It wasn't supposed to be this hard.

In November of 1989, half a million Czechs gathered in Prague's Wenceslas Square to shake their keys against a tired regime—and the regime collapsed. One month later, on December 29, the dissident playwright Václav Havel was elected president and inaugurated in Prague Castle.

His first act was a symbolic one: He crossed the castle courtyard and entered St. Vitus's Cathedral, where 90-year-old Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek celebrated Mass to thank God for "the great hope" of this new era. Then, as the most powerful politicians in the country sat in silence, the Czech Philharmonic began to play Antonin Dvorak's setting of the ancient hymn of praise to God, the Te Deum. The church could speak with a public voice once more.

When communism collapsed across Eastern Europe, the churches of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania looked at such events with an optimistic eye. After four decades of withering repression, it seemed religious life could bloom again—and everyone expected that it would.

In those first years of freedom, evangelical Christianity seemed "Western" and intriguing because it had been so long forbidden. At the same time, every country had traditional churches—Reformed, Catholic, or Orthodox—that made Christianity seem patriotic.

This was the case especially in Poland. In 1989, opinion polls pegged confidence in the Catholic Church at 92 percent, and church attendance was also high. In 1994, the wave had crested and attendance fell for the first time. By the following year, the number of young men entering the priesthood had fallen by a third from its peak a decade earlier, and confidence in the church had dropped to 62 percent. Slowly, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
Flood of Mercy Subscriber Access Only
Christians at the forefront of aid after the deluge in Mumbai.
RecommendedCambodians Usher in a Miraculous Moment for Christianity
Cambodians Usher in a Miraculous Moment for ChristianitySubscriber Access Only
How the Southeast Asian country went from an underground church to a church-planting boom.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickThe Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017
The Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017
Let’s get unchurched evangelicals back into church, and prejudiced evangelicals back to the Bible.
Christianity Today
Under Reconstruction
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2005

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.