- The Roman Catholic Church became the dominant force in Estonia between the 10th and the 13th centuries, though the Eastern orthodox presence is almost as ancient.Estonia's geographical position near Germany ensured that Lutheranism would spread there. From its introduction in 1524, it quickly became the dominant faith. The subsequent publication of an Estonian prayer book (1535), catechism (1535), and Bible (1539) helped establish the country's national identity and culture. Lutheranism remained dominant until World War ii, though its role was challenged in the 19th century by Baptists, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Pentecostals.Estonia was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 18th century. The collapse of the empire in 1917 occasioned the formal organization of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Russia retook the country in 1940 and kept it after German occupation during World War II. The Soviet government banned the Jehovah's Witnesses, and it forced the various Free Churches - Pentecostal, Baptist, independent Evangelical, and so forth - to merge into a single union of Baptist and Evangelical Christians. The activity of all Christian groups was severely curtailed.By 1939, about 20 percent of Lutheran pastors (who were of German ancestry) had moved to Germany. Other Lutheran pastors were among the 70,000 Estonians who fled to the West before the returning Russian army. Expatriate Estonians residing in SWEDEN formed the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad. Though now realigned with its parent body, it remains a separate organization.Since independence in 1991, the Lutheran Church has remained the largest ecclesiastical body, though supported by only 16 percent of the population. Its main competitor is Estonian Orthodoxy, now divided into two rival churches. All the older churches have reasserted their presence, though none claim as much as 1 percent of the population. The Methodists, now an integral part of the international United Methodist Church, have experienced a resurgence, and in 1994 opened a new mission center and seminary in Tallin.See also Baltic States.Further reading:■ Ilmo Au and Ringo Ringvee, Kirikud ja kogudused Eestis (Tallin, Estonia: Ilo, 2000)■ We Bless You from the House of the Lord. The Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Today (Tallin, Estonia: Consistory of the EELC, 1997).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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