The Moravians in
The Hussite movement is often
considered to be an early forerunner of the Moravians. John Hus, Catholic priest and Rector at the
University of Prague, studied the works of Wyclif. He felt that the Church no longer upheld the
early tenants of the church. Hus wanted
to make the church more relevant to the lives of the people. He promoted the concept that Christ, not the
Pope, led the church and that the Bible was the source for that
leadership. He also preached liberty of
conscience and purity of morals. When
representatives of Pope John XXIII came to sell indulgences, Hus
protested. The indulgences were sold as
forgiveness for sins in order to raise money for the war. Hus felt that only God could forgive man's
sins. At first he gained some support,
but after the Pope excommunicated him, it declined. Because he was preaching reform, he was
convicted of heresy and burned at the stake on 06 Jul 1415. The Pope proclaimed three crusades against
the Hussites, which lasted many years.
In 1457 a farmer Peter Chelcicky began writing against the bloodshed
which caused a small group to form the present-day
Out of this movement emerged the Jednota
Bratrska, later known as Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren) The group later became known as the
Moravians. Bohemia, now a part of the western Czech Republic, thus became the
first Protestant nation in
In 1501 they edited the first
Protestant hymn book and in 1502 they published a catechism which helped
inspire Martin Luther. This simple way
of life gained popularity in
During the Thirty Years War
(1618-1648), church members were persecuted for their beliefs. On 08 Nov 1620 the Protestants of
The executions signaled new violence
against Protestants. Churches were
destroyed, Bibles were burned, and suspected Protestants were punished. Followers fled for their lives to
arrested and tortured. They were not allowed to practice a trade, limiting their economic power. Their children were taken away for re-training in the Catholic faith.
John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) worked to preserve the weakened church by writing a history and a catechism. He also encouraged the consecration of bishops to ensure the continuity of the church.
In 1722 a few religious exiles from
However, the Moravians, as they were
called for the region
Zinzendorf saw this renewed movement as a part of "little churches within the church." In 1737 Zinzendorf, who was an ordained Lutheran minister, was consecrated as the second bishop in the renewed church. This freedom allowed great diversity within the developing church, but was bounded by broad guidelines which encompassed the "simple life."
John Wesley visited the city in
1738, staying for three months. He wrote
to his brother Samuel, "I am with a church whose conversation is in
heaven." Wesley was greatly
impressed with all he saw, later taking many of these ideas to
However, the early 1740s brought a
change. Several missionaries were
attacked and nearly killed. Because of
Zinzendorf's efforts to include the Catholic Church as one of the "little
churches", some Protestant groups turned against the Moravians. Because the
In January 1749, Zinzendorf arrived
Although the doctrines were not fully defined, several concepts seemed to have been deeply established. Christ was the central focus of the church. God was unknowable without revelation from Christ. His life served as a model for living and his death as a path to salvation. Salvation itself was viewed as a joyful and certain gift when one acknowledged Christ's sacrifice and followed him. Unlike many of the fire and brimstone promotions of damnation and doubt of salvation, the Moravians rejoiced in the certainty that they were saved.
The Bible was regarded as the guide to leading a good life. Piety and ethical conduct was central to a good life rather than following a specific set of beliefs. Religion was regarded as a social experience in an atmosphere of brotherly love among like-minded believers, but isolated from the outside world which differentiated its beliefs.
Another feature of the church was
its missionary work. Zinzendorf hoped
that by awakening the spirits of the people, he might actively create the
"little churches within the church."
Two types of missionaries were sent out, but neither type wanted to
radically increase the fold of the Moravian church. The first group were sent to non-Christian
lands to preach to those who would listen.
However, only a very few of those who felt that they had been chosen
would actually be admitted to the church.
The second group of missionaries were sent to promote spiritual growth
among Christian groups, creating ties to the Moravian church while still maintaining
their own doctrines. By the mid-1700's
new congregations had been established in
Another feature of the early church
Even if a blank were drawn, its
meaning could have a variety of interpretations. In the case of a marriage partner, it could
mean 1.) the Brother should be consulted about another choice 2.) the Board could select a new choice right
away 3.) the Brother could propose to
another (whose was not rejected by the
Education was universally important
Comenius also started to add illustrations to books for use in education. His Orbis Pictus included pictures showing various trades. Each object in the picture was numbered, the labels at the bottom of the illustration in both Latin and the native language. The simple addition of a picture in a educational book changed the way education was presented to students.
Zinzendorf also promoted the concept
of choirs, with the congregation divided into ten groups based on their age,
sex, and marital status (infants, little girls, little boys, single sisters,
single brothers, married people, widows, and widowers) to promote a greater
sense of community and spiritualism. The
goal of the early
The choir was responsible for providing food, clothing and shelter for all members. It was also responsible for medical care. The care of the poor, however, was assumed by the congregation as a whole.
A Moravian Gemeine (congregation) could be one of two types: non-exclusive or exclusive. Non-exclusive congregations were those where members lived among the other settlers of other (or no) religions. Non-exclusive congregations could either be a rural (Landgemeine) or urban (Stadtgemeine). Exclusive congregations were settlements where only Moravians were allowed to settle. Exclusive congregations could either be Ortsgemeine where families lived in separate units and were responsible for their own livelihood and Pilgergemeine where everyone, even married members, lived with members of their own choir.
According to Zinzendorf, after a women's consecration to Christ, the children in the womb form a choir. Depending on the type of community, children remained with their parents until they were weaned when they moved to the nursery which housed both boys and girls at the time of their christening. By age 4 or 5 they were moved to the separate little children's choirs. In some congregations, parental authority was almost non-existent, with children being more the responsibility of the church than the family.
At about age 13 they moved to the Older Girls' or Older Boys' Choirs at which time they usually began an apprenticeship or domestic training.
Although this system allowed the production of a group of highly skilled craftsmen and professionals, it made it difficult to fill some of the lower skill jobs in the community because the young men nearly always wanted to learn a skill that would provide adequate financial reward. In a family situation, the young man would simply learn his father's trade, no matter its social status, because that was the only training available.
The choir was also expected to help the individuals solve the difficult problems of adolescence and guide them to a deeper understanding of their religious beliefs.
By about age 18 they were promoted to the Single Brothers' or Single Sisters' Choir where many adults lived out their lives. They practiced their trades, which often provided a major sources of income for the congregation itself. The Single Choirs also provided for quick and effective socialization for new members, especially immigrants.
The Single Sisters' House sheltered unmarried women, each engaged in different kinds of work, learning the skills necessary to provide a comfortable home after their marriage.
Each of these choir promotions was considered to be an important transition and was celebrated.
The choirs simplified making marital
matches. Every member was considered to
be marriageable, but individuals could convince the Elders that marriage was
not in the best interests of the congregation.
The elders often arranged marriage or at least had to consent to a
marriage which was then confirmed by use of the
Upon marriage they moved to their own home, to the Married People's Choir where they had a room, or in some cases, each spouse moved to separate buildings that housed the Married Brothers and the Married Sisters. The last situation varied in acceptance from congregation to congregation. Each couple was given a time and place to meet privately once a week.
Upon the death of a spouse, the individual moved to the Widows' or Widowers' Choir (if the population warranted a choir). If they remarried, they returned to the Married Peoples' Choir. For a moderate price, residents could live comfortably in a respectable manner. The Moravians were one of the earliest groups to provide for the care of the elderly.
Females worn different colored ribbons on their caps to indicate their position in the choirs. Small children wore scarlet, girls crimson, single sisters pink, married women light blue, and widows white.
Just as an individual passed through the physical stages, s/he would also pass through the choirs and upon his/her death, be buried in "God's Acre", the Moravian cemetery with a separate section for each choir. To emphasize the belief that all people are equal before God in death, every grave was marked by a marble slab, set flush with the ground so that all the graves were alike. In death, as it should be in life, all are equal. A married woman would be buried with the married women's choir while her husband would be buried with the married men's choir. Only members of the church were allowed burial in the cemetery.
The choir system encouraged greater freedom and responsibility for women than was generally available at the time. In order to serve as spiritual guides to the female choirs, women were included in the organizational and governing structures of the community and the church as a whole.
The choir system also allowed some degree of social control over members. Members were to some degree promoted to the next choir based on their maturity level and behavior. Those who were not deemed worthy were held back. If the individual seemed unfit, any request for marriage would be denied.
Segregation of the sexes was also a major point of the agreement. Members were to devote their energies to the search for personal salvation, which was often distracted by social intercourse with members of the opposite sex. The sexes were separated as much as possible with separate dwelling houses for each, often at opposite ends of the community. Males and females often had separate entrances to communal buildings with the males seated on one side of the room and females on the other, usually grouped by their own choir. In some early towns, unmarried men and unmarried women were seated as much as possible so that they could not see each other.
At times, this dictum was carried to
an extreme. No unmarried tailor could
measure or fit women, a fact that sometimes rushed the marriage of a single
tailor in a one-tailor congregation.
Zinzendorf dictated that the sexes should not be able to look into the
faces of the other, even on the Irene, the sailing ship on which Joseph
F. Bullitschek arrived in
The members of each separate choir slept together in dormitories of their choir house and ate in their dining hall which was served by communal kitchens.
Each choir would meet separately to read, discuss and come to a greater understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Choirs held religious services appropriate for their level. Choirs provided a way to supervise and socialize individuals who were often moved from one congregation to another. The choirs offered benefits to new settlers with immediate entry into the community rather than isolation that many settlers felt in the wilderness.
Religious services abounded. The day started with hymns sung to awaken residents at 5 a.m. The morning benediction (a few minutes) and a light breakfast of tea and biscuits took place in each separate choir at 6 a.m. Members could attend in their night clothes if they desired. The day's Loonsung (Watchword, or daily text) was announced. Members carefully viewed their day in relation to these texts. The work day began at 7 a.m. The noon meal, the big meal of the day, began and ended with hymns and work resumed at 12:30. The light evening meal was served at 6 p.m. which was often followed with a devotional stroll along separate paths for each choir. At 7 p.m. the whole congregation met for Gemeinstunde (Congregation Hour which usually latest less than 2 hour). At 8 p.m. each choir met separately in Viertelstunde (Quarter Hour meeting which usually lasted 15 minutes or less). At 9 p.m. the entire congregation again met in Abendstunde (Evening Hour which usually latest less than 2 hour). The evening benediction (a few minutes) in each separate choir ended the day at 10 p.m. Throughout the day and night, different adults took turns in hourly shifts praying the Hourly Intercessions. This schedule applied for Monday through Saturday.
Sunday started at 8 a.m. with a church litany (45-60 minutes). Preaching was at 10 a.m. with a children's hour at 2 p.m. and married people's hour at 3 p.m. Liturgy was at 5 p.m. with Gemeinstunde (Congregation Hour) at 7 p.m. Evening benediction for the whole community was at 9 p.m. Reports and biographies of other Moravian settlements were often read.
On the fourth Saturday of each month, communion was offered. In many communities, the religious leader of each choir conducted an interview with each member before communion in order to forestall any errant ways. August 13 was celebrated as a day of the renewal of the church. Each choir had its own festival once a year and meeting once a week.
Another feature of the day was Gemeinnachrichten (or a Lovefeast) which was a singing service which included a community meal, usually coffee or tea and a bun eaten in unison and the giving of the Kiss of Peace. Its resemblance to the Last Supper was not accidental, but it was a joyous occasion, usually held to mark the passing of an important event in the congregation such as the completion of harvest or a building, or the start of a new building. The love feast linked the external to the religious world in the congregation.
Music was an integral part of Moravian life. Zinzendorf believed that God spoke to man through the Bible, but that man spoke to God through music. The Moravians wrote, collected, translated and published thousands of hymns. The watchmen at Herrnhut sang hymns on the hour rather than calling out the news. They developed hymn sermons, with the leader selecting and organizing select stanzas which were sometimes combined with readings and prayers, all in order to teach a lesson.
Music was used to accompany
congregational singing on Sunday and daily morning prayer. Musical processions escorted workers to their
duties. The Moravians brought the first
Converts to the group were important
to the growth of the church. The
prospective member had to first request permission to stay in the settlement,
contingent on good behavior. If the
person proved worthy, acceptance into the circle of members was next. It was given by the Gemeine, not
requested by the individual. This step
had to be confirmed by the