processed along Váci utca, the principal tourist and shopping street, to Vörösmarty tér, the city’s focal square and the venue only a few weeks ago for Budapest’s main Christmas market.

As the singing continued beneath the statue of the Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty, there were live streams to Kyev, the Ukrainian capital. Everyone I spoke to was cynical about the intentions of Russia’s temporary Christmas ceasefire called by Putin in response to a suggestion by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Ukrainian children celebrate Christmas, 7 January 2023 in Budapest (Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Many of the children in the choir had taken part in singing Christmas songs and staged a nativity play for us the day before at Ukrainian Space, a day-care programme in Budapest, offers schooling in Ukrainian to about 20 children between the ages of 8 and 16.

The project has received grants from the Bishop’s Refugee Appeal in the Anglican Diocese in Europe and USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), through the efforts of the Revd Dr Frank Hegedus, the priest and chaplain at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest.

Charlotte Hunter and I, and Rebecca Boardman of USPG and Amber Jackson of the Diocese in Europe are visiting Budapest and projects with Ukrainian refugees receiving support from USPG and the Diocese.

Earlier on Saturday, we met Father Szabolcs Sajgó, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, to hear how USPG has helped fund a church and community centre in Uzhgorod in Western Ukraine, just across the border with Hungary.

In the afternoon, we visited James Peter and the staff at Next Step, a refugee services agency providing food, meals and clothes for Ukrainian refugees in Hungary. Later in the day we visited Saint Columba’s, the Church of Scotland church in Budapest. There, the Revd Aaron Stevens and Chris Clark spoke of how the church-run food bank is feeding hundreds of Ukrainian refugees each week.

After we left the Ukrainian choirs singing their Christmas carols and songs in Vörösmarty tér, we joined the director of Ukrainian Space, Vladimir Pukis, and his wife Anna, a teacher in Ukrainian Space, for a Christmas dinner in a Hungarian restaurant in the centre of Budapest.

At the heart of the Christmas story is the good news of peace on earth. The Ukrainian refugees gathered for Christmas celebrations in the heart of Budapest last night showed unity in trying to keep that hope alive.

Ukrainians celebrate Christmas in Saint Michael’s Church on Váci utca, the principal tourist and shopping street in Budapest, on Saturday 7 January (Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying through poems and
with USPG: 8 January 2023

‘Angels are bringing us down the news’ (Géza Gárdonyi) ... decorative angels in the Ukrainian Space daycare centre in Budapest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Ukrainians of all traditions celebrated Christmas Day yesterday (7 January 2023). Today in the Calendar of the Western Church is the First Sunday of Epiphany and celebrates the Baptism of Christ, although many parishes may also celebrate the Epiphany this morning.

Later this morning, I plan to be present at the Epiphany Eucharist in Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest. We arrived in Budapest on Thursday night and Charlotte and I are spending some days visiting Saint Margaret’s Church and Father Frank Hegedus with the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Diocese in Europe to see how the church and church agencies in Hungary are working with refugees from Ukraine.

My choice of a seasonal poem this morning is a translation of the Hungarian Christmas poem, ‘Fel Nagy Oromre,’ by the Hungarian writer and journalist Geza Gardonyi (1863-1922).

Géza Gárdonyi was born Géza Ziegler in in Agárdpuszta in western Hungary. He wrote a range of works, but his greatest success was a historical novelist, particularly with Eclipse of the Crescent Moon and Slave of the Huns.

‘Fel Nagy Oromre’ is a Christmas carol for great joy. The text and music were written by Géza Gárdonyi in Karád in 1882.

‘Fel Nagy Oromre,’ by Géza Gárdonyi (translated, Rongyi Rongybaba):

Hark up to heaven today is born,
He who was given wearing the thorn
Mary held him high up to the sky
Innocent baby, he is the light.

Plain shepherd come close, open your heart
Look here lays your God in the small barn,
He has no feathered crib for the night
Nothing can show us he is the high.
He lays with Mary among the straw,
Animals warm breath keeps him alive.

Plain shepherd come close, go on your knee,
Give your heart for Him and give your plea.
Quorums are singing in Bethlehem,
Aurora lights up in the heaven.
Angels are bringing us down the news, Jesus’ blood wash clean every sinner.

Plain shepherd come close cover your face
Give your heart to him and he shall redeem.

‘Plain shepherd come close, open your heart’ (Géza Gárdonyi) ... shepherds in a nativity puppet show in the Ukkrainian Space day care programme in Budapest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is an ‘Epiphany Reflection,’ introduced this morning by the Rev’d Michael Sei from the Episcopal Church of Liberia, who offers this Epiphany reflection:

‘In the early 1800s, missionaries from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States risked the long voyage to Liberia to evangelise Cape Palmas, now Maryland County, and in 1836, the Episcopal Church of Liberia was established.

‘Today the Church is part of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa and seeks to make Christ manifest by focusing on intentional listening, witnessing and discipleship. Under the leadership of the Right Revd Dr James Bombo Sellee, its 13th diocesan bishop, the Church provides space for worship, reconciliation, health care delivery and a rich programme of bible symposiums and formation classes, enabling awareness of, and participation in, what it means to become God’s stewards.

‘Epiphany reminds us of our calling to make Christ manifest through God’s gift of caring for the poor, hungry and abandoned, by caring for drug users and showing love, forgiveness, healing and equality to all, irrespective of our ethnic, religious, sexual and traditional beliefs.

‘As we show Christ to be our salvation, the Church has a responsibility to speak out against corruption, bigotry, human trafficking, rape and abuse, and the marginalisation of women.

‘As representatives of Christ, with the Episcopal Church of Liberia, we are called to brightly bear witness to the centrality of Christ in our lives.’

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Lead us, Lord of light,
and transform the poverty of our natures
into the riches of your grace
that your love be made known.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow