One-Hundred-Year Anniversary

DSC_1201The developments of the First World War were clearly leading to the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian coalition and the collapse of the Monarchy was inevitable. The political and constitutional-law changes led to the separation from the Viennese church administration, which enabled Czech Protestants to start taking certain steps. The long-desired union of the two largest Protestant churches – of the Augsburg and the Helvetic confessions – was within reach. Experiencing the euphoria from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and rejoicing in the vision of a free Czech state, any obstacles that might arise seemed easy to overcome.

On 16 May 1917, the representatives of the Czech Protestants met in secret and, following the speeches of Josef Souček and Josef Hromádka, issued the following statement: “The Czech Protestants feel an earnest need and desire to establish an independent Czech national Protestant church, walking in the footsteps of the Czech reformation, and on this basis, to create a union of the current historical Czech churches.” The possibility of joining the new church sparked great interest among several thousand Czech-speaking Protestants in Silesia, who saw this as an opportunity to free themselves from the oppression they had been subjected to as a national minority both in Polish and in German churches.

The founding of Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1918 brought with it the reorganization of Protestant churches and their Central Committee finally agreed to summon a general assembly that would declare the union of the two churches, based on the Czech confession and the Confession of the Brethren.

generální sněm1918The Founding General Assembly was summoned for Tuesday 17 December 1918, nine o’clock, at the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague. The speeches of the representatives of both confessions were naturally full of pathos: words of gratefulness for the liberation of the nation were pronounced, with President T. G. Masaryk portrayed as the instrument of God’s righteousness. At the same time, the Protestant ideals of democracy, freedom and responsibility were praised. The last resolution was read by Ferdinand Hrejsa and Antonín Frinta: the Protestant churches of the Augsburg and the Helvetic confessions are now united in one.

However, long before the ECCB was established, students of theology came up with the idea of creating a religious and cultural centre in Prague, under the name of Jan Hus. They were hoping this plan could be carried out at the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Hus’s burning at the stake.

Proposals for building purchases were put forward as early as 1902 but, in the end, the two-storey building in Jungmannova street turned out to be the most advantageous choice. By this time, however, only three years were left until the Jan Hus celebrations of 1915, when the Hus house was originally intended to open. Although the house was already purchased, it was not ready for use, as there were still tenants in it and there was not enough room for the planned purposes. However, there was a large court adjacent to the house and this was where the real Hus House was to be built.

In October 1918, a hall for 200 people and a library with a reading room were constructed. The house also served as the seat of the Constance Union and the editorial office of the “Constance Sparks” magazine. Following the union of the Protestant churches toward the end of the year, the Synodal Committee and its departments set up their offices in the house. In June 1923, the reconstruction began. Based on architect Bohumír Kozák’s project, three storeys were added to the original building and the front façade was decorated with a statue of Jan Hus by Ladislav Kofránek, reliefs of the Bible and the Lamb, as well as inscriptions. The front building of the Hus House was opened on 1 May 1924. The construction of the building in the court was decided on in 1934 and B. Kozák was again chosen as its architect. The new court building was opened on 14 March 1937.

Celebrations of the 100th Anniversary

A festival of concerts, discussions, theatre plays, films, as well as prayer and quiet reflection time took place in Pardubice from 27 to 30 September. The celebrations of the 100th birthday of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren were attended by all generations.

All sorts of programmes  were held on Friday – discussions took place on the topics of God and faith, life as an active citizen, the role of churches in society, minorities, migration, or social work. Serious discussion issues were interspersed with concerts, films, creative workshops; fun activities were also provided for children.

The focal point of the celebrations was the open-air service that took place on Saturday, 29 September. The ECCB’s Synodal Senior, Daniel Ženatý, preached from the stage that was set up on Pardubice’s Pernštýn Square. The service was broadcast live by  Czech Television.

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Saturday’s programme then continued at four other places in Pardubice. Visitors had the possibility of attending concerts, lectures, exhibitions, workshops, films, or morning and evening prayers. The ECCB’s Diaconia, as well as major Protestant schools, also had a chance to present their projects and work. The Chamber Orchestra of the Evangelical Academy’s Conservatory accompanied the morning service and then gave an afternoon concert in the park.

The Pardubice celebrations represented the largest, most visible event of the ECCB’s 100th anniversary. It was attended by church members from all over the Czech Republic, the general public, as well as ecumenical guests both from the Czech Republic and abroad. The estimated number of visitors was two to three thousand. The ECCB has issued several publications on this occasion.

In mid-December of this year, the celebrations of the ECCB’s 100th anniversary will continue with an international conference that will take place at the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and with a ceremonial gathering of the ECCB at the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague, i.e. the place where the ECCB was established one hundred years ago, almost precisely to the day. At present, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren is the largest Protestant (non-Catholic) church in the Czech Republic. Famous Czech Protestants include, among others, T. G. Masaryk, Milada Horáková and Jan Palach.

Adéla Rozbořilová, Daniela Ženatá