evangelical lutheran church of ingria in russia
Currently The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingrian in Russia (ELCIR) has approximately 80 congregations. Though most are in the St. Petersburg area, more and more are being organized in south central and Siberian Russia. Many of these new churches are originating among Finno-Ugri communities who, even after many years of their deportation to these regions, retained their Lutheran identity.
The ELCIR is a conservative, Christ-centered church with a strong commitment to reach out to the vast Federation of Russia with the gospel message of Jesus Christ and the Word of God as a sure foundation for life.
St. Mary's Lutheran Church, located near the famous Nevsky Prospekt in downtown St. Petersburg, is the Cathedral Church and administrative center of the ELCIR. The Rev. Arre Kougappi is the general bishop of the ELCIR. Under the leadership of Rev. Tapio Karjalainen, a former Finnish missionary to Russia, the seminary and lay training center of the ELCIR is located at Koltushi near St. Petersburg. The new seminary building with a library, class rooms and dormitory is a beautiful addition to their campus, which also has a nursing home, cafeteria, office building and guest house for visiting teachers.
While the Russian Orthodox Church was the main religion in Russia, Lutherans had a strong presence in the area adjacent to Finland and around St. Petersburg and west as far as Estonia. Russia has been home to Lutherans since the late 1500s and early 1600s, when Sweden ruled Finland, part of Russia and the Baltic states. The Swedish king moved some Swedish people to Finland and Russia. In 1611, the first Lutheran Church in Russia was established. Even after Russians drove the Swedes out, Russian czars continued to support the Lutheran Church.
As early as 1655, the Lutheran Church of Ingria already had 58 parishes with some 42 pastors. Ingria (Ingramanland), located in the area of St. Petersburg, was inhabited by Votes and an Ingrian tribe known as the Karelians who were ethnically related to the Finns. Many Ingrian Finns took part in the building of St. Petersburg under Peter the Great in 1703.
From 1809 to 1917, Russia ruled Finland and some Finns were moved to Russia. By the 1917 Russian Revolution that removed the czar from power, there were 32 Lutheran congregations in Russia with 150,000 members. There were also 300 Lutheran elementary schools, a high school and a teacher-training academy in an area called Ingria that surrounded St. Petersburg. With the rise of communism came persecution of people of faith, including Finnish Lutherans. By 1938, all the Lutheran Churches and schools were closed. During the Communist regime, an estimated 80,000 people of Finnish descent from Ingria were killed. After Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin died in 1953, displaced Ingrians were allowed to return to their home area. Many eventually settled in the Russian province of Karelia along the border with Finland.
The first congregation to be organized was in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the northwestern Republic of Karelia. A faithful disciple of Jesus Maria Kaaiva, who had returned from a cruel labor camp in Siberia where her husband was shot and her daughter died of starvation, took the initiative to apply for a license to organize this congregation at the risk of her life.