Narozeniny: The Birthday of a Reforming Church

Narozeniny is Czech for BIRTHDAY. The first of March is the birthday of the Moravian Church: I used the Czech language as that is where it all started.

The roots of the Moravian Church are firmly planted in ancient Bohemia and Moravia, in what is the present-day Czech Republic. In the mid-ninth century these countries converted to Christianity. Gradually people started to question the rule of Rome and there was conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.

The foremost of the Czech reformers was John Hus (1369-1415); he was a professor of philosophy and rector of the University in Prague. The Bethlehem Chapel in Prague where Hus preached became a rallying place for the Czech reformation; here he set out his beliefs that the scriptures took precedence over the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, should people be able to read the Bible in their own language? Hus believed so. He also believed that a Christian should pray for his enemies and bless those who curse him; and that a person obtains forgiveness of sins by true repentance, not by a donation of money to the church.

This was radical stuff. It led to him being burned at the stake; however, his followers took up his beliefs and continued the fight. At first this was literal, as the Hussite Wars went on for 16 years.

After the wars, his followers turned from violence to find another way to follow their beliefs. The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren), as it has been officially known since 1457, arose as followers of Hus gathered in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia; their plan was to live their lives according to the Bible and as Hus had taught. Initially led by Brother Gregory, this community embraced a peaceful and disciplined way of life, refusing to take up arms in military service.

In the following years their numbers grew throughout Bohemia and Moravia, although they only formed about 5% of the total population. Small but influential. By 1467 their growth led them to need more priests and so they separated from the established church and elected their own priests and bishops. Again, radical stuff.

The Memorial Day on 1st March commemorates the founding of the Brethren’s Church in 1457. Life continued based upon these beliefs until the 1600’s when the followers of the Church were once more being challenged by the Catholic Church. This led to them having to move to Herrnhut in 1722; this was the start of another significant period in the history of the Moravian Church, leading to a worldwide membership today of 750,000.
For now, let us wish our early church a ‘happy birthday’ and reflect on the beliefs and sacrifices that laid down the foundations of the Church as we know it today.