Eastern Orthodoxy in Sweden

The Treaty of Stolbovo (1617)

The early history of Eastern Orthodoxy in Sweden after the Reformation is closely related to the history of Eastern Orthodoxy in Finland. Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century until 1809 when it was ceded to the Russian Empire as a result of the Finnish War.

The Treaty of Stolbovo (1617), which ended the Ingrian War between Sweden and Russia, is the starting point of the earliest modern history of Eastern Orthodoxy in Sweden. As a result of this treaty Sweden gained new territories with an Eastern Orthodox population (especially East Karelia). The Eastern Orthodox population in these territories was tolerated but discriminated by their new Lutheran rulers who tried to proselytize them. But the Treaty of Stolbovo is also important since it gave Russia the right to establish a merchant house in Stockholm which also included a church for Russian merchants. This church was the first Russian Orthodox parish outside Russia and the first “free church” in Sweden. It is the origin of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Parish in Stockholm.

Religious Tolerance and Religious Freedom

In 1781 King Gustav III decreed religious tolerance for Roman Catholics and Jews residing in Sweden, but Swedish citizens were required by law to be members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden until 1860.  Complete religious freedom was introduced as late as 1951 and the Church of Sweden was not disestablished until 2000. The monarch and the princes and princesses are still required by the constitution to profess Christianity according to the original Augsburg Confession and the decision of the Synod of Uppsala of 1593 or else they forfeit the right to the crown.

From Twentieth Century until Today

Religious freedom is a precondition for the modern existence of the Eastern Orthodoxy in Sweden. The Eastern Orthodox Churches in Sweden today are primarily the result of organized labor immigration from Yugoslavia and Greece in the 1960s and 1970s and the later influx of refugees and immigrants from the 1970s onward (especially from the Middle East today). The Serbian Orthodox Church is the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in Sweden. The second largest is the Greek Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church is the third largest.

In the beginning of the 1960s before the organization of labor immigration from Yugoslavia and Greece there was only three Eastern Orthodox Churches in Sweden: Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Parish (see above), a Finnish Orthodox parish (created in 1958), and the Estonian  Apostolic Orthodox Church. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church in Exile was based in Sweden during the Soviet occupation of Estonia (1944-1991). Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Parish placed itself under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (i.e., the Paris Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) after the Russian Revolution.

Eastern Orthodox Jurisdictions

There are today three Eastern Orthodox eparchies whose hierarchs reside in Sweden. The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Sweden and All Scandinavia was created in 1969. The Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Scandinavia and Great Britain was created in 1990. The Romanian Orthodox Eparchy of Northern Europe was created in 2008. In 2010 the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of Scandinavia was created in accordance with the Pan-Orthodox decision from Chambésy in 2009. The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of Scandinavia is chaired by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Pavlos Menevisoglou.

The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of Scandinavia: Bishop Dositej (Serbian Orthodox Church), Metropolitan Pavlos (Ecumenical Patriarchate), and Bishop Macarie (Romanian Orthodox Church)

The Eastern Orthodox Churches which are members of the Christian Council of Sweden (Sveriges kristna råd) are the following: the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Finnish Orthodox Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church (Paris Exarchate), the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The government has charged the Christian Council of Sweden with organizing the prison chaplaincy.

Registered Eastern Orthodox Churches

The regular Eastern Orthodox Churches are also registered together with the Oriental Orthodox Churches as the Ecumenical Council of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches (Ortodoxa och österländska kyrkors ekumeniska råd) at the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund) in order to facilitate government grants.

The government grants to faith communities depend on the number of persons to whom they minister. The registered Eastern Orthodox Churches in Sweden were given a total of 3 719 000 SEK (approximately 573 200 USD) in various government grants in 2012.  According to the latest official statistics from 2012 the registered Eastern Orthodox Churches ministered to 63 429 persons and the registered Oriental Orthodox Churches (i.e., the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Church) ministered to 67 334 persons. This may be compared with the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden which ministered to 103 804 persons that year. The actual number of Orthodox Christians in Sweden is, of course, larger since not all of them attend services in the registered churches or practice their religion. The total population of Sweden was 9 555 893 persons at the end of 2012.

The registered Eastern Orthodox Churches reported having a total of 88 695 members in 2013 and the Oriental Orthodox Churches reported having a total of 71 178 members. This may be compared with the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden which reported having 100 522 members that year. The official statistics of the number of persons to whom the faith communities have ministered in 2013 will be released at the end of 2014.

When comparing the numbers of reported members in 2013 with the estimated numbers of people to whom the churches have ministered in 2012, we can note the Oriental Orthodox Christians seem to be more active in their churches than Eastern Orthodox Christians while more people attend Roman Catholic services than are officially members of the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden. The fact that more people attend Roman Catholic services than are officially members of the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden may be explained by the fact that the Swedish government offers faith communities the possibility of collecting membership fees through the tax agency. The Roman Catholic Church opted for this possibility which resulted in a number of members officially leaving the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden in order not to pay church tax while they still may continue to participate in church services. The Roman Catholic Church is also required to keep a more precise membership registry than churches which do not collect membership fees through the tax agency, but many Roman Catholics are not aware of the fact that they ought to formally register themselves as members of their local Roman Catholic parish. Only a few of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches in Sweden have opted for the possibility of collecting membership fees through the tax agency.

Official Statistics of Registered Eastern Orthodox Churches in Sweden 2013

(N.b. government grants to faith communities are not based on their reported number of members, but on the estimated number of persons to whom they have ministered.)

  • The Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Sweden. Members: 3 150. Parishes: 3.
  • The Finnish Orthodox Parish in Sweden. Members 1 500. Parishes: 1.
  • The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Stockholm and All Scandinavia. Members: 20 000. Parishes: 3.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church in Sweden (Paris Exarchate). Members: 6 000. Parishes: 1.
  • The Macedonian Orthodox Church in Sweden. Members: 7 353. Parishes: 2.
  • The Romanian Orthodox Church in Sweden. Members: 10 000. Parishes: 3.
  • The Serbian Orthodox Church in Sweden. Members: 38 518. Parishes: 10.
  • The Swedish Orthodox Decanate under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Members: 2 174. Parishes: 3.

The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has not provided any current information to the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities.

Registered Eastern Orthodox Churches in Sweden 2014

  • The Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • The Finnish Orthodox Parish
  • The Greek Orthodox Metropolis
  • The Macedonian Orthodox Church
  • The Romanian Orthodox Church
  • The Russian Orthodox Church (Paris Exarchate)
  • The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)
  • The Antiochian Orthodox Parish
  • The Serbian Orthodox Church
  • The Swedish Orthodox Decanate (under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church)

Selected literature

G. Hallonsten. Östkyrkor i Sverige. Skellefteå: 1992.

Π. Μενεβίσογλου. Ἡ Ἱερὰ Μητρόπολις Σουηδίας καὶ πάσης Σκανδιναβίας 1969-1994. Athens: 1994.

Sveriges kristna råd. Årsbok 2013.

Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund. Årsbok 2013.

Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund. Trossamfund i Sverige 2013.

Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund. Adressförteckning 2014.

Föreningen auktoriserade revisorer. Stiftelser, ideella föreningar och trossamfund: Regelsamling 2014.

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