During the centuries of Turkish rule, Croatians learned to disguise their cathedrals inside buildings that were plain and unrecognizable as churches so they would not be shut down or destroyed. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is in a deceptively non-ecclesiatical building but the altar inside is ornate.
We had had an impressive 4,668-pipe organ recital in Archbishops Cathedral in Kalocsa, Hungary (Day 16). From a balcony high behind and above us, where Franz Liszt played when in town, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue had billowed out into the church, resonating powerfully to its uttermost corners.
In Osijek, Croatia (we had conflicting information about pronouncing the letter “j”. One authority said it sounds like our “y.” Another said it is silent. In the case of “Osijek,” either one works), we heard a very different organ recital. We filed into wooden benches and waited, Viking umbrellas closed and dripping at our feet.
A young man in jeans walked to a microphone on the broad checkerboard platform at the front. He introduced a young blonde woman named Maria, who bowed to us and slipped onto the bench of an organ next to him, no bigger and no more imposing than an upright piano.
Instead of an unseen organist in a balcony overhead, dazzling our senses via a full set of magnificent pipes, Maria began to play familiar choruses, How Great is Our God; Father, We Adore You; and We Love You, Lord. She sang them simply and sincerely, first in Croatian, then in English. After the third song she abandoned the words foreign to us and sang the songs in clear English, inviting us all to join her on the last one, Amazing Grace. A number of us did, gladly, having been singing along with her silently in our hearts and with our lips.
“Of all the churches and cathedrals we’ve toured,” I wrote in my journal, “this was the only one where I felt the presence of Jesus, a rushing in of a unifying and purposeful force that swept all the art and angels, awe and air, candlelight and dark recesses and soulful, uplifted painted eyes, grave, repetitive motions and creaking wooden pews and tired flowers and crisp linen-and-lace and self-conscious bodies and tentative responses to grace together in one heartfelt hug, assuring us, ‘This is what it is all about. It is all about glorifying Me–and I accept all of it, however beautiful or clumsy.'”
Even though it was Wednesday, it felt like our first true Sunday in Europe.
(Note: Jerry’s picture is better than mine but it doesn’t have the informal touch of the guy in jeans, T-shirt and tennies.)