The Ancient Unity
The Unity of the Brethren, known as Unitas Fratrum, Iglesia Moravia or the Moravian Church, came into existence at the end of great social and religious changes in Bohemia (Hussitism). Influenced by the teaching of Petr Chelcicky, it was founded in Kunwald in north-eastern Bohemia in the years 1457/1458.
The group that gathered under the leadership of brother Gregory, put emphasis on athree-fold ideal of faith, love and hope, with strong emphasis on practical Christian life rather than on doctrinal thought or church tradition. Its numbers grew rapidly throughout Bohemia and Moravia.
The most significant representatives were Lukas Prazsky, Jan Cerny (a doctor), Jan Augusta, Jan Blahoslav, Jan Jessenius (a doctor) and John Amos Comenius.
The Unity of the Brethren; however, was persecuted and unwanted from the very start. There was some peace at the beginning of the 17th century; nevertheless, it did not last for long. After the defeat of the Protestant Union in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Unity was suppressed as well as other Protestant bodies. Many people left all their property and went into exile. Some, however, were forced to stay home and tried to keep their faith in secret. They were bolstered from abroad, encouraged and inspired by Scripture and by secret meetings. They survived through the centuries in this way.
More details can be found in the following books:
Rican, Rudolf. Dejiny Jednoty bratrske. Prague: Kalich, 1957.
Müller, Jos. Th.- F. M. Bartos. Prague: Dejiny Jednoty bratrske,1923.
Molnar, A. Boleslavsti bratri. Prague: KEFB, 1952.
The Renewed Moravian Church
Between 1722 and 1727, some families from Moravia, who had kept the traditions of the Ancient Unity, found a place of refuge in Saxony, on the estate of Nicolaus Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf, and built a village which they called Herrnhut ("the place under the protection of the Lord", another meaning "on guard for the Lord"). The Czech name of the village was "Ochranov". Other people of widely differing views also found a place of religious freedom there, but their differences threatened to make it a place of strife. We can even find in some documents that the brothers were not far from splitting, but in 1727, God took them through the process of humiliation, reconciliation and consensus in order to continue their spiritual life together. Through earnest and continued prayer, they realized the power of the Cross of Christ in reconciling them one to another more and more. A profound and decisive experience of this unity was given them in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a celebration of the Holy Communion on August 13, 1727.
The first missionaries were sent to the slaves on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean Sea in 1732. Soon other missions followed: to Greenland, North America, South Africa etc.
More details can be found in the following books:
Vancura, Vaclav. Obrazy z dejin Jednoty bratrske. Prague: Bratrske listy, 1911.
Greenfield, John. Power From On High. Prague: 1936.
Sterikova, Edita. Jak potucek v jezere. Prague: Kalich, 2009
The Moravian Church in the land of its Fathers
The Moravian Church was allowed to return to the land of their Fathers after an imperial edict was introduced in 1861 (Protestant patent). The first congregation was founded in Potstejn in 1870, then a congregation in Duba u Ceske Lipy followed in 1872. Before the First World War there were other congregations founded such as in Usti nad Orlici, Prague, Jablonec nad Nisou, Duchcov, Turnov, Mlada Boleslav, Nova Paka and Herzogwald. The Moravian Church worked both with the Czechs and the Germans. From the outset, the social work with orphans was developed (orphanages in Cermna and Duba u Ceské Lipy) and also mission work (Frantisek Chleboun lived in South Africa among the Kaffirs and Hottentots). The Moravian Church was officialy recognized as a church by the Austrian-Hungarian government after it claimed its authorization on the basis of the imperial law from 1880. The record was stored in the imperial archives of Liberec (Reichenberg). They first started to use the name "Evangelical Church of the Brethren" or "Ochranov Church of the Brethren."
After the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1921 the Czech Brethren consented to call the church "Moravian Church or Unitas Fratrum". During the period of the First Republic, the Moravian church was cooperating with the Czech Brethren Evangelical Church (established by connecting the Reformed and Lutheran churches in the Czech lands), but the Moravian church kept its distance from the then nationalistic-religious and liberal moods.
The Moravian Church consisted of ten Czech congregations (about 5,400 members) and five German congregations (about 2,000 members) in the nineteen-thirties. In 1935, the Moravian Church was divided into two independent parts – a Czech and a German district. After the Second World War and the displacement of the Sudeten Germans, the German district ceased to exist. There was renewed work in two of the former German denominations (Jablonec nad Nisou, Duba u Ceske Lipy), but this time among the Czechs. There was some pre-war work done in Liberec, in which it was continued after the war and subsequently the local mission became an independent congregation. Since 1946 the Moravian Church in Czechoslovakia has had their own bishops. The first elected was Vaclav Vancura (ordained by American and British Unitas Fratrum bishops, on July 20, 1946 in the old Brethren congregation in Mlada Boleslav).
The Moravian Church in the land of its Fathers was declared an independent province (as the fifth in order) under the terms of the Unitas Fratrum at the general synod in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on September 5, 1957. There were 18 congregations and other 20 mission places of the Czech Province in the early sixties. Unfortunately, under the communist regime the church was not able to deal with a lot of different theological and ecclesiological issues, so the various disputes within the church was not settled, but rather started to grow.
More details can be found in the following publication:
Vacovsky, Adolf. Obnoveni Jednoty bratrske v zemi otcu.
Present-day life of the Moravian Church in the Czech Republic from the fall of Communism
New opportunities were given to the churches in the Czech society after the fall of the Communist dictatorship in 1989. The Moravian Church began to re-establish not only new congregations, but also basic and nursery schools after more than 300 years. The first of such schools was opened in Liberec in 1992. There was also a Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf Bible school, which prepares servants for the church. Social care for the elderly developed, too. The "Diakonie Beránek" in Liberec was the first of such organizations for senior citizens. At the same time, decades of unresolved disputes within the church escalated and between 1998 and 1999 there was a split. Part of the preachers, primarily from the older generation, along with a number of people left the church and became a part of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren.
The Moravian Church in the Czech Republic entered a period of fasting and underwent a spiritual revision. We confessed the sins of the previous generation which were not dealt with throughout the 20th century. The administrators of the individual congregations together with members declared that they wanted to live real lives and follow Jesus Christ (taking the cue from their spiritual fathers).
There were two major synods in the years 2001 and 2002, during which a fundamental vision was created: "Follow in the footsteps of our forefathers in order to build a church on the apostolic and prophetic basis." We aimed to renew the spiritual lifestyle of our forefathers, who - inspired by the old Unity of the Brethren – laid the foundations of the church on which they developed for more than 160 years (until 1620).
Since 2002, the Czech Province of the Moravian Church has begun to work abroad.
Just like our forefathers who met in the Rychnov mountains in 1464 and created the so-called "Consent in the Rychnov mountains" or the new generation of forefathers who experienced the resurrection of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut in 1727, also this generation had a similar desire to resign themselves to God. After all that happened within church and society throughout the 14 years since the fall of the Communist regime the feeling in the church grew stronger and stronger. So on November 17, 2003 the time came to renew the commitment to the Lord.
November 17th is a symbolic day to the Czech Republic:
1939 - nine Czech students were executed as a response to anti-Nazi demonstrations prompted by the death of Jan Opletal. In addition, all Czech universities were shut down and over 1200 Czech students were sent to concentration camps. Since this event, International Students' Day is celebrated in many countries, especially in the Czech Republic.
1989 - Velvet Revolution began in Czechoslovakia. A student demonstration in Prague was quelled by riot police. This sparked an uprising aimed at overthrowing the communist government (it succeeded on December 29).
Afterwards, preparations for the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the establishment of the Unity of Brethren and the 275th anniversary of the establishment of the Moravian mission started. Both anniverseries occured in 2007. Around that time the church was more opened to the public and set to work not only on education but also in social areas. All this happened as a consequence of the profound spiritual changes that were in the church immediately after the renewed Commitment to God.
Anticipated celebrations began in 2007. On the memorable day of the Unity of Brethren, March 1, the church organized a gala evening, which triggered a traveling exhibition tracing the history of the church from its beginning to the present. The exhibition took place in many towns in Bohemia and Moravia and informed the public about the history of the Unity of Brethren as well as about its current activities. The exibition was under the patronage of the then President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, MD. Premysl Sobotka, who personally attended the opening ceremony. The Czech National Bank minted a commemorative silver coin; in addition there was a unique range of quality wines made in cooperation with the Valtice Wine Cellars, s.c.
The anniversary celebrations were finished in 2012, after 555 years since the establishment of the Church. It was remembered on a day called "the Moravian Church –a treasure of national history", given that this was an important event for the historical and cultural development of our entire nation. The event was held in the building of the Senate under the patronage of the then President of the Senate, Premysl Sobotka, again.
In honor of the 555 years a jubilee Synod took place on June 11 and 12 in 2012 and approved the new Constitution of the Church. The new Constitution reflects the current life in the church much better. The Provincial Board of the Czech Unitas Fratrum has become the governing body of the Church, just as it is in other provinces of the Unitas Fratrum.