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Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit:

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.


In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:


Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:


At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:


Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:


Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!

In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.

One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:

to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.

However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:

The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.

The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.

Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.

“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.

Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:

even if they are illegally in the UK.

This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.

Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.

That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:

the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.

“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.

The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.

In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:

Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.

Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.

The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:

the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:

There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.

Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.

In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.

The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.

Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.

Hmm. It sounds very minimal.

The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!

In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.

The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.

It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.

It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.

Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.

Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.

If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.

Hope AcademyThe history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ancient world and is not as straightforward as we might believe.

(Photo credit: Hope Christmas Trees)

Pre-Christian winter foliage

The practice of decorating one’s home with greenery during the winter was widespread in the ancient world near the Mediterranean and the lands that would become Europe.

At winter solstice, Egyptians used to bring green date palm leaves into the home to symbolise life over death.

Romans celebrated the shortest day of the year by honouring Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their homes with greenery. Those who displayed laurel leaves did so in honour of their emperor.

Much further north, Druids in ancient Britain used evergreen branches in their winter solstice rituals and placed the boughs over their doors to ward off evil spirits. They also regarded holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.

Other ancient peoples in Europe cut down fir trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes during this time.

Christianity’s effect

Once Christianity began to spread, some early theologians told their followers to discontinue the practice of displaying greenery in mid-winter because it was a pagan practice.

In the 2nd century, Tertullian objected equally to displaying laurel leaves in honour of the Roman emperor:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Later, around 700, the missionary Boniface — later canonised — was spreading the Gospel message in what is now Germany, where the people worshipped Thor. In Geismar, Boniface chopped down the Oak of Thor where human sacrifices were made and worship took place. The stories differ as to what happened next. One says that a fir tree sprung up in its place, causing the missionary to think it was a providential sign that the evergreen should be a Christian symbol. Another version says that Boniface pointed the people to a fir tree which he said symbolised the Holy Trinity because of its triangular shape as well as the love and mercy of God.

Paradise trees

During the Middle Ages, Christmas Eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Churches used to feature dramas as part of Christmas worship. The plays tied in biblical themes and linked the Creation story to the Nativity. Churches had as backdrops ‘paradise trees’, which were draped with fruit.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the plays were no longer performed in church but out in the open air. Not surprisingly, these outdoor performances soon turned into rowdy, drunken events.

When the Reformation took root in the 16th century, many places banned the plays from the public square and the trees from churches. People began to put up paradise trees in their homes instead. These displays were called paradises even when they were simple boughs.

People decorated their paradises with round pastry wafers to symbolise the Eucharist. This developed into the tradition of decorating trees with sweet biscuits and the near-universal use of round ornaments.

The Reformation

The use of Christmas trees was controversial from the time of the Reformation through to the mid-19th century.

Legend tells us that Martin Luther had one in his home, although Christianity Today says this has little basis in fact. My Lutheran readers are welcome to tell me more in the comments.

The story has it that, in 1500, Luther was walking through a wood on Christmas Eve. The snow shimmering on the boughs of the fir trees moved him to bring a small evergreen in to his home for his children. He decorated it with candles which he lit in honour of Christ’s birth.

The tradition of Christmas greenery continued and returned to church sanctuaries. In the 17th century, however, some Lutheran ministers made their dislike for it known. Johann von Dannhauer said these displays distracted from Jesus Christ, the true evergreen tree.

Trees displayed in church often had a wooden pyramid of candles standing next to them. The candles represented families or individuals who belonged to the church. Later these pyramids were placed on the tree itself. It sounds like quite a fire hazard, but this gave us the tradition of a tree with lights.

In the early United States, Dutch and German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition with them. Hessian troops who had helped to fight in the Revolution also made the festive trees popular.

That said, the Puritans in New England banned all Christmas celebrations and decorations. Schools and commerce ran as usual on December 25.

American displays of trees in churches sometimes courted controversy. In 1851, a minister in Cleveland, Ohio, had to defend placing a tree in his church. He nearly lost his job.

The 19th century

In England, the Georgian kings from the House of Hanover carried on their displays of Christmas trees. German immigrants to England did so, too. However, the public resented the German Monarchy and wanted nothing to do with such traditions.

It was only with the popularity of Queen Victoria that the Christmas tree tradition spread across the country. Her consort Prince Albert, of German descent, set up a grand tree at Windsor Castle for the family in 1841. At this time, presents were hung on the branches where possible.

Elsewhere, members of the European nobility popularised the tradition. In 1808, Countess Wilhelmine of Holsteinborg lit the first Christmas tree in Denmark. Although unaware of the Countess’s experience at that time, Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Fir Tree in 1844. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816. It wasn’t long before all Austrians had one. In France, the Duchesse d’Orléans had a tree in her home in 1840. The Russian royal family also had a Christmas tree.

In the United States, civic leaders were unhappy with the way that Christmas Day turned into revelry. Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, known today as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and other similar works helped to change the nature of Christmas to a family-oriented celebration focussed on the home.

In 1851, a farmer in the Catskills (New York) named Mark Carr loaded two ox sledges with evergreen trees and took them to New York City. He sold every one of them.

20th century and later developments

By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree.

By 1920, nearly all American households had one.

A decade later, during the Depression, tree growers were unable to sell fir trees to companies for landscaping. There just wasn’t enough money for that type of thing. Nurserymen decided to convert their businesses into Christmas tree farms. They soon discovered that the public preferred cultivated trees for their symmetrical shape.

Today, Christmas trees are big business. Ordering them online requires purchasing in November to avoid disappointment. For those who prefer artificial ones, aerosol pine sprays give that unforgettable scent of Yuletide cheer.

Whatever we choose to display, it seems that displaying greenery is an atavistic part of winter celebrations and the anticipation of new life. For believers, that new life is the Infant Jesus.

The migrant situation continues to unfold, some say in ‘biblical proportions’.

The photo of Aylan Kurdi on the beach is still featured in news media around the world and pundits are still talking about it, pointing to the need to take in hundreds of thousands of people.

Never mind that the Kurdi family was safe and left Turkey — yes, Turkey — only because the father wanted dental implants!

My other posts on this subject include an explanation of the Calais crisis and the European situation from earlier in the summer through to last week.

The drama continues.


On September 9, 2015, The Telegraph reported that a ferry service between Germany and Denmark was suspended temporarily as migrants refused to disembark.

They wanted to go on to Sweden where benefits start sooner and are more plentiful.

Motorway traffic and trains nearby were also disrupted.

The article shows a photo of young men looking as if they were being persecuted holding signs saying they want to go to Sweden. One reads ‘I dont wont Dinmrk’. Another says ‘Helpe us’.

They are so fortunate to have made it that far without hindrance. One has to wonder about their ‘refugee’ status when they refuse to register with Danish authorities and insist on going on to Sweden. Surely, if one is truly suffering, one will accept any country and welfare conditions in Western Europe.

As with so many other stand-offs of this nature, there was a compromise (emphases mine):

Wednesday’s standoff was eventually resolved as around 100 migrants agreed to remain in Denmark, while the remaining 240 or so were allowed to disembark and continue their journey onward.

Denmark’s police chief said on Thursday that his officers have been ordered not to stop hundreds of refugees and migrants who have entered the country via Germany.

Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg says it is purely a police decision, adding Danish officers “can’t detain foreigners who do not want to seek asylum (in Denmark).”

There was no immediate reaction from the Danish government.

“Where they have gone I don’t know. I think they were picked up by private cars or have taken taxis further away. We are no longer monitoring them,” police commissioner John Andersen told news agency Ritzau.

“We didn’t want to empty the train by force,” he added.

Three hundred migrants, including children, were walking along the motorway nearby:

“We are trying to talk to them and tell them that it is a really bad idea to walk on the motorway,” a police spokesman said.

Indeed, but the whole idea is to create chaos. Forget about the legitimate passengers, some of whom were probably travelling on business, the migrants make this all about themselves and their needs.


Another Telegraph report from September 9 said that a group of migrants broke through a line of Hungarian police stationed at the border with Serbia.

The migrants spotted a gap in Hungary’s new €100 million border fence. Slipping through, they trespassed on private property — maize and sunflower fields — to reach a nearby motorway which police then had to close.

Other migrants took to walking along the railway line just across the border.

The article states:

With Hungary at breaking point, the UNHCR announced that it expects another 30,000 migrants to enter Hungary in the next 10 days.

The migrants refuse to go to camps set up to process their cases and provide them with shelter.

The following videos give a better idea of what the Hungarian authorities are attempting to manage. The first shows what is going on in a town 230 kilometres from Budapest:

The second shows what really happened with the man and the pregnant woman on the railway tracks elsewhere in Hungary. When this story broke several days ago, the narrative — carried by many news outlets — said that police pushed a pregnant woman onto a railway line and that her husband had to dive in to stop them.

This is not what happened. The police did not push the woman down, her notional husband did, with force. One wonders about her condition now as well as that of the child in her arms and the foetus in her womb:

The violence from the migrants and their disregard for the police is eye-opening. Are these men real refugees or criminals?


Thousands of migrants continue to arrive on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos.

The Telegraph reported that a British couple now working in the Netherlands went to Lesbos for a holiday, but their hearts went out to the refugees, so they spent their time on the beach handing out water and a welcome:

“We’ve been asked ‘which country are we in now?’ Others know that they have landed in Greece but think they are close to Athens. They have no idea where Lesbos is,” said Ms Postill, 51.

“I think that if I was in their situation, I would probably try to reach Europe too. There are camps for refugees in Jordan and places like that but there is no work, nothing to do.”

Mr Priddy said many of the refugees they encountered were educated people. “We’ve met robotic engineers, a lawyer who helped prosecute Saddam Hussein, a doctor who spent 10 years in the UK, people who can speak three European languages.”

One cannot help but wonder why educated, influential people cannot apply for refugee status through the proper channels. It doesn’t make sense.

There is another side to the migration chaos in Greece, less heart-warming than what the British couple were experiencing.

Elsewhere in Lesbos, thousands of migrants marched down a main thoroughfare demanding better care from Greek authorities:

Chanting as they marched through the streets, some carried cardboard signs that read: “Don’t exploit refugees”.

Holy moly. It’s a bit difficult for authorities to get tens of thousands of people processed within a few hours. Again, such boldness seems odd from people who are truly seeking asylum. Sounds more as if economic migrants and criminals are doing this.

The horrifying reality is that:

The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – and the strain is pushing everyone to their limits.

Not surprisingly, some of the residents on this resort island are unhappy:

In the video, one local man is seen shouting to the crowd, telling them to “go back to Turkey.”

In the end, authorities worked over a 24-hour period to process 15,000 migrants on Lesbos:

We worked very hard all night, without any sleep, and this is the result – we emptied the stadium in less than 24 hours,” Major-General Zacharoula Tsirigoti, the police officer in charge of the operation, told The Telegraph. “Everything is under control now. I didn’t expect to be able to do it in 24 hours.”

With Hungary threatening to build a bigger fence along its border with Serbia and to close the frontier, we expect the flow will increase, as people try to get into Hungary before the gates shut,” she said.

The report says the migrants cheered as they set sail on the ferries provided. No doubt the locals did, too. In the preceding days:

… up to 20,000 refugees, many of them Syrian, were sleeping rough in parks, streets and the port area of Lesbos’ main town, Mytilini.

They were unable to leave the island because there were not enough Greek officials to issue them with onward travel permits, stoking frustration that sometimes exploded into clashes with riot police.

An extra 65 police and coast guard officers were drafted in from Athens to register the refugees in a dusty, disused football stadium in Mytilini, in an all-night operation in which vast queues formed.

Specially laid-on ferries then transported around 6,000 refugees and migrants from Mytilini to Athens in just 24 hours, with more boats due to take another 4,500 refugees to the port of Piraeus near Athens on Wednesday.

The locals are terrified or angry. There are two short YouTube videos in English with Polish subtitles that I am having problems embedding, so will have to forego. One of them features a clearly upset lady who says that she and her neighbours cannot leave their homes. She does not feel as if she can take her child to school. In another, a man uses an old Anglo-Saxon word to get migrants to leave from his doorstep, telling them they are no longer in a war zone.

Italian-Austrian border

The following account from a Polish lady travelling between the border between Italy and Austria on September 6 is illuminating. It comes from a Biased BBC reader whose wife received the first person account from the woman, a close friend:

Half an hour ago on the border between Italy and Austria with my own eyes I saw a great many immigrants … With all solidarity with people in difficult circumstances I have to say that what I saw arouses horror … This huge mass of people – sorry, that’s right – but it’s an absolute wilderness … Vulgar, throwing bottles, loud shouts of “We want Germany” – and Germany is now a paradise? I saw an elderly Italian women surrounded in her car, pulled her by the hair out of the car and wanted the car drive away. The coach in which I was in the group tried to push over? [Faeces] thrown at us, banging on the door to be opened driver, spat on the glass … I ask for what purpose? How does this wilderness is to assimilate in Germany? I felt for a moment like a war … I really feel sorry for these people, but if they reached Poland – I do not think that they will receive from us any understanding … We have three hours to the border through which ultimately passed. The whole group of police cordon was transported back to Italy. Coach is damaged, faeces smeared, scratched, broken windows. And this is supposed to be an idea of the demographics? These big powerful hordes of savages? Among them was actually not women, no children – the vast majority of aggressive were young men … Just yesterday I read the news on all the websites subconsciously compassion, worried about their fate and today after what I saw just afraid and yet I am happy, they do not choose our country as their destination. We Poles are simply not ready to accept these people – neither culturally nor financially. I do not know if anyone is ready. EU walks pathology which has not had a chance to ever see, and sorry if anyone offended his entry … I think that drove up the car with humanitarian aid – mainly food and water and they just rolled their car they … With megaphones Austrians imparted a message that there is consensus that crossed over the border – they wanted to register them and let go on – but they did not understand these messages. I do not understand. And it was all the greatest horror … For those few thousand people nobody understood neither Italian nor the angielksu, or German, or Russian, or Spanish … What mattered was right fist … They fought for permission to move on and this agreement have – but did not realize that they have it! The coach of the French group hatches were open – everything was in the middle in a short time has been stolen, some things lying on the groundNever in my short life, I had no opportunity to watch such scenes and I feel that this is just the beginning. On a final note, it is worth helping, but not at any price.

More tomorrow.

In Young Stalin, Simon Sebag Montefiore writes that Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler were both in Vienna at the same time (pp. 274, 275).

The year was 1913. Although they came incredibly close to meeting each other, they never did, even when Russia and Germany negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.

Both men enjoyed walking in the park near the palace. Both saw the same street scenes, including Emperor Franz-Josef’s weekday carriage ride from the Schönbrunn Palace to his office at the Hofburg.

However, neither future dictator thought much of it. Hitler envied the Emperor’s position.  Stalin was disdainful of Franz-Josef such that he never spoke of him.

Stalin went to Vienna to meet with Lenin, with whom he had had editorial disagreements at Pravda (p. 268-269). His mind was on revolution, not exploring a beautiful capital city (p. 183).

He arrived in Vienna by way of Poland. It is interesting that, even then, he disliked the Poles and firmly opposed any notion of Polish independence (p. 271). It is interesting that he managed to convince Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of the same at Yalta. It seems that Stalin persuaded them in his priestly way.

Neither Stalin nor Hitler had time for the Jews. Both saw the influence they had on Viennese culture. Hitler, as we know, found them repulsive and a people to be exterminated. Stalin, Montefiore says, found them too ‘mystical’ and culturally incomprehensible.

Meanwhile, many Russian Jews believed the Russian Revolution would benefit them. However, although the pogroms stopped, some Jews felt communism somehow would not and did not live up to their expectations. One of those who was disappointed was the artist Marc Chagall. As I wrote in June 2013:

Chagall had supported the Revolution because he believed it would be good for the Jews, liberating them from the urban ghettos and rural shtetls, putting an end to decades of pogroms.

He and his wife — whom he married in 1914 — left Russia for Berlin then moved to Paris. Ultimately, they settled in New York City.

His fellow Jews who stayed behind in Russia and the republics noticed that Lenin and Stalin exterminated, tortured or imprisoned anyone they considered an enemy — religion notwithstanding. The British journalist Ben Cohen wonders why more Jews did not see Stalin as ‘a monster’. The brief answer, he discovers, is that Stalin targeted people from every class, racial and religious group. No one demographic was singled out, whereas Hitler focussed primarily on Jews.

Even today, Russian Jews are divided on Stalin’s Doctors’ Plot — which, if true, would have dealt exclusively with Jews. It had started with physicians and would have ended in another Holocaust. Stalin felt that they were too intelligent a people. Along with this went his fear of Trotsky (Leon Bronstein); he was convinced the exile living in Mexico would attempt to stage a long distance coup. So, Stalin had him hacked to death in cold blood in 1940. Trotsky’s last words conveyed he knew the Soviet leader was behind it.

Cohen’s interviews uncovered either a denial of the Doctors’ Plot or a quiet gratitude that the autocrat died of a stroke in 1953 before he could implement it.

Back to who was in Vienna in 1913. Montefiore tells us that Josip Broz — the future Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia — was also there working as a mechanic. He did not meet either Stalin or Hitler.

There are few more uplifting films for family viewing than The Sound of Music, a heartwarming and moving story about the famous von Trapps.

However, the reality was probably not as comforting as much of the film.

Last year, comedienne Sue Perkins wrote an article for the Christmas issue of Britain’s Radio Times (most of it television listings!) in which she investigated the von Trapp story, particularly Maria (Julie Andrews’s character). (The article, ‘Who Was the Real Maria?’, appeared in the 22 December 2012 – 4 January 2013 issue on pages 55 and 57).

Miss Perkins assures readers that she

went in search of the real von Trapp narrative

which was shown in her television programme Climbed Every Mountain: the Story behind the Sound of Music, which aired on December 29, 2012.

Not having seen the documentary, I am not in a position to comment, although there are a few points which struck me about the difference between Perkins’s account, real life and the film.

Baron von Trapp

Georg Johannes von Trapp was a highly decorated officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the Great War (1914-1918). After the war ended in 1918, the Austrian Emperor

in order to avoid having to give the fleet to the victors … gave the entire Austro-Hungarian Navy and merchant fleet, with all harbours, arsenals and shore fortifications to the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. They in turn sent diplomatic notes to the governments of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Russia, to notify them that the State of SCS was not at war with any of them and that the Council had taken over the entire Austro-Hungarian fleet.

Prior to this, the home port for the Austrian Navy was in Venice, with a supplementary base in Trieste (yes, present-day Italy). Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed, the new naval home transferred to Pola (now Pula, Croatia) with another important base in Fiume (now Riejka, also in Croatia).

Before the First World War, a naval race was occurring amongst the most powerful European countries who were rivalling each other for the greatest seapower technology. It was as important then as the arms race is today and had much to do with the escalation of the war.  Another similarity between the two eras is that later developers, as it were, were able to purchase and improve on the original technology of their future enemies.

Any parent whoGeorg von Trapp Wikipedia 200px-Georgvontrappse child is at a loss for a term paper subject for History class would do well to suggest writing about the Austro-Hungarian Navy and its acquisition of the equipment and improvement on the technology of Germany and Great Britain in this regard. This is an excellent example of history repeating itself. As it was 100 years ago, so it is now — with different players.

Back to the Baron. His father August was also a decorated naval officer. It was through him that the family were elevated to the Austrian nobility. The men would inherit the title of Ritter — Knight, in English.

With regard to fatherhood — more about which below — it should be pointed out that the von Trapp children were unhappy with the Baron’s portrayal in The Sound of Music. Although he had known war and commanded a submarine, privately he was a warm and doting father. He was also interested in music, a pastime he fostered in his children. (See the Winter 2005 issue of Prologue Magazine for the National Archives (United States), ‘The Real Story of the Von Trapp Family’.)

Agathe Whitehead

Four years before the First World War, Georg Johannes was given the command of the Austro-Hungarian Navy’s new submarine, the SM-U6. It happened to be christened by Agathe Whitehead,  the granddaughter of the inventor of the torpedo, an Englishman, Robert WBaron von Trapp Agathe Whitehead Wikipedia 220px-Whitehead-Agather_1909circahitehead.

Soon afterward, Baron von Trapp married Agathe Whitehead, who was also a niece of Sir John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton. As mentioned earlier, in the postwar period, the borders were redrawn, resulting in Austria’s becoming a landlocked country. As a result, von Trapp no longer had a job. It was his wife’s wealth which largely kept the young von Trapp family afloat during this time, and they continued to live in Pola.

Early in their marriage, Agathe lived in the Austro-Hungarian home port of Pola. There, she bore the Baron the first of their two children, Rupert and Agathe. Their other children were born in Austria.

In September 1922, young Agathe contracted scarlet fever. The Baron’s wife, Agathe, contracted it from her and died.

Maria Augusta Kutschera

After the Agathes — mother and daughter died — another daughter, Maria Franziska, fell ill and could not attend school. The Baron, with seven children, decided to hire a tutor. By this time, they lived outside of Salzburg, Austria.  The Baron sold the house in Pola.

The Baron enquired at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg to find out if any of the Benedictine Sisters were available to teach his daughter at home.

Nonnberg Abbey, incidentally, is the oldest women’s religious house in the German-speaking world.

Maria_von_Trapp_2 WikipediaThe convent sent a young teacher who had graduated from the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna at age 18, in 1923. Maria Augusta Kutschera was a postulant and had every intention of pursuing her vocation.

However, in obedience to her Benedictine superiors, she went to the Baron’s home and eventually taught not only Maria Franziska, but the other children as well.

An important note about Maria’s childhood: Most of us probably thought that young Maria had her eyes set on the convent from an early age. However, Joan Gearin, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston, wrote in 2005 (emphases mine):

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. She was orphaned as a young child and was raised as an atheist and socialist by an abusive relative. While attending the State Teachers’ College of Progressive Education in Vienna, she accidentally attended a Palm Sunday service, believing it to be a concert of Bach music, where a priest was speaking. Years later she recalled in her autobiography Maria, “Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed.” Soon after, Maria graduated from college, and as a result of her religious awakening, she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg as a novice. While she struggled with the unaccustomed rules and discipline, she considered that “These . . . two years were really necessary to get my twisted character and my overgrown self-will cut down to size.”

However, her health suffered from not getting the exercise and fresh air to which she was accustomed. When Georg von Trapp approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey seeking a teacher for his sick daughter, Maria was chosen, partly because of her training and skill as a teacher, but also because of concern for her health. She was supposed to remain with the von Trapps for 10 months, at the end of which she would formally enter the convent.

It is this repudiation of socialism and atheism, I suspect, which grates with the aforementioned Sue Perkins, who tries to make Maria out to be a liar. Perkins doubts Maria’s abuse at the hands of her uncle, casting aspersions on a priest accompanying the von Trapps to America (see below) and on her autobiography in general.

The Baron was quite taken with Maria’s handling of the children. Maria was not without her foibles — and who doesn’t have them? — among them a quick temper. However, Maria was also exacting with the children, cultured and a devout Catholic. Her character as written for the late Mary Martin (Larry Hagman’s mother) and by Julie Andrews did not entirely reflect Maria as she was in real life.

He soon fell in love with her and proposed marriage, which shocked young Maria, who was only 18 at the time she went to the von Trapps. Maria had already made up her mind that she wanted to devote her life to our Lord.

I had two aunts who were nuns and if this turn of events had happened to them, they would have thought likewise. At this point, I would add — for the benefit of the Sue Perkinses of this world — that my aunts enjoyed sports, were popular at school and had boyfriends. They led ‘normal’ lives but decided that the world was not for them. They freely sought the convent — with no family pressure — and pursued the religious life.

The Baron’s proposal put Maria in a serious quandary. Naturally, she discussed the matter with her superiors. The Mother Abbess explained that Maria was meant to follow God’s will; the unstated subtext being that perhaps He wanted a different life for her than she had envisaged. What is it that John Lennon once said? ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans’.

Maria returned to the von Trapps and accepted the Baron’s proposal. They were married in 1927. She later wrote that:

on her wedding day she was blazing mad, both at God and at her husband, because what she really wanted was to be a nun: “I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. . . . I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”[7]

Financial and political difficulties

The Baron’s first wife, Agathe, had left him money deposited in a bank in London. During the early 1930s, Austrian banks were in economic trouble because of hostile pressure from Germany. To help a friend involved in Austrian banking, he withdrew his savings from England and transferred it to an Austrian financial institution.

Around 1935, that Austrian bank collapsed, leaving the von Trapps penniless. The Baron, distraught by this turn of events, nonetheless did not want to humiliate his family by seeking work. However, the family had sung together and were good enough, Maria thought, to take their act on the road.

She engaged the services of a Catholic priest, the Revd Franz Wasner, as their musical director. Wasner moved into the family home. In 1936, they came to the attention of Austrian luminaries of the day and began earning a living by singing in public. They would eventually tour Europe, giving concerts.

That same year, the Baron was offered another naval commission as Captain, this time for Germany (not the Third Reich, as Austria was not yet under its control). Whilst considering the offer, he happened to see Adolf Hitler and other officers behaving raucously in Munich. He turned down the offer. The political wind was changing, and the Baron decided that it was time for the von Trapps to leave Austria.

As I mentioned above, the pre-war national boundaries were quite different. By the 1930s, the Baron’s birthplace was part of Italy. It was for this reason that the von Trapps left for the United States for their first tour there via Italy, where the Baron and his family were considered to have citizenship. Contrary to The Sound of Music, they were able to leave for Italy by train.

After their singing tour in the United States, they sailed back to Europe for a series of concerts in Scandinavia in 1939. They sailed from Norway to return to the United States, which produced a glitch at immigration on Ellis Island:

apparently because when asked by an official how long they intended to stay, instead of saying “six months,” as specified on their visas, Maria exclaimed, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!” The Story of the Trapp Family Singers notes that they were released after a few days and began their next tour.

By this time, the Nazis had confiscated the family’s Salzburg property and they had many bad memories of National Socialist policies, among them:

They were also becoming aware of the Nazis’ anti-religious propaganda and policies, the pervasive fear that those around them could be acting as spies for the Nazis, and the brainwashing of children against their parents. They weighed staying in Austria and taking advantage of the enticements the Nazis were offering—greater fame as a singing group, a medical doctor’s position for Rupert, and a renewed naval career for Georg—against leaving behind everything they knew—their friends, family, estate, and all their possessions. They decided that they could not compromise their principles and left.

Also, there was, in addition to the persecution of their children’s Jewish classmates and their families:

the advocacy of abortion by both Maria’s doctor and by her son’s medical school

Hmm. Sounds like the present day in Western countries.

There is much more to read about how the von Trapps — with the exception of the Baron, who died in 1947 — acquired American citizenship, and most of us know how successful their family business has been since the 1950s.

It seems that had Sue Perkins had done a bit more research into the von Trapps, her documentary would have been somewhat different. Yet, perhaps that is not what Perkins or the BBC wanted. It appears that this programme was an attempt to paint Christians as liars. Certainly, Perkins’s article reads as such.

The von Trapps were survivors. They were also philanthropists for Austrians affected by the war. They have brought happiness to many people over the past 70 years. What is there to criticise?

Nothing other than a God-fearing, Catholic family which survived without compromising their principles or their faith.

Further reading:

Georg Johannes von Trapp – Wikipedia

Maria von Trapp – Wikipedia

The Sound of Music – Wikipedia

‘The Real Story of the von Trapp Family’ – Prologue Magazine (National Archives)

Yesterday’s post looked at the influences that geography, the Eastern Orthodox Church and politics had on Jan Hus and his fellow citizens in a Bohemia which was united at the time with Moravia.

The story left off with Hus in a prime position as an ordained priest and rector of the University of Prague. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Prague’s importance was lessening and, in 1411, he died. Religious dissent was growing with many citizens wishing for a return to the type of worship and polity they had under the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has Christianised them. Helping further fan the flames were renegade priests such as Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.  Waldenses had also established themselves in the area, having fled Strasbourg some years before.  All were promoting a theology which was Waldensian and pietist.

Bohemians, Hus and schism

John Wycliffe‘s writings became increasingly important in northern Europe. Wealthy Bohemian and German travellers to England — yes, there were some — were able to bring back copies of Wycliffe’s works to Bohemia.  Wycliffe’s theology, being oriented to Scripture and prayer, became increasingly important to people living in the region as an antidote to the excesses of the papacy, indulgences and clergy.

Hus (shown at left, courtesy of Wikipedia) borrowed heavily from Wycliffe’s teachings in his speeches and writing. In 1412, some theologians from the University of Prague opposed Hus’s support of Wycliffe.  Successive popes had issued papal bulls forbidding mention of or belief in Wycliffe’s teachings.  A group of his followers took it upon themselves to burn the papal bulls, insisting that Hus — not the Pope — was their spiritual leader.

Then, three men from the lower class openly denounced indulgences. The authorities arrested and beheaded them. They are considered to be the first Hussite martyrs.

Hus’s teachings were then officially forbidden, although, by then, the University of Prague theologians ignored the edict and asked that any objections be proven scripturally. The conflict between Church and State against Hus had escalated. Meanwhile, everyone in or near Prague was aware of it. Hus and his followers also wanted tensions to calm down and asked for freedom in ecclesiastical matters — a teaching borrowed from Wycliffe.

By then:

Bohemian Wyclifism was carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria.

In 1413, Rome declared that Wycliffe’s works must be burnt.

Hus’s final months

The following year, King Wenceslaus’s brother — Sigismund of Hungary (heir to the Bohemian crown) — promised Hus safe passage if he would attend the conference at Konstanz (Constance) in order to resolve the schism.

Hus agreed and wisely got his personal affairs in order before leaving home.  For a few weeks, he was free in Konstanz as Sigismund had promised, until his opponents hunted him down and eventually imprisoned him in a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was angry upon hearing the news, but Church authorities replied that promises made to a heretic (Hus) could not be guaranteed.

Hus was transferred to the Archbishop of Konstanz’s castle on the Rhine River and imprisoned for 73 days under brutal conditions.  In June 1415, he was transferred to a Franciscan monastery before he went on trial. During his trial, Church authorities asked him to recant Wycliffe’s teachings. Hus replied that he wished to debate with them Wycliffe’s teachings versus those of the Church, using Scripture. He said that should the clerics prove him wrong, he would be glad to recant. They refused his offer and he refused to recant.

He was burnt at the stake, with these words:

God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.

The aftermath – conflict

In 1457, a group of Hus’s followers organised themselves as the Bohemian Brethren, or the Unity of the Brethren — Unitas Fratrum being the original name.  Ten years later, the Waldensians ordained the Brethren’s bishop.

Hus’s movement spread to the extent that 90 per cent of those living in Czech crown lands — including the nobility — became Protestant.  They opened their own schools, many of which had more than one teacher — unusual for that period in history. Also unusual were their schools for girls. The University of Prague was also Protestant.

To counter this, the Holy Roman Emperors invited the Jesuits to establish Catholic schools in the region, which they did, beginning in 1566.  By 1622, with the backing of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant schools were forced to close. The Protestants had rebelled a few years earlier in the Bohemian Revolt, which occurred when the Emperor Matthias attempted to instal a Catholic as King of Bohemia, but were defeated in 1621.  Not only had Protestant education and civil authority had come to a close, but the Holy Roman Emperor forbade the use of the Czech language, including the reading of books in that language.

Consequently, the Brethren had to flee or go underground. One community went to Poland and the other dispersed into smaller groups in Moravia.  This latter group became known amongst them as the Hidden Seed.

The Hidden Seed and Count von Zinzendorf

Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, (1700 – 1760), German pietist and bishop of the Moravian Church, was born in Dresden. He was known as Ludwig.

The Zinzendorf family were Lutheran pietists and among the longstanding nobility of Lower Austria. Despite its name, Lower Austria is actually in the northeastern corner of the country. Young Ludwig’s godfather was Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the foremost Lutheran pietists. As I mentioned previously (emphases mine):

Spener studied theology in Strasbourgthen moved on to see what the Calvinists and the Waldensians were doing in Geneva. There he met a number of professors and pastors who deeply impressed him …

In 1686, Spener became a royal chaplain and was transferred to Dresden. He mentored a group of young theologians in Leipzig in a society he formed there for devout application and practice of biblical principles. Later, he ended up founding the University of Halle, which was based on pietistic theology. Not all went smoothly; a number of pastors in Leipzig opposed his pietism and made a stance for orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Like Spener, the Zinzendorfs — along with a number of other Lutherans — believed that Lutheranism had lost its way since the days of Martin Luther. They did not believe the clergy engaged people enough to pursue a holy and righteous life.

When Ludwig was only six weeks old, his father died. The child was raised by a pietist grandmother and aunt. His grandmother did much to bring him into the Christian faith — and pietism.  He attended school in Halle, a pietist stronghold, thanks to Spener’s influence. Note that Spener’s earlier royal chaplaincy had based him in Dresden, where Ludwig was born.

In 1716, Zinzendorf studied law at the University of Wittenberg in preparation for a diplomatic career. He also travelled to the Netherlands, France and Germany. Like his godfather, he, too, visited a variety of Protestant churches and was careful to seek out the holiest of men as his friends.

He married whilst young, but not to his first love, whose family disapproved of the proposed union.  Scholars believe that this disappointment brought him into an even closer pursuit of holiness.  Although Spener died when his godson was only five years old, his teachings must have had a profound influence on the Zinzendorf family, because the young count was determined to further his godfather’s pietism. However, Zinzendorf was also concerned about the excessive rationalism emerging from the new Age of Enlightenment, which would eventually give rise to atheism and deism.

Although Spener never intended to separate from the Lutheran Church, Zinzendorf believed that a true practice of Christianity could come about only through free associations of believers committed to a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.

When the young Count was 22 years old, a small group of the Hidden Seed from Moravia arrived on  his estate. Their leader asked the Count whether he would countenance accommodating them on part of it. The Count granted permission to these refugees, whose faith was now illegal in their native Moravia and Bohemia, to construct the village of Herrnhut, two miles from the Count’s residence.

Herrnhut still exists today, by the way, as the centre for the Moravians in Germany.

Herrnhut, a refuge for persecuted Protestants

As the established village of Herrnhut became more widely known as a centre for freedom of Christians, a number of other persecuted groups settled there. In time, conflicts about belief arose amongst them.

Nonetheless, Zinzendorf continued putting money and support into the settlement. He was also deeply attached to it and in 1727, compiled the unifying Brotherly Agreement, which the settlers adopted. After that, the village’s popularity increased even further.  Moravian historians note what took place from that point into the early 19th century:

  1. Setting up a watch of continuous prayer that ran uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for 100 years.
  2. Originating the Daily Watchwords.
  3. Establishing more than 30 settlements internationally on the Herrnhut model, which emphasised prayer and worship, and a form of communal living in which simplicity of lifestyle and generosity with wealth were held to be important spiritual attributes. The purpose of these communities was to assist the members resident there in the sanctification of their lives, to provide a meeting place for Christians from different confessional backgrounds, to provide Christian training for their own children and the children of their friends and supporters and to provide support for the Moravian Mission work throughout the world. As a result, although personal property was held, divisions between social groups and extremes of wealth and poverty were largely eliminated.
  4. Being the first church body to begin missionary work; and
  5. Forming many hundreds of small renewal groups operating within the existing churches of Europe, known as “diaspora societies”. These groups encouraged personal prayer and worship, Bible study, confession of sins and mutual accountability.

All those points certainly characterise the main tenets of pietism: a close watch on one another, small groups, personal accountability within those groups, evangelism, mission work and personal sanctification — sometimes in a radical pietist commune.

Zinzendorf’s Brotherly Agreement, incidentally, still exists today as ‘The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living’.

Radical pietism and lovefeasts

Some time after he established the Brotherly Agreement, Zinzendorf obtained a copy of the Ratio Disciplinae, which was the behavioural guide for the early Unitas Fratrum. He was amazed to see how closely the two aligned.

He proceeded to organise the Herrnhut inhabitants into families. These, however, were not what we call nuclear families today, but ones which he called ‘choirs’, organised by sex, marital status and age. The Count explained that at every age, people need something different from Christ and what better way to obtain it than by impartial group segregation. The concept sounds awful, but similar Moravian communes were established in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (later known for its steel), and in Salem, North Carolina (the other half of which is Winston).  Two positives to note about the American settlements: escaped slaves there were on a par with all the other members and the wealthy occupied the same living quarters as the poorest.

As we know from previous posts on pietism, it is a religion of the ‘heart’, deeply rooted in emotionalism and personal experience rather than a more detached, cerebral exegesis of Scripture. The notion of ‘love’ was — and still is — also emphasised. The Moravian communities were no different.

To this end, at certain times of year, a ‘lovefeast’ was performed. This ritual was also part of other Brethren and Primitive Methodist services on special occasions.  All these groups are pietist. The Primitive Methodists’ lovefeasts featured a potluck — ‘bring a dish to pass’ — which is also part of today’s Alpha groups, originating in the Anglican Church. Alpha also revolves around small groups in many parishes and involves experiential sharing and, to some extent, personal accountability.

Back to the Moravian and Brethren denominations which undertake lovefeasts. Wikipedia describes them as being:

based upon the Agape feast and the meals of the early churches described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, which were partaken in unity and love. It is not, however, to be confused with or serve as a replacement for Communion. Traditionally for European, Canadian, and American Lovefeasts, a sweetened bun and coffee (sweetened milky tea in Germany, Holland and England) is served to the congregation in the pews by dieners (from the German for servers); before partaking, a simple table grace is said. The foods and drinks consumed from congregation may vary tremendously at the Lovefeast and are usually adapted from what the congregations have available. Services in some Colonial-era Lovefeasts, for example, used plain bread and water; some in Salem were even known to have served beer.

The Moravian Lovefeast also concentrates on the singing of hymns, and listening to music which may come from the organ or choir. The songs and hymns chosen usually describe love and harmony. The congregation can also talk quietly with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about their spiritual walk with God. Christmas Eve Lovefeasts can become particularly spectacular in the congregation’s choice of music and instrumentation. Many churches also have trombone choirs or church bands play prior to a Lovefeast as a call to service.

A Moravian congregation may hold a Lovefeast on any special occasion, such as the date their church was founded, but there are certain established dates that Lovefeasts are regularly observed. Some of these notable dates include Watch Night, Good Friday, the Festival of August 13th (the 1727 date on which the Moravian Church was renewed or reborn), and Christmas Eve, where each member of the congregation receives a lighted candle at the end of the service in addition to the bun and coffee.

Groups that descend from the Schwarzenau Brethren such as the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Old German Baptist Brethren, and Dunkard Brethren also regularly practice a Love Feast based upon New Testament descriptions of the Last Supper of Christ. The Brethren, however, combine the Agape meal (often consisting of lamb or beef and a bowl of sop) with a service of feetwashing prior to the meal and communion afterward. The term “Lovefeast” in this case generally refers to all three ordinances, not just the meal. Influenced by German Pietists during the early 18th century, the Lovefeast was instituted among Brethren before Moravians adopted the practice.

International Moravian missions

Before the population of Herrnhut reached 300 people, their Moravian missionaries were already on the move, evangelising.  The first were in Europe, but in 1732, they were on a ship to St Thomas (Virgin Islands). They ministered there to slaves as well as to slaveowners. St Thomas had its first Moravian bishop in 1735.

In 1740, they focussed on the (then) British colonies in America, establishing a mission in Dutchess County, New York (where Poughkeepsie is). There, they evangelised among Native Americans, treating them as equals. However, with the advent of the French and Indian Wars, their motives were suspect and the colony of New York expelled them.  The following year, they moved on to Pennsylvania and North Carolina to found the aforementioned Bethlehem and Salem settlements. By 1801, they had reached the state of Georgia, where they established a mission to the Cherokee tribe, until the United States Government resettled the Cherokees in Oklahoma, where the mission continues today under the aegis of the Danish Lutheran Church.

We may well owe our two-day weekend to Count von Zinzendorf, thanks to his exhortations in Philadelphia to respect the Old Testament Saturday Sabbath with time off to listen to additional preaching on the Sunday. (The picture on the left, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him preaching to all men and women on his mission travels.)

Moravian missions in Australia were transferred in time to the Presbyterian Church. Those in Greenland are now under the auspices of the Lutheran Church.

They also evangelised in South America and Asia, as well as Africa.

Today, the largest concentration of Moravians can be found in Tanzania in Africa.

So, from their earliest days in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf ensured that the Moravians could spread Christianity.

The darker side — sexual imagery, scandal and the Count’s remarriage

Because Zinzendorf was so emotionally involved in religious experience, he began to use rather explicit — if not, to the outsider, blasphemous — sexual references to describe it.

He was preoccupied with our Lord’s wounds from the Cross, describing them as

so moist, so gory

and, astonishingly, in referring to the side wound, called it

the Seitenhölchen (‘little side-hole’). This was tied to his wish to overcome the traditional shame which was attached to sexual organs and acts:

What in the Bible is mentioned an hundred, and more than an hundred Times, but on Account of the Fall, by Reason of Deprivation, is call’d by the hideous name Pudendum; this he (the Saviour) has changed into Verendum, in the proper and strictest sense of that Word: And what was chastised by Circumcision, in the Time of the Law, is restored again to its first Essence and flourishing State; ’tis made equal to the most respectable Parts of the Body, yea ’tis on account of its Dignity and Distinction, become superior to all the rest; especially as the Lamb would choose to endure in that Part his first Wound, his first Pain[6]

Today’s pietists are welcome to disagree with me, but their undue prohibition on behaviour and thoughts brings about a vacuum which only Satan can fill. It would be interesting to find out which branch of Christianity has the most pornography addicts. Personally, I venture that it is the pietists. Only on their blogs and fora do I see such comments as, ‘Brother, I have struggled with this sin  [pornography] for many years and find it to be a daily battle’. To those men in good physical health, I say have a drink, enjoy a quiet smoke and love your wife. The first two are far preferable in moderation than seeking out depraved internet sites or, like Zinzendorf, referring to our Redeemer in such carnal phraseology.

Wikipedia cites a famous Christian hymn which follows this carnal line of thought:

Zinzendorf’s emphasis on the “blood and wounds” is not that different from hymns that are sung today without second thought: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

Well, those lyrics have also given me pause for thought in the past, and I am happy that my church does not sing them.

Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus, lived in another commune, Herrnhaag — the Lord’s Grove — and took the imagery further:

he led the Single Brethren’s Choir composed of the unmarried men in the Congregation. Excessive use of sexual imagery, combined with questionable theology of “playing in the Lord,” came to mean that the young men did little work and came to look down on those who were in the mission field laboring for the Kingdom instead of spending every moment adoring the Savior. Ensuing scandal and near-financial ruin forced Ludwig to chastise his son, bringing him to England. Casimir Count of Isenburg-Buedingen demanded the submission of the Moravians of Herrnhaag to himself, and that they reject their allegiance to the elder Zinzendorf. The entire community rejected this demand, leading to the closure of Herrnhaag beginning in 1750-53.

Christian Renatus died in 1752. Zinzendorf felt a profound loss. Two years before, the Count was almost forced to file for bankruptcy, having spent his fortune on financing Herrnhut and the missions. In 1756, his wife died; she was also a close friend and confidante. However, only a year later, he married Anna Caritas Nitschmann, 15 years younger than he.  Wikipedia explains:

he had been very close [to her] for many years. Anna had for years been spiritual leader of the women of the movement. The marriage was not publicized broadly since Anna was a commoner, and would have been extremely controversial.


Zinzendorf died in 1760.  Anna went to her rest just a few weeks later. Zinzendorf’s son-in-law took his place as head of the Moravian communities.

Soon: More on pietism in other denominations

Votes have consequences, especially when times are hard. 

An Austrian woman, Kitty Werthmann, was fortunate to emigrate to the United States after the Second World War.  She describes her experiences growing up in Nazi Germany here and here.  (On the second link, scroll halfway down.)

First, let me just remind — or inform — readers that the word ‘Nazi’ is short for National Socialist German Workers Party.  Yes, that’s right — ‘socialist’ and ‘workers’.  They were a left-wing party, not a right-wing one.  If that seems confusing in light of their antipathy to Communism, just recall that leftist factions are usually fighting each other.  Read late 19th and 20th century Russian history and you’ll see what I mean.  Read about Mussolini, a fascist, and Gramsci, father of the ‘long march through the institutions’ in 20th century Italy; they were two leftists battling it out, figuratively.  There are various strands of leftism, all seemingly opposed to the other but with the goal in mind of controlling people and resources.  If you wish to explore this further, please read about Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism.  I learned this in high school, but many didn’t.

Back to Ms Werthmann, who is now 77 and lives in South Dakota.  This is a particularly important story for those living in the UK and the US.  See how many parallels you can recognise in her story with politics and social engineering in your own countries.  (Emphases mine below.)  Please take the time to read this and share it with your families, especially young people.

On the electorate

I cannot tell you that Hitler took Austria by tanks and guns; it would distort history. We elected him by a landslide – 98% of the vote. I’ve never read that in any American publications. Everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks and took Austria by force.  In 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly one-third of our workforce was unemployed. We had 25% inflation and 25% bank loan interest rates.

Farmers and business people were declaring bankruptcy daily. Young people were going from house to house begging for food. Not that they didn’t want to work; there simply weren’t any jobs

Leftist conflicts

The Communist Party and the National Socialist Party were fighting each other.  Blocks and blocks of cities like Vienna, Linz, and Graz were destroyed.

The influence of propaganda

We looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany, where Hitler had been in power since 1933. We had been told that they didn’t have unemployment or crime, and they had a high standard of living. Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group — Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone was happy. We wanted the same way of life in Austria. We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment and help for the family. Hitler also said that businesses would be assisted, and farmers would get their farms back

We were overjoyed, and for three days we danced in the streets and had candlelight parades. The new government opened up big field kitchens and everyone was fed.

‘Like a miracle’

After the election, German officials were appointed, and like a miracle, we suddenly had law and order. Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.

Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn’t support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated that they could retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up for marriage.

What happened to church schools

This part is particularly important, especially for those who say that Hitler was a Catholic.  Well, so was Stalin.  Originally.  They both apostasised.

The day we elected Hitler (March 13, 1938), I walked into my schoolroom to find the crucifix replaced by Hitler’s picture hanging next to a Nazi flag. Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told the class we wouldn’t pray or have religion anymore

Sunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance. Parents were not pleased about the sudden change in curriculum. They were told that if they did not send us, they would receive a stiff letter of warning the first time. The second time they would be fined the equivalent of $300, and the third time they would be subject to jail. The first two hours consisted of political indoctrination. The rest of the day we had sports. As time went along, we loved it. Oh, we had so much fun and got our sports equipment free. We would go home and gleefully tell our parents about the wonderful time we had.

My mother was very unhappy. When the next term started, she took me out of public school and put me in a convent … she told me that someday when I grew up, I would be grateful … Every once in a while, on holidays, I went home. I would go back to my old friends and ask what was going on and what they were doing. Their loose lifestyle was very alarming to me. They lived without religion. By that time unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for Hitler. It seemed strange to me that our society changed so suddenly. As time went along, I realized what a great deed my mother did so that I wasn’t exposed to that kind of humanistic philosophy.

Government control of food

In 1939, the war started and a food bank was established. All food was rationed and could only be purchased using food stamps. At the same time, a full-employment law was passed which meant if you didn’t work, you didn’t get a ration card, and if you didn’t have a card, you starved to death. Women who stayed home to raise their families didn’t have any marketable skills and often had to take jobs more suited for men.

We had consumer protection. We were told how to shop and what to buy … We had a planning agency specially designed for farmers. The agents would go to the farms, count the live-stock, then tell the farmers what to produce, and how to produce it.

State control of the family

When the mothers had to go out into the work force, the government immediately established child care centers. You could take your children ages 4 weeks to school age and leave them there around-the-clock, 7 days a week, under the total care of the government. The state raised a whole generation of children. There were no motherly women to take care of the children, just people highly trained in child psychology. By this time, no one talked about equal rights. We knew we had been had.

Health care ‘free’

Before Hitler, we had very good medical care. Many American doctors trained at the University of Vienna. After Hitler, health care was socialized, free for everyone. Doctors were salaried by the government. The problem was, since it was free, the people were going to the doctors for everything. When the good doctor arrived at his office at 8 a.m., 40 people were already waiting and, at the same time, the hospitals were full. If you needed elective surgery, you had to wait a year or two for your turn. There was no money for research as it was poured into socialized medicine. Research at the medical schools literally stopped, so the best doctors left Austria and emigrated to other countries.


our tax rates went up to 80% of our income. Newlyweds immediately received a $1,000 loan from the government to establish a household. We had big programs for families. All day care and education were free. High schools were taken over by the government and college tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free handouts, such as food stamps, clothing, and housing.

Health and Safety

This type of thing happens in the UK:

My brother-in-law owned a restaurant that had square tables. Government officials told him he had to replace them with round tables because people might bump themselves on the corners. Then they said he had to have additional bathroom facilities. It was just a small dairy business with a snack bar. He couldn’t meet all the demands. Soon, he went out of business.

Mentally deficient not wanted

In 1944, I was a student teacher in a small village in the Alps … When I arrived, I was told there were 15 mentally retarded adults, but they were all useful and did good manual work. I knew one, named Vincent, very well. He was a janitor of the school. One day I looked out the window and saw Vincent and others getting into a van. I asked my superior where they were going. She said to an institution where the State Health Department would teach them a trade, and to read and write. The families were required to sign papers with a little clause that they could not visit for 6 months. They were told visits would interfere with the program and might cause homesickness.

As time passed, letters started to dribble back saying these people died a natural, merciful death. The villagers were not fooled. We suspected what was happening. Those people left in excellent physical health and all died within 6 months. We called this euthanasia.

Gun registration

We have this in the UK, mostly because of one incident, albeit serious, in the 1990s.  It took me a long time to realise what a dangerous law this is:

People were getting injured by guns. Hitler said that the real way to catch criminals (we still had a few) was by matching serial numbers on guns. Most citizens were law abiding and dutifully marched to the police station to register their firearms. Not long after-wards, the police said that it was best for everyone to turn in their guns. The authorities already knew who had them, so it was futile not to comply voluntarily…

Now, our only weapons were broom handles

After World War II, Russian troops occupied Austria. Women were raped, preteen to elderly. The press never wrote about this either. When the Soviets left in 1955, they took everything that they could, dismantling whole factories in the process. They sawed down whole orchards of fruit, and what they couldn’t destroy, they burned. We called it The Burned Earth. Most of the population barricaded themselves in their houses. Women hid in their cellars for 6 weeks as the troops mobilized. Those who couldn’t, paid the price. There is a monument in Vienna today, dedicated to those women who were massacred by the Russians. This is an eye witness account.

Personal freedom

We could not board a bus or train without our ID card

Free speech was curtailed with the enforcement of the federal police (Gestapo). With a large network of informers, people were afraid to say anything political, even in their own homes …

‘The simmering frog’ or ‘moving the goalposts’

Totalitarianism didn’t come quickly, it took 5 years from 1938 until 1943, to realize full dictatorship in Austria . Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism …


… we have to protect our civil liberties. While some people need power to secure our freedom, we must be ever-vigilant to maintain a system of checks and balances

It’s true … those of us who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to a country of unbelievable freedom and opportunity.  America Truly is the Greatest Country in the World.  Don’t Let Freedom Slip Away.

After America, There is No Place to Run.

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