The Eastern Orthodox Church and Estonia

As far as religion is concerned, Estonia is famous for three reasons. Firstly, the level of secularisation in Estonian society is relatively high; secondly, Estonian legislation on religion is very liberal; and thirdly, since 1993, there has been a bitter dispute between the two branches of the Orthodox Church in Estonia.

The level of the secularisation of Estonian society was shown in the census taken in 2000 when all people over 15 were asked to state their religious preferences. Of the respondents, 31.8% claimed that they were followers of certain religious traditions. Of these the majority were Lutherans (14.8%) and Orthdodox (13.9%). According to the census data, people of Estonian origin are more indifferent to religion than non-Estonians. A sociological survey conducted on religion in 2000, indicated that 4% of the population participated in weekly religious services.

It is partly the secularisation of society that accounts for Estonian liberalism in religious matters; especially as far as religious associations are concerned, Estonian legislation is one of the most liberal in post-Soviet society. The principles of equality for religious associations were reflected in the Churches and Congregations Act passed in 1993 as well as in the new Churches and Congregations Act which replaced the former in 2002.

The third keyword — the controversy in the Orthodox Church — is more complex than the first two. The controversy started in 1993 when the Ministry of Internal Affairs entered the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC), which had maintained its legal continuity in emigration since 1944, into the Registry of Churches and Congregations, and refused to enter into the registry the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate under the same name. To understand the underlying causes of this controversy, we should look at Orthodox church history in Estonia.

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