Latvian Orthodox Church

Latvian Orthodox Church

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The Latvian Orthodox Church is a self-governing Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

. The primate
Primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

 of the church carries the title of Metropolitan of Riga and all Latvia . This position has been occupied since October 27, 1990 by Metropolitan
Metropolitan bishop
In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis; that is, the chief city of a historical Roman province, ecclesiastical province, or regional capital.Before the establishment of...

 Alexander (Kudryashov) (Aleksandrs Kudrjašovs).

History


Orthodoxy was planted in Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 in the 11th century, when it became a mission field of the diocese of Polotsk
Polatsk
Polotsk , is a historical city in Belarus, situated on the Dvina river. It is the center of Polotsk district in Vitsebsk Voblast. Its population is more than 80,000 people...

. But the country remained mostly pagan until it was conquered in the 13th century by German crusaders - the Teutonic Order
Livonian Brothers of the Sword
The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were a military order founded by Bishop Albert of Riga in 1202. Pope Innocent III sanctioned the establishment in 1204. The membership of the order comprised German "warrior monks"...

, who were elective of Catholicism
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

. Orthodox presence continued in the form of churches for Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n merchants and others, but these were small communities among a majority of Catholics before 1525 and Lutherans afterward. After Latvia was annexed to the Russian Empire in the 18th century (most of Latvia, a result of the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

 by the Treaty of Nystad
Treaty of Nystad
The Treaty of Nystad was the last peace treaty of the Great Northern War. It was concluded between the Tsardom of Russia and Swedish Empire on 30 August / 10 September 1721 in the then Swedish town of Nystad , after Sweden had settled with the other parties in Stockholm and Frederiksborg.During...

, the Latgale
Latgale
Latgale is one of the four historical and cultural regions of Latvia recognised in the Constitution of the Latvian Republic. It is the easternmost region north of the Daugava River...

 region after the First Partition of Poland in 1772), Russian and Orthodox presence increased substantially, but the Orthodox Church remained foreign to the Latvians. The Latvian Orthodox Church as a body including ethnic Latvians as well as Russians dates back to the 1840s, when native Latvians (who were at that time subjects of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

) petitioned the Czar to be allowed to conduct services in their native tongue. The Orthodox Church enjoyed some success in its missions among the Latvians due to its use of the Latvian language
Latvian language
Latvian is the official state language of Latvia. It is also sometimes referred to as Lettish. There are about 1.4 million native Latvian speakers in Latvia and about 150,000 abroad. The Latvian language has a relatively large number of non-native speakers, atypical for a small language...

. In the 1880s Orthodox Nativity Cathedral
Nativity Cathedral, Riga
The Nativity of Christ Cathedral , Riga, Latvia was built to a design by Nikolai Chagin in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876 and 1883, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire...

 was built in Riga. However, it was always regarded suspiciously by the Lutheran Germanic
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 nobles
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 of the area; conversely the predominantly German character of the Lutheran Church in Latvia was a factor in the movement of some 40,000 Latvians from the Lutheran to the Orthodox Church. When religious freedom was proclaimed in 1905, about 12,000 Latvians moved in the opposite direction, from Orthodoxy to Lutheranism; in most cases this seems to have occurred because of mixed marriages and the difficulties of maintaining a religiously divided family.

During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the property of the Orthodox Church in Latvia was confiscated by occupying German forces, and in the early years of independent Latvia the government was not eager to recognize the church, suspecting it of being a hotbed of czarism. In this difficult — one might say desperate — situation, Jānis (Pommers), a native Latvian, was appointed Archbishop of Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

 in 1921. He succeeded in winning recognition from the government by 1926 and, against much opposition from leftists and others, in stabilizing the situation of the church. While opposing the Bolsheviks, he maintained the Latvian Orthodox Church within the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1934, he was brutally assassinated by Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 agents. In the following year, the Latvian Orthodox Church became autocephalous under the auspices of the Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

. The subsequent five years were good years for the Latvian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan
Metropolitan bishop
In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis; that is, the chief city of a historical Roman province, ecclesiastical province, or regional capital.Before the establishment of...

 Augustin (Pētersons); they were ended abruptly by the Soviet annexation of Latvia in 1940, which was followed by German Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944, and a second Soviet annexation lasting from 1944 to 1991. The church suffered oppression during this period, as did organized religion throughout the Soviet Union, which was partly mitigated from 1943 to 1958 and in the last years of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

.

In 2001 a council of the Latvian Orthodox Church canonised Archbishop Jānis in recognition of his heroic martyrdom in 1934. In 2006 the Order of the holy martyr Jānis was instituted to reward those who have served the Orthodox Church and its aims.

In modern Latvia, there are 350,000 Orthodox Church members. The vast majority of them are ethnic Russians and other immigrants living in Latvia.

Popular culture


The Church plays a major role in "The Conversion
The Conversion (Seinfeld episode)
"The Conversion" is the seventy-fifth episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. It is the eleventh episode of the fifth season, and first aired on December 16, 1993.-Plot:...

" episode of the popular American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 television sitcom Seinfeld
Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

. The writer of the episode, Bruce Kirschbaum, later revealed that he was unaware when he wrote it that such a church actually existed.

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