Monday, August 24, 2009

Poland's Religious History


(picture on pg 170 of the 1994 Yearbook)
*Poland has a really interesting religious history which I didn't know before, and as I'm reading all these yearbook experiences, I'm realizing there's alot more involved than I can condense into 'part 2'...So before I get to the second part of the story, I want to post some modern day JW info and also the religious history of the country.

(aerial sketch of the Branch Office in Poland and the following info on pg 381 of the JW Proclaimers book)

"These facilities are being used to provide assistance to the more than 100,000 Witnesses in Poland. From 1939 to 1945, their worship was banned, but their numbers increased from 1,039 in 1939 to 6,994 in 1946. When banned again in 1950, they numbered 18,116; but shortly after that ban was lifted in 1989, reports showed that there were over 91,000."
Since those are old figures, here are the current stats in Poland according to the 2008 annual report: 127,154 peak publishers, with 3,242 baptized, 1,812 congregations, and a Memorial attendance of 213,105. (Not that numbers matter, its just that when you see how much persecution the Witnesses endured, and how hard they tried to stamp us out of the country altogether, it's encouraging to see so much increase)
Its also encouraging that our brothers & sisters no longer have to hold assemblies in the forest, but can enjoy large conventions in proper stadiums now that they are no longer under ban.

(a 'forest convention' in 1981, pg 240 of the 1994 Yearbook)

(a 'real' convention held in 1985, in Poznan, photo on pg 381 of the JW Proclaimers book)
*the following info taken from pgs 172-175 of the 1994 Yearbook
How the Bible Found Its Way to Poland
Poland has been considered a “Christian” country ever since 966 C.E., when Prince Mieszko I was baptized according to rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Mass baptisms of his subjects also took place—not meaning, of course, that they suddenly became good Christians. Actually, people continued observing pagan Slavic traditions and superstitions for hundreds of years. Some still do.
For centuries after the country became Catholic, the Bible was not available to the Polish people, not even to the clergy. The Psałterz floriański (Florianski Psalter) of the 14th century and the Biblia królowej Zofii (Queen Zofia Bible) of the late 15th century are the oldest preserved Polish translations. But only one manuscript of each of these Bibles was made, and just a chosen few had access to them. In the 16th century, however, in many European countries, including Poland, religious views underwent drastic changes. Catholic dogma was challenged. The Holy Scriptures were increasingly viewed as the sole criterion. As a result, translators more frequently made the Bible available in vernacular languages so that the public could read it.
A Polish “New Testament” that appeared in 1574 used the Creator’s name, Jehowa (Jehovah), in several passages. It was published by Szymon Budny, who belonged to a small group of people desirous of adhering to God’s Word and who called themselves simply Christians or brethren. Later they adopted the name Polish Brethren. As a result of what they learned, they rejected the Trinity dogma.
In 1658, however, the Polish Sejm, or parliament, decreed that the Polish Brethren, under penalty of death, be given three years’ time—and later a year was shaved off that period—either to become Catholics or to leave the country. How did this come about?
A marked change had come over the land. For years, Poland had been a land known for its religious toleration. Victims of religious persecution in other lands had sought refuge in Poland. The oath administered to Polish kings from 1573 onward had included such guarantees as this: “I . . . promise and solemnly swear by Almighty God that . . . I will preserve and maintain peace and quiet among those that differ with regard to religion, and will not in any way . . . suffer anyone to be influenced or oppressed by reason of his religion.” Indeed, John II Casimir Vasa, during whose reign the Polish Brethren were banished, had taken that oath. But there can be no doubt that his training for the Jesuit priesthood, prior to his becoming king, influenced his attitude regarding religious freedom.
The Jesuits had begun operations in Poland in 1564, some 84 years before John Casimir came to the throne. They had shrewdly directed their influence toward the royal court. At the same time, they sought to gain control of the schools and thereby mold the thinking of the populace. The guarantee of religious freedom was gradually eroded. Those trained in the Jesuit-controlled schools were imbued with a spirit of religious intolerance, manifest in violent attacks on those who adhered to other faiths as well as on their homes and on their places of worship. The Bible came to be viewed as a forbidden book. During this period, Poland lost much of its territory. Surrounding nations seized one portion of the country and then another, until, in 1795, Poland as an independent nation disappeared from the map of Europe.
Once again, however, religious freedom has been established by law in Poland. No longer does the law forbid Roman Catholics to change to another religion, as it did under the Polish Constitution of 1791. As of 1993, the Constitution declares: “The Republic of Poland shall guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to its citizens.” More of the Polish people are availing themselves of that freedom and are turning to the Bible for direction. The Roman Catholic Church has been forced to abandon the policy of keeping God’s written Word away from the people. Since the end of World War II, several good Polish Bible translations have been published, and Jehovah’s Witnesses make good use of them. When the Witnesses share with others the good news of God’s Kingdom, many, like those noble-minded people referred to in the Bible at Acts 17:11, are eager to examine ‘whether these things are so.’