Over its 500-plus year history, the Moravian Church has developed unique, deeply-held traditions. The Lovefeast, the Moravian Star, beeswax candles, special services, music and lore all help make up the rich heritage of the Moravian Church. Many of these customs arose from expressions of faith and worship of early Moravians; they continue to have significance in how Moravians live into their love of Christ. Here are just a few:
Moravian Easter Sunrise Service
At Moravian churches across the Northern and Southern Provinces, Easter morning is an especially wondrous time. In the sometimes chilly early morning, Moravians greet the rising sun in their God’s Acres, with hymns, horns and a resounding, “The Lord has risen… The Lord has risen indeed!”
According to an article from the Northern Province Moravian Archives’ series “This Month in Moravian History,” the traditions of the Sunrise Service date back 280 years.
In the early morning of Easter Sunday 1732 the young men of Herrnhut, Germany, gathered in the cemetery on the hill overlooking their Moravian community to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It was the first Moravian sunrise service. The next year the service was held for the entire congregation. The Easter morning sunrise service has become one of the characteristic liturgical traditions in the Moravian Church.
The holding of lovefeasts, after the practice of the Apostolic Church, has come to be one of the outstanding customs of the Moravian Church and has proved to be a real means of grace. Members of other denominations are attracted to Moravian lovefeasts in large numbers, and thus the spirit of fellowship is greatly advanced.
Lovefeasts originated in the first gathering of Christians after Pentecost. The early believers met and broke bread together, thereby signifying their union and equality. These meals of the church family were associated with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which followed them. They were called agape, from the Greek word for love, that is for the highest type of spiritual love. Gradually the agape lost its devotional character, and toward the end of the fourth century the Church gave it up.
The Beeswax Candle
From the beginning, the small, lighted candles distributed to Moravians in America were made from beeswax. Beeswax, considered the purest of all animal or vegetable waxes, suggested the purity of Christ. The candle, giving its life as it burned, suggested the sacrifice of the sinless Christ for sinful humanity.
The Moravian Star
Originating in the Moravian boarding schools in Germany in the nineteenth century as an exercise in geometry, the stars were carried throughout the world by missionaries and other church workers. Now, from the Himalayas to the Caribbean, the star proclaims the hope of Advent. While we are most familiar with the white star, the first star had alternating red and white points. Stars colors have also included red and yellow, white and yellow, and a yellow “starburst” with a red center.
The Putz and Illumination
As with most Moravian customs, Christ is the center of our Christmas celebration. This is symbolized best by the building of the putz, a depiction of the story of Jesus’ birth. A putz can be a simple manger scene. In its most elaborate form, the putz fills a room. The word putz comes from the German word putzen which means to decorate or clean. The manger is always the center of any putz.