Nearly 100 years since the aggressive Western attempt to take over the last bastion of Christendom in Russia in 1917, there are reasons for pessimism and for optimism. On the one hand, in the south, the West has taken over the Patriarchate of Constantinople and made it into a hub of Diaspora aggression against the fullness of Orthodoxy. It has tried to subvert the other ancient Patriarchates, the Churches of Greece, Cyprus, Albania and now the US and the EU are trying to subvert the Churches of Georgia, Romania, Serbia and even Russia.
On the other hand, we have witnessed the miraculous Resurrection of the multinational Russian Church, 75% of the whole Orthodox world and the champion of all who follow the Orthodox Tradition. Savaged by base attacks from nationalism, liberalism and foreign-controlled Constantinople in France, the USA, Estonia, the Ukraine and England, she has not only survived but is responding to her calling to preach the Gospel and consequent unique Church Christianity worldwide, speaking the ‘Russian Word’ to the world at large.
The fault-line between two spiritual tectonic plates, those of atheist/secularist Europe and Christian Eurasia, has never been absolutely clear. This we have seen in recent years in what is now called Bosnia-Herzegovina and the western Ukraine, where aggressive Westernization is still trying to conquer the Orthodox borderlands. However, in the north, along the Russo-Finnish frontier, it is clear. On the eastern side are the remains of Orthodox Christianity; on the western side is standard Western atheist secularism and the few oases of Orthodoxy.
The fact is that the first millennium of the history of Europe is by and large the history of its depaganization or Christianization. However, the second millennium of the history of Europe is by and large the history of its repaganization or deChristianization. This de-Christianization or loss of integral faith has been expressed by humanism, that is, the worship of fallen and sinful humanity, a history which is now being definitively completed by the through-going paganism and worship of sin in this opening third millennium.
Another fact about Europe is that the international names of several of its countries are not the names given to them by their native peoples. For example, as regards France and Bulgaria, they are known by names of very small groups of invaders, for the French are really Gauls, not Franks, and the Bulgarians are really Slavs, not Bulgarians (a Turkish tribe). Also, Germany is in fact Deutschland, Hungary is Magyarország, Greece is Ellatha and Romania is a recent, German-invented name for Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania.
Yet other European countries are known by the Germanic word ‘land’ and yet they are not inhabited by Germanic peoples. Thus, the Gaelic peoples of Ireland and Scotland do not use the word ‘land’ for the native names of their countries. Similarly, Lettland (Latvia), Estland (Estonia) and, especially, Finland are not Germanic ‘lands’. In the case of Finland, the name for the country is ‘Suomi’, probably related to the word for land, similar to the Slavic ‘zemlya’, which is completely different from its foreign, but international name. Why?
The reason for this strange name of ‘Finland’ is due to the country’s position between East and West. Finland was in fact only a small area in the extreme south-west of present-day Finland, conquered by the Swedes who gave the name to the whole country and then conveyed this Swedish name to the Western world. By that time Sweden had renounced its early 11th century heritage of St Olaf and St Anne of Novgorod, in the late 11th century abandoning that Orthodoxy of its youth to join the new Roman Catholicism.
This meant that Finland never encountered the still at heart Orthodox first millennium Christianity of the West, but only that of the second millennium. For by then there had developed a deviant form of Christianity in the West which had broken away from the Church and Church Christianity remained dominant only in the then majority East. And here it was developing apace, above all in the Balkans and in the Russian world, a world that included Slavic and Finnish tribes alike. A coming clash was inevitable.
In the 12th and 13th centuries the now Roman Catholic Sweden began to launch its own imperialistic crusades and the Swedish Establishment imposed a ‘patron saint of Finland’, the English papist Henry of Uppsala (+ 1156). Thus, as elsewhere in Western Europe, the local aristocrats introduced feudalism and the Finnish peasants were exploited. In the 16th century, following the latest Germanic fashion, Sweden adopted Lutheranism and began lutheranizing the Finns and set to massacring the Orthodox in eastern Finland or Karelia.
Notably, on Christmas Day 1590 they martyred St Jonah and 115 other monks and laymen at Pechenga. The 17th century was a period of more Protestant fanaticism and Sweden, then a great force, expanded both south and east. In Karelia the Swedish forces destroyed and burned to the ground the monasteries of Valaam and Konevsky. The monks that did not flee were martyred and many peasants met the same fate. The Swedes took over Karelia, Ingermanland, Estonia and Latvia, refusing to allow the people to practise Orthodoxy.
After this came the neo-pagan ‘Enlightenment’ and atheistic French influence which the Swedish aristocrats now in turn forced onto the Finns. Although after 1809 the Swedes lost their influence to Russia for over a century, such was the hold of Lutheranism that Finland still left the Russian Orthodox world after 1917. Over the last century it has gradually adopted typical, post-Protestant, Scandinavian modernism and secularism, the world of plastic, steel and glass, for the most part losing its wood-solid traditions and old pieties.
Unlike in the West where the authentic and unsecularized Orthodox Christian Tradition had been disrupted and interrupted, in the East it continued. Orthodox Christianity had started to spread to Finland at latest at the beginning of the 12th century. Some of the earliest excavated crosses in Finland, dating from the 12th century onwards, are similar to a type found in Novgorod and Kiev. It seems certain that Orthodox parishes were established as far west as Tavastia in central southern Finland.
The main missionary work fell to the monasteries in the wilderness of Karelia. Two monasteries were founded on islands in Lake Ladoga which centuries later became famous: these are Valaam and Konevsky. The Karelian and Finnish forests were also inhabited by spiritually advanced hermits. Often around the hermit’s hut or skete there settled other ascetics and so a new monastery was founded. Notably, in the far north, St Tryphon of Pechenga (+ 1583) became the Enlightener of the Lapps (the Sami).
Another important example of this process was the Karelian St Alexander of Svir (1449–1533), who struggled in the ascetic life for 13 years at Valaam and then founded another monastery on the River Svir. However, after such spiritual figures there came Lutheran persecution of the Church. It was only in 1809 that a newly powerful Russia took over the whole of Finland from Sweden. However, although some beautiful Orthodox churches were built, these were mainly for Russian soldiers and merchants; missionary work was weak.
Thus, the Church became identified in the minds of many Finns with the imperialism of Westernized Russian aristocrats and bureaucrats. When Finland became independent of Russia after 1917, the 24 Orthodox parishes in Finland were taken under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Lutheran calendar was adopted and decadence began, associated with freemasonry, modernism and unmentionable practices. In the 1940s Russia was further discredited as a result of the wars between Finland and the atheist Soviet Union.
And so for political reasons the parishes in Finland, and later a small monastery and a convent, came to have a life independent of their roots in the Russian Mother-Church. Finnish became the norm – clearly a good thing for missionary work in Finland. However, from the very start under the foreign-controlled Patriarchate of Constantinople, modernism set in, which increasingly took over the liturgical life of the churches. Many wondered if the salt had lost its savour under pressure from renovationism and ‘finlandization’.
The last two centuries of Finnish-Russian relations have produced the predictable Russophobic reactions. The ugly nationalism of unChurched Russians who yet claimed to be Orthodox has created by reaction a local nationalism. The same process as in Finland has also been visible in diasporas in France, the US and elsewhere, where most still do not understand that in the Church the word ‘Russian’ means multinational and multilingual. Today in Finland there are 140 priests and some 58,000 Orthodox outside the Russian Church.
Although services are now in Finnish, we see a limited future in a Lutheranized and secularized Orthodoxy, a ‘Euro-Orthodoxy’ or ‘Halfodoxy’, a ‘Diet Orthodoxy’, rationalized, homogenized, sanitized, degutted, neutered, castrated, serving even the Easter cycle on the Catholic/Lutheran calendar. We see the future with the great defender of Orthodoxy in the North, St Alexander Nevsky (23 November/6 December), who warned that ‘God is not in power, but in truth’, and with the Karelian/North Russian monastic tradition.
Will the Russian-built churches of Finland one day return to integral Orthodoxy? Modernist Lutheran and Uniat-style Finnish churches, for example, in Oulu, Lintula, Espoo and Pori can stay with Constantinople. The Cathedral of the Dormition (the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe) and Holy Trinity church in Helsinki, the magnificent wooden church in Joensuu, St Alexander Nevsky (as it originally was) church in Tampere and the churches in Tornio, Vaasa and Hamina, all stand as witnesses to and reminders of authentic Orthodoxy.
The question of our Church is not primarily a geopolitical question, but a spiritual question. The question is not whether the Orthodox world is with Europe (the EU) or against Europe, but whether the Orthodox world is with Christ or against Christ. As for us, we will remain with Holy Rus, because there is nothing higher than holiness, not even ‘Europe’. Our task is to preach the ‘Russian Word’, as Dostoyevsky put it, that is, to preach the Orthodox word to the whole world before the end, as the Gospel bids us.
Orthodox Christian values are not those of the Western world, which forsook Orthodoxy nigh on 1,000 years ago. We do not print ‘In God we trust’ on our banknotes, for we trust in the God of the Holy Trinity, not in the god of Mammon. In the West, they believe in what you have; we believe in what you are. In the West, they believe in Number 1; we believe in the family. In the West they believe in ambition, career and money; we believe in life, for Christ said: ‘I am the Life, the Way and the Truth’.
We Orthodox in the West, whether in Finland or elsewhere, will remain here for as long as our missionary witness is not persecuted out of existence. When that happens, then we shall flee back to Holy Rus, of which we have always been the truest patriots. Moreover, we shall remain faithful to Orthodoxy, just as the Church Outside Russia has remained faithful to Orthodoxy for 94 years already. We shall not change, whatever the world and all its Establishments think, for we do not fear the institutions of apostasy, but rather we fear God.