Autumn 1999 Volume 1 Number 4
Samuel Simon Schmucker/Bicentennial Views III
[LTSG HomePage]

The Liturgical Life of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia as a Witness to her struggles and visions

By Julius Filo, Bishop, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia,

Translated Paul R. Hinlicky with Ellen I. Hinlicky

Introduction: What is the relevance of this theme?

A glance at the liturgical practice of contemporary Christian churches reveals a double concern. On the one side, it is as if we observed in the churches a contest for the preservation and renewal
of liturgical life on the basis of its biblical and historical roots. On the other side, it is possible to observe an effort to respond to cultural and historical changes in such a way that in every one of
its parts the divine service would address the human being in these changing times.

The New Evangelical Church Lexicon attests a lively effort in the field of practical theology in contemporary Lutheran churches to overcome a crisis about how to express the life of Christian faith.These endeavors move between "the abstract alternative" of a complete abandonment of the original liturgical forms and attempts at historical renewal of the Divine Liturgy.

The Lutheran World Federation in Geneva has also reacted to these realities of the present time. After its last assembly in Curibita, Brazil, a broad, global program of research into the relationship of the Divine Liturgy and culture unfolded, conducted by the Department for Theology and Studies. After two meetings of an international study team, the program concentrates now on regional research. The purpose of this is to answer the question of regional specifics of cultural sensitivity in liturgical phenomenon of today's Lutheran churches and of the capacities of these phenomenon to interpret the constant values of divine grace by way of traditional as well as new forms. The Rev. Dr. Anita Stauffer, of the ELCA, today a staff memberof the Lutheran World Federation, conducts this program.

Are these efforts only signs of the present time, or do they deal with transhistorical phenomena? Do we discover these realities also in the worship services of the Evangelical Churches of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia both in her history and at present? How did the Divine Liturgy react to the changing conditions of its operation in history? How does it reflect and support the struggle of the church with the challenges of the time and the vision of new tasks?  Can these questions at least partly be answered on the basis of the published expressions and the reports that have been preserved about the history of the liturgy in the Lutheran church in Slovakia?

1. The Divine Liturgy is the basic expression of the life and vitality of the church.

The foregoing questions rightly turn our attention to the worship service, the Divine Service. Why? In the worship service, we deal with the basic channel which transmits to the church lifegiving
energy from the inexhaustible source of divine grace. Insofar as the worship service is the bridge of the divine gifts of grace at work through the basic means of grace, through God's Word and the
Sacraments, it equally designates the primary place of contact and reception of these gifts from the side of the human person. Therefore, the question turns totally on how the transmission and
reception of these gifts is realized.

Accordingly, it is not surprising what great interest has been devoted to the changes in this field in every historical epoch. Every synod of the Lutheran church in the past centuries, and above all in
the period after the Reformation, devoted great attention to the decisions about liturgical life.

2. Basic general characteristics of the history of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia that shaped the environment of the Divine Liturgy.

The Lutheran Church has attempted to realize the mission which was entrusted to her by God already from the time of the Reformation. The Lutheran is thus one of the historic churches of our country. The development of the Reformation was known also in our country from the
beginning. Our church historian, Jan Kvachala, states in his work, The History of the Reformation in Slovakia (p. 39fn), that already, for example, at the Imperial Council in Worms in April 1521 and in Nurnberg in 1522-23, a representative of King Ludwig II participated, who was named Stefan Verboczy.

Most important, however, were the contacts with the lands of the Reformation through students, who above all publicized the reform of the mass and the re-organization of the church. In many cases the reception of the Reformation simply came about in this way: the Augsburg Confession was read, for example in the city council, and the decision for change was completed by the reception of the necessary new regulations about the order of the mass. Professor
Kvachala attests that, already before the Peace of Augsburg in 1550, there were synods. This indicates the existence of church organization on the transcongregational level (p. 61).

In spite of the fact that the Imperial Hungarian laws from the years 1548 to 1553 wanted to stop the progress of the Reformation, the Evangelical Churches of the Augsburg Confession and the Helvitic Confession soon became the major confessional groups. In these laws, to be sure, there was also a concern for the reaction to the removal of altars and images from churches which had elicited a wave of scandal.

In our country the church used the results of the Peace of Vienna after the Bocskay uprising on 23 June 1606 to organize the church at the synods in Zilina in 1610 and in Spisske Podhradie in 1614. In the following period the Protestant churches in the Hungarian empire were the majority group, although the leadership of the country was in the hands of the Roman Catholic Habsburg dynasty.

It is indicative of this period that, similarly as in the Scandinavian lands, with us also the distinctive marks of the Lutheran church came sooner in theological, organizational and programmatic matters. It is possible to presuppose almost complete continuity in liturgical components which were in no need of any reformation.

A terrible break was the period of the Counter-Reformation under Leopold I (1670-1681). This emperor tried to destroy the Lutheran church. The Lutheran church lost approximately 880 congregations during this period. Schools, parsonages and all immovable property
were taken. Priests were taken to court; some were expelled from their homeland; others were shut into prisons; many even were sold as galley slaves. The Lutheran church lost the possibility to publicly conduct worship services.

Duke Imrich Tokoly led an uprising against the repressive policies of the emperor, which led to the signing of a peace agreement in 1681. According to this, it was once again possible to renew worship life, but altogether probably in only 50 churches. In the majority of cases, that meant the new construction of wooden churches according to strict regulations and with many restrictions. A further important date in the life of our church was the year 1781, when Emperor Joseph II published his Law of Toleration. On this basis it was possible to request to form a congregation and construct a church building, but under the strict rule that a signed list of one hundred member families was submitted. In the year 1848, twenty legal articles were adopted in our country which granted equality to all confessions of faith.

The period from the beginning of the Counter Reformation under Leopold I through the period which we call in our history, the period of The Hidden Persecution, through the Law of Toleration up to the year 1848 was a time of dramatic changes in liturgical life. The Lutheran church lived in an environment where it experienced misery at the hands of the government and the Roman Catholic church. From this followed the need for them to distinguish their own way of
expressing faith. This period is accordingly a period in which new melodies were created for the important liturgical components of the worship service which led to a greater formal differentiation of Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches in liturgical life. It led to the gradual exclusion in the majority of the congregations of the feast days of the biblical Evangelists which up until now had been retained and also the biblically based Marian holidays insofar as even these older Marian holidays were now judged to be Roman Catholic.

In this period of misery, reduced fellowship and restriction, moreover, there also transpired a reduction of the variety of liturgical activities, and the separation of the Lord's Supper from
the Divine Liturgy in the synod of Ruzomberok in 1707.

The Lutheran church, on account of its evangelistic intention, used the language of the people in its worship from the beginning. Accordingly, the cultivation of the national language also mattered
to her. For this reason the generation of Lutheran pastors in the period of the national Slovak revival around the year 1848 was an influential power in this national movement. The majority of poets and writers were from the Lutheran church and even the codification of the Slovak language is connected with the generation of the pastors of our church from this period. That is so in spite of the fact that the Lutheran church no longer represented the largest church of the land (probably only 15-20%). It is, however, an equally extraordinary paradox that in spite of this endeavor to promote literary Slovak and broad literary activity, liturgical language remained so-called "biblicism," (analogous in English to King James English) up until 1951. This so-called 'biblicism' was an archaic form of the Czech language, into which the Kralicky Bible had been
translated in 1579-94. This language appeared in our services at least partly up until the publication of the Slovak hymnal in 1992. For many, this language became a definite type of sacred language
similar to the Old Church Slavonic of the Orthodox Church. But in such a comparison, it is necessary to note that the intelligibility of this old Czech for Slovaks today is significantly greater than Old Church Slavonic is, for example, to Russians or Slovaks today.

Under the government of the Communist Party from 1948-1989, space for renewal of liturgical life did not exist. Alongside the interest of the previous government in controlling and reducing spiritual life to a minimal level, this period also manifested political control over pastors in their spiritual tasks. A priest could be active only in a congregation for which he was given the authority. No one could function in a congregation publicly alongside the pastor without the agreement of the appropriate state officials. After years of other restrictions, this principle led to the further concentration of responsibility for the organization of liturgical life on the pastor of the congregation. In liturgical life accordingly the roles of deacons or acolytes were never re-created (as happened in the renewal of liturgical life in sister churches). Collaborative efforts, like congregational choirs, are also rather irregular and restricted probably to only a third of the congregations. In these
congregations such choirs, possibly even with four voices, perform especially in the annual holidays of the church year.

Our church, which today has 326 parishes and according to the results of a government census, 329,000 members, but an insufficient number of pastors (probably 80 parsonages are unoccupied), nevertheless survived this time of testing as a relatively lively church by European standards. Witness to this is the number of participants at Sunday services, around 10% of all the members. The fellowship of those who stood faithfully under the cross of persecution in
difficult years has become a good starting point for the new development of the church in the period of freedom from external limitations. A positive testimony of this is also the enormous
interest in the study of theology in the present time. Our church has together around 246 pastors in active service, and 180 students at its seminary.

3. The chief point of departure and the turning points in the history of the Divine Service in the Slovak Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.

The history of the Lutheran worship service directly profited from contributions from Germany already in the period of the Reformation. The credit for that goes especially to those Germans living on the territory of Slovakia who had lively contacts in the Reformation lands. Especially important were eastern towns and mining towns with significant shares of German population. Among the Slovak people, the Trenciansky region stood out. Let me mention three indications of
this from the 16th century. The "Eastern Articles" from 1540 are the name given to ecclesiastical
regulations which originated in the organization of Eastern Slovak cities. Their purpose was not so much to organize the church as an institution, but rather the principles of liturgical life. They have
26 parts. As these articles themselves say: Ceremonies must be conducted in language which everyone understands. According to the Fourth Article all idolatry and superstition must be removed from the Divine Service and all festivals founded upon superstition must be eliminated. The Eastern Articles are the first evidence of an attempt by citizens living on the territory of today's Slovakia to re-organize church life and especially the worship service in the sense of the reformation principles of change.

Connected with the reform of the worship service are also three confessions of faith which originated at that time and which we can regard as a representative of distinctive features of our history and which witness to the intensity of the reformation changes. As responses to the challenge of Ferdinand the First in the year 1549 that the eastern cities and the mining towns give reasons for their departure from the Roman Catholic church, the Pentapolitana Confession stands out first of all as the response of five eastern cities. Afterwards in 1559 the mining towns wrote their confession
under the name, Montana, and in 1569 likewise the Spis cities published their confession under the name, Scepusiana. All these are written on the basis of the Augsburg Confession. A noteworthy and distinctive feature of them is that they employ abundant argumentation from the Church fathers to demonstrate the truthfulness of the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession.

The greatest foundation for the evolution of the Slovak Lutheran worship service was laid in the Upper Trenciansky liturgical laws of 1580. These are undeniable proof of the theological maturity and independence of the Slovak Lutherans of the 16th century on our territory. In their concluding words, these laws speak about the retention of ceremonies which help to adorn the church, but the
removal of those which are a source of idolatry. The section, De ritibus, besides other important regulations, speaks about public confession. Yet at the same time it does not condemn personal
confession in conversation with the priest. Instead it requires that this be voluntary and serve the instruction of the penitent in the three parts of repentance: sorrow of the heart, faith and new
obedience. We also find here regulations about all the liturgical functions of the Lord's Supper, about the early Sunday service, about the chief Divine Liturgy on Sunday and festivals, about the rejection of the offertory, about holidays, catechumens, the exemplary lives of priests, the burial of believers and also of unbelievers. The regulation about the burial of unbelievers gets the colorful title,"Jack-Ass's Funeral for the Ungodly!"

Prof. Jan Petrik, author of a History of the Slovak Evangelical Worship Service (Tranoscius, 1946) lifts up the significance of these liturgical laws for three reasons: First, they quickly spread into
all the Lutheran districts and directly contributed to the creation of their own liturgical practices. (For this it is necessary also to lift up the numerous handwritten agendas which Prof. Petrik
researched in his book, Church Agendas (Tranoscius, 1948). Second, by means of these laws the right to use the mother-tongue, "vernacula lingua," was validated alongside the reform of the worship service. And third, the Wittenberg (Saxon) Agenda was often the liturgical
book directly utilized, and thus served as a direct inspiration and source for the Slovak Lutheran worship service. The "Ritus ecclesiae Wittenbergensis" was confirmed as the basic source of inspiration also by the Synod in Zilina in 1610, at which the creation of the first districts and elections of the first bishops of the Lutheran church came about.

A significant milestone of liturgical life is represented by the "Cytara Sanctorum," a hymnal authored in the 1636 by Juraj Tranovsky and known by the name of the Tranoscius Hymnbook. This was
practically the first published liturgical book. Thus it played a huge role in the creation of liturgical unity among the Slovak Lutherans. The original number of hymns in it was 402. After the
first edition, there were another 150 additions, and in the final expansion of this hymnal it had 1305 hymns. Probably in two thirds of our congregations this hymnal was used up until the publication of
the new Slovak hymnal in 1992. The significance of this hymnal is above all the hymns that are in it. Juraj Tranovsky, who came from Silesia, used the language of Kralicky Czech in this hymnal, which was already known from the use of the Bible in the church. His hymnological creations were inspired by Czech hymns. In place of the short liturgical pieces, such as the Kyrie or the Gloria, he
introduced a series of hymns written as special seasonal Kyries for Advent, Christmas, etc. The confession of the Creed appears in a similar way, sung as a hymn.

The significance of this hymnal is also liturgical insofar as by means of the arrangement of the hymns in the hymnal, by the transformation of the Introits, and by instructions to the organist, it practically directed the order of the worship service. Insofar as this hymnal was used by at least two thirds of our congregations for 356 years, its significance is immeasurable.

A hymnal which was published by the generation of the famous Slovak poets and nation builders in the year 1842 was received probably only in one third of the Slovak Lutheran congregations. The spirit of this hymnal was somewhat influenced by Rationalism. The reason for the rejection of it, then, is the unconquerable theological power deriving from traditional hymnological creations, both Czech and Slovak.

The final jewel in the development of the Slovak Lutheran worship service that I want to mention is the Agenda of Bishop Daniel Krman, who died in prison during the period of the persecution of the
Lutherans. The Agenda was published in 1734, when Krman was imprisoned in the Bratislava castle. It was supposed to be an Agenda for the three national languages of the Lutheran church which were alive in the Hungarian Empire: German, Hungarian and Slovak. The first edition of the Agenda, however, came out only in Slovak (actually, in the aforementioned Kralicky Czech). The Synod in Ruzomberok in 1707 had directed the separation of the Lord's Supper from the framework of the Divine Liturgy. Krman, however, preserved the integrity of the Divine Liturgy (just as had the Upper Trenciansky Laws and also as the Tranoscius Hymnal indicated). He did
not separate the Lord's Supper from the Divine Liturgy. He acknowledged the possibility, however, that there might be no communicants. That would be evident if there were no penitents
present, probably at the early Sunday service, where people prepared themselves to receive Holy Communion. It is also interesting that although the Elevation was forbidden already in the Upper Trenciansky Liturgical Laws in 1580, Krman reintroduced it in his Agenda after the Words of Institution and before the Distribution in the order of the Lord's Supper.

4. The need for changes in liturgical life in a church functioning in a democratic and pluralistic society.

As we noted above, the period of dramatic changes in liturgical life is also reflected in the fact that many of the treasures from pre-Reformation times were lost in their original form. For example,
the liturgical melodies of the Gregorian type were almost completely replaced by our own melodies which were culturally closer to the people.

Yet our church persists in the chanting of the collects, the texts of the Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalms. This seems to be a unique specialty in the liturgical practice of Lutheran churches. Also
pertaining to this chanting is a concern for melodies suitable in the domestic environment.

In the interest of re-utilization of these valuable liturgical practices of the pre-Reformation period, the liturgical committee of our church suggested already before 1989 an order of service
including the liturgy of the Lord's Supper and a completely new melodic formation of the Introits in the old pre-Counter-Reformation musical style. These are proposed as a second possibility to the
original, i.e., today more familiar Slovak Lutheran tune which developed in reaction to the Persecution.

Alongside changes in music, there are proposals to return some liturgical components of the worship service which have fallen out in the interim. One of these is the Confiteor by means of which a short prayer of repentance or even a short order of confession without personal absolution should be returned to the beginning of the worship service. In connection with suggestions about the wording of the Confiteor, we are considering the existing forms of the Confiteor in sister churches in other countries.

In regard to the changed social-aesthetical requirements of today's worship participants, the church sees the need for further changes in the order of service. In the past, the worship service began with the entrance of the priest into the chancel with organ music. Most of the time the priest returned to the sacristy directly from the worshipping assembly, so frequently the people left the church without greetings or even saying goodbye.

The emphasis on fellowship in the church, fellowship between the pastor and congregation, and between individual members of the congregation, requires a search for different expressions in the
cultural context of today and in the situation of open competition from other protestant churches in these matters.

Accordingly, before the Confiteor and after the Introit (which is the first invocation of God by the whole assembly), a short address to the gathered is inserted in which, alongside welcoming and greeting the people, the kerygmatic center of the liturgical meeting is indicated. In English sometimes this is called the Announcement of the Day.

The question of the position of the pastor with his back to the congregation during the hymns, prayers and during the consecration of the elements of the Lord's Supper certainly can be explained as representing action in the name of the people, who are standing in the same direction. i.e., towards God. However, this is culturally strange, especially for new members of the congregation. Certainly decisive in this matter is the position of the altar which in the
majority of cases in our church is not free-standing, as these are being built in new churches in other lands and also in Slovakia.

An important task is also the conclusion of the worship service, where room must be made for the personal contact of the members of the congregation with the pastor in conversation or hospitality.

A broader use of spiritual, liturgical creations of sister churches in foreign lands is a way to further renewal. We are concerned here especially with partner churches like the ELCA and its Slovak Zion Synod. Also there is for example the Lutheran church in Wurttemberg and Thuringia, in Germany.

The reform of the worship space comes to mind especially during the construction of new churches. In the last four years, our church has erected eighteen new churches and chapels. In the majority of cases this led to plans which reflected new possibilities in the shaping of worship space. Nevertheless, the free standing altar is still a rarity. Reform of the worship space in historical church buildings is often also a problem of the protection of a cultural monument and then also the inadequacy of the space in Lutheran churches which were proposed in more modest dimensions.

The understanding of office in the church and the extension and definition of the liturgical tasks of the bearers of office also represent a way forward. Partly the concern here is with overcoming
the consequences of a time which did not allow the liturgical utilization of laity in worship events in association with the pastor. Our church is preparing to elaborate a conception of diaconal
ministry and to prepare and to call from among the laity co-workers of the pastors in liturgical events. In this theological and practical task the church counts on the help of sister churches in
foreign lands.

The duty of responsibility for the church leads us to new arrangements for bringing forward gifts in the worship service. Today's practice is, in the majority of cases, that the collection
takes place at the departure from the church. It is not accompanied by prayers and rarely is a specific goal for it indicated. The obligation of members to contribute to the needs of the congregation is not commended this way. In order that we be awakened to better
bearing of responsibility for the activity of the church, it is necessary to place the offering at least sometimes somewhere within the worship service. The new liturgical order offers such a

The Sacraments belong to the framework of the worship service. So declares the thesis which had convinced especially those congregations which have begun to practice a more regular celebration
of the Lord's Supper in the framework of the worship service. In many congregations both Sacraments have practically come to be celebrated only outside the worship service. Probably there is not one congregation of our church where the Lord's Supper is celebrated in the framework of every Sunday's service. Wherever the sacraments have been introduced into the framework of the worship service, there a spiritual awakening was soon to be seen.

The responsibility for the training of children who have been received by baptism into the church becomes very evident when we locate baptism in the worship service. Likewise that blessing of the
divine service of God for his people becomes more evident and more powerful when the Lord's Supper becomes a more regular part of the worship life of the community.

In conclusion, I mention a problem for worship life which can be called "the conflict between the spiritual cultures of the youth and the congregation." The independent Bible hours of the youth create their own independent spiritual culture, which is mostly very ecumenical and practically identical between the youth of all the churches, not only Protestants. The way out of this conflict is to integrate new spiritual hymns and the spiritual gifts of the youth, for example, their sincere prayer life and their preparedness to witness to their faith, into the framework of the Lutheran church
service as a fulfillment of inner mission in which the general priesthood proclaimed by our church is manifested.


A look at the dramatic history of our worship life shows us a spiritual creation that developed in obedience to God's word and Spirit. Difficult times often preserved a purified liturgical
phenomenon close to the people of its time. The possibility of a blossoming of worship life before a new horizon faces our church in these times of freedom from external limitations. This possibility
could be taken up only in connection with the whole of Christ's body, that is, with sister churches near and far in the oikumene, in love toward the liturgical inheritance and sensitivity to the cultural
needs of the people of God today.

A Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
1999 Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg