WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
JANUARY 18–25, 2016
PRAYER / WORSHIP: The Ecumenical Context of the Church in Latvia
“Living ecumenism”: these words describe the ecumenical situation in Latvia today. Christians from different traditions are increasingly meeting each other for common prayer and common witness in a growing number of places and occasions. Part of this dynamic comes from the fact that the three largest confessions are approximately equal in size, while the smaller churches are very active. Latvia is a kind of watershed between the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. According to official data released in 2011, 34.3% of the population are Lutherans, 25.1% are Roman Catholics, 19.4% are Orthodox and Old Believers, 1.2% belong to other Christian churches (such as Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals, and other free churches), while 20% identify themselves as of other religions or no religion. Latvia officially acknowledges six religious traditions: Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Orthodox, Old Believers and Jews.
Although churches in Latvia have not come together in a national council of churches, ecumenical life goes on bearing good fruit. Cooperation among Christians in Latvia is vital today if the Christian message is to reach contemporary post-modern society in all its diversity and abundance of opinions. The ecumenical cooperation and relationships between different denominations in Latvia, is, one could say, based on proclaiming the mighty acts of the Lord.
It is a regular practice in Latvia that bishops from the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Baptist churches address a common message to society on issues of ethics, the protection of life, or social justice. The leaders of the different churches join together during the celebration of the most important remembrance days and holidays for Latvians. These same leaders meet together annually in the Spiritual Affairs Council at which the Prime Minister presides.
Relationships between bishops and clergy of Latvian Christian Churches go beyond ecumenical services: they are rooted in genuine friendship. This challenges the dividing walls built in earlier centuries, and allows each to recognize in the other a fellow minister of the Gospel. Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist bishops meet regularly. They pray, praise God together in a fraternal atmosphere, and discuss issues relevant to Latvia.
There are also many examples of ecumenical cooperation among communities and at parish level. Besides activities organized by churches or parishes, there are several ecumenical initiatives undertaken by highly motivated individual Christians. These gathering has been organized several times and many more church leaders have encouraged participation by the members of their denomination. In all these movements and organizations, in daily prayer and mission, Christians from different churches join hands and contribute to Christian unity with their everyday service.
As Latvia is rich in Christian traditions, this influences family life. There are many inter-church couples that have to face in daily life all the questions related to the remaining divisions among Christian churches, such as wedding ceremonies, catechesis of children, attendance of Sunday services, and, most importantly for practising Christians, Holy Communion.
Media is also very important for evangelization in Latvia. An ecumenical team produces Christian programs that are regularly broadcast by the Latvian State Radio and which promote unity and fellowship amongst Latvian Christians. In addition there is an evangelical radio station, “Latvian Christian Radio”, with many programs of ecumenical relevance.
Challenges to the Ecumenical Movement
There are stable bases for developing ecumenism in Latvia because none of the churches is dominant and there are many ecumenical activities. At the same time it has to be admitted that such activities are developed by the relatively small group of people who are very open to ecumenical relations while many Christians remain either indifferent or even antagonistic to it.
Another challenge is the lack of official theological dialogue commissions between the churches in Latvia. Ecumenical development relies largely on personal relationships and fellowship that ensure a successful realization of ecumenical events. In many cases, one of the churches takes the initiative but the responsibility for it is not quite shared by the churches. The task for the churches is to find a way to ensure an equal sharing of responsibility for ecumenical initiatives.
Finally, a very important challenge to the growth in communion is the political situation, which weakens the bonds of fellowship with those who belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Thus in the future, the Latvian churches will be seeking new possibilities in deepening the ecumenical relationships between the churches of Latvia.