If you’re Moravian, then you know the story well. You know of Zinzendorf, the second love feast and the trip to America. You know the founding of Bethlehem Pennsylvania in 1741. You may even know that the colony of Georgia was considered first, but due to popular legend (read: according to me), the mosquitoes were too big and the humidity too daunting. You know of the Moravian star, why we wrap candles with red fluffy paper, and how to roll out those ginger cookies so thin you can see the light through them. Yes, you know the fairytale.
If you’re not Moravian, you’re probably confused as to what I’m prattling on about. If you’ve lived in North Carolina for a hot minute then for the love, you at least know about those cookies…
To us Moravians – the rest of y’all Protestants are the hipsters, and we are the Grandpas no one is much listening to & I think it’s time we heard of some of that tale.
Years ago I set out to write a historical novel from the eyes of a Sister. (-No, see: Brother & Sister are what the Moravian Brethren called themselves – I’m not being super-cool). I wanted to give an artistically worded account of the founding of a beautiful faith that also housed some artistic and peculiar ways, including being hell-bent on educating their women. I thought I knew the story. But it turns out I didn’t and actually, it started like this:
It was a chilly night when Hus started out his lonely walk of faith, but it was a sweltering day when they came for him in July 1415.
Jan Hus was a man so dedicated to his beliefs he went to Constance, instead of waiting for the Emperor and the Pope to come for him.
His crimes were many. The most outrageous and brazen among them, holding services in the native language of the people and translating the bible into the same for country priests.
Tried, condemned, even begged by his peers to recant, Hus was a rare man who died because he held his beliefs to be more worthy than his life.
It was July of 1415 & he died at the stake 100 years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to any door. The protestant reformation was a glimmer in Jan Hus’ eye, and what followed, dear reader, was not a story of beautiful candlelit services and the coming together of many, what followed was 300 years of a bloody genocide and exile.
Throughout my research and studies on the Moravians I was struck over and over by their Faith. Educated, impassioned, and eventually staunch pacifists, I came to feel lowly reading about them. These people & their personal accounts of their young faith preserved through their journals, they all center around one true tenet: Kind Faith. Kind, because after the blood bath of their foundation, blindness was no longer available to any of them. Kind faith was the raiment of their order. In the face of annihilation – with Kind Faith – marched the very few, wearily on.
This is the story of the brethren. This is the story of my people. This is the story that I carry before me in the coming dark. Few of the Brethren remained after centuries of being slaughtered, a few so extinguished in the scourging sword of the overbearing emperors, heads of Church, and demagogue rulers that the name Unitas Fratrum doesn’t actually fit us. So long died out were the originators of that title, so extinguished were the Brethren that the very name itself, is only a flickering light to the path, a humble nod to the beginning of the story.
By the 1700s all but a handful of the descendants of the Unitas Fratrum, the followers of John Hus remained. In some historical accounts there were reported only 10 that made their way through exile, practicing the faith and carrying the torch on to Germany, where they would be called Moravians. Proclaiming, In Essentials: Unity. In Nonessentials: Liberty. In all things: Love.
It’s a hard story. A brutal tale. I wanted to find the thread of the voice of a woman. Some strong person that influenced Moravians to educate their women, force marriage on no one and arrange in their church equality for everyone to be independent and free in their speech. I wanted to go into the set up of their interesting towns, where buildings like the Single Sister’s House, and the Single Brother’s Workshop could be explained. I wanted to talk about the choir system, those different colored ribbons & the beauty of their graveyards. I found instead the tale of a people so hunted they should have become extinct.
I found pacifists in the face of death, people who trusted their God unwaveringly, and marched on. Instead they came to carry no swords, lift no guns, and yet offer no surrender. They embraced everyone who joined them. The heritage of their faith diluted and changed by the doors opening wide to all like minded refugees fleeing persecution and hiding under the wings of a funny named count in a German State. They became the Moravians by accepting everyone who sought shelter and took refuge.
I know our world isn’t ending. I know we aren’t in Aleppo. If you’re reading this, then you, like I, are mostly likely warm and fed.
But I’m still searching, scared for our young democracy, worried for the planet, frightened for my neighbors. It doesn’t look like everything will be ok when Facts are dead and What-We-Want-To-Hears are more valued.
It’s not comforting to think about a people so murdered that the sheer idea of their beliefs surviving is a miracle but in spite of that, I find it bolstering. Maybe you will too? If I’m willing to put my body on the line for my beliefs, no, I can’t stop the darkness. If you too are willing to put your body by my side and shake until the end next to me, no, it won’t end this, but if we are willing to be the change we want to see, then it may be that heaven shines down on us and in the depth of night when there is no one left we knew or that our children’s children’s children knew, there may be a woman who picks up the banner and with kind faith marches in opposition to surrender and defeat. Maybe she will become the next of what comes Before.
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