History > Religion > Lutheran Church
Lutheran Church

      Since the mid 16th century there have been Lutheran congregations in Moscow, consisting of "specialists" invited by the Tsar. The first Lutheran church, by permission of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, was established in 1576, in the Nemetskaia sloboda (German quarter). Other Lutheran and Reformed churches followed in Moscow and in numerous other Russian cities, to which Western specialists, including military, mining and iron works experts, were called. When the present territory of Estonia and Latvia which had been under German feudal lords came under Russian overlordship (Estonia & Livonia in 1721, Courland in 1796) the Russian emperors/empresses (above all Peter the Great) guaranteed that in the new provinces the dominant Lutheran confession would retain its administrative, school and church structures.
      Since the German Baltic nobility very quickly gained leading positions in all areas of the Russian Imperial administration - politics, business, diplomacy, military, administration, and since each member of the Russian dynasty married German princes or princesses, Lutheranism was present everywhere in the public life of Imperial Russia.
      Upon invitation of Empress Catherine II 25,000 German colonists immigrated into the lower Volga region around Saratov between 1763 and 1769; and on the invitation of Emperor Alexander I 54,000 colonists settled in the northern Black Sea region between 1804 and 1825 as well as several thousand settling in the Caucasus. A further 200,000 settlers followed them (150,000 of these moved to Volynia between 1861 and 1885). After 1890 there began an inland migration to Siberia since the older German villages were by then over-populated. In this way there arose throughout all of Russia major centers of Lutheranism, since more than two-thirds of the colonists were Lutheran (not quite one-fourth were Catholics, the others Mennonite and Reformed). The Reformation spread to the Baltic Germans as early as the 1520s, and as a result of German rule, the Estonians and Latvians (of Courland) had also become Lutheran in the 16th century. The Estonians and Latvians also formed villages in Siberia (though less in number), coming as settlers or having been banned there.
      Founded by Imperial Decree in 1832, the Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche in Russland (Ev. Lutheran Church in Russia) had the status of a state church (for a minority group), whose leadership would be installed and salaried by the crown. This multi-national church using German as official language, consisted in 1914 of the following: out of a total of 3.67 million Lutherans in the empire (not counting Finland and Russian-Poland), 1.3 million were Latvians, 1.1 million were Estonians, 1.1 million were Germans, and 150,000 were Finnish. Approximately 20,000 Reformed Church believers were integrated into this church, with the right to conduct Reformed sessions during Lutheran consistories for their special concerns.
      Within the Russian Empire there was a differentiated German language educational system with Lutheran emphasis: the Petri and Anne schools in St. Petersburg, each with 1700 students, the Peter & Paul school in Moscow with 1400 students. Lutheran schools in Saratov, Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov, Pskov and elsewhere were smaller in size. Every colonist village of course had its own school, and in 1914 such village school teachers were being trained in 65 teachers colleges (Centralschulen).
      In contrast to the training of teachers, the training of future pastors for the 539 Lutheran parishes (referred to as Kirchspiele) serving about 2500 congregations throughout the empire was concentrated in one school, namely the Lutheran Faculty of the German University of Dorpat, now Tartu, Estonia (which had been re-founded in 1802 as a German language university). [By the way, the German Roman Catholic diocese of Tiraspol based in Saratov (Volga) also had only one seminary for priests, located at the episcopal center in Saratov (since 1852).]
      The headquarters of the Lutheran parishes in the Volga German region was located in Saratov. Although not always resident there, a Provost was appointed to supervise the parishes in the Saratov District. The following pastors served as Provost (their home parishes indicated in parenthesis):

      Serving the Lutheran parishes in the Samara District as Provost (their home parishes indicated in parenthesis):

Between the Wars

      Following the Revolution of October 1917, Estonia, Latvia, and Courland were separated from Russia and formed the free states of Estonia and Latvia. This meant that the University of Dorpat with its theological faculty was now outside the empire, namely in the Estonian city of Tartu, as were a majority of the Lutheran congregations. Within the boundaries of the Soviet Union in 1918 there were 178 parishes for ca. 1500 congregations. Of the 183 pastors in office at the time, about half fled during the Civil War era (1917-20), during the famine on the Volga (1921/22), or because of the first wave of persecutions, so that in 1922 there remained only 84 pastors and 12 preachers.
      Thereafter the Lutherans suffered the same fate as all other believers within the Soviet state - through the closing of all the churches and arrest of the pastors the Evangelical Lutheran Church was also destroyed. The statistical progression is as follows: 81 pastors in 1924, 84 in 1927, 83 in 1930, 53 in 1932, 34 in 1933, 32 in 1934, 24 in 1935, 10 in 1936, with the last of the pastors arrested in 1937 and the last church closed in 1938. A short stabilization phase between 1924 and 1930 (81-84 Pastors) is due to the formation of a theological seminar (known as preacher courses) in Leningrad in 1925, which flourished from 1925-29. The famous Law on Religion of 1929, which made possible the "legal" destruction of all religious societies, resulted in the closing of the seminary in 1934, though no real course of regular teaching had been possible since 1930. There were 57 future pastors who completed the three year program, but only the first graduates managed to take up their ministry. After 1931 most were arrested before they could start pastoring.

Impact of the War

      With the beginning of the Soviet-German war on June 22, 1941, the Russian-Germans were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Initially in 1941, and with greater finality in 1944 after the end of German occupation, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were annexed to the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities permitted the Lutheran churches of Estonia and Latvia to organize theological courses by correspondence, though the number of students was kept small through repressions and controls. This permitted only a very rudimentary training, and since the number of pastors had been so badly reduced (more than 50%) due to the flight to the West, most students had to take over congregations (normally more than one) almost as soon as they started their studies.
      In the deportation regions of Soviet Asia all religious activity was forbidden. Till the 1960s no religious congregation of Germans was permitted, with the one exception of Akmolinsk/Tselinograd (today Astana) in Kazakhstan. Starting in 1955, three pastors who had survived the camps and deportation, began visiting the deportation regions secretly and tried to encourage leading persons in the clandestine Bruedergemeinden (Brethren congregations) toward pastoral service, which rarely succeeded. These Brethren congregations that had survived the deportation regime and which the believing Lutherans of the former official Lutheran Church (the "Bishop’s Church") had joined, did not need pastors - they were led by senior lay brothers ("Älteste"), who were commissioned within the congregation for such service.
      Only toward the end of the 1960s were a number of congregations in the deportation regions officially registered. Pastor Harald Kalnins of Riga, sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, was permitted to visit them periodically. He was ordained as Bishop of the deported Lutherans in Soviet Asia in 1988 during the Perestroika period and was allowed to build up a church structure. Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other Countries (ELKRAS in German, ELCROS in English), led by an archbishop in St. Petersburg, consists of the following regional churches, headed by bishops: European Russia, Siberia/Far East, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia.

Sources:
- Amburger, Erik. Die Pastoren der evangelischen Kirchen Rußlands (Lüneburg, Germany: Institut Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, 1998): 133-134, 139.
- Stricker, Gerd. "The Problems of the Theological Education: The Experience of Lutheran Institutions in the CIS." Glaube in der 2ten Welt (January 2000): 25-31.
Last updated 21 July 2011.