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Sunday, July 16, 2023: Pray for the Baltics

Our schedule does not allow us to attend a local church today. It would have been hard to find a remnant of Christian congregations in Estonia.

On our bus tour we drove by this church. It looked pretty deserted for a Sunday morning. COVID also impacted church fellowship here as it did in the USA.

Estonia, historically a Lutheran Christian nation, is today one of the “least religious” countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14 percent of the population declaring religion to be an important part of their daily life. This is thought to largely be a result of the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, prior to which Estonia had a large Christian majority.

I can only imagine the damage that was done when two generations of Estonians were not allowed to share their faith or even pray and have fellowship with other believers. It was against the law! How would that have affected me??

Shhh! Under Soviet rule, one was told not to give opinions, ideas or thoughts. You were told what to think and say.

Our guide told us that the majority (60%) of people consider themselves free thinkers. I had never heard this term before. Upon research, I learned that it is a person who questions what they are told especially as it relates to religion and politics. I think everyone should be free thinkers. I certainly ask LOTS of questions, not just of people, but of God. I am pretty sure that he likes that. He wants me to talk to him.

One doesn’t become a Christian because their parents are Christians. Here is another way of saying it: If you are born in a garage, that doesn’t make you a car.

One is accountable for their own beliefs. You could say that a free thinker is very similar to having free will. Every person has to decide for themselves.

I was thankful to be born into a Christian family. At about age eight, I decided that I, too, would follow Christ. Who wouldn’t want a Savior? However, I don’t think that I fully grasped that he would be the Lord of my life until I was no longer around the influence of my family.

In college I attended different church denominations and talked with others who were believers and unbelievers. Also, I was deciding how I wanted to spend my life; what would be my guiding light? It became clear that Jesus would be my Lord and I would serve my King. Nothing else came close. After being in a post Soviet country, I realized how wonderful it was to pursue, question, and express my beliefs.

The Baltics had a strange connection with Christianity long before the Soviets arrived. They were victims of the northern Crusades instigated by the Teutonic Knights of Germany. They were told to wear the cross or die. Many would run to the woods and hide.

The Baltic people pride themselves on being the last areas to convert from paganism to Christianity. In fact, they still refer to themselves as pagan. They celebrate midsummer and bonfires. Nature is at the heart of their paganism together with folk stories, music, and dance. They are forest people. When a baby boy is born, an oak tree is planted. When a baby girl is born, a linden tree or maple tree is planted.

Originally, many churches in the Baltics were Catholic churches. However, the buildings were converted to Lutheran during the Reformation.

There were Russian Orthodox churches as well.

Then, during the Soviet area, churches were used for storage, exhibitions, or concert halls.

We attended a concert at St. Nicholas Church.
It was definitely a concert hall and exhibition. It felt very weird to walk around the church like it was a museum.
The pews had been stacked up along the side so one could sit down while listening.
There was a beautiful organ. I thought about the wonderful songs about Jesus the Messiah that were played here long ago.
This statue of St. Christopher was especially moving. He is said to have carried a small baby across a river, and it was so heavy. It turned out to be the Christ Child who carried the weight of the whole world.
Remnants of statues important to the church are now just interesting artifacts on display.

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