ENGLISH VERSION: MARK STOKOE, the former editor of OCANews.org, about an Orthodoxy in Scandinavia

"Portal-Credo.Ru": Mark, can you tell us about Orthodoxy in Scandinavian countries? And who are the people who have chosen it as their religion in a country with a Protestant majority ?

Mark Stokoe: It may come as a surprise to many but St. Harald Bluetooth converted Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and southern Sweden) to Christianity twenty years earlier (AD 965) than St. Vladimir converted Kievan Rus (AD 988). A century later, the Eastern and Western Churches split, ushering in 600 years of warfare in Scandinavia between the competing Churches, and their respective empires.

The Roman Catholic Church, having solidified its dominion in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, launched two great "missionary" crusades from Sweden against the pagan Finnish tribes in the 13th century, seizing much of the western and southern coasts, and eventually establishing an Archdiocese in Turku. (The primate of the Church in Finland (now Lutheran) is still titled the "Archbishop of Turku".)

The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, pursued a less formal and more gentle means of missionary activity among the pagans by allowing enterprising monks to establish hermitages among them. The fact that Orthodox Christianity successfully penetrated pagan Finland, for example, far earlier than the first Western crusade, is evidenced by the fact that most of the Finnish words related to Christianity stem from Russian, not Latin. Thus the word cross in Finnish is "Risti" (from the Russian Krest) , the Bible is "Raamatu" ( from the Russian Gramota"), etc. )

Several of these hermitages eventually grew into powerful monasteries and centers of Russian Orthodox culture. Saints Sergius & Herman established the famous Valaamo Monastery in Lake Ladoga in 998 according to tradition, although historical evidence points to a 13th century origin. Konevitsa Monastery was founded around 1393 by St. Arseny, and in the 1500’s St. Tryphon of Pechenga began evangalizing the Sami Lapp population of Norway and Finland by building an Orthodox chapel along the Neiden River. From each of these centers numerous parishes grew.

All of these monasteries, and most of the parishes, were subsequently, and repeatedly, attacked and destroyed by the Swedes in the following centuries. Most, but not all, of the Orthodox Christian population of northern Norway and Finland eventually fled to Russian lands farther east. This finally came to an end when Russia seized Finland from Sweden in the Great Northern War of 1807, and re-established Orthodoxy as a state religion under omophor of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg.

Today, Orthodoxy in Scandinavia, with the exception of Finland, is a immigrant phenomenon, little different from Orthodoxy throughout Western Europe. It is almost completely urban, insular, having little or no influence on local culture, and is itself divided into scores of competing, and often hostile, foreign ecclesiastical jurisdictions. There are a few thousand Orthodox (Eastern and Oriental* non-Chalcedonian) in Denmark and Norway, while there are over a hundred thousand Orthodox Christians in Sweden, including Greeks, Romanians, Poles, Jacobites (from Syria), Ethiopians, Russians, Finns, amid a handful of native converts.

Finland, however, is the exception to this bleak story. Finland has a lively, indigenous Orthodox Church of some 58,000 members. It possesses its own monasteries, seminary, museums, camps, youth organizations, religious education program in the public schools, military chaplains, and the like. It has profound impact on contemporary Finnish spiritual culture, and on Finnish culture in general. Although it includes only 1% of the population, it is the second State Church of Finland, after the majority Lutheran Church ( 92% of the population). Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, it has been an autonomous local Church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a position it has defended against its former Russian masters for 90 years. Unlike its Scandinavian brothers, the Church of Finland uses the Julian Calendar, and with the permission of the Patriarchate, has, since independence, celebrated Easter on the western rather than the Eastern date.

- Is there a moral to the story and present situation of Orthodoxy in Scandinavia? I would suggest a profound one.

- At the end of WWII, some 20 % of Finland was taken by the Soviet Union, including the second largest city in the country, Viipuri ( Vyborg) and all the traditional Orthodox regions of the country. As a result, the Orthodox Church of Finland lost all but 4 of its parishes; its spiritual heart -- the 1000 year old Valaamo Monastery, its convent, its seminary, its camps, and all its lands. 96 % of its members had lost their homes, farms and businesses. Because no one region, town or area in Finland could support them all, the government was forced to scatter 50,000 refugees across the country, in every town and village, the majority of which had never even seen an Orthodox Christian, let alone a service. At this point Church leaders had to make a decision: as they rebuilt the Church from the ground up, so to speak, did they keep things as they were, building ancient Karelian church buildings, serving in Slavonic, speaking Karelian at home, becoming, in effect, a museum and monument of a lost past? Or, did they look to the future, switch to Finnish, build modern churches, and make the best of their new circumstances as a minority in the midst of Finland, rather than a former majority on the edge of it?

They choose the future.

From 1945 until roughly 1985 more people left the Orthodox Church than joined it. Slowly, however, Archbishop Paul of Finland’s dream began to bear fruit as Finns began to join the now accessible Orthodox Church. Today, the Church gains hundreds of new Finnish converts every year. No other Church in Scandinavia even comes close. Trapped in their ethnic, linguistic and mental ghettos, the other Orthodox in Scandinavia mainly seek to replicate what they left in the old country - and with poor success. Meanwhile the Church of Finland, still being a minority in the country, is thriving.

We could all take a lesson from "Orthodoxy in Scandinavia" - and from the Church of Finland.

Interviewed by Svetlana Vais,

New York.

for "Portal-Credo.Ru"

Опубликовано: 09.10.2013 в 10:48

Рубрики: English version, Лента новостей



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