Karelian Pilgrimage. July 2012.

Matushka Elizabeth and I were guests of the Usano family in Finland during July 2012. It would be impossible to summarise the hospitality of Irene, Jori, Lea, Kati, Aleksi, Eugen and Aila Annale but we shall remain grateful for this experience in Finland always. We felt very honoured and blessed to be with this family who showed us so much of Karelia and who took so much care of us throughout our stay. May God bless them all, always.

With the blessing of our Archbishop Gabriel and the welcome from Archbishop Leo of Finland and Metropolitan Ambrosios of Helsinki we journeyed from Tampere to Joensuu, Lintula, Ilomansti, Hamina, Kotka, Lahti and all points Orthodox on the way. There were many highlights including the visit to Lintula, the Festival of Saint Elias at Ilomansti, the Liturgy at Kotka and the very moving pannikhida at the Usano gravesides in Hamina with the family and Father Jukka.

There is a gentle charm embedded in Finnish Orthodoxy but its struggle for survival amidst the upheaval of enforced population resettlement into a Lutheran society has made for very strong identity indeed. Architecturally there is obvious Tsarist influence in older church designs, the magnificent ikons and the style of worship and yet deacons and priests all wear kalimafi and exo-rassa, the church is financed by the state ( as is the Lutheran church ) the clergy are paid, autocephaly within the Ecumenical Patriarch and yet has accommodated the western calendar date of Easter to fit the church to the state. The language used in services is the same as that which is spoken in everyday life by Finns. If this is Orthodoxy then it is surely a model for us all to work towards. And it is fun! It is wonderful to see people enjoying themselves and smiling. One priest – who should maybe remain nameless – during the procession back to church in Ilomansti after the Blessing of the waters, decided to pour holy water down the neck of the priest in front who was blessing the crowds. Father Alexander in Kotka asked me to bless the congregation with the hand blessing cross after the Litany of Supplication – he said – take our youngest cross – 1780 – from Catherine the Great.

We are fairly certain of a few things; we will be going back to beloved Finland soon, we have never eaten so many strawberries and bilberries and we are the very very proud owners of Finnish Sauna Diplomas and we love our Finnish “family”.