2010, Finland

Lutherans and Orthodox in Finland: Ecumenical Dialogue and Cooperation between two Established Churches

Lutherans and Orthodox in Finland:
Ecumenical Dialogue and Cooperation between Two Established Churches

Matti Repo

Lutheran and Orthodox Churches in their Relation to the State

I am carrying an Orthodox panagia, an eastern parallel to the western pectoral cross as a symbol of Episcopal ministry. The word panagia refers to the All Holy Mother, the God-bearer Virgin Mary. She is depicted in the centrepiece of the panagia. I received this panagia as a gift from Metropolitan Ambrosius, Orthodox Bishop of Helsinki. He was present at my consecration two years ago and gave it to me as a sign of fellowship and spiritual unity, although there is yet no mutual recognition of ministries between the Lutherans and the Orthodox. This panagia is nevertheless a sign of the wish of both churches to proceed on the way towards full unity with joint celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The wish is also articulated in the ecumenical strategy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, adopted in 2009. The strategy Our Church: a Community in Search of Unity puts emphasis on the visible unity of the Church as the goal for the ecumenical activities of the Church, and on the consensus in the fundamental truths of faith as a means in achieving sacramental unity. The little strategy booklet exemplifies this wish on its cover, showing the Lutheran and Orthodox churches that stand side by side in Helsinki.

In Finland, the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church have a warm and friendly relation. In general, there is an overall uncomplicated ecumenical atmosphere in the country, although the Lutheran Church is a big majority with almost 80 per cent of the total population and some 4.3 million members; the Orthodox Church as the second-largest church has approximately 60,000 members.

The two churches have a rather similar position in relation to the state. For historical reasons, one might call them State Churches; however, this is not an accurate term today. The Republic of Finland does not confess any faith. The state is neutral, but it nevertheless grants to the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church a more solid ground in the legislation than to other Christian churches or denominations or any other religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is mentioned in the Constitution of Finland, not as the Church of the State, but among the bodies that have their own legislation. Both the Lutheran Church Law and Law on the Orthodox Church are confirmed by the Parliament, but only the churches themselves can make any changes to their canons. In the Law on Religious Freedom, renewed in 2003, these two churches are set in a different group from all other ‘registered religious communities’, as the terminology goes.

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