From nearing extinction in the 1980s, Lutheranism is now growing rapidly in numbers and influence in Russia, representing a “serious spiritual and intellectual challenge to Russian Orthodoxy,” writes sociologists Sergei Filatov and Aleksandra Stepina.
In the journal Religion, State & Society (December), the writers note that Lutheranism has had a long and (unlike Catholicism) generally unconflicted history in Russia through the influence of Germany and Scandinavia. Today, however, the Lutheran churches are remaking themselves and becoming more Russian in the process. Today most Russian cities have Lutheran churches and in some areas, the Lutheran presence in numbers is about equal to that of Orthodoxy.
Churches originally established to minister to Russia’s once-large German population are now drawing the Russian intelligentsia for their liberal and rational approach to the faith (which includes the uncommon practice of women’s ordination). More widespread are new Lutheran churches with a strongly liturgical and doctrinal approach borrowing Orthodox and Catholic rituals (and often rejecting women’s ordination). Usually belonging to the Church of Ingria (once tied to Finland but now independent) and the indigenous Biblical Lutheran Church (founded by a theatrical producer) , these churches are viewed as more modern and democratic than the Orthodox churches.
In the various Russian republics, such as Mordavia, the Lutherans use of liturgies in the native languages — which the Orthodox Church has resisted — has had wide appeal. Filatov and Stepina conclude that “the Lutheranism that has taken shape in Russia provides a way of bringing disparate phenomena together: the liturgical and mystical Russian religious tradition and the requirements of reason; the attraction of classical culture and evangelism; faithfulness to a Christian tradition stretching back centuries and a commitment to democracy and human rights. It also provides a way of reconciling Russian patriotism, loyalty to national culture and westernism.”
(Religion, State & Society, Keston Institute, 38 St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1BN, UK)