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The Cathedral of Turku is considered as the national shrine of Finland

Religion in Finland is primarily Christian. Prior to Christianisation, Finnish paganism was the primary religion.


Churches and Religion

Finland is a country with both eastern and western influences. Christian influences from both East and West reached Finland a thousand years ago. Missionary efforts on the part of the Western church were, however, stronger, and by the beginning of the 14th century most of Finland was under the Roman Catholic Church and Swedish rule. The Catholic Church brought European civilization to Finland. It united dispersed tribes into a single nation and provided an advanced system of administration. The Church ministered to the destitute and infirm by maintaining houses for the poor and hospitals. It fostered learning and the arts. Eighty stone churches, their frescoes, wood carvings, sacred relics, altar cloths and vestments remind us of the high standard of both Finnish and imported art. The Church was responsible for higher learning and for teaching the common people as well. By the end of the middle Ages the Finns had learned to live with the Church and its sacraments. The Bishop of Turku was the most powerful man in medieval Finland. He also represented the Finns at the Royal Council of Sweden. Most of the 164 Finns registered at medieval universities embarked on their studies with the support of the cathedral chapter.

Luther's Seal
 Lutheranism portal

The Reformation

The Protestant reformation reached Sweden and Finland in the 1520s. Its strength derived not from the people or the clergy but from the fact that it was instituted by royal decree. One aspect of Luther's doctrine especially interested King Gustavos Vaasa: it entitled him to break the secular power of the Church and transfer its income and property to the state.

Sweden accepted the Confession of Augsburg at Uppsala in 1593. Lutheranism became the state religion. It guaranteed the unity of the realm and tolerated no deviation. The Reformation severed all ties with Rome. The supremacy of the Pope was replaced by that of the King of Sweden, who stripped the Church of its income and property. Mikael Agricola, the first Lutheran Bishop of Finland, translated the New Testament into Finnish. Divine services gradually became more Lutheran and were conducted in the vernacular. The monasteries were closed, and priests allowed marrying.

In the period of Lutheran orthodoxy in the 17th and early 18th centuries the Church again had a similar cultural monopoly to that of the middle Ages. It preached loyalty to the state, instilled a strong sense of Christian morality in the people and taught the Finns to read.

Russia ended Swedish rule over Finland by conquering Finland in the beginning of the 19th century. Finland became a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire in 1809. Although the ruler was now the Orthodox Tsar rather than a Lutheran king, the Lutheran Church remained the state church of Finland. The Ecclesiastical Act of 1869 loosened the bonds between church and state and increased the independence of the Church. The supreme decision-making body of the Church, the Synod, was founded.


Pietism, with its emphasis on individual conversion and personal spirituality, and its appeal to the emotions, gained a foothold at the beginning of the 18th century. From this background at the beginning of the 19th century emerged the traditional revivalist movements. They have remained typical features of Finnish religious life until the present day.

Arising as they did during the first half of the 19th century, these movements were opposed by both the state and the clergy. It was feared that they would cause political unrest and arouse Russian suspicions. The leading clergy also suspected them of opposing the established church and spreading heresy. They were denied the right of assembly and their leaders' movements were restricted.

The church in independent Finland

In 1917 Russia plunged into the chaos of the Revolution: Finland seized the opportunity on December 6, 1917, and Parliament approved the declaration of independence. Shortly after the declaration, civil war broke out in Finland. It was a war between the Government forces, known as the Whites, and left-wing forces known as the Red Guard, inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution. The Reds wanted to create a socialist Finland, possibly in union with emerging Soviet Russia. Virtually the entire clergy supported bourgeois Finland, the Whites.

Relations between the Church leadership and the organized working class remained distant, while the victors began to see the Church as the bastion of the legal order, the national tradition and Western culture. It was expected to foster moral citizens, loyal to the state.

The Winter War against the Soviet Union (1939–1940) was characterized as a struggle in defense of "home, faith and fatherland". The Church was a source of support and unity during this struggle. The will to defend one's country had religious overtones. The administrative and financial independence of the church increased during the war. The Church Central Fund was established in 1941, and the Church Council and an expanded Bishops' Conference in 1944. Links with the labor movement also improved during the Second World War.

The Church took on new tasks after the war, for example family counseling. Church social work (diaconal) expanded rapidly, as did youth work. In independent Finland the state has taken over some of the functions that formerly belonged to the Church. Nevertheless, the Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Churches still retain duties that could in principle be performed by either the state or local government.

In the mid-sixties Finnish culture was shaken by migration from rural to urban areas, emigration, growing influence from abroad, the pluralistic image of the world conveyed by television and the universal crisis of authority. The Church, too, was branded undemocratic and conservative. From the 1970s onwards discussion of ethical issues and interest in religion has been on the increase.

The economic situation in Finland has shown mainly clear improvement in the post-war period except at the beginning of the 1990s, when the country was hit by an unusually severe recession. This created a divide between the poor and the wealthy. It fell to the Church to plug many of the gaps left open by the social welfare system. More people sought help through the Church's network of diaconal provision; an increasing proportion of those in need of assistance were of working age. The parishes continued to provide meals for the unemployed, and more food banks were introduced.

The economic uncertainty and the Church's contribution in these circumstances led to increasingly positive attitudes towards the Church. There was a decline in the number of those leaving the Church, and an increase in the number of new members joining.

Freedom of religion

Until the end of the 19th century every Finn had to belong to either the Lutheran or the Orthodox Church. It was not until the Nonconformity Act of 1889 was passed that the position of other Protestant churches was made official and membership of them permitted. The Baptists and the Methodists were the first religious denominations to gain official recognition.

Freedom of religion was guaranteed in 1923. The Freedom of Religion Act granted citizens the right to found religious denominations freely and belong to them, or to remain entirely without religious affiliation. The state no longer affirmed the Lutheran faith, thereby assuming a neutral attitude to religion. The rights and duties of citizens did not depend on the religious denomination to which they belonged or whether they belonged to any religious community at all.

The new Freedom of Religion Act came into effect in August 2003. It replaced the previous Act of 1923. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right. It entails the right to profess and practice a religion, the right to express a conviction and the right to belong or not to belong to a religious community.

The rationale behind the new Act is the notion of positive freedom of religion. Religion is considered not only as the individual's own choice but also as part of community tradition. The function of the State is to ensure freedom of religion and create the preconditions for its implementation.

Under the former Act, the denomination of the child was automatically determined by the denomination of his/her parents/guardians. On this point the new Act remains neutral, only determining who decides on the denomination of the child. Under it, the parents/guardians determine the denomination of the child together, that is, whether or not they wish to keep the child in the Church. There is one exception, however: the decision on the denomination of a child aged 12 to 17 requires unanimity between the child and the guardians. A child aged 15 or older may, with the parents'/guardians' written permission, join or leave a religious community. The religious affiliation of a child who has turned 12 may be changed only with his/her consent.

A child aged 12 to 17 may join or remain a member of the Church or a religious community even though the parents are not members. A child under the age of 12 may be received as a member of the Church if at least one of the parents/guardians is a member. A child under the age of 12 may remain a member of the Church even if his parents/guardians relinquish it. Those over 18 may decide independently about their religious affiliations.

Under the 1923 Act, an individual could belong to only one religious community at a time. After the new law of 2003 this provision was in effect for a three-year transitional period, i.e. until 31 July 2006. After that, the Freedom of Religion Act in no way prevents a person from simultaneously belonging to several religious communities. It will be for the religious communities to decide whether or not their members can also belong to other religious communities.

In keeping with the spirit of the Constitution, the new Act emphasizes the positive right to receive religious instruction. The earlier law departed from the notion of negative right to be exempted from religious instruction. In the new Basic Education and Upper Secondary School Acts, the term "religious instruction according to the pupil's denomination" was replaced by the term "the instruction of their own religion". On the one hand, a pupil is entitled to instruction in his/her own faith; on the other, he/she is obliged to participate in it. A pupil who does not belong to the religion of the majority of pupils can participate in the instruction of this religion only if he/she enrolls separately for it.

The Freedom of Religion Act does not impinge on school traditions. According to the Parliament of Finland, the singing of traditional hymns at end-of-term celebrations in spring and before Christmas does not constitute the practice of a religion in the meaning of the Act. The meaning of these celebrations is seen to be to pass on and preserve culture; accordingly, all pupils, regardless of their religious affiliation, can participate.

As in the earlier legislation, a minimum of 20 individuals is required to found a religious community. Religious groups can organize themselves in Finland in several ways. They can officially register either as a religious community organization under the Freedom of Religion Act or they can organize a registered association under the Associations Act (1989). The criteria for the former are tighter, but such an official recognition brings various benefits, such as a right for school religious education and a right to perform marriages. It is, furthermore, legal to conduct religious activities with no formally recognized organization at all.

The 2003 act also made possible to resign from a religious community in writing. That is, by letter, or any written form acceptable to authorities. Later in 2004 this was extended to email by a new act on electronic communication with public officials. Resignation by email became possible in 2005 in most magistrates. organization challenged the rest of the magistrates through parliamentary ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen. On december 2006 the ombudsman decided that all magistrates must accept email resignations [1].

The Burials Act

Interments are governed by a separate statute, prepared at the same time as the Freedom of Religion Act. The purpose of the Burials Act is to promote the realization of freedom of religion and conscience in interment, and to ensure that due respect is paid to the memory of the deceased. The main consideration in the Act is to ensure dignity and respect in the handling of the body and ashes and in the maintenance of the cemetery. Under the Burials Act, the Evangelical Lutheran graveyards will continue to serve as general cemeteries where non-members are also entitled to have a resting place. A grave site must be made available on request to non-members in a separate non-denominational area. Under the new Burials Act, the fees charged for burials must be calculated according to the same principles. Nearly all of the over 1,100 cemeteries in Finland belong to the Lutheran Church.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church

In 2009, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland had more than 4.2 million members, that is 79.7% of the population, registered with a parish. The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland is an Episcopal Church with a very strong tradition of parish autonomy. It comprises nine dioceses with ten bishops and 465 independent parishes. The average parish has 7,500 members, with the smallest parishes comprising only a few hundred members and the largest tens of thousands. In recent years many parishes have united in order to safeguard their viability. In addition, municipal mergers have prompted parochial mergers as there may be only one parish, or cluster of parishes, in a given municipality.

The most significant levels of administration are the parish, the diocese, and the church as a whole. The central principle of administration is that each administrative body includes both clergy and lay people, in accordance with the principle of the universal priesthood of believers. With the exception of the diocesan chapters and the Bishops' Conference, all administrative bodies within the church have a clear majority of lay people.

According to a territorial principle, Church members belong to the parish in whose area they live. The basic features in parish administration are a democratic principle combined with a respect for the special position of the clergy. The highest decision-making body within each parish is the parochial council, the members of which are elected every four years in elections which are held at the same time throughout the country. All members of the parish over the age of 18 have the right to vote in parochial council elections. The Church has made a decision in principle to lower the voting age to 16, a change that may come into effect in the parochial elections of 2010.

The supreme decision-making body for the entire church is the Synod, which determines the doctrines, policies and finances of the church. The synod meets twice a year. The Church's common organ for general administrative functions is the Church Council. Its task is to take care of the Church's common administrative, economic and strategic needs. The Bishops' Conference, on the other hand, handles issues relating to the faith, proclamations, and work of the church, as well as those relating to diocesan administration and care.

The dioceses are headed by a bishop and a diocesan chapter. A reform of diocesan administration came into force in 2004. The annual diocesan meeting was replaced with a diocesan council, consisting of 14 lay representatives and 7 clerical representatives. A lay representative acts as the chairperson. The bishop and the members of the diocesan chapter are among those entitled to be present and to take part in discussion. The diocesan council approves the operational and financial plan of the diocese, prepares a budget proposal for the Central Church Fund, and draws up proposals for consideration by the Church Council.

Most of the income of the parishes comes from the Church taxes paid by members. Each member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland pays a certain percentage of his/her income in the form of church tax. Each parish determines its church tax percentage on the basis of its financial situation. The percentage varies from parish to parish, the average being 1.3% in recent years. The parishes also receive part of the corporate tax levied by the state. This is considered in Finland to be a compensation for the societal duties discharged by the Church, for example cemetery maintenance. In 2006, the parishes had income from church tax totaling 763 million euro. The parishes' share of the corporate tax was 109 million euro.

The diverse activities of the Lutheran Church are reflected in the structure of its personnel. It is unlikely that there are many churches in the world where only one in ten employees is a parochial priest. In 2006, the church had 21,400 full or part time employees.

Church rituals which relate to the life-cycle of the individual and the family, along with the social services provided by the church, are the broadest contact areas between the church and parishioners. Lutheran ministers pronounce blessings at 96% of the funerals in Finland and 79.9% of children are baptized into the Church as infants. Almost nine out of ten (87.6%) teenagers attend confirmation classes and are confirmed at the age of fifteen. There has been a decrease in the percentage of church weddings, however, as many as 56.9% of couples are married in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church.

Getting married

The parishes have also introduced various new rites relating to other transitions in life. For example, the majority of parishes arrange special school blessings for children starting school. One third of 3-5-year-olds also regularly attend children's clubs organized by the parishes. And the Church's other instructional work is very extensive. Even though the Finns are rather lazy churchgoers in comparison with many other countries, most of them claim to attend religious services at least once a year. The more active parishioners also participate in many different types of small-group activities intended for children, young people, and adults.

Over the past few decades a number of reforms have been introduced in the Church. A new translation of the Bible, a new hymnal and a new catechism has been published. A major reform of the content of divine service took place and the Synod formally approved the new Service Book in January 2000 and the reformed liturgy came into use in parishes during Advent in 2000. Confirmation classes have also been reformed.

During the same period the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland started to show far greater awareness of its international responsibilities. This is reflected in increased support for missionary work and development aid and in a greater interest in ecumenical work. The church has a wide network of international contacts. These are officially handled by the Council for International Relations under the chairmanship of the Archbishop. The most far-reaching connections are those that have been forged with inter-church organizations, primarily with the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. Links with individual churches are strongest with those in the Nordic countries and with the Estonian and Ingrain Lutheran Churches, as well as with the Anglican churches in Great Britain and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is one of the major international NGOs in Finland. It carries out development, relief and interchurch aid on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland and its congregations. FCA channels funds mainly through the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and ACT (Action by Churches Together). Assistance is given irrespective of the recipient's political orientation, religion, ethnic background or nationality. Finn Church Aid does advocacy work on behalf of the world's poorest people for life's basic human rights and dignity. All programmers of the FCA emphasize the individual's responsibility.

In 2005, the missionary organizations of the Lutheran Church were working in a total of 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific region and Europe. They had over 400 missionaries, most of them working in Asia and Africa. Finnish Lutheran missionaries and lay workers are much appreciated for the work they do to help people at grass roots level and their projects are considered worthwhile in both financial and practical terms.

Christian organizations have largely been responsible for missionary and evangelical work, but they have also been involved in a certain amount of work with children and young people, counseling and related activities, and publishing. The bulk of the professional training of church employees is arranged by these organizations.

Revivalist movements are an accepted element of the Lutheran Church and national culture, and the previously negative attitude of these movements towards many areas of culture has mellowed. They are seen as part of the church's heritage. The Orthodox Church

Christian influence reached Karelia, the easternmost part of Finland, from Novgorod in the 12th century. The word of God was spread by monks, and their monasteries developed into bastions of the faith. In 1809, Finland became a Grand Duchy of Imperial Russia, and the Orthodox Church was the Emperor's church and part of the Russian state church. Orthodox Christianity spread to western Finland chiefly through Russian soldiers and merchants.

In the late 19th century, attempts were made to use the Orthodox Church as a vehicle for Justification. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and Finnish Independence (1917), the church's ties with the Patriarchate of Moscow were severed, and in 1923 it received autonomous status under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The early years of independence saw an increasing tendency towards Finishes in the Orthodox Church in this country.

During the Second World War the Orthodox Church lost its monasteries and 90% of its assets, and more than two-thirds of its members had to flee their homes. The period after the war was a time of vigorous reconstruction, with the state funding the building of new churches, chapels, vicarages and cemeteries. The religious communities of Valamo monastery and Lintula convent in the ceded Karelia region were re-established at Heinävesi in eastern Finland.

Membership of the Orthodox Church fell in the 1950s and 1960s as a consequence of the large proportion (close to 90%) of marriages between Lutherans and Orthodox. The children of these marriages were usually baptized as Lutherans. The trend changed in the 1980s and membership of the Orthodox Church has begun to grow, with more people joining it than leaving it. It currently has 58,000 members, which is 1.1% of the population of Finland. Interest has grown particularly in the Orthodox traditions of Karelia and in the liturgical life of the church. The relocated Valamo monastery and Lintula convent have become important destinations of pilgrimage. Valamo attracts some 160,000 visitors a year.

Other Churches and Religious Communities

After the Reformation, the Catholic Church disappeared from Finland for centuries, finally being officially reinstated in 1929 when it was registered as the Catholic Church in Finland. It has a membership of around 9,000, the majority of whom live in Helsinki and a few other towns in southern Finland. There are seven parishes and one independent diocese that covers the whole country. The majority of the priests and nuns are from Poland. Finland has diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Anglo-American Christianity spread to Finland in the second half of the 19th century, and a number of Protestant denominations, among them Baptists, Methodists, the Salvation Army and Adventists, became established in the country. Although support for these churches has gradually increased, their combined membership remains under 1% of the total population. Growth has been greatest in the Pentecostal movement, which reached Finland at the beginning of the 20th century and now has a membership of 50,000.

Judaism was brought to Finland in the early 19th century mainly by merchants and men working for the Imperial Russian army. By the end of the century, the number of Jews had risen to 1,000. In the early years of the 20th century Helsinki, Viipuri and Turku acquired their own synagogues. Today, there are synagogues in Helsinki and Turku and the number of Jews is 1,200.

Islam. The first Muslims also came to Finland with the Russian army towards the end of the 19th century. The foundations of the traditional community of a thousand or so Muslims were laid by the arrival of Tatar merchants from Russia around the end of the 19th century. The Finnish Islamic congregation was registered in 1925. The majority of Finnish Muslims live in the Helsinki region. In recent times an influx of refugees from Muslim countries has increased the Islamic community in Finland, but only a minority (5,000) of the newcomers has registered as members of a congregation.

Altogether there are currently about 70 officially registered religious community organizations in Finland. As in other European countries, numerous new religious movements are active in Finland. Most of these have been organized under the Associations Act (1989), i.e. they are organized according to general law governing non-profit organizations.

Ecumenical cooperation

The Finnish Ecumenical Council acts as the cooperative organ for most churches and Christian communities in Finland. The Council promotes Christian unity on the national as well as the local level. It does so through its publications and its programmes, through its meetings and assemblies, where a diversity of Christians gather for consultations and common prayer. The activities of the council focus on ecumenical theology and dialogue, socio-ethical issues, spirituality and common witness.

The Council has eleven member bodies:

  • Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland
  • Orthodox Church of Finland
  • Evangelical Free Church of Finland
  • Catholic Church in Finland
  • Swedish Speaking Baptist Union of Finland
  • Salvation Army in Finland
  • United Methodist Church in Finland (Swedish speaking)
  • United Methodist Church in Finland (Finnish speaking)
  • Mission Covenant Church (Swedish speaking)
  • Anglican Church in Finland
  • International Evangelical Church in Finland

In addition, 20 Christian organisations are observer members. Features of Finnish Religiosity

Since World War II, secularisation has taken an increasingly strong hold in all the Nordic countries, and there is a clear demarcation between the sacred and the profane. Values based on religion have lost status in society, and have been replaced by new sets of values and morals that have only tenuous links with religion and the church.

Two thirds of Finns (61%) consider themselves religious, 36% consider themselves non-religious and 3% consider themselves atheists. Since 1981 the proportion of those considering themselves religious shows a slight increase. In all World Values Surveys between 1981 and 2005 there have been some 3% considering themselves atheists. Even among those belonging to no religious community, there is a substantial proportion of religious people.

Commitment to Church doctrines has declined among Finns. This is apparent, for example, among the numbers of those claiming to believe in a life after death and in the long term also among those claiming to believe in God "in the way the Church teaches". Half of Finns believe in angels and Heaven, every third in the Devil and every fourth in Hell.

However, since the mid 1970s there has hardly been any change in the number of those believing that some sort of God exists; only the number of those believing in God the way the Church teaches has decreased. The share of those who do not believe in any god at all, nor in any spirit or life force, has remained below ten percent.

By European standards Finns are passive in their participation in divine services or other regular religious occasions arranged by the parishes. Only 14% participate in religious occasions at least once a month. Of these less than half (6%) are extremely active, attending weekly or several times a week. The extremely active are generally women (60%). A typical Finnish churchgoer attends divine service a few times a year, particularly on the big feast days. Religious participation is complemented by an interest in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters as presented by the media. Half of the Finnish population read a Christian periodical at least once a year. Religious television programmes and radio broadcasts are watched or listened to by a great number of Finns.

Church rituals related to the life-cycle of the individual and the family have a firm position. Nearly all funerals are Christian and a great majority of children are baptised as infants and confirmed at the age of 15.

Finns are rather active in private religious practices and there has been no notable change in the Finns' prayer activity in the past twenty years. One out of four Finns is very active in praying, while about the same number never pray. From the perspective of the private practice of religion there is no indicator of a decline of religion.

All in all Finnish religiosity is characterized by slight religious participation in public, but by the private practice of religion, which is more active than the European average. For the Finns, religion is a private matter. The typical Finn practices religion, praying, for example, but not participating regularly in any religious events. Failure to attend religious events, however, may not be taken to indicate that religion does not occupy a prominent place in an individual's life. Only a small number of Finns can be described as "irreligious". The share of those in whose lives there is no place for religion has remained low in Finland. Even though religious faith is not reflected in regular churchgoing, it is present as an undertone of private religiosity. Even a latent form of religiosity may come to be activated during a crisis or in other exceptional situations.

There are several "weak links" in Finnish religiosity: young people, men (especially young men) and the metropolitan area, i.e. the part of southern Finland where Helsinki, the capital, is situated. Young people differ from the rest of the population in being less religious and Christianity does not occupy the same position of authority as among the older population. In the metropolitan area commitment to religious organisations, doctrinal beliefs and religious observance is weaker than in the rest of Finland. However, religious ceremonies still occupy a strong position in the metropolitan area too.


Most Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (79.7 percent in 2009)[2]. A minority belongs to the Finnish Orthodox Church (1.1 percent) (see Eastern Orthodox Church). Other Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church in Finland are significantly smaller, as are the Muslim, Jewish and other non-Christian communities (totaling 1.2 percent). 16.9 percent[3] of the population is unaffiliated. The main Lutheran and Orthodox churches are constitutional national churches of Finland with special roles in ceremonies and often in school morning prayers. Politicians to Lutheran Church assemblies are selected in church elections every four years.

Over half of Finn say they pray at least once a month, the highest proportion in Nordics.[4] However, the majority of Lutherans attend church only for special occasions like Christmas, weddings and funerals.[5]

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,[6]

  • 41% of Finnish citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
  • 41% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 16% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

According to Zuckerman 2005, [7] 28-60% of Finns are agnostics, atheists or non-believers.

See also




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