The Prague Fringe Festival is underway in this city of many theaters (almost as many as there are churches). One of the venues hosting events is the lovely little Hussite Church of St. John the Baptist in Mala Strana at the edge of Kampa Park. I attended a concert there last evening – local pop/folk singer favorite, Alasdair Bouch, accompanied by friends on sax, oboe, cello and exotic timpani. The musicians entered the church carrying lighted candles and placed them around the sanctuary, which only increased the sense of holiness of this tiny place of worship. The feeling was palpable and I’m far from the only one to pick up this vibe from Kostel Sv. Jana Kritele Na Pradele, as the Church is known in Czech. This is a holy place of prayer and worship which also serves as a concert venue for some carefully chosen artists, from Japanese flute players to performers of Tibetan ritual instruments, the Dun, Kangling and Drill-bu – celebrating the Tibetan New Year of the Metal Tiger. Yesterday evening we listened to the soulful melodies of Alasdair Bouch, who performed under the very striking wooden sculpture of the Risen Christ above the chiseled stone altar. Seen from the distance of the back row, the figure above the altar seems to be a young woman. Squint a little and it appears to be an angel with upraised arms and hands. After the concert, I went up for a closer look. The figure does indeed have feminine curves, but looks more like a very youthful male with blond ringlets, page boy style, arms upraised over his head, palms turned upwards – with wounds in the palms, signifying that this is indeed a figure of the crucified and Risen Christ. The angel image? An angel is behind the figure embracing it with its wings, it’s left arm around the torso of the Christ with it’s hand placed over the youthful Christ figure’s heart. It is an astonishingly homoerotic and deeply spiritual, joyful image of liberation, freedom, intimacy and love. Who designed it and when? Don’t know, but it reflects a very liberated artistic vision. This is indeed a holy place imbued with the spirit of the Risen Master – embraced like a lover by a youthful angel.
This peaked my interest in the Hussite Church, and a bit of research later that evening revealed that it was founded in 1931 as yet another breakaway Church from Rome, with ties to the Old Catholic Church. It’s heresies were the familiar ones. The liturgy should be celebrated in the vernacular, the faithful should receive both elements of Communion, celibacy should be optional, women should be ordained. And in fact, in 2000, the Hussite Church ordained it’s first female bishop, with Catholic representatives attending the consecration. What this tells us – yet again – is that, while it is important to respect and preserve the uniqueness of particular religious traditions, the boundaries are slowly dissolving, and the Spirit of the Risen Christ is no respecter of dividing walls, but moves and blows where she will. She was certainly moving and stirring last night, during the concert of Alasdair Bouch, and many of us in this sacred space felt deeply moved.
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