Organizers of public Bible reading expect to attract more people than ever this year

Photo: archive of Bible 21 foundation

One of the more recent Easter traditions in the Czech Republic is a nation-wide public reading of the Bible. The event, first held in 2009, was initiated by the foundation Bible 21, and has since attracted thousands of people. I spoke to its founder, Alexandr Flek, a publisher, theologian and the chief translator of the modern Czech Bible version, Bible 21, about this year’s edition of the event but I first asked him about how it all started.

Alexandr Flek,  photo: Marián Vojtek / Czech Radio
“This tradition, if I can call it so, started in 2009, when we first published the new Czech Bible translation called Bible 21 or the 21st century translation of the Bible.

“At that time, we thought of it as a one-off effort, as an event to make the public aware of the publication of the new Bible version.

“What happened was that we didn’t expect so many people from all around the country would want to participate in this. We had around 83 local gatherings in over 83 cities and towns all around the country.

“What surprised us most was not just how many people participated and how many Bibles were distributed through this effort, but that the people spontaneously said: we will be here next year.

“So that’s something we didn’t plan, but now we have the 12th annual edition of this nationwide event, this Easter week, which is a nice surprise.”

So what is the aim of this event?

“The aim really is make our public aware that the Bible is not a dead book or an artefact that belongs in a museum or in the Church.

“Because many Czech people say: Well, I don’t read the Bible because I don’t go to church, I am not a believer. It is well known that the Czech Republic rates among the most atheist, most secular nations world-wide.

“And our aim is to actually make known to our public that the Bible is our common cultural heritage and that it is a surprisingly topical book, that manz things are very much the same today as they were a thousand years ago.

“There are public readings of Hans Christian Andersen’s books in Czech libraries every year and there are public readings of other literature, and we thought: why not make a public reading of the Bible in the same way, so that people who don’t go to church can encounter it, maybe on a street, or in a café or a library.

“And the results were surprising. People who never read the Bible came to not only hear it but also to participate in the reading, so that thousands of people were actually reached in this way.”

So these public readings didn’t take place only in churches?

Photo: archive of Bible 21 foundation
“Yes, exactly, on the contrary. I don’t think we ever had a public Bible reading in a church as such. The whole point is to bring the Bible, bring the word of God, so to say, outside of the church walls.

“The point is to make it public and to show that this is not a church book, really. It’s a book that is at the core of our civilisation. And one doesn’t really need to be a believer to be touched or somehow encounter the message of these texts. “

Is it up to the people who participate to choose which passage of the Bible they want to read?

“One of the beauties of the event is that we as the Bible 21 Foundation don’t centrally control it. We only suggest ideas to the local organizers, but it is all up to them. Sometimes it’s a local church or organisation, sometimes it’s a library and sometimes it’s just a group of friends who sit in a café and read it.

“Of course because this all happens at Easter time, the Passion texts from the gospels or the Old Testament texts about the Passover or the prophecies about the Passion of the Messiah are being read. We have some suggestions as to what people can read, but eventually, it’s up to them.

“Actually, some of the local organizers organize it in such a way that it was like a non-stop reading of the Bible. So some read the whole of New Testament through and many also read the whole Bible through in sort of a non-stop Bible reading marathon.

“It’s quite surprising that you can read the whole Bible through in three days and nights, if you don’t stop.”

Obviously, because of the corona virus outbreak, this year’s edition of the public reading of the Bible will have to take place on-line. So what is it going to look like?

“Yes, of course, at first we were struck as everyone else with the restrictions. There is no way to gather and do the reading together. But everything is moving online this year, and so are we. We have instructions on our website about how this can be done.

“Basically, we do two things. We have different public figures recording their reading and inviting people to take part in the event. This week, we have economist Tomáš Sedláček, National Theatre actress Magda Borová and Martin C. Putna, professor of literature, and others, who read their favourite parts of the Bible and invite the public to take part in the readings.

Tomáš Sedláček | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio
“The reading itself will start next week, the Easter week, where we encourage the organizers to choose an online platform and basically do the whole thing through a video conference call.

“So instead of shutting down this event we expect it to grow; many more people might take part because they can do so from their homes.”

Would you say it is more important than ever to read the text of the Bible at this moment when it can bring comfort and reassurance to people?

“Yes, exactly, because the Bible is not a rule book. It’s message of hope that reaches beyond the limits of this life and this world and it’s a love story about the creator and his creation.

“So yes, the reading of the Bible has this effect of bringing hope, peace and joy. So we think it is more important for believers and so-called nonbelievers this year to actually open this old book and see how relevant it is today.”