Wed, 04/03/2009 - 5:02am — Editor
In far eastern Hungary, where yellow stuccoed houses and churches built by the rich sit among beet fields and apple trees, Julius Kubassek learned how to lay bricks.
His mother did not want him to lay bricks. She wanted him to become a priest. His father did not want him to lay bricks either. He wanted Julius to get an education, become socially conscious and enlighten the world.
But quietly, sullenly, Julius laid bricks.
“If you make me go to high school,” he had told his father, “I will jump into the river and drown myself.” Considering the fact that a branch of the Tisza River flowed just east of their town of Nyiregyhaza, and knowing Julius, his father had decided to give him work on his construction crew. But the matter was far from resolved.
All his life Julius had lived in conflict. A quiet boy, given to reading and daydreaming more than playing, he had few friends and disliked school with a passion. Whenever he could, he escaped school and got into trouble for it.
At home, Julius had troubles too. His father, a zealous communist and social agitator, used his construction business as a base for his activities. He harboured political criminals and give them work. This upset his mother, a deeply religious woman, whose brother was a Catholic priest and whom she wanted Julius to follow.
Julius, however, had no use for his uncle’s priesthood and religion. Four women who did his cooking, cleaning, and baking kept having children. Between the four of them they had fourteen, and when Julius discovered that his uncle was the father of them all he declared, “I do not believe in God or the church. I am an atheist!”
In 1911, when Julius turned eighteen, he left Nyiregyhaza to find work in a Budapest factory. Three years later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and he founded himself drafted into the army.
If Julius thought he had disliked school, he disliked the army with an unspeakably greater passion. Everything within him drew back in horror from the military machine: hundreds of thousands of men marching, saluting, giving their lives for incredibly costly manoeuvres arranged by generals in velvet armchairs at Vienna. Not only did he hate camp life on the Russian front where he had been placed. He came to hate the hypocritical religion that supported it. When an army chaplain (a Roman Catholic priest) came around to bless the soldiers and their weapons, Julius spit into his face.
Savage fighting continued on all fronts during the fall of 1914 and into the following winter and spring. Only in the battle of the Drina, between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, nealy 400,000 soldiers lost their lives. On the eastern front 125,000 Russians fell to the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Germany) in the battle of the Tannenberg while daily battles raged throughout Galicia and the Carpathian mountains.
For a short time the Russians made advances into Hungary and Transylvania. In a skirmish with them Julius suddenly found himself encircled by enemy troops. Nearly blinded by smoke and in the roar of machine-gun fire, all he could see was his comrades falling on every side. At that moment he threw down his gun. “This is it!” he told himself and ran, not from the enemy but from war itself. Only later did he learn he was the sole survivor of his battalion.
Wet, cold, and sick with pneumonia, Julius found his way back to his home area in Hungary by the time the Central Powers fell apart and Bela Kun, a communist took control of Budapest. Socialist-Communist governments took shape in Hungarian towns and Julius became an administrator under them in his home town of Nyiregyhaza. For the first time he had a job he liked and the working people liked him too. He treated them fairly and they trusted him, but the communists did not appreciate his criticism of their high-handed bureaucracy.
Then, with the help of Romanian troops, Hungarian rightists under Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya launched a counter-revolution. On the day they took Nyiregyhaza, Julius hid in the woods. He sneaked back into the village by night and hid for several months in a shed on the back yard of his parent’s home. But he knew he had to leave Hungary.
With nothing with him but the clothes he wore, Julius fled to Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1919 and hid in an abandoned farm house. There, starving in a war-torn land, he came upon a New Testament and began to read it.
The war had stripped Julius of everything. Even his professed atheism no longer made sense. Disillusioned with life, yet left with the mystery of his survival, he read the teachings of Christ for the first time and could not believe his eyes.
“This is the Gospel?” he nearly shouted in disbelief. “I have seen no one, nowhere who believes or lives like this!”
Too fascinated with his reading even to think of hunger, Julius read the New Testament from cover to cover. Then he read it again. And again. After he had read it the fifth time in succession he was an avowed follower of Christ and remained one until his death forty-two years later.
As an atheist Julius had declared that Truth and God stand in perpetual opposition. Now he declared them one. All his life he had criticised the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of others. Now he saw his own hypocrisy. He saw that the life he had lived was no better than that of the priests and the military. And he saw that true socialism could never happen unless Christ would transform people’s lives.
With the coming of spring Julius found work on his way through Slovakia to Vienna, in Austria. Eager to tell everyone about Christ he visited churches here and there along the way: Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Nazarenes. Most churches he found “in a state of adultery with the world.” But in Vienna, in 1924, he became part of a Nazarene congregation that impressed him with its sincerity.
Julius encouraged the congregation he became part of to go the whole way with Christ. Step by step they freed themselves from worldly involvements and moved toward the joyful simplicity of the early Christians. The brothers bought a machine shop and began to work together to provide an income for them all. The sisters began to operate a laundry and sewing room. But to survive in the post-war period they needed more than they could earn in the city. Julius, still single, offered to travel to the United States to find work and contribute in that way to the good of all.
In the fall of 1925, Julius Kubassek arrived in New York City and travelled by train to Ohio. There he found congregations of the same background as the Nazarenes he knew in Europe. But they deeply disappointed him. “Believers in the United States live in luxury, like the world,” he reported. “Some own factories where they employ up to two thousand men.”
Because he disapproved of their way of life, the people in Ohio treated Julius like an outsider and he found his way north to Canada. At Bremen, Saskatchewan, Julius stayed with another small congregation of “Nazarenes.” There he married the daughter of the minister but when he called the congregation to greater conformity with Christ, a conflict developed and he moved on to Windsor, Ontario.
Like he had done wherever he went, Julius testified powerfully to the work of Christ in his life. With shining eyes he spoke of freedom from the love of money and a higher way of true community and peace.
Some of the brothers at Windsor liked what Julius said. “But where do we see your beliefs in practise?” they asked him. “When will you show us clearly what you mean?”
Julius took their challenge. In a morning meeting he stood up and said, “I am ready to serve the Lord with my whole life and whatever he has given to me. I am ready to go the whole way with Christ, to live by his teachings and to follow his example. Who will go with me?”
Two brothers, Frigyes Kurucz and Sándor Bago, stood up. Both of them were Hungarian, like Julius, and had suffered much in Europe for refusing to bear arms. Frigyes had a wife and children. Sándor was a young, unmarried brother.
With a model T Ford, a handful of cash, and a cow, the little group began to look for a place where they could live like followers of Christ. First they rented a farm in Saskatchewan where another family joined. Then they moved to southern British Columbia.
During the 1930s and the “Great Depression” their rented farm in the Fraser Valley could not provide enough income so the men worked in the bush, cutting cordwood and railroad ties. Then, on a trip east, Julius discovered the West Raley Hutterite community near Cardston, Alberta.
Hardly daring to believe his eyes, Julius found among these Hutterite brothers exactly what seemed so drastically missing among most other Christians. He found many families living peacefully, in a simple way, together. He saw how they taught their children and how they set their eyes on eternal rather than worldly pleasures. With great excitement he returned to British Columbia and the following winter brought the whole congregation with him to see what he had found.
Even though the spiritual unity of the two groups was a pleasure to all, Julius and his friends decided not to settle in Alberta. They knew little about grain farming and a language barrier made it hard for the Hungarians to co-exist with the German Hutterites. In the late summer of 1939, they loaded three railroad cars with farm implements, horses, cattle, geese, and hogs, to return to Ontario where they had rented a farm near Glen Morris, south of Kitchener.
Before their arrival in Ontario, local newspapers had discovered their plans and published front page articles about a “new sect of Doukhobors” settling in the east. When their train stopped at the Ayr station and they began to unload (a number of Hutterite brothers and sisters had come with them) a huge jeering crowd gathered about them. Newspaper reporters crowded up to Julius whom they identified as the “King of the Doukhobors” while others yelled, “Take it off, Douky!” “Let’s see your tail, Douky!” and other things the Hungarian and German immigrants did not understand.
The fall of 1939 was not a good time for non-resistant people who spoke strange languages to settle in southern Ontario. On September 3, Great Britain with its Commonwealth nations (Canada included) declared war on Germany. That very day a German U-boat sank a Canadian ship, the Athenia, bound for Montreal. The Union Jack hung at street corners and from buildings everywhere. Bands played “God save the King” and “Britannia Rules the Waves.” In dismay, the brothers and sisters in Glen Morris watched the Royal Canadian Air Force doing manoeuvres over peaceful farms along the Grand River, and thought of 1914.
What troubled Julius Kubassek as much as the war itself was the attitude of wealthy Canadian Christians toward it. Many of them, even those who refused to fight for conscience’s sake, purchased war bonds. When he strongly warned them against it—“How can you give your money to pay for destruction and violence? Let God take care of Hitler”—his Canadian neighbours came down in yet greater wrath upon him.
Much of the conflict revolved around school. In respect of Ontario law the families at Glen Morris sent their children to a public school. But they did not sing “God Save the King” nor march in school parades. This brought them no end of harassment (older Canadian school boys lifted the little girls’ dresses “to see if the Doukies had tails” and the like) until the group relocated onto a 375 acre farm near Bright, Ontario on April 14, 1941. There, county officials allowed them to open a school of their own.
In spite of opposition and great trials during the war years, life at the new “Community Farm of the Brethen” took shape and stabilised. Daily activities began at six, with breakfast served at 6:30 in the kitchen of the large stone farm house. Then the children scattered to feed the geese, the women hoed potatoes and washed clothes, and the men took care of the farm. Every Saturday some took a truck loaded with dressed geese, down pillows and featherbeds, noodles, bread, fruit, eggs, and fresh vegetables to the farmers’ market in Kitchener.
Snatches of songs in many languages floated about the Community Farm as its acreage doubled, then tripled, more buildings went up, and new members came. Some came from Europe. Some were “seekers” of widely varied backgrounds, and a good number joined from Canadian Mennonite and Hutterite congregations. On the Community Farm all came to look alike, the men in beards and suspenders, the women with head scarves, and aprons over full skirts. All gathered at the end of the day for lively meetings held in English, Hungarian, and German. All joined in the work and all rested on the Lord’s day.
After the war, the “Brothers of Early Christianity” (as they preferred to call themselves) published a letter for all who wanted to know how they lived. They titled it, “Come and See!”
It may be of interest to you why we live and dwell together in community. We are not here for material reasons, as some are inclined to think, to make an easier living, to make more money, to raise better geese, better cattle, to make a great name for ourselves, or because we are incapable of making a living as individuals.
We are gathered together from various nations and creeds. We have forsaken our former walk of life, relatives, property and possessions—even our own wills—for one reason. That is a spiritual reason: we want to live like God wants us to.
We strive to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and to value heavenly treasure above all earthly delights as Jesus taught us. . . . For that reason we have freed ourselves, by the grace of God and through faith, from all private possessions. We have done this in love toward our Master who sacrificed far more because of his love for us. He forsook his heavenly glory, humbled himself, came into this world in the likeness of man and loved us with great love, keeping nothing for himself, but even shed his blood for us. He who was the Son of God said of himself in Luke 9:58: “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of God hath not where to lay his head.” This does not mean that he never slept in a bed, but that he had nothing that he called his own.
Christ said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” And in Matthew 16:24-26 we read, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. . . My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. . . . Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also. . . . Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy strength and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Christ fulfilled this love not only through his death but also through his living example. He had nothing that he called his own. In the same way, his disciples forsook all they had to follow him . . . not only in word but also in deed, as is written in Acts 2:44-45: “And all that believed were together and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need.”
This was how the Holy Spirit taught them to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself.” John writes, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This not only means by sacrificing our lives through death, if necessary, but also sacrificing our will in daily obedience to God and his little ones as we read in Matt. 25:40, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
This then is how we can prove our love and obedience to Christ and give our lives in full surrender to him, not only on Sundays but every day of the week. This is how we give seven sevenths of our time and ten tenths of our money to God. This is how we deny ourselves daily, taking up the cross to follow him, while gathering treasures that will not fade away.
We fully sense the truth of Christ’s words when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” We are by no means satisfied with ourselves. We admit that we have many human weaknesses, but with the help of God we want to do his will. We have entered this life by our own free choice and are thankful that God has revealed his will through his Son Jesus Christ. With God’s help we want to follow his example and teaching. Those who do not believer or strive for the same goal, we leave in the hands of God.
We feel it is worth giving everything to Christ for these few years will soon pass away. Then we shall reap the harvest of what we have sown.
Far from Nyiregyhaza in eastern Hungary, far removed in time and place from the Russian front where he threw down his gun, and from the Slovakian house where he sat too fascinated with the Gospel to remember his hunger, Julius Kubassek died in Canada on January 27, 1961. A large circle of brothers, sisters, and little ones in simple clothes stood singing in the snow while they covered his grave.
The body of Christ, for the moment, was visible again.
Main source: Clark, Peter G., The Brethren of Early Christianity: A Study of a World Rejecting Sect, Thesis (M.A.) McMasterUniversity, HamiltonON, 1967