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Finland

 
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Finland

Orthodox Church of Finland

[JPEG]

View of Helsinki's historic center foreground, Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe; upper left, the Esplanade, the capital's spacious promenade
Courtesy Embassy of Finland, Washington

The other state church was the Orthodox Church of Finland. Although it had a much smaller membership than the Lutheran Church of Finland, only 56,000 in 1987, it enjoyed the same legal status and rights as the larger church. The state paid it the church tax it had collected from its parishioners, and the Orthodox Church kept parishioners' official demographic records. Although the state had some control over its activity, the Orthodox Church was largely independent. It also was a distinctly Finnish church, for although it rites and practices were Slavic, in accordance with Orthodox doctrine, it had been using the Finnish language in its services since the second half of the nineteenth century. After Finland became independent, the Orthodox Church of Finland broke with the Russian Orthodox Church, and after 1923, it belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the leader of which was its nominal head.

Before World War II, most members of the Orthodox Church lived in the province of Karelia. After much of the province was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944, most Finns living in the annexed areas fled westward. Some 70 percent of the members of the Orthodox Church were therefore dispersed throughout Finland, and many settled in regions where before there had been only Lutherans. By the 1980s, there were twenty-five parishes in the country. In 1980 a third diocese was created in northern Finland to minister better to Orthodox Christians living in that region and to make the Orthodox Church eligible to become fully autonomous, or in Orthodox terminology, autocephalous.

The highest official of the Finnish church was the archbishop of the diocese of Karelia, with its seat at Kuopio. Two other bishops, or metropolitans, headed the other two dioceses, those of Helsinki and Oulu. The church's highest governing body was the Church Assembly, which met every third year unless more frequent meetings were necessary. It consisted of thirty-four voting members, seventeen of whom were laymen. Routine administration was managed by the Church Council. The Bishops' Synod approved the doctrinal decisions of the assembly. Local administrative practices were democratized, and mirrored the power and influence of the laity seen in the Lutheran Church.

Data as of December 1988

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