The movement that became the Moravian Church was started by Jan Hus (English: John Hus) in the late fourteenth century. Hus objected to some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to return the church in Bohemia and Moravia to the simpler practices of early Christianity: liturgy in the language of the people, having lay people receive communion in both kinds (bread and wine), and eliminating indulgences and the idea of purgatory. The movement gained royal support and a certain independence for a while, but was eventually forced to be subject to the authority of Rome. Hus was tried and burned at the stake.
Organized in 1457
The reformation spirit did not die with Hus. The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren), as it has been officially known since 1457, 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.
Growth, Persecution, and Exile
After 1620, due to the Counter Reformation and the Thirty-Years War (1618–1648), and after being abandoned and betrayed by the local nobility which had previously tolerated or supported them, the Brethren were forced to operate underground and eventually dispersed across Northern Europe and as far as the Low Countries. 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. His prayer was that some day the “hidden seed” of his beloved Unitas Fratrum might once again spring to new life.
Renewed in the 1700s
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.
To America in 1735
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Moravian settlement in Georgia (1735-1740), the Moravians settled in Pennsylvania. Moravian settlers purchased 500 acres to establish the settlement of Bethlehem in 1741. Other settlement congregations were established in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. All were considered frontier centers for the spread of the gospel, particularly in mission to the Native Americans. Bishop Augustus Spangenberg led a party to survey a 100,000 acre tract of land in North Carolina. 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. The church spread out from the geographical centers of Bethlehem and Winston-Salem, following German emigrants to the Midwest. At the end of the nineteenth century the church spread into the Canadian regions. Such wide geographical spread caused the Northern Province to be divided into Eastern, Western and Canadian Districts.
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.
We believe in the one only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created all things by Jesus Christ, and was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. We believe in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world; who has rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son; who has blessed us in Christ will all spiritual blessings; who has made us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints, having destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of God’s will, to the praise of his glorious grace.
We believe in the only Son of God, by whom all things in heaven and on earth were created. We believe that he became flesh and lived among us, taking the form of a servant. Since we are flesh and blood, he himself became a human being. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, he was conceived of the Virgin Mary. He was born of a woman; and being found in human form, was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin. For he is the Lord, the messenger of the covenant, in whom we delight. The Spirit of the Lord sent Jesus to proclaim the time of the Lord’s favor. He spoke of what he knew and testified to what he had seen. To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in the same way as he was seen going into heaven.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, who comes from the Father, and whom our Lord Jesus Christ sent, after he went away, to be with us forever, to comfort us as a mother comforts her children; to help us in our weakness and intercede for us with sighs too deep for words; to bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God and teach us to cry, “Abba, Father”; to pour God’s love into our hearts and make our bodies God’s holy temple; and to work in us the will of God, allotting gifts to each one individually, just as the Spirit chooses.
We believe that by our own reason and strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, or come to him; but that the Holy Spirit calls us through the gospel; enlightens us with gifts of grace, dedicates us to God, and preserves us in the true faith, just as the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and dedicates to God the whole church on earth, which he keeps with Jesus Christ in the only true faith. In this Christian church God daily and completely forgives us and every believer all our sins.
Originating in the Moravian boarding schools in Germany during the nineteenth century as an exercise in geometry, the stars were carried throughout the world by missionaries and other church workers. The star is a prophetic symbol of the advent of our Lord; and on Christmas, it takes on added significance, for then it becomes a symbol of our blessed Lord Himself. The Moravian Star reminds us of God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness and of the light which is the life of humanity.
In earlier times, known as the Agape Feast, Lovefeasts originated in the first gathering of Christians after Pentecost. The practice was brought to the Moravian Church after the memorable celebration of holy communion on August 13, 1727 when the participants didn’t want to leave their place of worship, nor their brothers and sisters in Christ, because of the joy and blessing they experienced together. Count Zinzendorf, sensing the situation, sent them food from his manor house, and each group partook together, continuing in prayer, religious conversation, and the singing of hymns. This incident reminded Zinzendorf of the primitive agape, and the idea was fostered until lovefeasts became a custom in Moravian life. The lovefeast is primarily a song service, opened with prayer. The meal is simple, usually a bun or sugarcake, served with coffee and chocolate milk
The custom of putting lighted candles in the windows after dark. This practice is especially seen during the Advent season, but many Moravian buildings keep the candles up all year long. Historical sources indicate that, on Christmas Eve, Moravian settlements looked to neighboring villages in Germany almost as if they were on fire because of all the candles in the windows.
An integral part of the candlelight Christmas Eve services, the candles are a representation of Christ, the Light of the world. The light shed by the burning candle suggests our Lord’s command, “Let your light shine.” The beeswax (considered the purest of all waxes) represents the purity of Christ. The candle, giving its life as it burned, suggests the sacrifice of the sinless Christ for sinful humanity.
Putz comes from the German word putzen, meaning, “to decorate.” More than just a manger scene, it is a detailed presentation of the Nativity story which was developed many years ago to help children gain a better and more vivid appreciation of the story of Christmas. Now, it is a valued tradition, appreciated by young and old alike.
This song, which might be called a carol as well as an anthem, was composed over one hundred years ago by an American Moravian. During the Christmas service, a child in the congregation sings the lead while the rest of the church sings the repeat. Generally during this time, the beeswax candles are passed out to each person in the congregation.