His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, and His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West, will be the guests of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Krystof, Primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, during the last week of August 2011.
“An important aspect of the ministry of the Primate of an Autocephalous Church is to accept invitations to visit other Churches periodically, not only as a sign of brotherly communion, but Eucharistic communion,” said Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, Secretary of the Orthodox Church in America, who will accompany the hierarchs. “It is within this context that Metropolitan Jonah accepted Metropolitan Krystof’s invitation.”
During their visit, the hierarchs will visit Prague’s historic Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral and other parishes in the region of the capital. The cathedral is especially noteworthy for its association with the new martyr, Saint Gorazd Pavlik, Bishop of Prague. In the early 1940s, anti-Nazi paratroopers had been hidden in the cathedral’s crypt with Bishop Gorazd’s blessing. When the paratroopers were discovered and arrested by the Nazis, Saint Gorazd offered to exchange his life for those of his compatriots and the many Orthodox Christians arrested with them. Subsequently, he was imprisoned, tortured, subjected to a highly publicized show trial, and martyred. He was glorified in 1987.
They will visit parishes in Marianske Lazne, Frantiskovy Lazne, and Karlovy Vary; monasteries in Loučky, Amberg, and Vilemov. On Saturday and Sunday, August 27-28, Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Benjamin will concelebrate with Metropolitan Kryztof and other hierarchs of the Czech-Slovak Church at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Olšany, before visiting parishes across Moravia.
They are also slated to visit archeological discoveries dating back to the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius and Saint Gorazd Monastery, Hruba Vrbka, where they will meet with His Grace, Bishop Jáchym, Vicar of Olomouc.
The centerpiece of their visit will be a meeting with the Holy Synod of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.
The hierarchs will return to the US on Wednesday, August 31.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE CZECH LANDS AND SLOVAKIA
Tracing its roots to the missionary efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century, Orthodox Christianity in the region of what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia eventually found a stronghold in Transcarpathia, or eastern Slovakia. In the mid-17th century, as a result of the Union of Uzhorod, the vast majority of the Orthodox population entered into union with Roman Catholicism, while retaining many Orthodox rites and customs.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a revival of interest in the region’s traditional Orthodox Christian roots, ultimately leading to the establishment of the region’s first modern Orthodox eparchy in Prague. In 1923, the Patriarchate of Constantinople granted autonomous status to the fledgling Church, while in 1930 the Patriarchate of Serbia established another eparchy in the eastern city of Presov.
After a two-decade period of growth, Orthodox Christianity in the region suffered tremendously during World War II. The Church’s primate, Bishop Gorazd [Pavlik] was arrested and ultimately martyred, while over 200 Orthodox clergy and officials were killed or deported to German prison camps and all Church properties were confiscated.
In 1946, the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia was placed under the Patriarchate of Moscow, which established an exarchate in Prague. Hundreds of Greek Catholic parishes were received into the Orthodox Faith in 1950, and the Church was granted autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Moscow the following year.
During the 1968 “Prague Spring” period of liberalization, many Orthodox parishes returned to Greek Catholicism; many others followed suit after the fall of communism in 1989, resulting in the loss of hundreds of properties. In the early 1990s, with the establishment of the Czech Republic and Slovakia as distinct nations, the Orthodox Church was reorganized into two metropolitan provinces with headquarters in Prague and Presov, each of which oversees two dioceses. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a tomos recognizing the Church’s autocephalous status.
While many of the Church’s faithful are of Czech and Slovak descent, many of whom are converts to Orthodoxy, the demographic shifts experienced in the 1990s have brought hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians from the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, the borderless “Roma” state, and elsewhere into the region, presenting the struggling Church with new challenges and opportunities. Hundreds of new churches have been built or are currently under construction, and the uncertainties the Church experienced after the fall of communism have been replaced by the current period of restructuring and growth as an indigenous Church striving to maintain the vision and spirit of Saints Cyril and Methodius.