The Greek Orthodox, or Greek Catholics, or what is the same for our purposes - Russian Orthodox was the State religion in the Russia Empire. The majority of the Russians were Orthodox believers (except those who were Old-believers), and the Tzar had the power to set rules for this Church. Actually he nominated the members of the Holy Synod, which was the highest authority of the Church. The Head of the Synod was called Oberprokuror (Superprocurator) and he had fairly great power in the Church, though he was a layman. He was also a member of the Council of Ministers. The clergy of the Church in many cases received salary like state servants.
The first Orthodox persons in the region of Latvia were Russians, who migrated from Russia, but in the 1840-1850s rather many ethnic Latvians from the Baltic provinces converted to the Greek Orthodox Church. This process is quite important also from the genealogical point of view, because it should be clear for everybody, the registries of which Church should be investigated for the sources of family history. I have many documents both about the conversion and the converts that I have started to make available in a special Page about conversion. It is quite important for genealogy research to know also that the real life of Latvian peasants did not show strict separation between Lutherans and Orthodox. For example, it could happen that a child born in a mixed marriage was baptized as a Lutheran even when it was not allowed by the Law.
According to the Laws, only one-way conversion was allowed - the believers of other religions could join the Greek Orthodox Church, but nobody was allowed to leave it. Even more, it was considered a criminal deed to try to convince a person willing to join the Greek Orthodox Church not to do it. Only in the time of the revolution of 1905, namely on April 17, 1905, religious freedom was declared by the Manifest of Nikolaj II, and many people in Baltic provinces soon left the Russian Orthodox Church. This was connected with various formal difficulties, however.
At the end of the 19th century many churches of the Orthodox Church were built in Latvia, but later lost attendants and gradually were abandoned. It is rather important that in the churches of the Russian Orthodox not a single Priest is active, but there the staff called Pričt exists that consists of clergymen: the Priest and the Deacon, and of church ministers: lay readers (pričetņiki) of various kind.
The Priests of the Church in Latvia initially were Russians by ethnicity, but always some Latvians were engaged in a church staff. Some lists of the Priests and other staff members are available to me and I hope to present them here.
The Orthodox clergymen have three levels according to the Grace of the God they have received and can transfer further. The Deacons are the lowest - they possess no Grace at all, therefore they have no right to bless people and to conduct prayers, and in reality they are helpers of Priests, which is the next step. At the highest level are the Bishops. Practically all Bishops belong to the black clergy and are not allowed to marry. As for the highest Church authority - the Tzar, he/she had no Grace of God in this sense and could not conduct prayers.
The migration of the Greek Orthodox believers to the Baltic provinces corresponds to the migration of Russians that is discussed in another page. On the other hand, it seems that Orthodox Latvians were more ready to migrate to other provinces of the Empire.
The Greek Orthodox Church in the Republic of Latvia 1918-1940 was canonically connected with the patriarch of Konstantinopol and not with the patriarch of Moscow like the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union.
The first Latvian Orthodox parish
It happened on January 24, 1845 when 120 Latvian Brethren with their leader David Balodis handed a petition to the Mitropolit Filaret I in Riga and asked him for permission to join the Greek Orthodox Church. They asked additionally for a separate church building and for permission to lead the divine service in Latvian, to play the organ, to have seats in the church and to sing in chorus during the divine service. Filaret I agreed to all the proposals except the playing of the organ, and he stated that the seats in churches should be placed along the walls. Of course, this agreement had to be accepted by the Tzar.
The first application for the conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church was signed by Davids Balodis, Bērtulis Michels, Pēteris Adamovs, Jānis Kažoks, Fricis Lībe and by three men named Ernests - Jēkabs-Juris, Kārlis and Andrejs. The best known of them is D.Balodis (1809-1864). By the way, his son Pēteris Balodis (1839-1918) was exiled to Siberia as a revolutionary and, while there, started a business in gold mining.
The Mitropolit informed the Oberprokuror of the Synod (the highest civil authority in the religious matters), who brought the petition to the Tzar Nikolaj I, and His Majesty accepted the conversion of Latvians. It was decided that the staff of the church (pričt) would receive salary from the state budget to avoid any payments from the parish members for religious ceremonies.
The following people were nominated for the staff:
It seems that the only Latvian in the staff was D.Balodis, because at that time no Latvians had the appropriate education, actually D.Balodis was also uneducated. The Seminary for the Orthodox clergy was founded in Riga in 1847 for Latvian and Estonian students.
The first prayer service of the Latvian Orthodox parish took place on April 29, 1845. Additional information about the conversion of Latvians to the Orthodox religion you may find in the Page on Conversion.
© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002