by Dr. Denise R. Ames
I stopped at the port of Klaipeda in Lithuania on my Baltic Sea cruise. As the cruise ship lecturer, I gave a talk on Lithuania (see previous blog) and spent some time describing Lithuanian religious traditions. They have a very interesting mixture of different religious traditions that I would like to share with you in this blog. Some of them are very old, and Lithuanians seem intent on keeping the eclectic mix of religious traditions, despite the strong percentage of Roman Catholics in the country.
In 2011, 77% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, which has been the majority denomination since Christianity was introduced at the end of the 14th century. The Protestant Reformation did not impact Lithuania to a great extent, as it did in Estonia or Latvia.
Lithuania has strong Roman Catholic traditions, as indicated by the number of wooden churches throughout the country.
The Hill of the Crosses is a popular pilgrimage site, which has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite threats throughout history.
Even though only 4% of Lithuanians are Eastern Orthodox, who are mainly among the Russian minority, they have beautiful churches in which to worship.
The Choral Synagogue of Vilnius (below), only synagogue in the city to survive the Nazi Holocaust in
Lithuania, was historically home to a significant Jewish community and was an important center of Jewish scholarship and culture from the 18th century until the eve of World War II. Of the approximately 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania in 1941, almost all were killed during the Holocaust. The community only numbered about 4,000 in 2009.
Pagan or indigenous religions were well established in Lithuania before Christianity was introduced at the end of the 14th century, and they survived for another two centuries afterwards. Although the indigenous religions in Lithuania died out much later than in any other European country, actual information on Lithuanian mythology is incomplete.
Indigenous religions myths, stories, and customs were transmitted orally and not in written form. Yet, interest in indigenous religions has increased since the 19th century, when the narrative material began to be collected. However, the indigenous practitioners had already died, and with it precise meaning of stories and legends was lost.
Romuva claims to continue Baltic pagan traditions of the traditional indigenous religion, which has survived in folklore and customs.
Romuva is a polytheistic pagan faith which asserts the sanctity of nature and has elements of ancestor worship. Practicing the Romuva faith is seen by many followers as an expression of cultural pride, along with celebrating traditional forms of art, retelling Baltic folklore, practicing traditional holidays, playing traditional Baltic music, singing traditional songs, as well as ecological activism and preserving sacred places.
The philosopher Vydūnas is regarded by some as a founding father of Romuva. He actively promoted awareness of and participation in pagan festivals. He saw Christianity as foreign to Lithuanians, and instead he brought attention to what he saw as the spiritual vision of the traditional Baltic religion. He described this vision as sensing the awe of cosmology, seeing the universe as a great mystery, and respecting every living being and the earth. Vydunas and his followers saw the whole world and every individual as a symbol of life. The Divine is represented by fire, which is used ritually to worship the divine and itself is held sacred.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.
Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.
Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books