World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit is visiting Czech Republic this week, joining the Evangelical Church of the Brethren (ECCB) in the celebration of its 100th anniversary, then meeting with leaders from the Czechoslovak Hussite Church.
Tveit offered greetings to the ECCB during its festive occasion, celebrated in the Municipal House, Smetana Hall, in the presence of many ecumenical guests.
“The fellowship of WCC rejoices today, together with one of its founding members, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren,” Tveit said.
Yet the history of the church is also one of suffering, struggle and marginalization, particularly during the periods of Nazism, communism, and the Cold War. “Even now, in the post-communist era, the ECCB continues to face various challenges,” Tveit reflected, and described the way the church has met these challenges as “a remarkable sign of accountability, that contributed to establish confidence for the future work of the church in this country and in the wider ecumenical family.”
Tveit continued, “Your history is a significant part of the history of the one ecumenical movement and of the WCC. It is important to see the nuanced and wider picture of a world in need of justice and peace, and the efforts of the churches to find their ways together in changing times.”
“Even during the darkest days of your history, the ECCB has been able to witness the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Czech people in times of restriction and suppression. Even now, in the post-communist era, the ECCB continues to face various challenges,” Tveit said.
In an address to the Czechoslovak Hussite Church and Patriarch Tomas Butta on 17 December, Tveit acknowledged and encouraged the church’s ecumenical witness.
“The Czechoslovak Hussite Church has led by example, resolving the issue of women’s roles in the church even as early as 70 years ago,” Tveit said. “This means that you, our sisters and brothers, started addressing such an issue at the same time as women who were midwives of the World Council of Churches were collecting the churches’ responses to their survey on the role of women in the church.”
Taking stock of the church’s unique role in the ecumenical family, building on the traditions from Jan Huss and the modernization movement in the Roman Catholic Church of the late 19th century, Tveit also reflected on the importance of its work for freedom of conscience, of religion, and the importance of religious tolerance.
“The insights of Jan Hus about the role of the Bible in the life of the church and the celebration of the sacraments tested not only the received practices of his day. They also tested the tolerance and theological openness of his fellow churchman, of church theologians, and of the power structure of the local and international church structures of the time,” Tveit said.
The Hussite movement and rebellions also take an honoured place in the long march toward a full range of human rights, Tveit added.
“Only Christian churches reconciled in unity with one another can witness authentically to all humanity on the virtues of respect and love,” he said. “The politicization of religion has been discussed in the WCC for several years now, but we see it as a growing reality in many contexts.”