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The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

The Estonians came under Swedish control in the late 16th century, and soon thereafter they adopted the Lutheranism of their rulers. Peter the Great conquered the region for Russia in the early 18th century. Under Russian rule, especially in the 19th century, a significant number of ethnic Estonians became Orthodox, and there was an influx of ethnic Russians into the province. Thus a sizable Orthodox community was established in Estonia.

After the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917, Estonia proclaimed its independence. This was recognized by the Soviets in 1920. In view of Estonian independence and the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, Bishop Alexander of Tallinn asked the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive his church into its jurisdiction. On July 7, 1923, Patriarch Meletios IV of Constantinople issued a Tomos accepting the Estonian Church and granting it autonomous status. He named Bishop Alexander Metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia. By 1940 this church had over 210,000 faithful, three bishops, 156 parishes, 131 priests, 19 deacons, two monasteries, and a theological seminary. The majority of the faithful were ethnic Estonians.

In 1940 the Soviet Union annexed Estonia. The Germans occupied the country during World War II, and the Soviets returned in 1944. Metropolitan Alexander then went into exile in Stockholm, Sweden, with 23 of his clergy. The church based in Stockholm remained attached to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and served about 10,000 Estonian Orthodox exiles in various countries. After Metropolitan Alexander died in 1953, the Ecumenical Patriarchate consecrated a new Estonian Orthodox bishop, Juri Valbe, to oversee the Estonian Church based in Stockholm. After his death in 1961, these Estonian parishes were placed under local bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Orthodox Church in Estonia itself had been incorporated into the Moscow Patriarchate after the Soviet annexation. In 1978, at the request of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate declared inoperative the 1923 Tomos that had established the autonomous Estonian church. Due to demographic shifts, Russians made up the majority of the Orthodox population of Estonia by the end of Soviet rule.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the renewed independence of Estonia in 1991, a dispute developed within the Orthodox community between those who wished to remain linked to the Moscow Patriarchate and those who sought the re-establishment of the autonomous Orthodox church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate [see the Orthodox Church of Russia]. Lengthy negotiations between Moscow and Constantinople failed to produce an agreement. On February 20, 1996, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople formally reactivated the 1923 Tomos that had established the autonomous church under its jurisdiction and appointed Archbishop John of Finland as locum tenens to head the church pending the election of a primate. The Moscow Patriarchate reacted swiftly and strongly to this move, breaking relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and removing the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch from the diptychs of the liturgy.

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