Pastor Stefan Havlik was imprisoned from 1952-1957 for preaching the Word in the East European country of Czechoslovakia, his wife wrote to him, “I think of God’s distances, I read the letter of the apostles Peter and Paul… Now I see in you a great man in suffering. And for myself, if I have to raise up our children for eight years on my own, what a difficult duty, yet a beautiful one. Our Lord did not disappoint anyone. He shall stay with us.”
This story, shared by author Viola Fronkova, is one of many in her book The Church Under Oppression, recently published in the Slovak language by LHF.
The Slovak nation has a long history of religious suppression from an ever-changing government system. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the nation’s majority Catholic society brought about a long period of Lutheran persecution. After World War II, the church was then swiftly attacked again by Communist leaders.
Fronkova explains, “The spiritual unity of Lutherans was broken by that Communist persecution: there were pastors and other believers who carried the cross, who were imprisoned for their faith in the Lord God Almighty. Others had been misled by many State policy lies, some even bringing reports of the State authorities against their fellow neighbors, with sad consequences. Many believers have become nominal believers, considering the Lutheran Church just as a religious institution, not the Body of Christ.”
“The method was to allow the old people to finish their ‘unscientific religious thinking’ behind the walls of the Church. The younger generations and the children were going to build a new society without God,” continued Fronkova. If bishops or pastors were found to be giving younger people a Christian education, it was considered to be an attack on the State.
Even as they were persecuted (altogether up to 35 Lutheran pastors were sentenced together to 100 years of imprisonment), some Lutherans continued worshipping in private, keeping the faith alive.
One such Slovak was Lutheran pastor Pavel Uhorskai. He was imprisoned from 1951-1953 for preaching and was only released on amnesty after Stalin and Czechoslovakian President Clement Gottwald died. From 1951-1990, he was banned from preaching, so instead met with other persecuted Lutherans to maintain the church. “In that group,” said Fronkova, “the idea came out to prepare the written document about the oppression of the Church under communist regime. Pavel Uhorskai did this task.”
Fronova later worked for Rev. Uhorskai as his secretary. Because of her close relationship with him, his heirs approved Fronkova’s finishing the book after he passed away.
The Church Under Oppression tells the stories of those pastors and Lutherans who suffered for the faith.
“Since 2003, the files of the State secret police of former Czechoslovakia have been opened for public viewing—it meant that I could read many thousands of pages of interrogations from court proceedings, etc., related to the manuscript of Rev. Uhorskai. I also put a lot of effort into seeking the families of persecuted pastors to get more firsthand information from children and (by now, only a few) widows—what it was like to live in reliance on the Lord and His mercy when their dads, their husbands, were persecuted and prisoners,” explained Fronkova.
In 1989 the country evolved into a democracy, but the damage was already done. Now, in this time where the Lutheran church is still growing, proof that there were others who could keep the faith in times of tribulation is a great source of comfort and encouragement.
“The book itself is not only a compilation of biographies—it includes the analysis of difficult times, an evaluation of development within the state-church relationships, the main causes of the inner Church tensions, etc.,” she continued.
District Inspector of the Slovak Lutheran Church (ECAV) Jan Brozman, explained the need for The Church Under Oppression, “It is so very important since the previous regime has left remnants of people in our country afraid that perhaps the bad regime might come back again, so they had better stay aside… From this book we can know those who suffered in prisons for their faith, according to the state laws of that regime. We can see what an effort they made to keep and to continue despite that totalitarian system.”