The annual Baltic United Remembrance Service took place on Sunday, June 18 at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London. The solemn event aimed to remember the victims of crimes against humanity committed during the Soviet regime in the Baltic states, as well as the ongoing violence faced by the Ukrainian people under the Russian Federation.
The Baltic Council’s service was prepared by Estonian pastor Lagle Heinla, the sermon delivered by the Chair of the Council of Lutheran Churches (CLC), Rt Revd Tor Berger Jørgensen. Clergy from the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian communities were invited to offer prayers in their respective languages, and a joint Baltic choir was singing.
Bishop Tor B’s Sermon
Baltic Commemorative Service at St James’s Piccadilly
2. Sunday after Trinity. Readings: Psalm 100; Rom 5:1-8; Matt 9:35-10:8
We are in a beautiful Church today.
We have been reminded of Jesus calling his twelve disciples.
Sending them to proclaim the good news: “The Kingdom of heaven has come near!”
We are in this beautiful church today – hearing these visionary words about “The Kingdom of Heaven” – on a day that we are remembering the awful acts of human beings promising “Heaven on Earth” while deporting innocent people to slavery and suffering and death far away from their homes.
The Soviet regime was built on an illusion. Their society was not a heaven – except perhaps for a small elite – it was a hell for millions, especially for them who did not want to collude with the almighty Party.
When we are reminded of the horrible stories my heart crying – how is it possible that human beings can be so cruel – so evil – It is impossible to comprehend – but it has happened.
And it gets even worse – for while we are remembering the horrendous thing happening in your countries 80 years ago – it is happening again – in your neighbourhood – and now it is even worse because the atrocities made by the communists were done by people who oppressed the church. They had lost their moral compass.
But now the atrocities are blessed by the Patriarch in Moscow …. I must admit: It is impossible to comprehend.
In my heart the old cry which is transformed in to the liturgy of all churches: Kyrie eleison is resounding: God! Show mercy! God help us.
This cry is unfortunately I cry which has followed the Church through its history, not only when the Church was persecuted, but also when the Church supported colonialism, when the church accepted racism as a scientific concept and acted itself accordingly – we are reminded of that these days here in the UK with experiences people from the old British dominions in the Caribbean came here by invitation to get work and a new future, but by and large met prejudice, intolerance and discrimination….
A month ago, back in my country, Norway, a truth and reconciliation commission has told our history in the way we have treated the Sami people, the indigenous people who live in the northern part of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
The truth is not a beautiful story!
What an arrogance and cultural self confidence the Norwegians has expressed in its attitudes and treatment of our common human beings.
The story goes on – when we create mental boarders between us giving some the authority to define truth in a discriminatory way hitting others identity and humanity. We are still fighting with it in many churches and societies …. If you understand what I mean..
I think the text from Mt we have read gives us a clue of what is important for the church under all circumstances and to all times:
To show compassion for people who are harassed and helpless “like sheep without a shepherd” as Jesus expressed it.
He himself became not only the symbol or inspiration of this holy compassion, he became the transforming power of God’s compassion through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Paul had experienced this transforming message of God’s love and grace as he wrote to the Church in Rome. Paul had been a persecutor himself, filled with a rigorous religious conviction – with no compassion, with no grace, with no love.
But this love opened for a stream of light in our world, a light of a transforming hope – also when we are in the darkest hours.
This is a strange message of greatest importance because it can turn the feeling of retributing revenge, and of destructive hatred or cold indifference into a constructive opening, for compassion, for grace and love, for truth and reconciliation.
We shall never forget the atrocities – truth must prevail, but our obligation is as a Church, and as societies wanting to keep the best value-standards given us in our Christian tradition – so we, also today can confess with words from Psalm 100: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever – his faithfulness continues through all generations”.