History of EOC

General Assembly of Estonian Orthodox Clergy and the Faithful

Tallinn, April 6-7, 1917

We, orthodox Estonians, being part of the Estonian nation and the citizen of a free Republic, have the same requirements for life than the rest of the Estonian people and think that the life of our congregations needs reforming. It is not our purpose to protect clericalism or speak for the interests of certain classes, because it would contradict with the teaching of Christ.

This is how we feel: orthodoxy has supported the obtaining of education by some of the poorest Estonian children, thus fostering the spiritual growth in Estonia. It is now obvious that a perfectly free Christian spirit, the same spirit that has its foundation in the true brotherhood and unity of men, will soon govern the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore we hope that the orthodox activities in Estonia, after getting loose from present fetlock and basing on independent grounds, where all members of the congregation have an equal right to vote with regard to church matters, can remain useful for everybody, both for the members of the congregation as well as for the entire Estonian nation irrespective of their belief.

Our requirement for reforms is natural, it is neither the fancy of some people, nor the fruit of intolerance or narrow-minded desire for separation. There is a proverb saying, that each bird has its own tune. Just the same way does each nation have its own precious mother tongue, own peculiar and dear habits and ways of life. The Estonian nation has also its own heart, spirit, language and state of mind. The primary need of the Estonian people is the widest autonomy possible together with the big Russian nation, as an inseparable part of Russia. The orthodox Estonians only want to underline the need of the Estonian people as an inseparable part of the all-Russian Orthodox Church to promote their spiritual life in a natural way, according to their innermost necessities. This is an opportunity we have missed to the present moment. Our reforms never have and never will be focused against the dogma of the Orthodox Church or its apostolic teachings that stand as a solid and unchanging foundation of the church. The reforms we have in mind and what life itself has been imposing for a long time already (particularly since 1905), concern only some traditions and arrangements of the church, inherent to the Russian people but completely alien and incomprehensible for the Estonians. What we mean is that the services should be conducted and the life of the congregations organised on the basis of new principles insisted by time itself. We accept the general reforms adopted by the Church of independent Russia and believe that the Church of independent Russia will not ignore our suggestions that have emerged from real life; that we will not be forbidden the kind of autonomy that most national orthodox churches already enjoy.

After two days of lively discussion the following unanimous resolutions were adopted: Divide the reforms suggested by us according to their level of urgency into two categories: 1) instant reforms that can and should be conducted immediately and 2) other reforms that should be discussed at the all-Russian Church Assembly (Sobor).

I. Instant Reforms

1) With no delay renew the composition of the Riga Ecclesiastic Consistory, currently operating with 1-2 active members only, so that in addition to 2 Russian members also 2 Estonian and 2 Latvian members would be elected. Move the Consistory to Tartu, where the Archbishop is residing. (The meeting nominated Archpriests Tiisik and Raska as the recommended candidates of the Estonian congregations to the composition of the Consistory)
2) Vacant positions of priests and precentors should be filled by means of a competition called by the Council of respective congregation. Successful applicants must have pertinent education or a certificate evidencing their qualification, issued by the Diocese Administration.
The Council will nominate up to three candidates and full members of the congregation, i.e. persons above the age of 21, will, at the presence of a Chairman elected by the clergy, elect the one by general, equal, instant and secret ballot, who will then be presented by the Council to the ecclesiastic administration for approval.
Any disputes arising between the officials and congregations shall be settled at a court of arbitration, which composition is established by the next general meeting.
3) Acknowledge in principle, that the orthodox clergy (priests, deacons and precentor) when not in office, must have the right to enjoy all the rights of a free citizen. The church must not be used in political interests; in civil life it would be absolutely inappropriate to impose any political restrictions on the clergy.
4) Consider necessary to place before the Synod for discussion the right of the clergy to wear civil clothing in civil life, if they please to do so, like it has been permitted abroad, and wear short hair and beard.
5) Entitle congregations to establish their councils in the rights of a legal person, where all interested parties of a congregation would be represented. Assign the next general meeting to work out the draft proposal.
6) Give first priority to matters related to school and express consent with the issue that all presently viable orthodox schools with over 25 pupils should be included to the school network of local governments and guaranteed legal sustenance, and that parish schools and smaller county schools should become elementary schools and larger county schools - progymnasiums. The clergy should be able to retain their right to participate in the process of education on the same grounds than presently: priests as catechists and, if so wished by them, also as teachers; parish clerks with the right to teach - as teachers.
7) Demand with no delay, that from the next academic year religious instruction was taught to all Estonian children in senior elementary schools and secondary schools in their mother tongue only. (Today only the Lutherans enjoy this privilege).
8) The organisation of the publication of books with orthodox subject matter should become the concern of the Association of Congregations. Issues related to the publication of a newspaper remained unsettled in the hope that freedom of speech permits us to express our standpoints in local press, if need should be.
9) Take immediate steps with regard to the everyday life and management of congregations to encourage the approach and assimilation of orthodox congregations and the establishment of the Association of Estonian Orthodox Congregations with equal representation of the clergy and the faithful.
Note: This draft was worked out. (See: Appendix n° 1)
10) Declare the situation of the Estonians living in Pskov, where the only Estonian priest was forced to leave because of intolerance, unbearable and take immediate steps to save their spiritual condition.

II. Other reforms

1) Alike the civil area, where Estonia is separated from Latvia, organise the ecclesiastic administration the way that all Estonian orthodox congregations and the Estonians living in Pskov would get under the reign of the Estonian Diocese. Itinerant Priests, licensed by local Bishops, would take care of orthodox settlers, presently unattended. All counties should also have their own Suffragan Priests, who substitute the Priests either ill or missing from their congregations on any other reason.
The Bishop, elected not among monks but among local people, should speak the local language.
2) A draft should be prepared by the Association of Congregations, laying down the principles of managing congregations and electing a new Church Administration in agreement with the reforms of the Russian Church Administration, keeping in mind both the spiritual as well as the material interests of congregations.
3) Send a delegation to the temporary guberniya commissar Poska to greet him and inform him about the telegram.

After the collapse of the imperial regime, a quest for new ways to arrange the Church life began in all the Russian Church. In Estonia, to this was added a search for finding the best forms suiting for the national character and a certain autonomy of the Church in Estonia.


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