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Paavali (1914 - 1988)

archbishop, reformer of Orthodox worship and builder of identity

Photo: Jänis, Uusi Suomi Photo Archives

Archbishop Paavali introduced important reforms in Orthodox worship in Finland and through his public activities reshaped the image of Orthodoxy in a predominantly Lutheran country. His most important achievement, however, is the way in which he built Orthodox spirituality on a more clearly early-Christian foundation than had previously been the case.

As assistant bishop (1955 - 60) and archbishop (1961 - 87), Paavali (Gusev) accomplished notable reforms in Finnish Orthodox worship. He pruned it of both Slavic traits and of 'national' (i.e., in practice, Lutheran) characteristics adopted during the early years of Finnish independence and returned to the Greek-language traditions of the era of an undivided Christendom. To a remarkable extent, his public activities also reshaped Lutheran Finland's picture of Orthodoxy. For the Orthodox Church, Paavali was also an important church musician, and he also worked to develop ecumenical and international relations. According to many contemporaries, he was also a profound spiritual teacher. In assessments of Paavali, more attention has thus far been paid to his person than to his significance for the Finnish Orthodox Church. The latter aspect - the way in which he built the Orthodox Church in Finland on a more clearly early-Christian foundation than before - is, however, his most important achievement.

Georgi Paavali Gusev was born in St Petersburg in 1914. Five years later, the family moved to Viipuri (Vyborg), finnicising its surname to Olmari. Georgi's first name was finnicised to Yrjö. In 1926 he entered the classical grammar school in Viipuri, but he cut short his studies after his father died in 1932. In the same year he entered the seminary at Sortavala, completing his studies there in 1936. After this, he did his military service.

During his time at the seminary, Yrjö Olmari led the students' choir and worked as deputy director of the choir at Sortavala (Orthodox) Cathedral. He also began to adapt Slavic-language religious vocal music and works by Russian composers. At the instigation of the then principal of the seminary, Nikolai Valmo (1890 - 1943; principal 1931 - 42), Olmari also became acquainted with the Valamo (Valaam) monastery, to which he transferred after his time at the seminary in late 1937. The following year he became a monk and was ordained as a monk in holy orders, being given the monastic name 'Paavali'.

At the monastery his main duties were teaching in the monastery school and directing the choir of the Finnish-speaking novices. He also edited a series of Finnish-language booklets which Valamo Monastery published under the name of Kilvoittelija ('The Striver'). In October 1939, on the eve of the Winter War, Paavali was called up for service as a military pastor. Paavali also participated in the evacuation of Valamo Monastery at the turn of 1939/40. After this, he served as a priest to evacuees in Joensuu and Kauhava.

At the beginning of the Continuation War, Paavali was called to serve as a priest in the Aunus (Onega) district of eastern Karelia, which was under military administration. At the end of 1942, he was transferred to Jämsä as a teacher of Religion at a teachers' camp for students from eastern Karelia. In autumn 1943, Paavali returned to his post as a military pastor.

After the conclusion of peace, Paavali was sent to the Joensuu congregation as an acting cantor. At the same time he was appointed editor at the Council for the Publication of Orthodox Literature (Ortodoksisen kirjallisuuden julkaisuneuvosto; formerly: Suomen kreikkalaiskatolisen kirkon jumalanpalvelus- ja oppikirjain Suomennos- ja toimituskomitea) and editor-in-chief of the periodical Aamun Koitto ('Dawn').

While at Joensuu, Paavali evidently suffered a spiritual crisis. In late 1946, he moved to Myllykoski as a bookkeeper for the local pottery firm Saviteollisuus Ltd and - according to some sources - considered giving up his monastic status and marrying. According to an extract from a register, Paavali also worked as a priest among resettled persons at Myllykoski. The crisis evidently resolved itself in late 1948, when Paavali asked Archbishop Herman (1878 - 1961) for a position within the church and was given the post of acting cantor of the Orthodox congregation in Kuopio. In addition, he edited revised handbooks for divine worship containing instructions, and he also edited scores for church vocal music. The reform pruned features of Slavic origin from the church service and placed more emphasis than before on the importance of Holy Communion. People began referring to the reformed worship as 'Paavali's liturgy'. Later on, when he was already archbishop, Paavali produced a revised collection of music for the Eucharist, and this came into use in 1970. The new collection was designed specifically for worship in Finnish. The previous collection conformed with Russian originals translated for use in earlier Finnish-language services.

At the General Assembly of 1955, Paavali was elected assistant bishop. The post had been vacant since its previous occupant, Herman, was elected as archbishop in 1925. One important task of Paavali's as assistant bishop was to take care of relations with the Russian Orthodox Church in particular. In 1945, this church had proposed that the Finnish Orthodox Church should return to union with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Under Archbishop Herman, the matter had been postponed, and in the end the Russian church 'forgot about' it. The issue was finally buried in 1957/58. A second important task was the intellectual and spiritual reconstruction of the Finnish Orthodox Church. At the 1955 General Assembly, for example, Paavali was elected as a member of a commission whose task it was to raise standards among cantors.

The spiritual life and relations with other churches also remained central aspects of Paavali's work after he was elected archbishop in 1960. During the Paavali era, the Finnish Orthodox Church's ecumenical relations in Finland and elsewhere were strengthened, and contacts with foreign countries were extended to cover all important Orthodox churches.

To enhance spiritual education, Paavali published two works - Miten uskomme ('How we Believe') and Uskon pidot ('A Celebration of Faith') - in the latter part of his life. These provided a guide to and explanation of divine worship. The former is a brief but thorough introduction to early Christian theology. It has been translated into about a dozen languages. The latter is similarly slight as far as the number of pages is concerned but contains a wealth of explanatory detail concerning divine worship. The point of departure for both was the Greek-language, early-Christian tradition - i.e. the tradition that the Orthodox Church regards itself as representing the most clearly.

Like the important theologian of the Orthodox Church in America, Alexander Schemann (1921 - 83), whom he knew well, Paavali placed the primary emphasis on common worship and personal prayer within this tradition. The former, he believed, educated people to live in the way desired by God as far as their social relationships were concerned. The latter was necessary in the self-education of the individual.

This way of seeing things was not new in itself. What was new was the fact that Paavali no longer emphasised the national character of the Orthodox Church to the same extent as, for example, Archbishop Herman, instead returning to an outlook that emphasised the community of the faithful rather than a particular people. At the same time he created for the church an identity that was Orthodox rather than primarily Finnish. Also new was Paavali's attempt to encourage people to participate in Communion as often as possible. In 1970, with this end in view, the Bishops' Conference followed his suggestion and directed that a person may, with the permission of his or her confessor, take Communion without first making confession - as previous, Russian-based practice required.

Paavali's period as archbishop began at a time when Finnish society was beginning to reassess its attitude towards Orthodoxy. People began to show respect for what had previously been called 'the Russky church'. As far as the State was concerned, a concrete mark of this change was the confirmation of the church as the second State Church. A law to this effect was introduced in 1969 and came into force the next year. From a cultural viewpoint, signs of the change included the fact that Paavali and (the new) Valamo Monastery became symbols of Orthodoxy and that interest in Orthodoxy and the number of people joining the church grew.

In the area of relations with other churches, Paavali's actions in coming closer to the Roman Catholic Church included the granting of permission in the late 1960s for the Roman Catholic Church in Finland to use Orthodox churches for its services. Paavali also encountered a few serious problems. The first occurred in 1978, when the archbishop wished to invite the head of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Theodosius (in office 1977 -), to celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Finnish church. The church in question had formerly been subject to the Patriarchate of Moscow, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople did not recognise the independence granted by Moscow to the American church in 1970. Thus Constantinople persuaded Paavali to cancel Theodosius' visit. In the Finnish church, this aroused a certain amount of opposition, as well as the idea of complete independence - autocephaly. Requests for this began to be made to Constantinople, but instead of this, the diocesan division of the Finnish church was reformed through the establishment of a third diocese - Oulu. The reform was a step in the direction of autocephaly, since a completely independent Orthodox church must have at least three diocesan bishops. Since the foundation of the third diocese, there has been no public discussion of autocephaly.

A second difficult - and still unresolved - problem resulted from the acceptance of women pastors in the Finnish Lutheran Church. In a statement issued on 26 May 1986, immediately after this event, the Bishops' Conference of the Finnish Orthodox Church announced, amongst other things: "Until now we have been able, in a spirit of brotherhood, to hold discussions [with the Lutheran Church] on doctrine, [and] even on the difference of our views on the nature of priesthood, in the hope that our views might come closer to each other... The open approval of women as priests violates this... common ground and, at least in this respect, removes the basis for 'doctrinal discussions' as a factor promoting unity." In general, however, the issue of female clergy has not constituted a barrier to ecumenical events and other practical forms of co-operation between the churches.

Nevertheless, the shift away from the status of a national church towards a more clearly Orthodox position did mean a certain degree of estrangement from a homogenous Finnish culture. As defined by Paavali, an Orthodox church could not unreservedly approve of features of Western society which were not in harmony with the sort of Christian faith developed by an undivided Christendom - i.e. in roughly the first millennium of Christianity. One such feature is democracy. In Paavali's opinion it was not a bad thing as such - on the contrary; but if it did not recognise God's authority, it was not suited to the Church.

Paavali did not lay emphasis on differences between, for example, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. But such differences do exist, and they give the Orthodox Church an identity of its own - one that diverges from those of other Christian churches. This strengthening of the Finnish Orthodox Church's sense of identity is Paavali's greatest single achievement.

Teuvo Laitila

Translated by Roderick Fletcher


Georgi Gusev, from 1919 Yrjö Olmari, born 28.8.1914 St. Petersburg, died 2.12.1988 Kuopio. Parents: Alvi Olmari (Gusev), born 1871, died 1932, and Anna Vodomenski, born 1874, died 1963.

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