If you have ever traveled to the historic city of Prague in the Czech Republic, you likely walked through the prominent part of town called Old Town Square and saw the large statue of Jan Hus. The first time I saw that impressive statue, I was astounded that such a monument was there. And when I learned that the Czechs celebrate July 6 as a national holiday, commemorating Hus’s death, I was even more amazed. For some reason, I had mistakenly thought this man was well-known only to us Moravians. Wrong, very wrong.
Earlier this year, when Bishop Sam Gray and I were in the Czech Republic meeting with provincial leaders to plan a youth mission conference for this summer, the subject arose about the recent Czech census which illustrated a high level of atheism across the country. I could not make sense of how a deeply religious and faithful man like Jan Hus had become a revered national figure in a country where the vast majority of people seem to care almost nothing about God.
Verbalizing this question to one of the provincial leaders in our meetings, I was told, “Czech people don’t generally remember Hus in the same way you and I do.” With that kind of answer, I decided to investigate on a broader scale.
During the last two days of this Prague visit, I looked around for people to “interview.” Now of course, they did not know that’s what I was doing, because I simply asked what could be a typical tourist question:
Can you please tell me why Jan Hus was so important in your country?
“Hus wanted something better than the Pope had to offer,” said one young man. “He thought outside the box.”
“Jan Hus was a teacher of all the people,” said a second, older man. “He thought differently than the king and he was burned.” I probed a little further, asking what he taught, but the man did not have an answer. So I then asked if Hus perhaps taught about the Bible. His response was, “No, not about the Bible, but I really don’t know what it was. I’ll find out.” In a few minutes, he returned, having done a quick bit of Jan Hus research on his phone. He was amazed at what he found and actually apologized for not knowing much about the subject.
To a group of teenage boys on Old Town Square near the statue, my question was a little different. “Do you know who is on that statue over there?” I asked. They all chimed in, “Yes, yes, that’s Jan Hus.”
I countered with, “And why is there such a big statue of him?”
“He was against the Catholics,” they replied.
My next question, “And what happened?”
Answer, “They burned him.”
“Hus is well-known because he died in a fire,” said one woman. “He was a reformer and helped make the Czech alphabet.” (At first I was puzzled about this answer, not realizing until later that Hus did indeed provide great improvements to the written form of the Czech alphabet by adding accent marks.)
“Jan Hus did not like that church leaders made people pay a lot for their sins,” said another young man. “He had a high job at Charles University; he was a good teacher and people liked him. He was invited to Constance and promised safe travel, but was burned at the stake for his beliefs.”
I was thrilled to hear these words and asked how he knew this. “From my family,” he said. Then he told me he and his parents had spent several months in the New York, and while there he had seen John Hus Moravian Church in New York City. He mentioned how he wondered at the time if the people in the United States knew that Hus was from his country.
For us Moravians, this is definitely the year to talk about Jan Hus—how he was such a faithful student of the Bible, always wanting its real truth to be what the people heard. Hus did everything possible to preserve that truth and share it, to make a difference in the lives of those around him—no matter the consequences. Six hundred years later, our denomination continues to benefit from all that he lived and died for. May we constantly rise to the high privilege of spreading the truth of the Bible, at home and beyond.
Remembering John Hus
July 6 is a special day of remembrance in the Moravian Church. On this date in 1415, a Catholic Church council in the city of Constance executed one of the great Christian reformers.
Millions of Christians worldwide, including Moravians, view John Hus as a martyr to the gospel and a saint, even though he was officially condemned as a heretic. For many people in Bohemia, Moravia and elsewhere in Europe, the execution of Hus proved beyond doubt that radical reform was needed for the medieval Catholic Church, which had grown corrupt in doctrine and practice. A century after Hus’s death, Martin Luther could boldly proclaim that he, too, was a Hussite.
Contrary to popular belief, Hus was not the founder of the Moravian Church; however, his witness and courageous commitment to reform inspired Gregory the Patriarch to establish a new church forty years after Hus’s death. If Gregory was the father of the Moravian Church, then Hus was like a grandfather of the church. (From “John Hus and the Moravians” by Craig Atwood.)
Celebrations commemorating John Hus will occur in many parts of the Moravian world in July. A special service of worship and communion will be held on Sunday, July 19 at 3:00 p.m. at Home Moravian Church, 529 South Church Street, Winston-Salem, N.C.
This service will include music from the Moramus Chorale, provincial band, youth and children’s choirs, as well as newly-translated Hus hymns. The Rt. Rev. D. Wayne Burkette will bring the message. Following the service, at 4:30 p.m., all are invited to stay for a reception and discussion led by the Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood, the Rev. Doug Rights and the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber. A live stream of the event will be available at homemoravian.org/live-broadcasts/ ■
Donna Hurt serves on the Southern Province Mission Society and the Board of World Mission. She is a member of Home Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Photo above left: The Jan Hus memorial in Prague. By Danbu14 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
From the June 2015 Moravian Magazine