On 12 April we commemorate several Christians in the Lutheran tradition who have preached the Gospel in Finland.
Mikael Agricola (accent on the first syllable, as in most Finnish words not compounds), was born in Uusimaa, Finland, about 1510. He went to school in Viipuri (Viborg) and then in the cathedral town of Turku (Abo). The bishop of Turku, a Dominican monk, sent him to study at Wittenberg, where he met Luther and Melanchthon, and upon returning home, became rector of the cathedral school and eventually assistant to the bishop. On the death of the bishop in 1554, he was consecrated as the new Bishop of Turku without papal approval, and carried out a relatively conservative program of reform along Lutheran lines, retaining traditional doctrines and practices wherever he did not see scriptural grounds for rejecting them.
Mikael saw the importance of worship and teaching in the Finnish language. He accordingly established rules of orthography which are the basis of modern Finnish spelling, and wrote an Aapinen (primer), a prayer book (with other information), a translation of the New Testament, and a translation of the Liturgy. He translated many hymns into Finnish, and collected hymns that had been written or translated by others. He also took pains to learn what he could about the ancient pre-Christian myths and folklore of the Finnish people [sample stories]. He is accounted the father of written Finnish.
His accomplishments as a bishop are the more impressive when we remember that they took place in a short time. Three years after he became bishop, he was sent to negotiate a treaty with the Russians, and on his return fell ill and died suddenly, in his forties.
Paavali (Paul) Juusten (1516-1576) was sent to Wittenberg along with Mikael Agricola, and in 1554 he was consecrated first bishop of Viipuri, which, until its seizure by the Russians in the 1930's, was Finland's second largest city, exceeded only by the capital, Helsinki (Helsingfors). From 1563 to 1576 he was Bishop of Turku. He wrote a catechism and a manual for the clergy.
Paavo Henrik (Paul Henry) Ruotsalainen (pronounce the "u" here as "w" to make "uo" a diphthong) was born 9 July 1777 and spent most of his life in Nilsia. He was a poor peasant, without formal education, but an outstandingly effective preacher, and in his day the foremost layman in the Church of Finland.
Lars Levi Laestadius (accent on the second "a") was an outstanding Swedish botanist who became a clergyman. On a preaching mission in Swedish Lapland, he was moved by the devotion of some of the Lapp Christians he met, and undertook to stir up others to a similar devotion. Although he preached in Sweden, the movement stemming from him spread to Finland, and the only groups following him that I know of today are Finnish or Finnish-derived. In Finland, his followers retain their membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and receive the sacraments from its ordained ministers, but have their own "prayer-houses" where they gather for preaching, singing, testimonies, and mutual encouragement. Their most conspicuous distinguishing characteristics are: (a) an emphasis on the importance of confessing one's sinfulness to another Christian and receiving personal assurance of God's grace and forgiveness; (b) simplicity of lifestyle -- a distrust of frills and amusements; (c) exclusiveness -- a tendency to identify themselves with the Faithful Remnant -- although there is variation here, and some of their leaders have vigorously preached against this; (d) a style of worship that is often very somber, but also allows for "holy laughter." Historically, they have been heavily influenced by the Moravians.
written by James Kiefer
Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life, such as your servants Mikael Agricola, Paavali Juusten, Paavo Henrik Ruotsalainen, and Lars Levi Laestadius, whom you called to preach to the peoples of Sweden, Lapland, and Finland. Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.