Study: Moscow Patriarchate pressured Finnish Orthodox Church after war
Security Police feared Soviet espionage via church contacts
By Timo Siukonen
The Finnish Orthodox Church was in a tight corner for more than ten years, as the Moscow Patriarchate tried to coddle, connive, and command it to come back to its fold - away from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The plans came to nothing. Archbishop Herman managed to steer the church in very difficult waters, and it was not until the spring of 1957 that the Finnish Orthodox Church was able to claim final victory in its struggle to remain independent.
"The Holy Synod of Moscow recognised the position of the Finnish Orthodox Church as a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in April 1957. At that time, Metropolitan Nikolai, who was responsible for external relations of the Russian Church, came for a visit", writes theologian Juha Riikonen in his doctoral dissertation given to the University of Joensuu.
Nikolai's visit was preceded by a Synod, which had unanimously decided to reject the proposal for a linkage, which was made in 1945.
Finland had switched over to Constantinople already in 1923, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate had granted the Finns extensive autonomy.
The Winter War (1939-1940) and the Continuation War (1941-1944) decisively changed the position of the Finnish Orthodox Church. The loss of the ceded territories of Karelia meant that the church had to give up 90 per cent of its property, and 70 per cent of its members were settled in different parts of Finland as displaced persons. According to Riikonen's thesis, the Moscow Patriarchate tried to dictate to Finland, as it did to other churches in the Soviet sphere of power. The Russian Orthodox Church was a part of the foreign relations apparatus of the Soviet Union.
Initially the linkage was proposed by Moscow Patriarch Aleksei after Victory Day celebrations in May 1945. Grigori, the Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, was sent to Kuopio for discussions. In the talks Grigori demanded that the Finnish Orthodox Church put an end to its isolation, and that the lost daughter should to come back to its true father.
In December 1945 Herman asked Aleksei if the Finnish church would be allowed to keep the new calendar that it had adopted, as well as an autonomy that would be as extensive as what it enjoyed under Constantinople. Aleksei gave a negative answer to both questions. After that, Herman suspended preparations for an extraordinary synod.
A survey of church members in 1946 reinforced the negative view of a linkage, and the matter was not discussed for years at meetings of the ecclesiastical executive.
"The pressure from Moscow was too direct, and dismissive of Finland's legal decision-making system", Riikonen believes.
According to the thesis, two different administrative cultures clashed in the handling of the matter. Moscow's style clearly indicated a totalitarian way of dealing with issues.
The Finnish national government felt that choosing which patriarchate to be a part of was a matter for the Finnish Orthodox Church to decide on its own.
"The Security Police saw the situation as problematic. It felt that the arrival of Bishop Mikhail in Finland in 1954 was a clear sign of attempts to turn Orthodox congregations into a cover for Soviet espionage", Riikonen notes.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.9.2007
Previously in HS International Edition:
Moscow-affiliated Russian Orthodox church grows in Helsinki (21.9.2007)
Orthodox Church of Finland (Virtual Finland)
TIMO SIUKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat