Earlier this year, members of Omega, the legendary Hungarian rock group were recognized in Russia for the role they played decades ago. In a recent issue of Diplomacy & Trade, two members, János Kóbor and László Benkõ talked about how surprised they were to learn about this honor.
The recognition was initiated pope Sergiy of a Moscow monastery who himself was a rock musician in the 1970s. He took the opportunity to award the favorite band of his youth when Omega played in Moscow for the first time in May this year. János Kóbor, the singer of the band, was honored with the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Russian Orthodox Church while the other members of the group were given the Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich Romanov Commemorative Medal.
“We were an awfully popular band in the Soviet Union, right after groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” János Kóbor recalls to Diplomacy & Trade. “Our albums sold like hot cakes but were considered the too liberal by the authorities and we were not allowed to hold concerts in the country. Later, times and politics changed but it was only in the spring of this year that finally, we could appear on stage there.” The day after the concert, they were advised – by people who know Moscow traffic all too well – to leave for the airport early. Members of the group were already on the bus when they were reminded that they were expected in a local monastery, which was actually on the way to the airport.
“We were given a pompous reception in the ceremonial hall of the monastery. To my astonishment, I was given the highest Orthodox Church distinction that a layman can receive,” Kóbor continues. The Grand Cross Order of Merit was handed over by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the chairman of the Department of the External Church Relations who flew to Moscow from the United States just for this occasion. “I’m not a religious person but this was a moving ceremony,” he adds.
At the ceremony, pope Sergiy said Omega was a symbol of freedom for the youth in the Soviet Union and greatly contributed – especially singer János Kóbor with his long fair hair and emblematic figure – to the strengthening of relations between the two peoples. The pope added that this distinction was a late expression of appreciation for what Omega did in the 1970s.
This church distinction could not come at a better time for the band whose members – being around 70 years old – are considering launching an oratory-like Omega production that they plan to perform in churches to utilize their great acoustics and ambience. The premier of this series is planned to be held in the cathedral in Szeged, SE Hungary on December 1st this year.
The band’s keyboardist, László Benkõ agrees that it was a great honor to receive this distinction and a great surprise. “We knew that Omega had a big impact to young people in the Soviet Union but we were not aware of its extent. Basically, many youngsters in the Soviet Union learned about the sense of freedom from our songs and we are happy to realize that even now in hindsight as we were reminded by the words of pope Sergiy.” He adds that it was a great experience for the band to realize at the concert this May that most of the audience were actually aware of what the songs were about – so strong were the memories from decades ago.