The Orthodox Church in Estonia
The Orthodox christian traditions have existed in Estonia for centures.The Orthodox (Moskva Patriarhaadi Eesti Oigeusu Kirik) is the largest denomination in Estonia after the Lutherans. In the XI-th century the first Orthodox Church was built in Estonia.
In Estonia there is no state Church and state does not restrict (kitsendama) the work of any religious society nor interferes (sekkuma) their activities if the Church is recognised by Estonian laws.
In 1030 for the first time the Orthodox congregations in Estonia are mentioned in chronicles. They were Russian missionaries from Kiev and Novgorod who preached Christ in the Estonian land. Orthodoxy was confirmed in Estonia together with catholisizm, which was preached by Franciscian monks. In the XIII c. the orthodox faith was forced to cease by expansion of the crusades. By the XIII century Orthodox churches had existed in a number of Estonian cities. Their parishioners were both Esths and Russians.
Until 1472 Orthodoxy fought for life and one of the parish priests was martyred together with his parish for orthodox faith. They all are canonized as saints by the Orthodox Church (Tartu puha preestmarter Issidor ja tema 72 kaaskannatajat).
In the 1560 the dioceses were established. When the North War was over in 1721, Estland was incorporated into Russia. This contributed to the consolidation of Orthodoxy in the country. In 1817 a special vicariate of Tallinn was established within the diocese of St.Petersburg. Thus began the systematic ordering of orthodox life in Estonia.
The Estonian Orthodox Church was guided by the Evangelical principles in admonishing its members to serve their neighbours lovingly with alms giving. As a rule it did not set up (ehitama) special institutions for the service of those in need, but inspired and supported private and communal, parochial, monastic and secular state initiatives in aid of the least brethren (vennad).
In 1860 the number of orthodox believers increased, but the noblemen did not allow to build churches and to rent houses for orthodox ceremonies. And the orthodox parishes were obliged to celebrate Church feasts in the cellars. One of the forms of assistance to the poor was the organization of church parish schools and, in particular, of schools for the countryside population. They played an important part in the education of population in the XIX-th and early XX centuries.The clergy was directly involved in the business of national education. For example... In non favourable circumstances a theological college was opened in the south of Estonia (now belongs to Latvia), there children were given free education. They were prepared for service in the Church. Later on a theological seminary was opened, where many outstanding public men had studied: the first president of Estonia (Konstantin Pats), priest-professor of theology of the University, the majory of Tallinn and the minister of foreign affairs.
The end of the XIX century is remarkable for building Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Tallinn and a nunnary in the East Estonia. The Church assisted during hunger, gave shelter within monastery walls to the sick, established monastery almshouses, supported by charity the abonded children, gave aid to the people in times of epidemics, founded schools not far from the monasteries and in the parishes, promoted the activities of brotherhoods, encouraged the activities of communal philanthropy,etc.
Famous Orthodox Cathedral in Tallinn was named after the duke who attached south-eastern Estonia to Russia in the early XIII century. Tsar Alexander III ordered the Cathedral to be constructed, and it was completed in 1900. The Nevski Cathedral is the biggest sacred edifice in Tallinn. The first responsibility of Church consists in (koosnes) maintaining (silitama) its own (sobiv) identity as an institution of salvation in the proclamation of the Gospel. That is, its objective is in its internal and external mission, in the moral education of the faithful, in celebration of the Liturgy, the Sacraments and rites of the Church, in pastoral care of souls. Example for this service was the first Estonian Bishop Platon. He was ordained Bishop of Riga and Vicar of Tallinn. In 1918 during the First World War Estonia was occupied by the German troops. At that time Bishop Platon was in the hospital. He was surrounded by people of different religious. He had been shot together with other priests and pastors. In 2000 Bishop Platon was declared as saint by the Moscow Patriarchate.
In the beginning of the XX-th the state authorities in the Soviet Russia began an open persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church.
A characteristic feature of war year was the private initiative shown in caring for the wounded (voluntary nursing brothers and sisters) and in the preparation and dispatch to hospitals of bandages and clothes (in many families women and children prepared lint). People granted charity for Christ`s sake.
In 1920 soon after the Estonian Republic was proclaimed (väljakuulutama) in 1918, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church recognised the Estonian Orthodox Church as independent, granting autonomy in all ecclesio-economic, ecclesio-administrative, educational and ecclesio-civil affairs.
Before 1941 there were 158 parishes all over Estonia with 183 clergymen. There was a department of Orthodoxy in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Tartu. There was a monastery, two convents, a priory in Tallinn and a seminary in Petsery (which was the part of the territory of Estonian Republic at that time, now belongs to Russia).
In 1941 Estonia become a part of the Soviet Union. Orthodox believers in Estonia were now subordinated to a diocese within the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1961 hieromonk Alexy (Ridiger) was nominated bishop of Tallinn and Estonia. He was born in Estonia and began his pastoral ministry there. Later in 1990 he became Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.
The sovereignity of the Estonian Republic was restored (taastama) in 1991 after it broke away from the Soviet Union, but the Archbishop of Estonia has led (juhtimis) the Diocese which is subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1992 the Council of the Estonian Orthodox Church declared the unanimous desire (yksmeelselt soovima) to stay canonically under the Moscow Patriarchate and asked for indepence in internal affairs in keeping with holy canons (Ap.34,35;1Ec.6; Ec.8.,etc). Our Bishop accordingly submitted a report to the Patriarch asking to restore (taastama) the independence (autonomy) of the Orthodox Church in Estonia as it was granted by Patriarch Tikhon in 1920. In 1992 the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod confirmed Patriarch Tikhon’s action to grant independence to the Orthodox Church in Estonia in ecclesio-economic, ecclesio-administative, educational and ecclesio-civil affairs. The Moscow Patriarchate recognised the Orthodox Church in Estonia as the owner (omanik) of all the church property on its territory. In 1993 the Churches and Congregations Act was adopted.
But the Konstantinopol Patriarchate has captured most of our parishes. We owned 79 parishes before 1994.
Now it is only about 30 left.
The Church is not supported by the government and its income depends on the donations of the believers and usually it is not enough to attend the sick and the prisoners.
The focus of diaconia is the Liturgy and liturgical functions celebrated in the Church. At divine service the liturgical activities create the special spiritual conditions (tingimus) in which the faithful, whoever they might be, find spiritual peace and calm, receive moral support for overcoming everyday difficulties, and derive inspiration for the practice of good works. It is important to note that the Liturgy is open to everybody without exception, poor and rich, just and sinners. The Liturgy forms the interior bond between the members of the Church which makes them the organic unity of the Body of Christ.