Moscow-affiliated Russian Orthodox church grows in Helsinki
Two Orthodox Christian congregations in Helsinki affiliated with the Russian ecclesiastical tradition have grown in the Helsinki region in recent years.
The congregations of St. Nicholas and Pokrova, which fall under the Moscow Patriarchate, have about 2,000 members. The membership has been growing at a rate of about 150 a year.
About 75 per cent of the members registered in the congregations are citizens of Finland.
The Finnish Orthodox Church disengaged from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1923. However, some of the Orthodox in Finland wanted to retain Russian ways, and the use of Church Slavonic in the liturgy, and they set up their own congregation.
When the Finish Orthodox Church decided in 1927 to reject the old Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox in Finland set up their own congregation - that of St. Nicholas.
After the Second World War Stalin began to use the Russian Orthodox Church as a way of advancing his foreign policy goals. There were calls from Moscow for the Finnish Orthodox Church to join the Moscow Patriarchate.
Support for the idea from the Finnish far left made many church members wary of the proposal, and it was rejected. In 1957 the Holy Synod of Moscow recognised the status of the Finnish Orthodox Church.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, immigration from Russia to Finland has increased, swelling the membership of the Moscow-affiliated congregations in Finland.
The congregations remain small compared with the whole Finnish Orthodox Church, which shares a special status in Finnish society with the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The Helsinki Orthodox Congregation has about 19,000 members.
The St. Nicholas Congregation wants to build a new Orthodox Church in Itäkeskus, in the east of Helsinki next to the Stoa culture centre. However, it has not yet been granted a building permit.
"I believe that our congregation will continue to grow. When the church in Itäkeskus is ready, we can increase youth activities and church services", says Orest Chervinski, dean of the Congregation of St. Nicholas.
The congregation is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Friday, with Metropolitan Cyril of the foreign section of the Moscow Patriarchate taking part in a service held on Friday morning at the Church of St. Nicholas at Helsinki's Hietaniemi Cemetery.
Taking part in the event were Metropolitan Ambrosius and Archbishop Leo of the Helsinki Orthodox diocese.
In spite of the cooperation between the two branches of Orthodoxy in Finland, the growth of the congregations under the Moscow Patriarchate is a cause for some concern within the Finnish Orthodox Church.
"It is common practice that one local church will deal with all tasks of the Orthodox Church", Metropolitan Ambrosius says.
Congregations linked with the Moscow Patriarchate live according to the old Julian calendar, and they celebrate Christmas and Easter at different times than in other Finnish Orthodox congregations.
Ambrosius says that people often join the congregations which observe Russian traditions specifically for cultural reasons.
"There is a small group of nationalists who want their spiritual services directly from priests under the Moscow Patriarchate", he explains.
Orthodox immigrants are very welcome in the Finnish Orthodox Church, Ambrosius says.
"We have actively sought to reach out to Russian immigrants. All those who have come to our congregation have been accepted."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russian-style Orthodox church to be built in East of Helsinki (15.12.2006)
Orthodox Church of Russia to expand its activities in Finland (22.8.2005)
Orthodox Church of Finland (Virtual Finland)