Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia

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The Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia presents both an ancient history as well as a very modern history. The present day Church occupies the lands, Moravia, where the brothers SS. Cyril and Methodius began their mission to the Slavs, introducing the liturgical and canonical order of the Orthodox Eastern Church, translated into the Slavic language. In doing this they developed the first slavic alphabet. This mission was destroyed after Methodius died in 885, as Pope Stephen V of Rome forced all disciples of the brothers to leave the countryside which now is the Czech Republic. The Orthodox order survived in present day Slovakia due to its nearness and influence to Kievian Russia until the union with Rome was instituted by the Viennese Court.

After the legal restrains to Orthodoxy were removed with the end of World War I, many people left the Roman Catholic Church. Many looked to the Serbian Orthodox Church as parts of it had been within the pre-war union. Among them was a Roman Catholic priest, Matthias Pavlik, who had been interested in Orthodox Christianity for years. The Church of Serbia, thus, consented to consecrate Fr. Matthias as a bishop of the Orthodox Church with the name Gorazd.

On September 25, 1921 Archimandrite Gorazd was consecrated Bishop of Moravia and Silesia at the Cathedral of the Holy Archangel Michael in Belgrade, Yugoslavia by Patriarch Dimitri of Serbia. Bp. Gorazd (Pavlik) is considered to be in the succession from Archbishop Methodius of Moravia and bears the name of one of St Methodius’ disciples and successor, Bp. Gorazd.

As the Orthodox leader in the new nation of Czechoslovakia, Bp. Gorazd laid the foundations of the Orthodox Church throughout Bohemia, Moravia, and into Slovakia. In Bohemia, he oversaw the building of eleven churches and two chapels. He also had published the essential books for the conduct of church service that were translated in the Czech language. He provided aid to those in Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia which then was part of Czechoslovakia, and who wanted to return to their ancestral Orthodox faith. Thus, in the intra war period, Bp. Gorazd built the small Czech church that during World War II would show how firmly it was connected to the Czech nation.

As Hitler and his Nazis swept through Europe, a harsh rule descended on each nation. Czechoslovakia was no different as it suffered under the rule of Hitler’s heir apparent, Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich. After the May 27, 1942 assassination attack on Heydrich’s car near the SS Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Cathedral in Prague, the Czech patriots took refuge in the crypt of the Cathedral before continuing their escape. They were aided in this by senior church laymen and about which Bp. Gorazd was informed. However, their presence was discovered by the Nazis, and on June 18 the Nazis attacked their hiding place in the Cathedral, killing them. The Orthodox priests, laymen, and Bp. Gorazd were arrested and killed by firing squads on September 4, 1942.

In reprisal the Nazis forbid the church to operate in Bohemia and Moravia, the churches and chapels were closed, and a round up of Czechs was conducted, including the whole village of Lidice, who were either killed or sent off to forced labor camps. For the Orthodox Church the whole church fell under the Nazi persecutions and was decimated. A total of 256 Orthodox priests and lay people were executed, and church life came to a stop.

After World War II the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia began its recovery, without its beloved bishop. On December 9, 1951, the Patriarch of Moscow granted an autocephalous status to the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia. The Patriarch of Constantinople followed on August 27, 1998 with a Tomos of autocephaly.

The martyrdom of Bp. Gorazd was recognized by the Serbian Orthodox Church on May 4, 1961, as a New Martyr. Subsequently, on August 24, 1987 he was glorified at the Cathedral of St. Gorazd in Olomouc, Moravia.

The Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia is now organized into four eparchies under the first hierarch, the Archbishop of Prague and Metropolitan of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, assisted by a vicar of the Prague eparchy with the title of Bishop of Marianske Lazne. The four eparchies, each led by a bishop, are: Prague, Olomouc-Brno, Presov, and Michalovce. After the Czech and Slovak Republics separated into independent republics in 1993, activity continued in each country as separate legal entities: in the Czech Republic as the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and in the Slovak Republic as the Orthodox Church in Slovakia.

There are 82 parishes in the Czech Republic with 51 in Bohemia and 31 in Moravia and Silesia. The Orthodox Theological Faculty of the University of Presov provides an education for future priests.

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