This year it will be exactly 600 years ago that in some of Prague’s churches, which were under the influence of the reform movement led by John Hus, the administration of Communion in both kinds was reintroduced. This took place in the autumn of the year 1414, when John Hus had already been imprisoned in Konstanz. Jacob of Mies (Jakoubek ze Stříbra) and his associates in Prague restored the custom of administering Communion in both kinds – consecrated bread and wine for all participants – after almost 200 years. This happened in four of Prague’s churches: St. Martin in the Wall, St. Michael, St. Nicolas and in the Bethlehem Chapel.
At that time there was no significant Reformation movement within the Church that reacted in such an expressive way to the errors and contradictions in the church doctrine and practice. The demand to permit the laity to receive bread and wine during the Eucharist became a fundamental symbol and motivator for the Hussite movement, in which all the important principles of the Reformation movement came together: Christ’s nearness to all who turn to him in faith, the anticipation of Christ’s imminent return, the return to the original simplicity of biblical Christianity, the dissatisfaction with the current state of „Christian“ community, the rejection of the abuse of authority by the church in order to gain wealth and power, and the need to lessen the differences between clergy and laity, rich and poor...
In this context the Hussite movement is still an extraordinary international and timeless phenomenon today. This is also reflected in the fact that its creative and spiritual strength has inspired people across Europe and that it has re-emerged in various ways throughout history.
Festivities on October 12th
Being part of the Protestant community in the Czech Republic, we would like to remember this significant anniversary on the 12th of October 2014, with an all-day celebration in the Bethlehem Chapel and at other locations that were in some part related to the events of those days – St. Martin in the Wall, St. Nicolas on the Old Town Square and in the building of the Evangelical Theological Faculty of Charles University.
The festivities will be opened with an ecumenical festive service, beginning at 10am in the Bethlehem Chapel.
In the second part, during the afternoon and evening, the program will be extended to other places, where different events will take place concurrently, such as; concerts (the united choir Jakoubek/Hieronymus, T. Najbrt, the „Spiritual kvintet“), a theatrical performance of V. Marčik, several lectures (J. Lášek, P. Hradilek and others), a panel discussion about social exclusion, a concert by a Roma group, workshops for children and adults, guided walks through Reformation Prague, an interactive game for children and the presentation of a new collective work on the church of St. Martin in the Wall.
The principle underlying all of the celebrations is the ecumenical cooperation of those Czech churches that base themselves on the Hussite legacy and their effort to appeal to the wider public. The diocese of Prague of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church also plays a significant part in the preparation of the festivities, in collaboration with our Church (ECCB). The organisers also make an effort to work closely with the Presbytery of the Church of the Brethren in Prague.
By no means would we want to leave the social dimension connected to the event unmentioned. The administration of Communion in both kinds had a big social impact at the time. All people - clergy and laity, rich and poor, powerful and humble - are equal in the eyes of God.
Foreign friends are also invited to take part in the celebrations. For example, the children’s service in the opening worship service will be held by the German speaking evangelical community, who currently worship at the Church of St. Martin in the Wall.
We invite the entire church!
The organizers (the Prague Presbytery of the ECCB in collaboration with the Synodal Council, the Central Church Office and ecumenical partners) offer all Protestant communities the possibility to take part in the festivities in three ways.
- Personal attendance on 12 October in Prague. About half of the communities of the Prague Presbytery will not hold their own worship service on that day, but will participate in the festival service in the Bethlehem Chapel.
- Festive service with communion for this anniversary in the local church communities, on Sunday 12 October (ideas for liturgy and sermon will be provided).
- Celebration of exceptional evening services in October with the invitation of ecumenical partners (for this an ideas for liturgy and sermon will also be provided).
This was said by the Roman-Catholic bishop, František Radkovský, in St. Nicholas' Church in Prague's Old Town Square on December 3, 2013. The occasion for these groundbreaking words was the signing of an agreement between the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB) and the Czechoslovak Hussite Church regarding the joint preparation and implementation of various activities for the anniversary of the burning of Jan Hus, which will be marked for the 600th time on July 6, 2015. It is fascinating how Jan Hus, even 600 years after his death, sets people in motion, how new starts and beginnings, which have not been expected in this way, are possible.
Let's start with the two Churches. Those who do not know the Church scene in the Czech Republic, will find it rather normal that two Churches, both related to the Bohemian Reformation, work together towards such an important anniversary. If you look closely, you'll learn that these two Churches come from very different traditions and therefore have a different character. Common to both Churches is that they were created, in their present form, after the end of the 1st World War. The ECCB was constituted, in its present form, in December 1918, some six weeks after the creation of Czechoslovakia. At that time, the Reformed and Lutheran Czech-speaking parishes joined together, in the territory of today's Czech Republic, and gave themselves the name "Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren". That was an act of liberation! Since the Patent of Toleration, issued by Emperor Joseph II in 1781, Protestants were allowed to re-emerge from the underground, but they were not allowed to refer to the Bohemian Reformation. And now Czech Protestants were allowed to choose their own way and also their own name. This was a new start!
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church also has its beginning soon after the creation of Czechoslovakia. It was founded in January 1920 and developed out of the modernist "Away from Rome"-movement. In 1920 the Church’s founders gave the new Church the name "Czechoslovak Church" and perceived this new Church as a national Church, in which mass was now held in Czech, in which the priests were allowed to marry and also women were ordained. Since 1971 this Church has been called the "Czechoslovak Hussite Church". She has, in some theological and liturgical questions, further developed the Roman tradition. For example, there are seven Church sacraments and she sees herself as a liturgical, reformed Church.
Both Churches have gone different ways on many issues, but in some ways they also had points of tangency. And now Jan Hus brings these Churches closer to each other again. They have worked out, in the fall of 2013, an agreement in which both Churches express their will to celebrate together the 600th anniversary of the martyr death of Jan Hus.
The first joint steps led to the Prague city Hall and to the Ministry of Culture, which is, in the end, responsible for the churches in the Czech Republic. The Church's representatives found open doors at the Ministry of Culture as well as with the Mayor of Prague 1. An experience that is particularly pleasing for the Churches. Just 25 years lie between now and the time of totalitarianism, in which the Churches were, at best, tolerated, but only if they behaved quietly and unobtrusively. The relationship between the city hall and the rectory was then, in general, tense and separated by a nasty ditch. Then the "town halls" made life for the parishes generally difficult and often threw obstacles in the way of pastors. Something that has changed in these past 25 years! In many places Mayors and political representatives of all levels perceive the life and engagement of the Churches in a positive way, although there are still, to this day, all kinds of hindrances.
To these positive experiences belong unquestionably also the open doors of the town halls and ministries regarding the wish to make the commemoration of the martyrdom of Jan Hus a dignified event. It is particularly pleasing when the municipalities are interested, together with the Churches, to publicly remember the Rector of the University of Prague and Reformation preacher. Ing. Oldřich Lomecký. The Mayor of Prague 1 said, at the signing of the agreement by the ECCB and Czechoslovak Hussite Church on December 3, 2013 in the Church of St. Martin in the Wall, that the public has a great interest to commemorate Jan Hus in a dignified manner together with the Churches. Also Tomáš Hudeček, City Mayor of Prague, talking with church representatives, expressed similar feelings. He also expressed this by his acceptance of the patronage for the Hus Anniversary in Prague.
What can be said today about the events planned for the next year? Much is still on the way from idea to realization. Some plans need to undergo financial scrutiny, more still need some time. But even now we can say that the official Hus commemoration is set to begin on the eve of the big anniversary. For the anniversary itself, on 6 July 2015, many events are planned in the center of Prague, in Old Town Square, at the Fruit Market (Ovocní trh) and in a number of churches in the Old Town of Prague. Amongst the important places is certainly the church of St. Martin in the Wall, which already celebrated an important anniversary of the Bohemian Reformation this year, the renewal of the Last Supper in both kinds, which was celebrated October 1414 for the first time, after several centuries. This anniversary will be celebrated on October 12, 2014 with a festive Eucharist in Bethlehem Chapel, which will be planned and led by the Prague ECCB Presbytery and the Prague Diocese of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church. After the service a celebration is planned with many events including lectures on the subject of the Lord's Supper.
For the celebrations on 5th and 6th July 2015 many guests from the Czech Republic and abroad are expected. Amongst the guests from Germany, we expect the President of the Council of the EKD, Nikolaus Schneider, and many other guests from Germany, Europe and the worldwide ecumenical community.
Will we be able to include some topics regarding Jan Hus in a way that enables today's people to feel that it's not just about 600 year old history? It is also about us, about our faith, about the necessity to return to the Bible and to the origins of faith. Will we be able to be inspired by Jan Hus’ struggle for truth, so that we, in a time of arbitrariness and a strong tendency towards a Fun Society, can ask ourselves about what sustains us today, what gives our world and our lives a perspective today that goes beyond daily life, beyond individual interests, to a new start into a living faith?
It is our hope that Bishop Radkovský is proved right: Hus unites us! The Protestants will be united with the Hussites and with the Roman Catholic Christians, the Churches with the municipalities. All those who set about this work will also experience that this is anything but easy. There are some stumbling blocks as well as many opportunities for misunderstandings and, of course, differences of opinion. But these experiences cannot discourage us if we stay strong and patient on the way! And let us be guided by the Spirit of Christ!