Ivan the Terrible, Ivan Grozny, byname of Ivan Vasilyevich, also called Ivan IV, grand prince of Moscow (1533–84) and the first to be proclaimed tsar of Russia (from 1547) invited German artisans and professionals to help modernise institutions in what is now Russia, bringing Lutherans into then Muscovy. Ivan summoned church councils in 1547 and 1549 strengthened and systematised the church’s affairs, affirming its Orthodoxy and canonising a large number of Russian saints.
Already in the 16th century, Lutheran ideas moved into Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary and Transylvania. Although they were well received by clergy and laity alike, the lack of support by governmental authorities prevented the formation of new churches. Eventually the Lutheran congregations in these lands succumbed to an increasingly dynamic and resurgent Catholicism.
Gustav Eriksson Vasa, who in the 16th century secured Swedish independence and was eventually elected king of Sweden and Finland supported Lutheran preaching and publications. At his behest, the diet at Västerås in 1527 confiscated the property of the church, removed the immunity of the clergy from civil courts, and declared that only the pure Word of God should be preached. Subsequent legislative measures at first curtailed and then ended Catholicism in Sweden.
By the 17th century Lutheran Sweden had become a significant political power in Europe and from that country, Lutheranism could also spread more north and eastwards. The course of Lutheranism in Scandinavia followed that of Lutheranism in German lands.
Up north, next to the Scandinavian Peninsula, one could find Ivan I as a devout adherent of the Orthodox church. His arguments on religious questions are striking in their power and conviction, but he placed the most emphasis on defending the divine right of the ruler to unlimited power under God — a view with which most other monarchs of the time would have been in agreement.
Under the emperor of Russia Peter I, Peter the Great, in order to subject the Orthodox Church of Russia to the state, Peter abolished the Patriarchate of Moscow, in 1721. Thenceforward the patriarch’s place as head of the church was taken by a spiritual college, namely the Holy Synod, consisting of representatives of the hierarchy obedient to the tsar’s will. A secular official — the ober-prokuror, or chief procurator — was appointed by the tsar to supervise the Holy Synod’s activities. The Holy Synod ferociously persecuted all dissenters and conducted a censorship of all publications, and Peter disposed of church property and revenues for state purposes at his own discretion. In 1917 a church council re-established the patriarchate, but the new Soviet government soon nationalised all church-held lands.
In the 19th century, there was a new missionary commitment that found expression in the establishment of numerous missionary societies, such as those of Berlin (1824), Denmark (1821), and Leipzig (1836).
Lutheranism had established itself in the Teutonic Livonia (modern-day Latvia and Estonia) and Ingria in the early years of the Reformation. Ingria as a whole never formed a separate state, however North Ingria was an independent state for just under two years in 1919–1920. The Ingrians, understood as the inhabitants of Ingria regardless of ethnicity, can hardly be said to have been a nation, although the Soviet Union recognised their “nationality”; as an ethnic group, the Ingrians proper, Izhorians, are close to extinction together with their language. This notwithstanding, many people still recognise their Ingrian heritage.
In the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the eastern shores of the Baltic (Ingria, Estonia, Livonia, and a strip of Finnish Karelia) were ceded to Russia, Sweden was reduced to a secondary power, and the way was opened for Russian domination over Poland.
In the 18th century and increasingly in the 19th, European and North American Lutherans undertook missions throughout the globe, leading to the establishment of indigenous Lutheran churches in many countries.
After the October Revolution in Russia (1917), Latvia and Estonia proclaimed their independence; they were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, though under German occupation from 1941 to 1944.
In 1927 the Soviet authorities designated the area as Leningrad Province or Saint Petersburg Governorate. Deportations of the Ingrian Finns started in late 1920s, and Russification was nearly complete by the 1940s.
With the end of the Russian civil war and the land in ruin, starvation was on the horizon in the countryside.
In an April 23, 1921 letter to Carl Paul, a professor at Leipzig University and the director of Leipzig Missionswerk, General Superintendent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia Theophil Meier spoke of the possibility of a bad harvest in the south. Since the pastors had little to no means of income for the foreseeable future, Meier wrote to Paul about his plan to support pastors and their families. Through the diplomatic pouch of the German Foreign Office, he proposed that they could receive funds from those of German Lutheran heritage around the world. His source would be German diplomat and expert on the Soviet Union, Gustav Hilger (1886–1965), best known for his role in German–Soviet relations during the interwar period as a Counselor at the German embassy in Moscow.[Happel, Jörn (2017). Der Ost-Experte: Gustav Hilger — Diplomat im Zeitalter der Extreme. Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN 9783506786098. OCLC 987575606] After World War II , the German embassy representative based in Moscow would direct the relief actions of the German Foreign Office for those suffering from the famine in Russia (1921–1922)
Disease, particularly typhus, was rampant, and malnutrition was the natural consequence of Lenin’s widespread grain confiscations. The almost complete breakdown of transportation made it impossible to distribute even those inadequate supplies that the government made available.
The political system that emerged victorious from the civil war bore the name Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. In fact the soviets were of small importance. All power belonged to the Communist Party, members of which occupied all the posts in the Soviet of People’s Commissars and the key posts at all lower levels of the machinery of government. The party itself was governed by its Central Committee, which Lenin dominated.
In the 1920s and the early 1930s, the policy of national delimitation was used to demarcate separate areas of national culture and the policy of korenizatsiya (indigenisation) was used to promote federalism and strengthen non-Russian languages and cultures. This de-Russification was also implemented on ethnic Russian groups and their children. For example, all children in Ukraine were taught the Ukrainian language in school. The policies of korenization facilitated the Communist Party‘s establishment of the local languages in government and education, in publishing, in culture, and in public life. In that manner, the cadre of the local Communist Party were promoted to every level of government, and ethnic Russians working in said governments were required to learn the local language and culture of the given Soviet republic.
The question around culture was also a question of which way to allow certain religions to be practised. The difficulties during the civil war also elicited local difficulties about tolerance between different faith groups.
Meier spoke about the “indescribable difficulties” that Lutheran pastors had experienced through the recent wars, so he was looking for “any proof of brotherly love.” He proposed a great “help program” (Hilfsaktion) sponsored by Americans and interested parties from other lands like Germany. Since it was difficult to get clothing and goods directly to people, and cash would have been even more difficult, Meier proposed putting funds into a bank in a city like New York. The pastors could then accumulate a pension and aid for dependents if they died, contingent on their remaining in service to the Lutheran Church in Russia. Although pastors wouldn’t be able to receive the accumulated funds just yet, the fact that they had money secured in a safe bank would help them remain at their posts until conditions improved. Meier especially appealed to the generosity of Americans, represented by John Morehead, but the proposed action would have to be conducted in the strictest of secrecy. Still smarting from foreign intervention in northern Russia during the civil war, the Bolsheviks or Bolsheviki, members of a wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, which, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized control of the government in Russia (October 1917) and became the dominant political power, now labeled personal relations with foreign powers as a state offense, subject to imprisonment.
Immediately after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks refused to share power with other revolutionary groups, with the exception of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries; eventually they suppressed all rival political organisations. They changed their name to Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) in March 1918; to All-Union Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) in December 1925; and to Communist Party of the Soviet Union in October 1952. The name communist was specifically taken to distinguish Lenin’s followers in Russia and abroad from such socialists.
Meier cautioned that any correspondence be kept to a minimum and be sent through Hilger. If any personal messenger was to be sent to Paul from him, the password to be used would be Pastorenhilfe (“pastors help”).
To be continued
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Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #3 Soviet Lutheran Church in 1926
Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #4 New possibilities opening when Soviet state proclaimed freedom of religion and atheism