Russian-style Orthodox church to be built in East of Helsinki
Finnish Orthodox Church views project with some ambivalence
The Orthodox Congregation of St. Nicholas, which functions under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, and which has operated in Finland since 1927, plans to build a new church in the Itäkeskus suburb in the east of Helsinki.
The small congregation, with about 1,500 members, has found that its present facilities are being stretched to the limit, thanks to increased immigration from Russia.
The congregation’s main church building, next to the Orthodox cemetery in Hietaniemi, was built in 1937, and it was expanded in 1952. A few years ago the congregation opened a small church in the Vesala area in the east of Helsinki.
"The membership is increasing by about 50 parishioners a year for the third year in a row", says Dean Orest Chervinski. "The new parishioners have many children, and between 120 and 140 people attend services every Sunday."
The main language spoken at services, and in other church activities, is Russian. On request, baptisms and other ecclesiastical ceremonies are available in Finnish.
Zoning permission for the new church was approved in April. Construction is expected to begin sometime next year.
The St. Nicholas congregation is separate from the Finnish Orthodox Church, which which shares a semi-official status in the country along with the Lutheran Church, and which is not under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Some in the Finnish Orthodox Church are taking a dim view of the project; Metropolitan Ambrosius of Helsinki notes that the Orthodox Church has a principle, according to which one national church should be enough, and that it should minister to the needs of all parishioners regardless of their linguistic, cultural, and national background.
Ambrosius himself sees no problem if the St. Nicholas congregation operates under its own principles, and notes that the Finnish Orthodox Church has always operated in good cooperation with the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate.
"However, there are those who fear that Russian nationalism might spread to ecclesiastical circles", he says, adding that he has not seen any signs of this in Finland.
Ambrosius does not feel that the Finnish Orthodox Church has failed in its efforts to cater to immigrants. The church has 61,000 members, and about 1,000 new members join the church each year, not including children who have been baptised. About half of the new members are immigrants, most of whom are from Russia.
"We have held services in Church Slavonic for 200 years, and for the past 20 years at the Church of the Holy Trinity, where there are priests who are fluent in Russian."