A very long time ago Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” As the people of Germany celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9 th , many will remember with a sense of pride, the genesis of a powerful yet peaceful revolution that changed the course of History.
The bells of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig where it all began, will peal loud and long, reminding people everywhere, of how a group of ordinary people took on the repressive Communist regime in East Germany . This was a regime that kept them under constant surveillance for forty years, robbed them of Human Rights, turned brother against brother, friend against friend, lover against lover and corrupted tender minds through indoctrination, until by the age of eighteen, they were like robots manipulated by “ dictators of the proletariat.”
There are many unique features of this revolution. It started inside a church, and was initiated in the Eighties, by a group of young people, who gathered in November each year, to hold prayers for peace over a period of ten days. Later, as huge demonstrations against the Arms Race took place in Federal Republic of Germany, the people in the East who had no such liberties, met quietly in this church, to discuss the same burning issues and continue to pray for peace. They now grouped together on Monday evenings for a period of intercessory prayer. Gradually, the movement took on momentum. Older people began to gravitate towards St. Nicholas church on Monday evenings – social activists, environmental activists, those who had been conscripted into military service to work in unarmed units – together they sought to stir up the collective conscience of a timid and repressed people, and chalk out action. All they craved for was justice and freedom.
Soon non-Christians joined the fray. Many wanted to flee to West Germany . But the ugly wall that held them prisoners, the constant surveillance, and the bugging of their homes gave little opportunity for discussion with like-minded people. More than the men in uniform, there were hundreds of unofficial personnel, who reported any suspicious activity to the STASI (Ministry of State Security.) There was fear of being arrested and sentenced for imaginary crimes. So these potential escapees too gathered inside the church, to discuss and plan their course of action.
Now it was a motley group of Christians and non-Christians on Monday evenings, each with his own objectives. It became difficult to maintain a spirit of prayer and peaceful discussions. However, it is to the credit of the leaders that they were able to discover the topicality of the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the peacemakers……….Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”
The two main objectives of the peace prayers were spelled out to the group – a sober discussion of their social problems, and prayer and meditation for God’s support and guidance.
The arrests in September 1989 soared. But so did the people who flocked to the church. By day, the windows of the church were decorated with flowers. By night, candles glowed in the place of flowers. The spirit of peace pervaded their activities. Meeting in church was by no means a picnic. Even from the outset of Monday Peace prayers in May 1989, the police tried every trick to dissuade the people. They blocked driveways leading to the church, there were temporary arrests and detentions, and the organizers were threatened. But the crowds only swelled. STASI members infiltrated the church. But all they heard was the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. No insurrectionist jargon, no counter-revolutionary schemes!
Frustrated beyond measure, the entire strength of the STASI descended on the crowds on 7 th October 1989 , the 40 th anniversary of the GDR. For ten long hours, the Police and the Military battled against a defenseless people, who offered no resistance. They were carted off in large trucks to various prisons. The Government justified these actions by condemning the Peace prayers as “counter-revolution.”
But on the 9 th October 1989 , crowds spilled over into the streets. If there were 2000 people inside the church, there were 10,000 cramming the roads and alleyways. More than a thousand SED members pushed into the church, while Military and Police lined the streets.
All they heard that evening was a message of peace and love. “ Love your enemies……..
Do good to those who despitefully use you.” There was unbelievable calm during the prayers. Important dignitaries from the world of Arts, Music and Church appealed to the people to maintain peace. It was incredible solidarity between these institutions and the common people. The Bishop pronounced his benediction with a call for non-violence.
As 2000 people exited the church with lit candles in their hand, they were met by the masses outside, also with burning candles. Each person had to protect his flame from extinguishing, by cupping the flame with both hands. There was no possibility of carrying stones or weapons. Together they marched to the STASI head quarters, and overran the place, bringing about the collapse of the mighty GDR. Not even a single window pane had been broken, in this quiet display of fortitude.
Today the STASI building is a museum. The many methods used for surveillance by the SED, the instruments of torture, the different forms of disguise, the dark dank prison cells are there for all to see. There is detailed documentation of their methods of violent repression, which was patterned on the CHEKA (Russian Secret Service of 1917.)
For those skeptics who dispute the efficacy of Non-Violence, the power of prayer and the strength of unity, this is a movement worth studying. It lasted only a few weeks, but it brought about the demise of a diabolic regime, and opened the way for the unification of a nation.
Horst Sinderman a high official in the GDR confessed, “ We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”
The Nicholas Church in Leipzig still continues to hold prayers of peace for the world. It firmly believes, “You will succeed not by military power or by your own strength, but by the spirit of God.”
Who knows, the 21 st Century might yet turn out to be an “Age of Miracles,” with similar peace initiatives taking place in the troubled areas of our world!
Sunday Herald 9-11-2003