Gabor Ivanyi lives every day with the consequences of government persecution. In 1977, when the Hungarian communist authorities closed down his Methodist church in Budapest, he vowed not to shave until it re-opened.
“I thought it would all be solved in a matter of days or weeks,” he says.
But the police padlocked the church, so Mr Ivanyi held services on the street until five years later when the authorities softened their approach. Though not before they had demolished his church.
The preacher thought his troubles were over when, in 1990, the outgoing regime introduced a law regulating religious organisations. But, 22 years on, the pastor is instead facing a new fight – and his beard is of Biblical proportions.
From his cramped headquarters in Jozsefvaros – a working-class district of the capital – Mr Ivanyi’s Wesleyan church runs a nationwide network of schools, homes for the aged and hostels for the homeless serving some 4,000 of Hungary’s poorest and most needy.
In December, Hungary’s parliament, in which the Fidesz party of prime minister Viktor Orban holds a two-thirds majority, passed a new law on churches – part of a burst of legislation that caused concern in the European Union and US regarding Mr Orban’s respect for democracy.
As a result, more than 300 formerly registered denominations – including Mr Ivanyi’s Methodists – are now in a legal no-man’s land, no longer recognised by the state.
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