Logo of the Exibition "Christianity in Lithuanian Art"


(28 December, 1999 - 31 December, 2003)


Dalia Tarandaite

Orthodox Church is one of the three main branches of Christianity alongside with Catholicism and Protestantism. The Orthodox Church, also called the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church originated from the Church of Byzantine Empire about the fourth century. It differed from the Western or Roman Catholic Church in its rituals, liturgical practices and the language. The official schism between the Byzantine Church and the Church of Rome took place in 1054. Currently, there are fifteen self-governing (autocephalous) churches and three autonomous Orthodox churches. Of them, most powerful ones are Moscow and All Russia Patriarchate.

Lithuania had its first contacts with the Orthodox Church well before its baptism. The pagan Lithuanian dukes who ruled the Slavic Orthodox lands in the East would often convert into Orthodox Christianity. Until the middle of the fifteenth century, more than 40 Lithuanian dukes were Orthodox believers, one of them, duke Daumantas received an Orthodox name of Timothy and became canonized by the Orthodox Church. The dukes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania tried hard to achieve independence from Moscow for the Orthodox believers living in their lands. In 1317 the dukes Gediminas and his son Liubartas were responsible for establishing a separate for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania metropolitan center in Naugardukas. In 1347 it was liquidated, but in 1353 duke Algirdas managed to reestablish it. This time it existed for about one hundred years. After the baptism of Lithuania Jogaila and Vytautas started seeking to unify the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and tried to negotiate the subordination of the Orthodox bishops and the dukes to the Pope versus Moscow. The Church Union of 1596 in Brest was an attempt to do so, and the conversion of a part of Lithuania’s Orthodox believers into Unitarians was an outcome of this union.

The Orthodox monastery of the Holy Trinity existed in Vilnius in the sixteenth century, the Holy Ghost monastery was established 1597, one other Orthodox monastery was established in Surdegis, in Anykšciai region.

After the last partition of Lithuania, the Russian Czars offered all kinds of support for the Lithuanian Orthodox believers. After the uprising in 1863, the Czarist government started its russification policy and encouraged Russian colonists to move to Lithuania. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were over half a million of Orthodox believers in Lithuania. A big number of Roman Catholic monasteries were shut down while the Roman Catholic churches were turned into Orthodox churches.

Currently there 41 Russian Orthodox churches in Lithuania and the Holy Ghost monastery in Vilnius. Lithuanian Orthodox believers belong to Vilnius and all-Lithuania diocese, which is a part of Moscow and all-Russia patriarchate.

  Lithuanian Art Museum, Fund of Samogitian Culture, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics 
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     Page updated 2011.08.12