History of EOC


by Metropolitan STEPHANOS

This website includes the documents and the witnesses about the Orthodox Church of Estonia for the purpose of recording the whole topic to the memory of History. Still nowadays, there are people living in Russia and in Estonia who have closely or remotely been the actors or victims of a tragic destiny. We keep all the thoughts of quarrel and vain suspicions far from us. If we make place to certain memories, it is only because we hope to create such new conditions that the past would never be repeated and the future would bring about a reconciliation with all the Orthodox population in this country. It seems to me that it is high time for us to force ourselves just there where we are to stop all "colonialist-like attitudes that have nothing to do with the ecclesiology and canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church" (1).

The Communist occupation has left in Estonia bills that have not yet been settled between the Russian Orthodox Church and ours. They simply have been put aside. It continuously engenders and maintains hatred and separation. All quarrel about this past crime that endures without name and face must finally be finished even if there is a risk to consider as an almost natural death approaching progressively, as the time passes by (2).

We do not want this silence that asphyxiates, suffocates, and more than anything else serves only to cover up an imposture. We do not want more legal proceedings. The first task of memory is to make an appeal - an appeal to mutual awakening to repent; an appeal to the examination of consciousness about the past and in facing the future.

The Orthodox Church of Estonia has had a most devilish experience possible in human condition. However, what strikes, is its measure facing the unmeasurable criminal act that has so deeply bruised the Church. For about half a century all the most elementary human rights have been violated daily in this country and the highest ecclesiastical authorities, clergymen and laics, whether they liked it or not, have also contributed to maintain the despair. The kernel of our Church today, especially when nobody could foresee the renewal, is just this small remnant that is so emphatically mentioned in the Holy Scripture. The small remnant as a permanent witness of Christ’s Resurrection, the only one capable of exorcizing its roots from nihilism that parasites our society, the derivative of indifference, of the cynism, of the hatred, in one word, the lack of hope. The small remnant so rich in promises for some people and so disturbing for the others… Only he will finally be able to sublimate authentically the death-resurrection of the disaster that reigned over us during the soviet period (3).

The Orthodox Church always requires from us a totally different way of being, founded on an ethos animated by the secret joy of Resurrection. Any other consideration, whether nostalgic, romantic or nationalistic, does not serve neither Church nor God's people but only political objectives and interests.
+ STEPHANOS, Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia


(1) Archbishop Nathanael of Roumanian archdiocese of Orthodox Church in America, in S.O.P. No 255/ Paris – February 2001, p. 7.

(2) The autonomy of the Orthodox Church of Estonia, accorded in 1923 by the Oecumenical Patriarch Meletios, was abolished in March, 9, 1945 by force, unilaterally without respecting the canonical order and without informing the Oecumenical Patriarch about it nor waiting for his consentment (indicatively and regardless of the oppression, only 21 parishes out of 119 existing, or 17% of the total at that time, asked to be submitted to the obedience of the Patriarchate of Moscow). It was replaced by an ecclesiastical entity named Estonian Diocese. From this moment on began an intense russification. At the end of 1955, only 45% of priests were of Estonian descent; in 1990, only 12% of clergy were Estonian.

In 1951, the Diocese was reconverted into the Vicarage of the Diocese of Leningrad. Other catastrophes followed very soon. All the church treasures were quickly nationalized. By 1950-51 the taxes and the charges of the parishes had gone up to the point that one church after another was forced to be closed. Thus between 1946 and 1953 20 churches were closed; between 1954 and 1970, 29 churches, between 1971 and 1988, 12 churches.

It should be remembered that 23 priests and almost 8 000 faithful followed Metropolitan Alexander in his exile, another 45 priests as well as the whole élite of the nation were deported or assassinated; all in all, 25% of the population were eradicated and replaced by people transplanted from Russia. Between 1945 and 1955, further 24 priests and 2 laics of the administration of diocese counsel were arrested; they disappeared. How many people followed their destiny! Another example to illustrate these events: in 1947 there were 13 clergymen known to be the members of the KGB and 30 were known as “informants”.

Metropolitan Alexander while in exile in Stockholm asserts in one of his letters in April 27, 1950 that it is impossible to receive any information or have any contact with Estonia because of the existing censorship and because all his friends and relatives were systematically arrested.

Finally, under the rule of Stalin, in addition to one book containing the chants of vigil, the only tolerated religious publication was the annual liturgical calendar.

Such was, in brief, the endless calvary of the Orthodox Church of Estonia under the Soviet rule, of which fore-running signs remount to the assassination of the very first Estonian bishop Platon by the soldiers of the Red Army in 1919.

(3) In 1940 there were 242 000 orthodox, or 20% of population, served by 3 bishops, 156 priests, of which 9 were vicar generals, 155 parishes (of which 126 were of Estonian origin and 29 of Russian origin), one Seminary, one chair of Theology in the University of Tartu, two monasteries, many schools and several other institutions. All the liturgical offices were translated into Estonian. Many liturgical hymns were composed by Estonian authors, who drew their inspiration from popular choral culture. The Youth Movement was very dynamic and covered the whole country. Several publications – of which the only survivor today is Usk ja Elu, because it was published in exile without interruption – saw daylight almost everywhere. It is obvious that in Estonia the Orthodox Church had a total success in its religious and cultural integration in spite of the justified influence of the Lutheran Church.

As far as the small remnant is concerned, let’s look at the evidence. We know that in Church it is not an argument to speak about a majority. It is evident that there are more orthodox of Russian origin today than autochtons in Church because of the relocation of the people under communist rule and because of the Stalin’s russification policy – using Church as a mediator. On the contrary to the affirmation of the Patriarchate of Moscow that has counted in two years instead of 60 000 faithful 200 000, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (in year 2000) there are 45 000 members in the Russian Orthodox Church and 15 000 in the Orthodox Church of Estonia, making altogether 4.5% Orthodox of the whole population, whereas the Lutheran Church is represented by almost 12.5% and all the other Christian denominations 1%. Thus we can observe a certain reserve in this domain. The problem is even more complex because during the Soviet period there were practically no certifications of baptism nor marriage delivered. Even nowadays it would be preferable to consider as a basis the number of communicants in a liturgy; this fact shows also how complicated are the matters of statistics.

Another significant notice is that following the agreement of Zurich in April 22, 1996, it is known that the number of votes in favour of the Orthodox Church of Estonia was about 7000. At the same time, the Information Bulletin of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (No. 4/ 96, page 32) counts 10,785 votes in favour of the Russian Orthodox Church, including 1,117 in the capital, Tallinn. The handling of figures practiced by certain pro-Moscow mass media gives of course a completely erroneous image of the local reality. The current count of the Ministry of Interiour Affairs of Estonia seems in fact the most credible.

Thus in the present case the argument of the greatest number or that of the cultural heritage or ethnophilism (considered by the way as a heresy by the Counsil of Constantinople in 1872) cannot convince the Church. It is impossible to bargain over the ecclesiastical affairs. The only argument that counts is that there has to be an independent Church in an independent State, recognized by International Community.

Next example: as the frontiers of Albania were fixed by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the most of the southern parishes were originally Greek and the Episcopacy of Greece wanted them to be subjected. After 1937, when the Orthodox Church of Albania was proclaimed autocephalous, the Church of Greece, though reluctantly, finally resigned to the reality. The local Church in Albania does not serve only the local national people but each Christian orthodox (Albanian, Greek, Serbian, Roumanian...). Let us recall that in November 1967 the Communist Party annulled all the decrees concerning the relationship between state and Church and that in December 1976 the Constitution of Albanian Socialist Popular Democracy cancelled all religious practices. The results are well known: destined to long-lasting silence, regardless of the most pessimistic predictions the Orthodox Church of Albania was not completely eradicated, but experienced a revival in August 1991 when the first post-Communist clergical-laic assembly was convoked.

What is true for Albania is also valid for Estonia, the two countries have beaten quite similar tracks. The Orthodox Church of Estonia was not irreparably broken by the Communist ideology. She survived in the exile. She survived also in the Soviet Estonia. The demand for an autonomy for clergy and faithful shows clearly that they refuse absolutely to an everlasting submissiveness to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Tomos of reactivation in 1996 avoided that the local Orthodoxy would split up into several different denominations. Its great merit was to safeguard the sole necessary and to offer to the Russian Orthodox Church a possibility to retain, by ecclesiastical economy and because of respecting the people, her own jurisdiction on the Estonian soil (convention of Zurich in 1996 ) .


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