Updated and reprinted to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, and to honor my wonderful friends at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, DC, who understand what freedom and faith are all about.
(Originally published in 2014, republished annually to honor the victims of Communism, and those brave souls that fought and died for freedom)
The Institute on Religion and Democracy rejoices in the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989. President Reagan had urged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Likewise, we implore the God of the universe to give us the grace and courage to tear down the remaining walls of tyranny, despotism, and injustice in every corner of the globe, and to awaken those in our nation who have fallen under the spell of socialism and identity politics.
After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, bits of that oppressive construction were transformed into thousands of icons of freedom (and, one could say, icons of free market capitalism since they were sold widely as souvenirs). One of my favorite pieces of the Wall is in Portland, Maine on the Old Port pier. I think of it as a Triptych of Freedom, since it is three hinged sections. Some freedom fighter wrote powerful words on one segment:
Forget not the tyranny of this wall,
Nor the love of freedom
that made it fall,
It’s no coincidence that Portland’s piece of the Wall (Maine, remember. Only the Lord knows if the other Portland has a piece of the Wall, and if they do, if they revere it as a sign for laying waste to tyranny!) stands proudly next to another freedom shrine, The Heroes Wall – a memorial to all of Maine’s own warriors, past and present, that fought for freedom. Freedom always comes with a price.
Another one of my favorite remembrances of Communism’s tyranny laid waste is the piece of the Wall that belongs to my parish, Church of the Apostles, Anglican. It was given to us by our friends from Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’ Church) where years of weekly prayer services ushered in East Germany’s Peaceful Revolution.
In 1990, these friends from Leipzig and other friends from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania visited our church for a week-long “Eastern European Festival.” They shared amazing stories of how God gave strength and encouragement to those that helped to bring about liberation behind the Iron Curtain.
Christophe and Ronald were lay leaders from Nikolaikirche, the church that became famous for Monday night prayer services followed by candlelight protests. Thousands of East Germans asked God for His help. They demanded such rights as the ability to travel to foreign countries and to elect a democratic government. Peacefully, every Monday, the people confronted the armed security forces of the East German Government, proclaiming, Wir sind das Volk! (We are the people!)
Our two Czechoslovakian Dominican priests told us about the Velvet Revolution. In their own fight for freedom, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Father Vojtech, who was secretly ordained in the Catholic underground, came to us in jeans and a leather jacket. He served at the monastery of the 14th century Church of St. Giles (Kostel svatého Jiljí), just scant of two miles from Wenceslas Square. Father Filip, newly ordained from the seminary in Olomouc, preferred the traditional full-length, woolen habit that priests were now free to wear. But both had stood against the Soviet Socialist forces that controlled their country.
Vojtech and Filip told us of the jingling of keys that filled the square during the protests, symbolizing the unlocking of doors. It was an appropriately poetic gesture for a revolution led by Vaclav Havel and members of the Czech art, literary, and theater communities, as well as the factory workers, priests, scientists, and others.
Our Hungarian friends, the Nemeths, were from the Community of Reconciliation. They told of how they were ministering to marginalized Roma people in a newly free Hungary. The brave people of Hungary had fought against Communist occupation in 1956 and their revolution was crushed. But in 1989, the Communist government of Hungary actually helped to usher in the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In June of that year the foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria symbolically cut through the barbed wire on their borders. A few months later Hungary allowed tens of thousands of East Germans to cross its border to flee to the West.
And Hungary continues that reverence for freedom today, as well as a passion to help persecuted Christians across the globe.
Romania’s revolution was not peaceful like the others, but our friends Valentin and Mikhail explained how it started with a protest by church members in the western city of Timisoara. The Romanian government was attempting to evict Pastor Laszlo Tokes, the assistant pastor of the Romanian Reformed Church. He was targeted because routinely he gave sermons condemning the government’s oppression of religious freedom and other human rights. A human chain of church members was joined by university students and others, both Romanian and Hungarian. Soon the protest became a more general anti-government demonstration that spread across Romania to bring down Communist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu in Bucharest.
These Eastern European friends were witnesses to the Church’s stand against evil and Communist oppression. Listening to their stories, we appreciated the blessing of our own freedom in the United States as never before. We thanked God for the role that America played in bringing freedom to other nations. We understood that with great blessing came great responsibility. And we honored those who would rather die than live under Communist tyranny.
Today, while most Americans still appreciate the blessing of being free in the United States and honoring those who died for freedom, we are facing a threat by those who either have amnesia about the past or who have allowed greed and envy to consume them and to seduce them into believing the lies of socialism. Can we identify with a young East German hero, Peter Fechter, who died rather than live under tyranny?
To be continued.