Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thousands Of Years, Many Forms, Same Belief.

A Guiding Star

My husband and I visited the Moravian community in Winston-Salem, NC many times over the last 15 years. I am always in awe of the many forms the same belief has been used to sustain and bring people to a better place of self fulfillment.

I found this society and belief to be as amazing and enlightening as I have so many others .
I love the history of the star, a guide to lead weary souls home and so much more.

Bea Kunz
Sage Hill Farms

(The Moravian Star)

Originating in the Moravian boarding schools in Germany in the nineteenth century as an exercise in geometry, the stars were carried throughout the world by missionaries and other church workers. Now, from the Himalayas to the Caribbean, the star proclaims the hope of Advent. While we are most familiar with the white star, the first star had alternating red and white points and was made of paper.

Whatever its form, the star reminds us of God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness and of the light which is the life of humanity. It reminds us of the promise of Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars; we are reminded of the star that pointed to the "great and heavenly light from Bethlehem's manger shining bright." The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. This is the message of the Advent star, which also points to Jesus, who said, "I am the bright and Morning Star." It is the star of promise, the star of fulfillment, and the star of hope.

(History Of The Church)

For over five centuries the Moravian Church has proclaimed the gospel in all parts of the world. Its influence has far exceeded its numbers as it has cooperated with Christians on every continent and has been a visible part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Proud of its heritage and firm in its faith, the Moravian Church ministers to the needs of people wherever they are.

The name Moravian identifies the fact that this historic church had its origin in ancient Bohemia and Moravia in what is the present-day Czech Republic. In the mid-ninth century these countries converted to Christianity chiefly through the influence of two Greek Orthodox missionaries, Cyril and Methodius. They translated the Bible into the common language and introduced a national church ritual. In the centuries that followed, Bohemia and Moravia gradually fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, but some of the Czech people protested.

The foremost of Czech reformers, John Hus (1369-1415) 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. Gaining support from students and the common people, he led a protest movement against many practices of the Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy. Hus was accused of heresy, underwent a long trial at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

The reformation spirit did not die with Hus. The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren), as it has been officially known since the mid 1400's arose as followers of Hus gathered in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia, and organized the church. This was 60 years before Martin Luther began his reformation and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church. By 1467 the Moravian Church had established its own ministry, and in the years that followed three orders of the ministry were defined: deacon, presbyter and bishop.

By the mid 1500's the Unity of Brethren numbered at least 200,000 with over 400 parishes. Using a hymnal and catechism of its own, the church promoted the Scriptures through its two printing presses and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language.

A bitter persecution, which broke out in 1547, led to the spread of the Brethren's Church to Poland where it grew rapidly. By 1557 there were three provinces of the church: Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) brought further persecution to the Brethren's Church, and the Protestants of Bohemia were severely defeated at the battle of White Mountain in the early 1600's.

The prime leader of the Unitas Fratrum in these tempestuous years was Bishop John Amos Comenius (1592-1670). He became world-renowned for his progressive views of education. Comenius, lived most of his life in exile in England and in Holland where he died.

The eighteenth century saw the renewal of the Moravian Church through the patronage of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony. Some Moravian families fleeing persecution in Bohemia and Moravia found refuge on Zinzendorf's estate in 1722 and built the community of Herrnhut. The new community became the haven for many more Moravian refugees. Count Zinzendorf encouraged them to keep the discipline of the Unitas Fratrum, and he gave them the vision to take the gospel to the far corners of the globe. August 13, 1727, marked the culmination of a great spiritual renewal for the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, and in 1732 the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies.

After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Moravian settlement in Georgia in the mid 1700's, the Moravians settled in Pennsylvania on the estate of George Whitefield. Moravian settlers purchased 500 acres to establish the settlement of Bethlehem in 1741. Soon they bought the 5,000 acres of the Barony of Nazareth from Whitefield's manager, and the two communities of Bethlehem and Nazareth became closely linked in their agricultural and industrial economy.

Bishop Augustus Spangenberg led a party to survey a 100,000 acre tract of land in North Carolina, which came to be known as Wachau after an Austrian estate of Count Zinzendorf. The name, later anglicized to Wachovia, became the center of growth for the church in that region. Bethabara, Bethania and Salem (now Winston-Salem) were the first Moravian settlements in North Carolina.

Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and Winston-Salem in North Carolina became the headquarters of the two provinces (North and South), which developed as the Moravian Church in North America became established as an autonomous church body after the Unity Synod of 1848.

After World War II, strong pushes for church extension took the Northern Province to Southern California (where only an Indian mission had existed since 1890) as well as to some Eastern, Midwestern and Canadian sites. The Southern Province added numerous churches in the Winston-Salem area, throughout North Carolina and extended its outreach to Florida and to Georgia. In North America, the Moravian Church has congregations in 16 states, the District of Columbia, and in two Provinces of Canada.

The history of the church and the reformation movement, I gathered through reading different articles published by the Moravian Churches of North America.

May love and light guide us this special season to look deeper than our own way.

Bea Kunz

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