Metropolitan Tikhon, OCA delegation visit Orthodox Church of Finland

From left, Archbishop Melchisedek, Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Leo and Bishop Arseni concelebrate Liturgy at New Valaam Monastery.

At the invitation of His Eminence, Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, and a delegation from the Orthodox Church in America made an official visit to the Orthodox Church of Finland during the last week of February 2016.

Members of the OCA delegation included His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania; Archpriest John Jillions, OCA Chancellor; Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak, Secretary to Metropolitan Tikhon; Dr. Paul Meyendorff, the Father Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY; and Subdeacon Jeremy Pletnikoff, Metropolitan Council member, Fairbanks, AK.

Upon their arrival in Helsinki, where they were met by His Eminence, Metropolitan Ambrosius of Helsinki, Archpriest Rauno Pietarinen—a graduate of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY, who accompanied the delegation throughout their visit—and others, the members of the OCA delegation were taken to the Sofia Center, where Metropolitan Tikhon gave an interview for publication on the life and experience of Orthodox Christianity in North America. They also met with Finland’s Roman Catholic Bishop Teemu Sippo and Bishop Irja Kaarina Askola of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

Later in the day, Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation visited Helsinki’s Dormition Cathedral, an excellent example of classic late 19th century Russian architecture, which dominates the city’s skyline. There they viewed a chalice used by Saint Alexander Hotovitzky who, after completing his tenure in America, served as Dean of the cathedral. They also visited a small parish on the outskirts of the city that serves a multicultural congregation and is used by the region’s Eritrean community. Children from the community offered a presentation during the visit.

“The Orthodox Church of Finland receives an annual state grant,” said Father John Jillions. “It’s up to the Church to decide how this is used. The state also collects the ‘Church tax’ for those who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians—currently 67,000 souls, although the number varies from region to region and year to year. These funds are used to support local clergy and parishes. It was evident throughout the trip that state support plays a big role in the Church’s success.  It is treated as one of Finland’s two traditional state churches, together with the Lutheran Church.”

While in Helsinki, Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation were briefed by General Major Ilkka Laitinen, Deputy Chief of the Border and Coast Guard Division, on the current refugee situation in Europe and Finland.

“Thousands of irregular immigrants arrive at Finland’s eastern border, coming in from Russia by the thousands,” Father Jillions noted. “This new northern route for migrants is likely to cause huge problems, and Brigadier General Laitinen with whom we met said that about 1,000 fake passports have been detected, adding that this is ‘a huge and well organized’ industry. The primary places of origin of the migrants to Finland are Afghanistan, India, and Nepal, most of whom are economic migrants attracted apparently by the evident welcome being offered by countries like Germany and Sweden.”

In Oulu—the Finnish Church’s northernmost diocese—Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation were met by His Eminence, Metropolitan Elia, also a graduate of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, and the local clergy. Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation attended the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts at Oulu’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, after which a presentation on the life of the Orthodox Church in America was offered. [The Finnish Church, since 1923, is the only Orthodox Church that observes the Gregorian Calendar in determining the date of Holy Pascha.]

From Oulu, Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation drove to Haaparanta, Sweden to participate in a one-day international seminar focusing on the current refugee situation. The timely seminar, in which representatives of the Orthodox and Lutheran Churches in Russia and Finland also participated, was sponsored by the Barents Council of Churches. The delegation was briefed on the current refugee situation in Europe and Finland.

“The Diocese of Oulu provides five staff members who minister to refugees through the city’s 13 migrant centers,” Father Jillions reported. “It was clear that this influx of migrants and refugees is straining every town and parish. While migrants wait for their cases to be decided—six to 12 months—they must be housed, fed, cared for, and given language instruction. Those who are permitted to stay require more assistance, and churches are at the front lines, as they are often the first to give immediate help with food, diapers, and hygiene.”

In Joensuu, they visited the University of Eastern Finland’s Department of Theology, at which Orthodox Christian students pursue studies in conjunction with their seminary studies. Prof. Matti Kotiranta, the head of the Department, emphasized the high level of research in the university program, especially in the field of liturgical music and through the work of the International Society of Orthodox Christian Musicians, which is based there. Since 1988, four hundred Orthodox Christians received Master degrees while 11 were awarded doctorates. The University maintains ties with theological schools in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Thessaloniki. The seminarians expressed a strong desire to reestablish and strengthen ties with Orthodox theological schools in the US.

Mother Mikaela, Abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Lintula, expressed a similar desire to “connect” with Orthodox women’s monasteries in the US during Metropolitan Tikhon’s visit to the community. While there, the delegation toured the monastery’s impressive candle-making facility, which supplies candles to all Orthodox churches in Finland—and to many Lutheran congregations as well. While at the monastery, Metropolitan Tikhon presided at the Divine Liturgy on Saturday, February 28.

Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation were welcomed at the New Valaam Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration by His Eminence, Archbishop Leo and Archimandrite Sergius. The monastery had been established by monks from Valaam Monastery in Russia who fled to Finland when the monastery was closed during the Soviet Union’s appropriation of eastern Finland during World War II. [It was from the “Old” Valaam Monastery, which was reopened in the 1990s, that Saint Herman of Alaska hailed.]

New Valaam is also the home of the internationally known Valaam Lay Academy, which offers some 140 week-long courses each year—50 of which deal with various aspects of iconography—to approximately 2,000 students. Weekend courses serve as a means of introducing the public to Orthodox Christianity. The Finnish Church receives some 1,000 converts each year, in part due to the Lay Academy’s programs.

In touring New Valaam’s archives, Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation viewed a number of items related to Orthodoxy in Alaska, including a document bearing the signature of Saint Herman of Alaska.

Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishops Leo and Melchisedek, Bishop Arseni, the OCA delegation’s clergy and members of the monastic community concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at New Valaam on Sunday, February 28. Archbishop Melchisedek delivered the homily, while Metropolitan Tikhon and Archbishop Leo exchanged greetings, during which they emphasized the common bonds shared by the Finnish and American Churches. Later the same day, Metropolitan Tikhon delivered a well-received presentation on monastic formation to the clergy and monastics gathered for the Finnish Church’s semi-annual clergy education conference.

On Monday, February 29, Father Jillions addressed the clergy and monastics on the pastoral challenges facing the Orthodox Church in America. Much interest was evident in developing relationships between American and Finnish clergy, who share similar challenges in the secular societies in which they minister.

Archbishop Leo received Metropolitan Tikhon and the delegation at his residence in Kuopio. Metropolitan Tikhon was interviewed by the media before visiting the Archdiocese’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral, where they heard new arrangements for the Vigil service composed by Elia Pietarinen, Father Rauno’s son.

During a final dinner hosted by Archimandrite Sergius at New Valaam, Metropolitan Tikhon was informed that some 300 volunteers serve the monastery during the summer months and that OCA seminarians and others could be eligible to participate—another example of possible cooperation between the Finnish and American Churches.

Before the delegation’s return flight to the US, Metropolitan Tikhon and Archbishop Leo signed a cooperation agreement pledging closer ties in five key areas of Church life. [See related story and the text of the document.]

A gallery of photos is available on the OCA web site and Facebook page.