Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Slovak Churches and Proselytism

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Slovak Churches and Proselytism

Article excerpt

I. Slovak History: A Witness to Violent Proselytism and Intolerance

"It is unbelievable how many spiritual movements in the current of history have passed across the real life stage of today's Slovakia," Marta Melnikova, C.Sc., historian of the Slovak National Archive and a specialist in medieval history, said recently. [1] This statement implies that for Slovakia it is not and has not been possible to be or to remain a religiously homogenous country. Other questions immediately arise: What was the relation between those religious movements? How did these relations affect the political situation and society, if at all? To provide even a brief overview of the religious confessions that have played a part in the lives of Slovaks and their ancestors, we may start with the period of the evangelization of the Slays by Cyril and Methodius.

A. Conversion to Christianity

The years 863-907 C.E. were historically important. Great Moravia's chief prince Rastislav II first asked Rome, the seat of the Western church, for help in sending Christian missionaries to his territory, as follows:

There have been many teachers who came to our country from Vlachy [today's North Italy], Dalmatia, and Germany but they teach us differently. We Slays, we are simple folk0. We do not have anyone who would teach us the truth and explain the meaning. And so, good Pope, send us such a man who will be able to conform us to all righteousness.

The pope had nobody who could communicate in the language of the Slays. Rastislav II therefore turned to another Christian center, the Byzantium of Michal III. The time from 863 to 907 is remembered even today as a blessed time of the work of the two missionaries to the Slavs, Constantine (also called Cyril) and Methodius. Their missionary work was conducted in a language close to the one spoken in Slovak territory. Their achievements testify to the greatness of these two men, who served to Christianize the nation peacefully at the invitation of its ruler. Rastislav's successor, Svatopluk, invited Bavarian priests from the Franconian Empire in the West for political reasons. He expelled the disciples of Cyril and Methodius, and, in 870, the Bavarian priests imprisoned Methodius. [3]

The cuius regio, eius religio principle was at work. The Great Moravian Empire collapsed in 907. From that time on, the Slays of old Slovakia belonged to the Hungarian Empire and, later, to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Slavic liturgy was no longer heard in the churches of Slovakia. Of course, Christian life continued to develop in both organization and worship.

Confessional unity, however, was not to last for long. The recolonization of some territories that had been emptied as a result of the Tartar invasions in 1241 brought in some Orthodox Christians from the East, the subCarpathian Ruthenians. In the early fourteenth century, Karl Robert of the Anjou dynasty of the Hungarian Kingdom (1308-42) was known for his strong interventions into the affairs of the church. One of his ideas was to "catholicize" the Orthodox Ruthenian colonists. [4] Here is the first clear case of proselytism, since Christian missionaries had originally been invited into the Great Moravian Empire to Christianize its people. Interestingly enough, however, this proselytizing was initiated not by another church, or at least not directly, but by the king. He did not succeed. His intolerance was quickly overshadowed by the generosity of Matthew Corvinus (1458-90), another king, who granted official privilege to the Orthodox colonists of Romanian and Ruthenian origin in 1474. [5]

In the same centuries there was a completely new Christian movement represented by Peter Valdes and his spiritualistic followers, the Waldensians, that slowly entered Slovakia. The movement came from France via Italy, Austria, and Germany to the Czech Kingdom. There the Waldensians joined with the movement of John Milic from Kromeriz, and, in the fourteenth century, the movement came to Slovakia. …

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