How a New Catechism Is Uniting Churches in Europe’s Last Pagan Nation

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra | March 30, 2017

In the race between Rome and Constantinople to convert the continent, Lithuania was the last nation standing.

The smallish country, tucked above Poland along the Baltic Sea, wavered back and forth during the decades of the 12th century, promising conversion to each side in order to keep their own power.

Eventually the pressure grew too heavy. In 1386, the Lithuanian ruler Jogaila converted to Catholicism in order to marry Poland’s 13-year-old queen and align the two countries.

Though she died when she was 26, the young queen left a lasting legacy; 600 years later, three-quarters of Lithuanians (77 percent) call themselves Catholic, according to the 2011 census. Though the Evangelical Reformed Church is nearly as old—established about 170 years later in 1557—it never gained real traction. Even before the German and Soviet invasions of the 20th century, its members numbered somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 in a country that was then about 2 million.

During the 50-year Soviet occupation after World War II, stiff persecution of all religion caused more than half of Reformed Lithuanians to head to the relative safety in numbers offered by Catholicism.

“Our church is old, but weak,” said Holger Lahayne, a Reformed missionary from Germany…

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