Lutherans in Russia
Under the Tsars
Lutherans have lived in Russia for more than 400 years. Once a largely German and Finnish ethnic church, today Lutherans increasingly attract Russians who appreciate their spiritual legacy, ecclesiastical traditions, and sound theology. On the other hand, doctrinal unity no longer exists in the Lutheran Church since some have compromised evangelical positions under the influence of European theological liberalism.
The first Lutherans appeared in Russia in the middle of the sixteenth century when Ivan the Terrible invited German specialists--military officers, gunsmiths,technicians, and merchants--to modernize the army. They settled in Moscow and in a few cities along the Volga River and the White Sea. The earliest Lutheran Church of St. Michael in Moscow dates from 1576. By 1583 Ivan the Terrible had conquered the present territory of Latvia and Estonia with its large Lutheran population. In the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, German Lutherans spread to the South of Russia, Central Siberia, Ukraine, and Georgia, primarily in locations of military garrisons. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at the invitation of the Russian crown, some 280,000 German colonists made their home in Ukraine and the Caucasus, Volynia, Central Asia, and Siberia, with two-thirds of all settlers being Lutheran.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia has existed for nearly 400 years. The beginnings were laid by a few parishes of Finnish migrants to North Ingria, around present-day St. Petersburg, who moved there during Ivan the Terrible's war with Sweden. By 1640 Lutherans composed one third of the Ingrian population.
In 1703 Peter the Great gave permission to open a Swedish-Finnish Lutheran parish in the newly founded capital of St. Petersburg. Its successor, St. Mary's, is the Cathedral Church of Ingria to this day. In tsarist Russia the Lutheran Church remained a minority denomination restricted to non-Russian nationalities, with no proselytism allowed. Until the 1905 Edict of Toleration Lutherans were not permitted to perform the liturgy in the Russian language. Nevertheless, Russia's annexation of largely Lutheran populations in the Baltic region under Ivan the Terrible and during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) led to an assimilation of German nobility into all areas of Russian administration. This, plus Romanov royal marriages to German princesses, increased the influence of Lutheranism in Russia far beyond the Baltic. By 1914 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia (except for Finland and Poland) included 1,828 churches and prayer houses with a membership of
4,000 Other nationalities (including Russians)
Under the Commissars
After the Communist Revolution of October 1917, Lutheran church life changed dramatically. In 1918 the former Russian territories of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, with large Lutheran populations, became independent states. Only 84 pastors served Lutheran churches as of 1922 and the only Lutheran seminary in Leningrad survived just five years, from 1925 to 1929. The period from 1928 to 1938, with collectivization, political purges, and harsh new religious legislation, witnessed the end of official Lutheran work in Russia. From 1938 to 1969 the Lutheran Church of Ingria had no legal existence. Every second Ingrian Finn was killed during World War II or perished in Stalin's concentration camps or in exile. Only in 1970-77 were Ingrian Lutheran parishes reopened in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, and in the Leningrad suburb of Pushkin.
German Lutherans suffered severely as well. After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin ordered approximately one million Germans in the European part of Russia deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. Able-bodied deportees were forced to serve in a special Labor Army while all other Germans had to report to officials on a regular basis. In 1956 the first Evangelical Lutheran congregation was registered in Akmolinsk/Tselinograd (today, Astana), Kazakhstan. For ten years it functioned as the only legal German Lutheran church until two Siberian congregations were organized in 1965. Soviet Germans were rehabilitated only in 1964 and could return to their original places of residence only in 1972. By 1980 80 churches had reopened.
The first postwar German churches that appeared were Lutheran Brethren communities, the successors of an earlier revival movement. The rise of Lutheran Brethren Churches, led by faithful lay Christians, was conditioned by ruthless persecution and required determination, a godly lifestyle, and courage. In some places prayer meetings were held up to five times a week. In the absence of preachers, lay members read printed sermons aloud. These communities remained ethnocentric and isolated from each other, making it difficult for the Lutheran hierarchy to integrate them into the church today.
Lutheran theologian and professor at St. Petersburg State University, Dr. Sergei Isayev, notes that Lutherans can be described as either conservative or liberal, with the majority of Lutherans today being liberal, Russia included. The liberal wing is represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia (ELKRAS), while the conservative wing is represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR). ELKRAS believes the Scripture "contains" the Word of God, presuming human elements are present as well, whereas ELCIR believes the Scripture "is" the Word of God, without human error. Also, ELKRAS ordains women to the pastorate while ELCIR does not.
The Current Situation
On 14 September 1992 the state granted recognition to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia. Its six administrative divisions ("probsts") include St. Petersburg, West Ingermanland, North West (Karelia), Urals, Siberia, and Russian-speaking congregations. Its 73 parishes and religious communities, with perhaps 13,000 members, use both Finnish and Russian liturgy, but only some 20 ordained pastors currently serve churches. ELCIR's Koltushi Seminary in the suburbs of St. Petersburg has been offering training in theology and social, youth, and music ministry since 1995. Currently the Siberian "Probst" is organizing a new seminary in the city of Krasnoyarsk. ELCIR Bishop Aarre Kougappi, who resides in St. Petersburg, has stated that by 2011 he expects the church will be predominantly Russian-speaking.
Despite the emigration of 2.2 million Germans to the West in the past 15 years, both EKLRAS and ELCIR churches continue to expand and attract new believers of various nationalities. According to ELKRAS Archbishop Georg Krechmar, one-half million Germans still reside in the Russian Federation. The number of Russians attending ELKRAS churches is growing, especially in Central Asia (up to 30 percent). ELKRAS dioceses consist of European Russia, Urals, Siberia/Far East, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia, with autonomous parishes in Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. ELKRAS membership is estimated to be 250,000 in 600 parishes, with particular strength in Kaliningrad (5,000 in 40 churches), St. Petersburg (1,000 in two churches), and the Volga Region (12,500 in 42 churches). The General Consistory is located at St. Peter's Church in St. Petersburg. Students of theology are trained in Novosaratovka Seminary in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. Bishop Krechmar, a former church historian at the University of Munich, uses some 25 pastors from Germany to partially alleviate the present pastoral shortage.
ELCIR and ELKRAS produce Finnish and Russian bilingual magazines, Inkerin Kirkko and Der Bote respectively, and a joint news bulletin, Lutheran News. Both churches have been members of the World Lutheran Federation for a number of years. Currently, ELCIR closely cooperates with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Evangelical Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in evangelism, missions, Christian education, radio broadcasting, youth and prison ministries, and social work projects. ELKRAS partners with German and North American churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
Besides ELCIR and ELKRAS, several additional Lutheran missions and parishes function on the territory of Russia. Among them is the Karelian Evangelical Lutheran Church in northwest Russia established by Finnish missionaries and the Swedish parish of St. Catherine in St. Petersburg. The largest is the West Siberian Christian Mission, known as the Bible Lutheran Church, registered since 1992 in the city of Novosibirsk, with an independent seminary. Canonically it belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and is strongly supported by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Its parishes east of the Urals exercise a great deal of autonomy.
Kurilo, Ol'ga V. Liuterane v Rossii XVI-XX vv. Sterling Heights, MI: Lutheran Heritage Foundation, 1996.
Stricker, Gerd. "The Problems of Theological Education: The Experience of Lutheran Institutions in the CIS."
Religion in Eastern Europe 21 (June 2001): 1-19.
Willems, Joachim. "Russian German Lutheran 'Brotherhoods' in the Soviet Union and in the CIS: Comments on their Confessional Identity and on their Position in ELKRAS." Religion, State & Society 30 (No. 3, 2002): 219-28.
Web Site References
Christian Interchurch Diaconal Council, http://www.cidc.ru/we/w002e.html
Glushkov, S. "Notes on the History of Lutherans in Russia," http://www.lutheran.ru/history2.html
Diderich, H.-Ch., and H. Churner, "The Lutherans" in Hold On to the Good (Kharkov: Maidan, 1998), http://www.tam.ru/luthlib/history/luterane.htm
Kalashnikova, M. and V. Kalashnikov, "German Lutherans Do Not Have Problems in Russia," http://religion.ng.ru/people/2002-06-05/10_luterane.html
"Lectures on the History of the Church of Ingria," http://www.elcingria.spb.ru/historir.htm
Lutheran Resources on the WWW, http://www.elcingria.spb.ru/indexr.htm
Lutheran Theological Seminary, http://www.lts.ru/history.htm
Shchipkov, D. The Ingermanlander Revival, http://religion.ng.ru/people/2002-06-05/10_renessanse.html
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia, http://www.rondtb.msk.ru/newslet/en/37_5_en.htm
The History of Education in the Church of Ingria, http://www.elcingria.spb.ru/seminaria/eng/history.htm
The Lutheran Hour Ministries in Russia, http://www.luther.ru/luther_doc/pipl/pipl.htm
"Who Are We?," http://www.lutheran.ru/we.html
Zubtsov, A. "Lutheranism in Russia," http://www.tam.ru/luthlib/history/luterros.htm
Valeria Sorokina teaches at St. Petersburg Christian University and is a member of St. Mary's Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Valeria Sorokina, "Lutherans in Russia," East-West Church & Ministry Report 11 (Spring 2003), 5.
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