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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vilnius Evangelical Lutheran Church -- Lithuania

Belfry from the Courtyard
On Friday, 2 December 2011, Dr. Timothy Quill, Director of Theological Education, Rev. Daniel Johnson, and Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church relations arrived in Vilnius for a conference with Lutheran pastors in the Lithuanian and Belarus churches, held at the parish hall of Vilnius Evangelical Lutheran Church. Rev. Johnson presented on Lutheran spirituality, while Dr. Collver spoke on the church's life under the cross from 1 Corinthians. Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania welcomed the LCMS group and explained how the Lutheran Church in Lithuania by the Lord's grace had been resurrected from death at the hands of Communism. He also encouraged the Missouri Synod to provide strong theological leadership to Lutherans throughout the world.

Conference with Pastors from the Lithuanian and Estonian Churches
Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas, Member of the Consistory of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania said, "The meeting was very important not only for the Lithuanian church but for the emerging church in Belarus, which is resurgent after many years of Soviet Domination. Acting Bishop Wladimir Meyerson in his report provided information regarding the situation of Lutheranism in Belarus and expressed his wish to strengthen relations with the LCMS through Bishop Sabuitus. He emphasized the need for theological education to train the men for the pastoral ministry. The Lithuania church is also very happy with this meeting, which was rich in theological presentations and conversation. It was very helpful for both churches."

The Belarusian Lutheran Church is under the spiritual leadership of Bishop Sabutis and functions as an extension of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania.

Dr. Timothy Quill remarked, "It was personally heartwarming to listen to the Belarusian pastors report on the progress of the BELC. It was ten years ago to the day, on December 2, 2001, that I attended the constituting synod of the Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church that took place in Vitibsk. It has been a difficult time for the faithful Lutherans trying to establish Lutheranism in a country where the Church was totally destroyed by the Communists. Leading their Notruf (plea for help) was a request for theological education to build a strong clergy. They inquired if the Seminary of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Novosibirsk, Russia could help train pastors and they encouraged the continuation of regular courses organized by Bishop Mindaugis Sabutis and Dr. Charles Evanson (LCMS theological educator in the Baltics and consultant to the ELCL). They also requested help in producing a Belarusian Lutheran liturgy and agenda. The Lithuanian and Belarusian Lutheran Churches share a common geographical and ecclesiastical history. BELC pastor Sergi Heil explained, 'The BELC is a young church in desperate need of its own liturgy, yet a liturgy that expresses her common tradition with Lithuania.' Pastor Heil asked if Lithuania could assist in this task. The ELCL is blessed to be home to Dr. Charles Evanson and Dr. Darius Petkunas who are not only recognized scholars in the area of the history of the Baltic and Russian liturgies, but key members of the ELCL liturgical commission that recently produced the new Lithuanian agenda."

The Parish Seal of the Vilnius Evangelical Lutheran Church
The first evangelical Lutheran church in Vilnius, Lithuania, was established in 1552 with the completion of the church building in 1555. The parish has had its own seal since 1560 wich depicts the Lamb of God with the inscription, "Diligite Veritatem Et Pacem" ("Value Truth and Peace"). Over the years the church building suffered a number of fires. The current structure had its foundation placed on 3 August 1739. The church was designed by Johann Christopher Glaubitz.

The altar piece consists of four sections that depicts the life of Christ. The scenes from lowest to highest portray the birth of Jesus, the Lord's Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension of Christ. On either side of the life of Christ are statues of the four evangelists. During the period of Soviet oppression, the Christian symbolism on the altar area was removed and replaced with communist idols. The nativity scene was replaced with the Red Star. The Lord's Supper scene was replaced with images of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin (the unholy trinity of the Soviet State). The crucifix and ascension scenes were removed. The sanctuary was partitioned into two floors, the lower level being a worship and the upper level a basketball court.

The Organ
Another view of the sanctuary.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations - Assistant to the President

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