Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

Infobox Orthodox Church
show_name = Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

caption =
founder = —
independence = 1917
recognition= 1923, 1996 by Constantinople
primate= Metr. Stephanos
headquarters= Tallinn, Estonia
territory= Republic of Estonia
possessions= —
language= Estonian
music= Byzantine and Estonian
calendar= Gregorian
population= 20,000
website= [ Church of Estonia]
The Church of Estonia or Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church ("Eesti Apostlik-Õigeusu Kirik") is an Orthodox church whose primate is confirmed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Under Estonian law it is the legal successor to the pre-World War II Estonian Orthodox Church, which in 1940 had had over 210,000 faithful, three bishops, 156 parishes, 131 priests, 19 deacons, two monasteries, and a theological seminary, the majority of the faithful were ethnic Estonians. Its official name in English is the Estonian Orthodox Church.

The current primate of the church is Stephanos, Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia, elected in 1999.


Orthodox missionaries from Novgorod and Pskov were active among the Estonians in the southeast regions of the area, closest to Pskov, in the 10th through 12th centuries. The first mention of an Orthodox congregation in Estonia was in 1030 in what is now Tartu. Around 600 AD on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi) the Estonians established the town Tarbatu. In 1030, the Kievan prince, Yaroslav the Wise, raided Tarbatu and built his own fort called Yuriev, as well as (allegedly) a congregation in a cathedral dedicated to his patron saint, St. George. The congregation may have survived until 1061, when, according to chronicles, Yuriev was burned and the Orthodox Christians expelled.

As a result of the Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century, Northern Estonia was conquered by Denmark and the southern part by the Teutonic Order and later the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, and thus fell under the control of Western Christianity. However, Russian merchants were later able to set up small Orthodox congregations in several Estonian towns. One such congregation was expelled from the town of Dorpat (Tartu) by the Germans in 1472, who martyred their priest, Isidor, along with a number of Orthodox faithful (the group is commemorated on January 8).

Little is known about the history of the church in the area until the 17th and 18th centuries, when many Old Believers fled there from Russia to avoid the liturgical reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Estonia was a part of the Russian Empire, having been conquered by emperor Peter the Great. In 1841, 1844-45 Estonian peasants suffered from bad crops which resulted in famine and epidemics. In 1850 the Diocese of Riga (in Latvia) was established by the Russian Orthodox Church. The bishop Irinarh of Riga cunningly started a rumour that the Orthodox Church promised to provide everybody who converted to Orthodoxy a piece of land of their own somewhere in Russia. 65,000 Estonian peasants were converted to the Orthodox faith in the hope of obtaining land. Numerous Orthodox churches were built. ["Eesti Apostolik Oigeusu Kirik, History" (] . Later, when the rumour turned out to be a hoax, a great part of the new Orthodox peasants returned to the Lutheran Church.

In the late 19th century, a wave of Russification was introduced, supported by the Russian hierarchy but not by the local Estonian clergy. The Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn and the Pühtitsa (Pukhtitsa) convent in Kuremäe in East Estonia were also built around this time.

In 1917 the first Estonian, Platon (Paul Kulbusch), was ordained Bishop of Riga and Vicar of Tallinn. Two years later, the Bolsheviks murdered Platon and his deacon. 81 years later, in 2000, Bp. Platon was proclaimed a saint by the Churches of Constantinople and Russia, commemorated on January 14.

After the Estonian Republic was proclaimed in 1918, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Tikhon, in 1920 recognised the Orthodox Church of Estonia (OCE) as being independent. Archbishop Aleksander Paulus was elected and ordained as the head of the Estonian church. In 1923 Abp. Aleksander turned to the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive canonical recognition. The same year the OCE was canonically subordinated to the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople and gained extensive .

Before 1941, one fifth of the total Estonian population (who had been mostly Lutheran since the Reformation in the early 1500s when the country was controlled by the Teutonic Order) were Orthodox Christians under the Patriarchy of Constantinople. There were 158 parishes in Estonia and 183 clerics in the Estonian church. There was also a Chair of Orthodoxy in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Tartu. There was a Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery in Petseri, two convents—in Narva and Kuremäe, a priory in Tallinn and a seminary in Petseri. The ancient monastery in Petseri was preserved from the mass church destructions that occurred in Soviet Russia.

In 1940, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, whose government undertook a general programme of the dissolution of all ecclesiastical independence within its territory. From 1942 to 1944, however, autonomy under Constantinople was temporarily revived. In 1945, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate dismissed the members of the OCE synod who had remained in Estonia and established a new organisation, the Diocesan Council. Orthodox believers in occupied Estonia were thus subordinated to being a diocese within the Russian Orthodox Church.

Just before the second Soviet occupation in 1944 and the dissolution of the Estonian synod, the primate of the church, Metropolitan Aleksander, went into exile along with 21 clergymen and about 8,000 Orthodox believers. The Orthodox Church of Estonia in Exile with its synod in Sweden continued its activity according to the canonical statutes, until the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991. Before he died in 1953, Metr. Aleksander established his community as an exarchate under Constantinople. Most of the other bishops and clergy who remained behind were deported to Siberia. In 1958, a new synod was established in exile, and the church was organized from Sweden.

In 1978, at the urging of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarch declared the charter ("tomos") of the Church, as granted in 1923, inoperative. The church ceased to exist until the breakup of the Soviet Union, when divisions within the Orthodox community in Estonia arose between those who claimed that the Moscow Patriarchate has no jurisdiction in Estonia and those who wished to return to the jurisdiction of Moscow. The dispute often took place along ethnic lines, as many Russians had immigrated to Estonia during the Soviet occupation. Lengthy negotiations between the two patriarchates failed to produce any agreement.

In 1993, the synod of the Orthodox Church of Estonia in Exile was re-registered as the legal successor of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Estonia, and on February 20, 1996, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formally reactivated the tomos granted to the OCE in 1923, restoring its canonical subordination to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This action brought immediate protest from the Estonian-born Patriarch Alexei II of the Moscow Patriarchate, which regarded the Estonian church as being part of its territory. The Patriarch of Moscow temporarily removed the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch from the diptychs.

In this difficult situation, the Estonian Apostolic Church received help and support from the Finnish Orthodox Church, especially from Archbishop Johannes (Rinne) of the Archdiocese of Karelia and All Finland and Auxiliary Bishop Ambrosius (Risto Jääskeläinen) of Joensuu. The Ecumenical Patriarchate decided that Archbishop Johannes and Bishop Ambrosius as well as pastor Heikki Huttunen from Espoo should be available to the newly restored church. Archbishop Johannes would temporarily act as deputy metropolitan of the Estonian Autonomous Church. [ Metropolitan Johannes:"Viron ortodoksisen Kirkon tie uuteen itsenäisyyteen" Aamun Koitto Number 19/2007 p.18-20]

An agreement was reached in which local congregations could choose which jurisdiction to follow. The Orthodox community in Estonia, which accounts for about 14% of the total population, remains divided, with the majority of faithful (mostly ethnic Russians) remaining under Moscow. As of a government report of November 2003, about 20,000 believers (mostly ethnic Estonians) in 60 parishes are part of the autonomous church, with 150,000 faithful in 31 parishes, along with the monastic community of Pühtitsa, paying allegiance to Moscow.

In 1999, the church received a resident hierarch, Metropolitan Stephanos (Charalambides) of Tallinn who had formerly been an auxiliary bishop under the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Metropolitan of France.



*"Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity", pp. 183-4
* [ The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church] by Ronald Roberson, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar
*"This article incorporates text from the OrthodoxWiki ( [] ). Please edit and expand it."

External links

* [ Estonian Orthodox Church - Official Site]
* [ Orthodox Estonia]
* [ Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarkhate]

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