History of EOC

The Resurrection of a Church

by Father Heikki Huttunen

The Singing Revolution

My first contact with Orthodox people in Estonia was in 1988. I met briefly with a young man active in the Transfiguration Church in Tallinn. There was a group of young Estonians who had, through different ways, discovered the Orthodox faith; it was a response to their spiritual quest in the ideological mist of the late Soviet society. I was told that a particular judo club in Tallinn had contributed many members to the Estonian-speaking Orthodox parish in the Old Town, pastored by Fr. Emmanuel Kirss. As it later turned out, several of the youths in this core group became pioneers of rebuilding the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. But when I was in Tallinn that time, I did not meet any others, because they had gone to Hiiumaa to do restoration work on the ruins of a village church.

These young people had, against all odds, discovered the Orthodox faith in harmony with their Estonian identity. They resisted the logic of the majority: Religion for Estonians was to be Lutheran, for Russians it is Orthodox. To combine nationality and faith in other ways was not supposed to be possible. This was the view of both Estonian nationalists, who saw Lutheranism as the ideological guarantee of their national character and freedom, and of the Russian imperialists who were beginning to see the Church as a viable replacement of Communism as State ideology. But these youths, having become Christians in the Orthodox Church, had also discovered the other alternative, that of the relevant minority. Little by little they had unveiled the shrouded icon of Estonian Orthodoxy which eighty years earlier had been the spiritual identity of many pioneers of Estonian culture and founding fathers of the independent State. This memory of an Estonian-speaking and Estonian-minded Orthodox Church, which had represented 20% of the population throughout the country, had effectively been stifled and consequently forgotten during the Soviet occupation.

On that visit, I was the representative of the World Council of Churches in the founding meeting of the Estonian Lutheran Youth movement. To start a Christian youth movement was something unprecedented and formally still illegal in the Soviet Union. I think we in other countries were incredulous and slightly apprehensive of the Estonians’ fearlessness on the avant-garde of Perestroika. But in fact they were proven right in their courage: earlier that same year the Estonian ”Singing Revolution” had been the first sign of events that would bring down walls and return freedom of belief and speech in all countries of Central-Eastern Europe.

I was taken to the small town of Suure-Jaani in central Estonia for Sunday. There the young Lutheran pastor showed me the local Orthodox Church. It was a sad sight; once a beautiful red-brick temple, but now deserted and the plaster already dropping from the leaking ceiling. But the happier side was that after years of defunction, at the request of this Lutheran pastor to the Orthodox diocesan bishop, regular services had resumed in this parish. The priest came a few times a year from nearby Viljandi, and some twenty-thirty parishioners, elderly townspeople, would congregate. One could still see the words ”Bless the name of the Lord” written in Estonian with Gothic letters above the Art Nouveau iconostasis. The old ladies still remembered the prayers of the Liturgy in melodic Estonian chant. The parish of Suure-Jaani was for me a symbol of Estonian Orthodoxy: once a flourishing local church now in ruins. But when called together, its last generation, who had survived fifty years of occupation and persecution, would still gather together for Divine Liturgy. Would the roof of the Suure-Jaani church be once repaired and the broken windows replaced? Could there be a resurrection of this local Orthodox Church?

Estonia and Finland - sister Churches

For Finns, Estonia was, during the Soviet parenthesis, both very near and very far away. Despite separate political histories - German domination in Estonia and Swedish in Finland - the two nations cherished very similar cultural traditions and languages. The Estonian Orthodox Church had been the big sister of the Finnish-Karelian church, which established its cultural identity very much according to the Estonian example at the turn of the 20th century. Archbishop Herman, who served the Finnish Church for forty years, was a widowed priest invited to episcopacy in Finland from his Mustjala parish in Saaremaa. The two Churches received a similar status of broad Autonomy within the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1923. There were vivid contacts in the 1920s and 30s: bishops, seminarians and monastics visiting each other, exchange of influences in church music and spiritual literature.

The Soviet occupation of Estonia dropped the iron curtain between the sister Churches, preventing any direct contact for decades. Estonian Orthodoxy became like a phantom in the past. Had the links between Finnish and Estonian Orthodox in fact ever existed? Were the Finnish Orthodox a unique anomaly on the fringe of Russia, with their non-Slavonic liturgy, new calendar and Nordic mentality? Perhaps Estonia was definitively lost in the same way as Karelia, which was ceded to the USSR and from where the Orthodox Karelians had fled to the rest of Finland in 1944. The destiny of Finland was meant to be the same as that of Estonia in the Second World War, according to the agreement between Hitler and Stalin (the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). But Finland had escaped Soviet occupation, and as we followed events in Estonia, we could concretely see what was so close to having happened to our people, society and Church. In 1940 Estonia had a slightly higher standard of living and a clearly more varied cultural life than Finland, as well as an Autonomous Orthodox Church three times the size of the Finnish Orthodox Church.

I was fortunate to learn to know Estonian Orthodoxy through the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church in exile. There were natural contacts between our two churches in Sweden, where a mission to Karelian and Finnish Orthodox immigrants was started in the 1950s under the auspices of Estonian parishes; we would also meet Estonians from Sweden in Syndesmos and other Pan-Orthodox events. On conference travel in far-away Canada and Australia it was particularly interesting to get to know some of the clergy and other people in Estonian parishes. Their names were familiar from the magazine ”Usk ja Elu” which had continued to appear with relatively good theological and spiritual contents as well as topical news coverage of both Estonia and the Exile. The magazine was run by the exiled EAOC administration, which continued its existence abroad, strictly following the church’s internal statutes and Estonian law; this faithfulness proved later to be of decisive importance. Despite this small-scale but real church life in exile, it seemed far-fetched to think that Estonian Orthodoxy would have any future, in exile or at home. The impression was that a once vivid part of Estonian culture and a distinctive member in the family of local Orthodox churches had become but a matter of curiosity in history, gradually disappearing from present reality.

The Estonian Church at the end of the Soviet occupation

What was left of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church at home? Of the 200 000 Orthodox, tens of thousands were killed and deported to Siberia. An estimated 7 000 were able to flee to the West. Of almost 200 clergy, less than fifty were serving at the end of 1940s. Ordinations of Estonian men were very rare, and often they were appointed in Russian-speaking parishes, while Estonian parishes were served by non-Estonian speakers. As a result, several Estonian parishes eventually became Russian-speaking and tens of small country congregations were closed down. The Orthodox presence all but vanished in some rural areas, such as Läänemaa, while in other provinces like Saaremaa and Setumaa, it did survive, and in a few towns it even thrived. Practically none of the Russian Orthodox or Lutheran parishes were closed. In light of this picture one, perpelxed, could ask the question whether, for some reason, the Estonian Ortohdox suffered a more severe persecution than the other Christian groups in the country.

During the Soviet era, there was a large migration to and from Estonia. An estimated 7 million people moved to and from this country of 1,5 million inhabitants in a period of 40 years. Almost all were Russian-speaking. But they were not necessarily ethnic Russians or Orthodox Christians. There was a slow but clear policy of changing the demography of the country: The northern province of Virumaa with big industries became almost totally Soviet Russian and the capital was absorbed by a non-Estonian majority. Also the Orthodox parishes in those areas were soon entirely Russian, although a very small percentage of this population were believers or went to Church.

It is not possible to speak of Estonian Orthodoxy and its revival without mentioning Setumaa, the province which received Christianity from the East in the 14th-15th centuries. The monastery of the Pskov Caves, known in Estonian as Petseri, is located in the centre of Setumaa and has had great influence on Setu culture. Unlike the Western Estonians, the Setu people belongs historically to the Byzantine-Russian cultural sphere, and has also retained many aspects of its ancient Finnic folklore and beliefs. Together with the rest of Setumaa, the Petseri Monastery was part of Estonia until 1944 when the Eastern part of the province was transferred to the Russian Federation as it remains today, but thus it had avoided the disastrous fate of all other medieval Russian monasteries in the 1930s. St. George parish of Värska is one the historical dependencies of the monastery. During the Soviet occupation the village retained its Setu character, although it lost many people in the deportations to Siberia, and also due to migration to Tartu and Tallinn. During the Soviet period, church life was stronger than in Western Estonia, where the Orthodox are a minority. But in the words of a local pastor, the parish was like a ceremonial undertaker only burying people; the number of baptisms was less than one third of the generation, but even so much higher than elsewhere in Estonia. With Sunday school and other youth work the new generation is now reclaiming their forefathers’ religious identity. The village church feasts survived Soviet attempts of eradication, and now their Orthodox and Setu traditional features are more and more consciously observed by the thousands of clanspeople who gather for the celebrations. Since 1992 theVärska parish has been linked with my own congregation in Finland; this relationship has had great significance in granting a young suburban community the support of the powerful centuries-old Orthodox folk customs, spirituality and hospitality. The Setu parishes with an almost exclusively Orthodox population are the single most important geographic area of the Estonian Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox faith in the Western provinces of Estonia has a unique history in the whole world. Western Christianity, first Roman Catholic and then Lutheran, never took root among the serfs. During the national awakening of the 19th century they discovered in the Orthodox Church support for their rebellion against the German landed aristocracy. Tens of thousands of landless peasants converted in several waves between 1842 and 1900. For the Estonian Orthodox it was a movement of liberation and human dignity. Others allude to the supposed aspirations of the converts to acquire material benefits for joining the ”Czar’s church,” which never did come. The events have not been very much studied academically, but they probably are also related to the contemporary missionary attitude in the Russian Church. Whatever the motives, the fact is that this movement gave birth to a hundred rural parishes with liturgical books quickly translated into Estonian - and for the needs of a few island parishes, into Swedish - and a popular Orthodox identity still strong in many areas. Even more importantly, these rural Orthodox parishes provided the unique opportunity for peasant youngsters to learn: every parish had a school, which opened the way to the seminary in Riga and the University in Tartu. This is why an disproportionally large part of Estonian nationalist intelligentsia were Orthodox at the turn of the 20th century. This story of the ”usuvahetus” - ”the change of faith” - is of paramount importance for Estonian Orthodox identity, although in the eyes of others it is overshadowed by the latter image of the imperialist ”Russian” Church. A young man once showed me liturgical books of the very first Estonian editions which we dug out of the book case of a closed down church, and very proudly he said: ”See, these are not the songs of serfs!”

At the beginning of Perestroika, there were less than 20 Estonian-speaking clergy. Most of them were elderly, some ordained by Metropolitan Alexander before 1944. Some had seminary training, others no formal theological education. Some of the senior generation, who had faithfully served their parishes under severe circumstances, did live to see the reestablishment of the Autonomous Church. The late Fr. Valentin Saavin of Valga (who died at the very beginning of the process) and the late Fr. Simeon Kruzhkov of Tartu (who was to play a central role in the revival of the EAOC) should be mentioned as such torch-bearers, themselves being ethnic Russians. The younger generation of Estonian-speaking clergy had an even more varied educational background. To become involved in the Church and ordained had meant for them a demanding personal choice, and even risk, in the Soviet society. They had never experienced normal Church life, with a resident bishop gathering and leading his clergy and flock with a vision and a mission. Rather, they had to find solutions for themselves, defending their small parishes from Atheist authorities and perhaps even Orthodox attitudes unfriendly to the Estonian language and local customs. These circumstances had taught the priests to work separated rather than together, and not to be inclined to trust anyone, whether parishioners, other clergy, or the bishop.

Freedom - dreams and fears

With Estonian independence in the autumn 1991 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of that same year, internal uneasiness became apparent among the Orthodox in Estonia. The diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, which had been founded upon the ”liquidation” (as the relevant document puts it) of the EAOC in connection with Soviet occupation in 1944, had come to the end of its raison d’être. Sympathies went in various directions as solutions for a new ecclesiastical existence were discussed among clergy and parishioners. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (the so-called Karlovtsy Synod) enjoyed great admiration among many conservative Russian and Estonian priests and monastics. Certain clergy looked to the Russian Archbishopric of Western Europe under the Ecumenical Patriarchate (”rue Daru”) for help. Most Russian and some Estonian clergy preferred to remain within the Moscow Patriarchate, although requiring a more independent status for the diocese. Other Estonian priests - and probably a majority of the people - wanted a speedy and absolute separation from the Moscow Patriarchate, which for them was essentially an extension of the oppressive Soviet occupational power; so much so that they were ready to risk a temporal schism, ”becoming canonically wild” and hoping to solve the canonical problems after the juridical issues were clear in terms of Estonian law. Some from both language groups dreamed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would reactivate the Autonomy granted in 1923, and which had ceased to function after the Red Army occupied the country for the second time in 1944. The risk that unwise Church politics might lead to the division of the Orthodox in Estonia into three or four groups, of which at least two would be non-canonical, was at that time a real possibility. It was clear that such disintegration would cancel the historical identity and contemporary mission of the Orthodox Church in Estonian society.

Twelve parishes, with the leadership of the Transfiguration Church in Tallinn, took a decisive step when they in September 1993 decided to apply for the legal registration of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church on the basis of its continued existence in exile. This application corresponded to the principle of continuity in Estonian legislation, which set the situation prior to the Soviet occupation, 20 June 1940, as the basis of legality. The registration was granted by the Ministry of the Interior. From this registration onwards, the exiled Church administration in Stockholm was the legitimate heir to the rights and prerogatives of the EAOC. Almost simultaneously, the Moscow Patriarchate gave its diocese in Estonia ”internal independence in economic and juridical matters,” but this was not found to be satisfactory by most parishes, because the whole question of re-establishing the EAOC was not adressed, as the decree did not provide for canonical autonomy or solve the question of legal continuity.

The possibility of requesting the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reactivate the autonomy of 1923 was seen by more and more people as the only solution which could safeguard the unity and canonicity of the Orthdodox Church in Estonia. This alternative was studied and sought from two differing points of departure. One was the practical point of view based on the juridical registration, and the other emphasized the proper canonical procedure. This was a difficult process which involved disagreement and distrust, but the persons representing the differing approaches could in the end converge on the basic solution: to re-establish the local Church on the basis of the legal situation prior to the Soviet occupation in 1940, canonically guaranteed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Afterwards it can be seen that both approaches were needed. It is interesting also to observe, that the clergy and lay leaders working for this solution included people from both language groups, representing ”conservative” and ”liberal” tendencies in Church life, and coming from all the various ”jurisdictional sympathies” described above.

Many Russian parishes in the towns of Virumaa continued their life quite separated from the changes in the surrounding society. An increase in the number of baptisms and improvement in terms of Sunday school and other activities did happen after the end of the Atheist regime. But neither the clergy nor the parishioners saw a relationship between Orthodox Church life and Estonian history, or present reality. The vast majority of them had moved to Estonia during the Soviet period, many quite recently. They had good jobs in the military industry, the Army, or Railways or other All-Union institutions. They did not usually speak any Estonian nor know much about their home town. Probably they did not realize they were living in another country, before it suddenly regained its independence. Soon they discovered they were unemployed. Their situation was in many ways critical and stressful. For them, Estonian Orthodoxy seemed alien, and talk of an Autonomous Estonian Church was strange and had nothing to do with their spiritual needs.

The Ecumencial Patriarchate took its time to respond to the petitions from Estonia. Private persons, priests and parish councils approached Constantinople in various ways, beginning at the turn of the 1990s. As a response to these requests the Patriarchate adressed the Estonian issue in its contacts with the Moscow Patriarchate. A visit of two metropolitans representing the Patriarchate, John of Pergamon and Meliton of Philadelphia, took place in Tallinn in 1995. During that visit, the metropolitans were handed a petition signed by representatives of 54 parishes asking the Ecumencial Patriarchate to re-activate the canonical autonomy of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church on the basis of the Tomos of 1923. This was done at a gathering in a crowded meeting room of one of the hotels of Old Tallinn. The atmosphere was moving: several elderly priests, with the signs of fifty years of totalitarian atheist regime in their appearances and their serious words, such as Fr. Ermil Allik of Kaarepere, together with younger persons born and brought up during the Soviet era, expressed their concern for the survival and mission of the Orthodox Church in their country. The general enthusiasm and creativity characteristic of Estonian society in the 1990s was combined with cautiousness in facing the ecclesial reality - out of respect for the canonical order and doubt whether churchmen in far-away Constantinople would grasp the situation any better than others in Moscow. The question at stake was not which ”jurisdiction” one should belong to, but how to re-establish the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as it existed before the Soviet occupation.

In the negotiations between the two patriarchates it became clear that there were two opposed understandings of history. The Ecumenical Patriarchate accepted the Estonian view and was interested in re-establishing the unified and canonically autonomous local Church. This was seen as the natural outcome of its centuries-old history and its maturing into a particular mission in the Estonian society, as it had developed until 1940. For the other party, it was difficult to see any other Church life except that which existed among believers in the Soviet Russian population; according to their conviction, Estonia had become an eternal part of the Moscow Patriarchate, whose territory was identical with that of the USSR. At several occasions it was difficult to differentiate their statements from those of government officials or chauvinist nationalist politicians, who denied the fact of the occupation of the Baltic countries etc. Fears related to possible disagreements in Ukraine are said to have blocked the way for a brotherly settlement of the Estonian issue at that time.

As the negotiations were still supposed to continue, several priests were suspended by the Moscow Patriarchate diocese, thus leaving almost all Estonian-speaking and some Russian-speaking parishes without pastoral care just before the beginnig of Great Lent. This prompted the Holy Synod of the Ecumencial Patriarchate to act on the petition of the Estonians.

EAOC reinstated

On 20 February 1996 the canonical autonomy of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church was reactivated. It so happened that the decision was announced in the Transfiguration Cathedral in Tallinn on Independence day, February 24. At the same time Archbishop John of Karelia and All Finland was appointed Locum Tenens of the See of Tallinn and All Estonia. As for myself, I became his General Vicar.

The dream of a unified Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church along the lines of the situation prior to 1940, embracing all Orthodox Christians in the country, did not come true at that point in time. The reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate was lamentable - suspension of Eucharistic Communion. For us in the Estonian Church, it seemed like a misunderstanding in ecclesiology, the political use of an extreme canonical procedure. The wildest accusations and rumors were spread: ”Stockholm” had sold ”our churches” to ”the Turks.” They would not let the parishes loyal to the Russian Church pray in their temples any more. They would take out the icons and all sacred items from the churches and sell them. The Ecumencial Patriarchate was interested in the financial profits from Estonian properties. The Finnish Government had funded this takeover to widen its influence through the Orthodox Church. There was no salvation outside the Russian Church. ”The soi-disant Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop John” and other representatives of the ”Istanbul schism” were publicly prohibited from entering the area of this or that Moscow Patriarchate parish. If some of them did approach his church, a certain priest promised he would lock himself in and commit suicide with his parishioners by burning the church themselves. These and other similar fantastic fabrications were spread among Russian parishioners. Incredible as it seems, many believed them, which points to the alarming need of a basic religious education. Some of these rumors still continue to circulate.

What was also very saddening is that many Orthodox in the West European diaspora criticized the Estonians for the break in Communion proclaimed by Moscow. Their ignorance of the violence of the Soviet rule and its effect on Church life in Estonia, Russia and all the Communist countries seemed dumbfoundingly naive to us. Should one respond to the accusations and rumors? The answer in the EAOC was: by reconstructing our own Church life as best we can, by showing the greatest respect to the believers in the Moscow Patriarchate and by putting our trust and hope in God.

Fortunately, the Moscow Patriarchate soon cancelled its unilateral break in Communion. This happened as a result of the agreement of the two Patriarchates on 22 April 1996 in Zurich. Applying the principle of ”economy” for pastoral need, they recognized the presence of the Moscow Patriarchate and the EAOC in the same territory. The Autonomy of EAOC was suspended, temporarily, until the canonical adherence of the parishes was agreed upon. This implied that the Moscow Patriarchate had recognized the Autonomous EAOC, which, for some reason, has been difficult to admit afterwards. Each parish was given the right to choose which ”jurisdiction” they preferred to adhere to. In some parishes, the parishioners did actually vote or sign relevant documents. In others, the will of the priest prevailed. Some situations could be disputed. The meeting of the Patriarchal delegations where the parishes were distributed took place on the top floor of a high-rise hotel in Tallinn. The mood was conciliatory, but the discussion revealed interesting differences in the attitudes of the two sides. The EAOC representatives were eager to ”re-establish” every possible defunct village parish and to look for the descendants of the Orthodox population here or there, while the local Russian clergy was not enthused to think in the same terms of outreach. The division into 29 Moscow Patriarchate parishes and 54 EAOC parishes has been respected since then; the EAOC has re-opened a few other defunct parishes. It is very sad and in fact inexplicable that despite the principle agreement of the two Patriarchates, Eucharistic Communion among Orthodox people does not exist in Estonia. This is not due to any decision or action of the EAOC or the Ecumenical Patriarchate at any point of the dispute.

Reconstruction of a Church

How many were Estonian and Russian believers? In 1940 there were approximately 200 000 Orthodox in Estonia, of whom 30 000 were ethnic Russians. In 1990, there were over 400 000 Russians, Ukranians, and Belorussians living in Estonia. How many were Orthodox? Did they sympathise with the Moscow Patriarchate or the EAOC, if any? As the parishes in the USSR had not kept records of the baptised or the contributing Church members, all kinds of estimations and claims could be made. According to the Moscow Patriarchate, 10, 785 persons in the parishes signed the petition in the spring of 1996 to remain in their jurisdiction. According to a survey made internally in the EAOC the same year, there were ca. 7 000 financially contributing members in the parishes.

More time is needed until a realistic assessment of the new beginning of the EAOC can be made. Archbishop John and his aides tried to assure the basic functioning of the parishes and to initiate the process of rebuilding the Autonomous Church. In fact, a unified ecclesial entity had not really existed in Estonia for a long time. As described above, the priests had learned to work alone and not to trust anyone. Few contacts had existed across the language-barrier, and the division into the parishes which chose to remain with the Moscow Patriarchate and those which pioneered the EAOC, sad as it was, did not change much for the parishioners or the local clergy.

Luckily, there were three Russian-speaking and several bilingual parishes in the Autonomous Church, so it would retain the appropriate multiethnic character from the beginning. I suppose those bilingual parishes were, at that time, one of the very few situations in the whole society where Estonians and Russians would experience togetherness and community. During my three years as the General Vicar, I did not encounter any nationalist chauvinism or discrimination in the EAOC.

The temporary character of the EAOC leadership meant that all negotiations regarding the canonical situation took place under the auspices of the Patriarchate. There were no means to establish an effective structure for the EAOC: the Locum Tenens and his assistants functioned like a fire brigade. Wherever there was a problem, we would rush in and attempt to resolve the crisis.

Regular clergy meetings and training workshops were arranged, and perhaps they helped to start building mutual trust and a sense of a common mission. New deacons and priests were ordained wherever candidates could be found. Scholarships were obtained for theological studies in the Greek Universities, Joensuu Universtity, Holy Cross seminary in Boston, and St.Vladimir’s Seminary in New York and a new generation of theologians and clergy began to grow. Some material aid could be found for diaconal, educational and reconstruction projects. The youth movement was supported in its first steps both internally and internationally within Syndesmos. Orthodox camps for families, children and youth were organized. Many parishes forged ties with Orthodox communites in Finland and elsewhere.

Fundamental work was done by the EAOC economic bureau to regain Church property, church buildings, schools, pastorates, and forested plots of land according to the 1940 situation. This required a great deal of work and expertise in the land register, real estate, geodesy, and property law. The achievements of this work are, for the most, part undeniable, and they form the basis of the future economic development of the Autonomous Church.

From the beginning it was clear that steps should be taken towards permanent structures in the EAOC administration. This turned out to be very slow. The difficulty of the process caused some lamentable losses on the pastoral and also economic level. The name of bishop Stephanos of Nazianzus, serving in the South of France, was mentioned early on as a possible permanent archpastor, in case no local candidates could be found. It took, however, some time before the situation matured for this decision. A significant first step towards establishing local episcopate was the consecration of Fr. Simeon Kruzhkov as auxiliary bishop, but as the events unfolded, he did not have enough time to consolidate his spiritual leadership. Suffering from a serious long-term illness, he passed away having served only four months. His death could have been seen as the end of EAOC’s reconstruction, in the absence of other episcopal candidates.

But the demise of the auxiliary bishop turned out to be a sign of the necessity to take decisions already long overdue, and to look elsewhere for a permanent metropolitan. Towards the end of his third year as Locum Tenens, Archbishop John, together with the formally competent church administration in Stockholm, called the General Assembly of EAOC for the purpose of electing the administrative organs of the Church. According to provisions of the Statute, the delegates elected by the parishes met for an advisory vote (at a preparatory meeting of the delegates called ”Esinduskogu” in the Statute) in which bishop Stephanos received the support of a great majority for the post of the metropolitan. On the basis of this invitation he was elected by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as Metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia. The appointment was confirmed by the EAOC General Assembly three months later; and also the other administrative bodies were elected. It was moving and encouraging to meet the delegates, people one had become acquainted with in the towns and villages across the country. Men and women, young and elderly, farmers, academics, students and workers, they gave a face to the renascent Church. For an Orthodox Church meeting, this assembly had a very low average age and a very high percentage of women. Thus the long transition from exile back home had been completed. The enthronement of Metropolitan Stefanus on March 21, 1999 started definitively the new era of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

Estonia has had a symbolic role in the recovery of the Orthodox Church after Communism. It is a local Church which was annihilated as an institution: its leadership was not forced to make compromises with the Atheist power, because the leadership was killed or exiled. The Church was persecuted and liquidated together with its people and the society where it lived. Its resurrection expresses the unlikely victory of hope over despair, of faith over violence everywhere among the Orthodox in Eastern Europe. Because it is the only Church which experienced this as an entire community, its renaissance has been difficult to realize and to accept by the rest of us, who were directly or indirectly connected with the persecutor. As its story will be more widely known, the significance of the very survival of this small but dignified local Church will be appreciated.


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