Worshipping From Memory at Dachau Concentration Camp

Dachau 1 As I wandered through the Dachau Concentration Camp, devastated by the images and memories of what happened seventy years ago, I was reminded of the Orthodox Resurrection Sunday service that took place just days after Dachau was liberated. Fr. Dionysios, a prisoner of Dachau himself wrote this after worshipping in the prayer room at Block 26, as quoted by Douglas Cramer . . .

They aren’t wearing golden vestments. They don’t even have cassocks. No tapers, no service books in their hands. But now they don’t need external, material lights to hymn the joy. The souls of all are aflame, swimming in light.

Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox prisoners at Dachau couldn’t rely on the elements of worship that they used before imprisonment. But those things that they committed to memory before they were imprisoned, the Holy Spirit brought back to remembrance.

This was evidenced by the fact that the priests who did that Resurrection Sunday service, did it largely from memory. Douglas Cramer also quotes Gleb Rahr (also a prisoner at Dachau) on what he remembered from that service,

The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory. The Gospel—“In the beginning was the Word”—also from memory.

And finally, the Homily of Saint John Chrysostom—also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live.

Dachau 2How would we worship if we were in a similar situation? Would we be able to sing the hymns without the words on PowerPoint? Would we remember any Scripture, other than John 3:16? Justin Long, a missionary researcher, recently attended a worship service that was designed to be like a prison service in a restricted country. With his permission, I have posted a portion of his article below . . .

For one thing, we would not have speakers or amplifiers or microphones. So those were unplugged. We would not have PowerPoint, so the computer was shut off. We would not have sheet music or lyrics printed out, so those were put away. We probably would not have our Bibles, so those were closed.

How would you worship – if all you had were the songs and Scriptures you could personally remember?

For about an hour, that’s what we did. Various people would start up a song–maybe only remembering a snatch of it–and it was amazing how the rest of the group picked it up and carried it forward.

Others would pray aloud, just briefly, mostly (in this context) for their people group or for people they knew.

Others would start up a Scripture, and maybe finish it, or someone else would.

This was an amazingly powerful thing to do, and a good reminder of the need to hide God’s word in our heart. What if we did this in our churches on occasion?


About tdillmuth

Pastor Timothy Dillmuth is the Discipleship Pastor of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. He oversees Underground University, a missionary training school for North Korean defectors, and does discipleship training with Christians from all over the world. Pastor Tim received a bachelor's degree from Zion Bible College and an M.Div. from Regent University. He lives with his wife, Melissia and their three children in Seoul, South Korea.
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