HELSINKI – Metropolitan Emmanuel of France was invited by Archbishop Leo of Helsinki and all of Finland to give a lecture at the meeting of the clergy of the Church of Finland.
The event was held in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Helsinki and the subject of the lecture was The Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church.
In addition to Archbishop Leo, Metropolitan Ilias of Oulu and Bishop Arsenios of Joensuu attended the meeting.
The Orthodox faith was the earliest form of Christianity to arrive in Finland. It spread to southern Finland and to the people of Karelia around Lake Ladoga through trade and other contacts with the East over 1,000 years ago.
During 19th century Russian rule in Helsinki, Viipuri (Vyborg), and the Karelian Isthmus, Orthodoxy was associated with the country’s ruling elite. However, many rural Finns, Sami, and Karelians are also members of the Orthodox Church.
After the Grand Duchy of Finland was formed under Russian rule during the early nineteenth century the Orthodox believers in Finland were placed under the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of St. Petersburg. In 1892, Finland was established as a separate diocese with its bishop’s see in Vyborg, separate from the Eparchy of St. Petersburg. Archbishop Anthony (Vadkovsky) was enthroned as the diocese’s first ruling hierarch.
Shortly after Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917, the Finnish Orthodox Church declared its autonomy from the Church of Russia. In 1923, the Finnish Church completely separated from the Russian Church, becoming an autonomous part of the Church of Constantinople. The New Calendar was also adopted, including the Western Gregorian Paschalion that sets the date for Easter, making it distinct from the rest of the Orthodox churches, whether following the New or Old Church calendar. Other reforms introduced after independence include changing the primary liturgical language from Church Slavonic to Finnish (other languages are used depending on the parish and its situation, e.g. Church Slavonic, Swedish, English).
The Archepiscopal seat was also transferred from the multicultural city of Viipuri to the Finnish-speaking city of Sortavala.
Until World War II, the majority of the Orthodox Christians in Finland were in Karelia. As a consequence of the war, many residents of that border province evacuated to other parts of the country. The monastery of Valaam was evacuated in 1940 and the monastery of New Valaam was founded in 1941 at Heinävesi. Later, the monks from Konevitsa and Petsamo monasteries also joined the New Valaam monastery. The nunnery of Lintula at Kivennapa (Karelian Isthmus) was also evacuated, and re-established at Heinävesi in 1946.
A new parish network was established, and many new churches were built in the 1950s. After the city of Viipuri was lost to the Soviet Union, its Diocesan seat was moved to Helsinki. A third Diocese was established at Oulu in 1979.
The Church of Finland has about 60,000 members and in recent decades, the membership has been steadily growing.
The principal Orthodox church in Finland is the Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, which is the largest Orthodox church in western Europe.
Its current primate is His Eminence Leo, Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland.
Within the one autonomous Church of Finland, there are three dioceses – Karelia, Helsinki and Oulu – administered by four bishops.