When the opportunity came to meet with my second brother, whom I hadn’t seen for more than six years, we agreed to meet half-way. He lives in Poland so we each travelled around 600 Km to Herrnhut in Saxony. The area holds special interest for me, since I researched and wrote about Count von Zinzendorf and the Moravian Brethren during my theological studies. Now I could see first-hand what I had only read in books and online. Our encounter provided both the benefit of a mutual visit and a place of pilgrimage.
The Heimatmuseum, or Local History Museum, which originated in 1878, has its present location in a renovated bourgeois house of 1764. The museum exhibits numerous artifacts, hundreds of pictures and written accounts on the Moravian Brethren in Herrnhut and surrounding areas. The displays include paintings, intricate hand-worked tapestries and filigree artwork. Three rooms, arranged and appointed with 1700 and later period furniture, provide a feel of how people lived.
Herrnhut’s history is inseparable from the history of the Moravian Brethren. They left a rich legacy, attested by the many buildings, for charitable housing projects and ministries. Many of their social endeavours are still active with today’s generation of brethren. The Moravians pioneered mission work, and in 1732, the first missionaries went to the West Indies. The Moravians typically went to remote areas where no other missionaries had gone before. Working alongside local communities, they would carry the same burdens. These missionaries worked hard and were not deterred by the harsh living conditions. Wherever they went, their tireless efforts would help local communities grow and thrive.
Good Friday 2015
Surrounded by rolling hills and tortuous country roads, the newly established Herrnhut became part of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf’s large estate.
This estate he had purchased from his grandmother. By connecting both estates (consisting of two neighboring villages, Berthelsdorf and Grosshennersdorf) it allowed them to serve and manage the entire surrounding communities. Today the estate is undergoing major renovations. The buildings were left to deteriorate during the period when the region was part of the Soviet Union. The castle of Zinzendorf’s grandmother went unfortunately to ruin. Now a monument has been erected to commemorate the good this family did to society.
Here is where the Moravian Brethren found refuge from religious persecution. Fleeing Moravia (today’s Czech Republic), they were welcomed by the count and settled their colony on his estate naming it Herrnhut – The Lord’s Watch. Count von Zinzendorf was instrumental in the movement’s spiritual growth and revival. He was closely involved with the community and at one point became their bishop. His mission work extended from Greenland to the Americas, Russia, the West Indies.
Together with the Moravians he promoted tolerance, compassion and brotherly love. Their motto became: In Essentials, Unity; In Nonessentials, Liberty; In All Things, Love; motto still in use today.
“Gottes Acker” – God’s Acre
I paid a visit to the Herrnhuter burial grounds and was struck by seeing women’s graves only. A man, a 5th. generation Herrnhuter who, together with his wife, were visiting the graves of their relatives, explained the whole history behind the burial ground. He then took me to the area where the men were buried.
Divided by the graves of the Zinzendorf family, the men were buried in the upper part of the grounds and the women in the lower section. In keeping with Baroque tradition, just in the same way they were segregated in the church (which the above print demonstrates), so they were buried in the exact same constellation. Each row represented the sisters who had “fallen asleep”in that particular year, and so it was for the brethren. One standalone square stone near Zinderdorf’s grave, indicates the very first burial.
The stout pollard willows throughout the grounds stand watch “until the Lord returns”, at least that’s how it seemed to me. Naturally in a few weeks, once they’re dressed in their leafy greens, they’ll look quite different.
A smaller adjacent plot, fenced off by trees, is a traditional cemetery where those of other denominations/confessions, and of no particular faith, are buried.
Easter Sunday 5:30 am
We gathered at the Brethren Community Church , where we read Scriptures and sang songs of Praise. Shortly after, we assembled outside the front entrance. Trumpets began to sound and led us in solemn procession to “Gottes Acker” – the burial grounds. We were at least 800 strong. With trumpets leading the way, alternating with trumpets in the middle, we made our way to the uppermost part of the grounds, a hill overlooking the village and its surroundings.
As we were singing and rejoicing in the Resurrected Christ, day broke. It was quite a sight with so many – young and old – gathered and awaiting sunrise, as a pink sky made room for a glorious sun, bathing the grounds with its rays.
We slowly retraced our steps, fully aware that without Christ’s crucifixion, God’s forgiveness for our guilt and sins wouldn’t have been possible, neither would reconciliation and future reunification with God. Conversely, without Christ’s resurrection our faith would be a myth.
The apostle Paul made this very clear when he stated:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, [then] not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1Corinthians 15:14-20 – ESV)
It follows therefore that Easter is the most important Christian Holy day. In fact not only for Christians but for anyone who would recognize his/her wrongdoings and guilt, and accept God’s gift of forgiveness obtained by Christ in his death and resurrection.