Peace to you, beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In our parish in Angarsk, Fr. Vitali Gavrilov conducted the wedding of Artyom and Elizaveta. Our parish there is very small (and Lutheranism, alas, is generally a very small denomination in modern Russia), but life goes on. And the main reason for this is celebrated Eucharist, which means that Christ himself is really (and even tactilely) present among His people.
Life goes on, because new people are baptized, sinners receive forgiveness of sins, and now the wedding has been done – as a sign of the beginning of a new life for two loving Christian hearts.
Historically, the Lutheran presence in Eastern Siberia is quite old, from the beginning of the 18th century. Then in 1709, as a result of the war between Russia and Sweden, a large group (about 25 thousand) of Swedish soldiers was captured. They were deported and scattered across different Siberian towns. Later, many returned to their homeland, but some Swedes remained in Siberia. And Lutheran churches were built for them.
During the second half of the 19th century, the resettlement of many people from the western borders of the Russian Empire to Siberia began. The Russian government sponsored such movement. Many residents of Latvia, Estonia, Poland (that at that time were part of the Russian Empire) moved to Siberia.
For example, in Poland in those years there was no free land at all, and even such cartoons were published in which a peasant walks a cow on a leash like a dog. At the same time there was a lot of land in Siberia, and the Russian government was giving it to those who wanted to move in there.
Of course, very often, the settlers got very difficult soil from which they uprooted trees to create fields. But they worked with all their might, because this was their land, and they themselves created their own future.
25 years ago, in the mid-90s, our future bishop Vsevolod visited some of these Lutheran settlements surrounded by deep forests in the Irkutsk region, where Polish Olęders lived (an ethnic group that bore German surnames, Polish names, and spoke mostly Polish).
Fr. Vsevolod then became the first Lutheran priest to visit this place in 60 years. (Before that, the last time a Lutheran priest was there was in 1935).
Until 1935, a priest from Irkutsk visited these locations once a year. He came there, he baptized, celebrated Holy Communion, conducted the weddings and memorial services at the local cemetery … and the last time it was in 1935. There were no Divine services after that.
That time a terrible persecution of Christians began, and about half of the villagers were arrested. Many were shot for their faith, while others died in the Gulags. Those who survived tried to hide their faith as deeply as possible, because spies constantly walked around the village and looked through the windows of houses. And if they noticed that inside a house someone was praying or reading the Bible, the next day a truck with soldiers arrived and the believer was arrested and taken away.
Also at the same time, two waves of so-called “collectivization” passed through the village. This is when the government took away everything that people had, and after that forced them to join “kolkhoz” (socialist collective farms). And people joined, because otherwise they would simply starve to death.
That is how it was then. And now we still lack priests in our Church, but Divine services are held more often than once a year. 🙂
Fr. Vitali, who is entrusted with taking care of the parish in Angarsk, comes there several times a year to baptize, forgive sins and give Holy Communion. Among the parishioners there are people from different ethnic groups, including the descendants of those very Polish Olęders. The groom at the wedding was from this ancient family.
So, life goes on.
Come to us in Siberia, and we will show you these interesting places!
Please pray for the Lutheran priests and lay people in Siberia.