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Lutheranism in Russia: Amidst Protestantism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism

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When religious confessions that were suppressed or seriously persecuted in Soviet times are regenerating themselves, the result is sometimes quite novel religious movements that have no prerevolutionary precursors. To some extent this applies to all confessions. Even postsoviet Orthodoxy is nothing like the prerevolutionary Russian Orthodox Church. The metamorphosis of Russian Lutheranism, however, goes a good way beyond the norm for novelty in Russian confessions. In Russia today Lutheranism is unexpectedly becoming quite different, doctrinally and psychologically, from what it ever has been anywhere before. It could well play its own unique role on the future Russian religious scene.

Until the 1980s virtually the only Lutherans in Russia were communities of Germans, most of which had been deported from European Russia to the Urals and Siberia by Stalin. These were mostly old people with not much education, and their numbers were rapidly declining because of increasing emigration. All the signs were that there was no future for Lutheranism in Russia. Over the last 15 years, however, the situation has changed radically. Most Russian cities now have Lutheran parishes, and most of the parishioners are Russians. In some cities - for example Izhevsk, Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk - the Lutheran parishes are several hundred strong. In some of these cities the number of practising Lutherans is comparable to the number of practising Orthodox. There has been just as much of a radical change in the social makeup of the Lutheran parishes, with young people, students and people with higher education now playing a prominent role. They are a living refutation of Dostoyevsky's famous dictum that 'Russian means Orthodox': they see themselves as Russian patriots but at the same time faithful followers of Lutheran teachings. There is a widely held conviction among them that they are more faithful disciples of the Wittenberg reformer than today's Germans or Swedes. At the start of the twenty-first century Lutheranism has turned out to be the religious niche most suitable for many Russians who are seeking God but have failed to find him either in Orthodoxy or in more radical forms of Protestantism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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