Most historians agree that the Moravian Church, which began as a renewal movement within the Catholic Church, was started through the work of a Catholic priest named Jan Hus (the English is John Hus) in the early fifteenth century. The Moravian movement was a reaction to some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Hus wanted to return the Church in Bohemia (the homeland of my wife’s family line) and Moravia to the practices of early Christianity. His reforming efforts sought a liturgy in the language of the people, the allowance of the lay people to receive both the bread and the cup during communion, and the elimination of Papal indulgences and the idea of purgatory.
Interestingly, some (but not all) of these practices were altered, five centuries later at Vatican II. The Moravian movement gained royal support and a certain independence for a while, even spreading across the border into Poland. Eventually the movement was forced to be subject to the governance of Rome. The Moravians thus became the earliest Protestant Church, rebelling against the authority of Rome some fifty years before Luther. The best known Moravian, after Jan Hus,was the nobleman Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who was born in 1700 in Dresden, Saxony (in the east of modern-day Germany). Zinzendorf was brought up in the traditions of Pietism and studied law at university in accordance with the wishes of his family. His main interests were, however, in the pursuit of his religious ideas. In 1722 he left the court in Dresden to spend more time establishing a model Christian community. Out of a deep personal commitment to helping the poor and needy, Zinzendorf agreed to a request (from an itinerant carpenter named Christian David) that persecuted Protestants from Moravia should be allowed to settle on his lands. Among those who came were members of the Bohemian Brethren who had been living as an underground remnant in Moravia for nearly 100 years.
It was out of this community begun by Zinzendorf that much of the modern missions movement developed. The courage and faithfulness of these Moravians became a model to the entire church. Today Moravians still exist, though their numbers are not large. They have also become a major partner in global ecumenism.
The Moravian Daily Texts was first published in Herrnhut, Saxony, in 1731. The title page quoted a passage from Lamentations and promised a daily message from God that would be “new every morning.” This text was the outgrowth of a true renewal movement that began in August of 1727. What is unique about this simple little book is that it grew out of a context where each morning and evening refugees from Bohemia and Moravia came together to “consciously place their lives in the context of God’s Word.” Count Zinzendorf then gave, on May 3, 1728, a “watchword” for the next day. This “Losung,” or watchword, was meant to accompany the people through the whole day. There were thirty-two houses in Herrnhut and each day one or more persons delivered this watchword to help the people through the day.
So The Moravian Daily Texts has coupled the words of a hymn with a biblical text but then added a doctrinal text as well. The texts thus grew out of an oral tradition which mixed God’s word with human response. This is, in my estimation, what makes this little book unique.
My reading for yesterday, October 23, cited Job 33:13-14: Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another–though no one perceives it.” The Moravian Daily Texts then says, in comment on this word, “No prayer is made by us alone, the Holy Spirit pleads, and Jesus, on the eternal throne, for sinners intercedes.” Each day of the week has a special focus and on Thursday it was the nation and the world.
The same daily reading also quotes from Matthew 16:3 where our remonstrates with listeners for not being able to “discern the signs of the times.” (This text has nothing to do with a unique form of prophetic hermeneutics, but rather with missional living and knowing the times in which we uniquely live out our faith!)
The reading for yesterday ended by urging the Father to teach us to pray so that we have “wisdom to accept the answers that you [God] provide.” It adds, “Open the eyes of our hearts that we may see all the blessings and solutions you have placed before us.”
I use many tools to pray and guide my day. I seek to become more contemplative with every passing year. Such a simple reading helps me immensely. Yesterday I focused throughout the day on asking God to open the eyes of my heart in order to “accept the blessings and solutions” he placed before me. This simple method gave me a way to settle my heart on one central concern in prayer throughout my whole day.
Whatever tool(s) you use to seek to get your heart quiet, meditate on the Word of God, and take this with you throughout your day. One of the reasons for the power and impact of the Moravians has always been the way in which they did this in close connection with the Spirit’s work in expanding Christ’s mission into the world. For me this is another way to live as a missional-ecumenist.
Thank you Gerald Stover for this little gift. It has remained in sight and not out of mind. It has proven to be a most wonderful tool for me during this year. It also reminds me of the great catholicity of the global church.