On Monday, June 25, Kathy and I arrived in Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic, to visit this last of the Eastern European cities we had planned to see. Our friends Jim and Laurie Barnes are playing host to us on this leg of the trip. They came to this city fifteen years ago to manage a Christian Book Store in an attempt to open up these very secular citizens to the claims of Christianity. All those years under Communism nearly destroyed the spirit of these people when it came to matters of religious faith. There are many great church buildings here and very few Christians. But according to Jim and Laurie things are slowly beginning to change. It's a strange journey, but the way it seems to work is that the farther each generation gets from an understanding of Christianity the more curious they seem to be of the old faith their families have deserted. And many seem to be in that "curious" stage at this time in their history so that they are open to hearing about Christian teachings.
We spent our first full day (Tuesday) exploring the great Prague Castle. Since the 9th Century it has been the seat of the central state and church. What makes it different from other castles all over Europe is that is now the official seat of the Czech president. In other words, it isn't just a museum piece from the past. This city is beautiful and goes back hundreds of years in its architecture. This city was almost completely untouched from the destruction of World War II and you see that continuity from the past everywhere. We have been in and out of cathedrals, basilicas, churches everywhere but the famous St. Vitus Cathedral, begun in 1344, is one of the most astounding structures in Europe, especially because of the magnificent stained glass windows everywhere. They are presently cleaning the blackened stone which has been stained mostly from the more modern age of air pollution. And you will see this cleaning going on in nearly all the great cathedrals throughout Europe.
Among the more interesting church buildings we have seen is one in the old city that looks like it sits right behind some modern buildings. It was one we wanted to go into so we walked around the buildings to find the entrance. To our amazement those newer buildings were built right up against the front of the church and you had to walk through the buildings to get to the front door. We could find no reference in the guide books about why such an unusual building technique was used. But we finally found a reference to the fact that this was the church in which Jan Huss, the great Czech reformer preached (he was the martyred reformer who inspired Martin Luther 100 years later when the Reformation actually began in earnest). The Habsburgs (traditional Catholics) built those buildings out of spite, since they opposed the reformation.
One other building of note: on the old town square sits a clock tower and the clock on the face of the tower is a most unusual one. It's a 15th century astronomical clock which shows not only the time but the phases of the sun and moon as they orbit around the earth (remember, these were the days when people believed in a geo-centric solar system). Among the other things this clock does is to open two windows and shows the 12 apostles parading by. Also, four figures on the clock represent vanity and greed (on the left) and death and lust (on the right). All of this is to remind us not to get too careless with time, for it is fleeting!
And so is our trip. We'll be home in just one week.