True Lithuania

Reformed Christianity (Calvinism) in Lithuania

This branch of Christianity follows the Jean Calvin teachings. It came to Lithuania in the 16th century and was favored by certain nobles of Radvila family. They were based in Kėdainiai and to this day the small town still is dominated by a Reformed church structure somewhat reminiscent to Ancient Greek temple (rather than by a Roman Catholic spire).

The area where Reformed Church gained a real foothold, however, was in the northeastern Lithuania in the town of Biržai and the surrounding countryside (also a Radvila domain at the time). There are many reformed churches in the towns and villages of the area and some 10% of the population still profess this faith.

The smaller Christian denominations in Lithuania were hardest hit by the Soviet occupation because their small communities meant an inability to withstand Soviet persecutions. As such, some Reformed Christians converted to Roman Catholicism in 1940 – 1990, decreasing their overall share from 0,5% to 0,2%.

Reformed Christian communities and churches also exist in some of the main cities.

Interior of the Biržai Reformed Christian church (1874). Plain for its era the interior reflects the Reformed Christian beliefs. On the wall in front of the congregation (where sacred paintings, crucifixes and stained glass windows dominate in the other denominations) a sole inscription VIENAM DIEVUI GARBĖ (GLORY TO ONE GOD ALONE) proudly hangs. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Ačiū už trumpą, tačiau išsamų ir objektyvų aprašymą apie Lietuvos evangelikus reformatus. Pastebėjau keletą netikslumų: Biržų ev. ref. bažnyčios pašventinimo data pavėlinta porą metų, turėtų būti 1874. Kita – evangelikai reformatai Mišių neaukoja, todėl nėra ir altoriaus. Stalą, kuris stovi centre, presbiterijoje, vadiname Viešpaties Stalas (Lord’s Table) ant kurio Biblija arba Komunijai ar Krikštui skirti indai. Pagarbiai, kun. Rimas

  2. A better job could be done to explain the importance of the Reformation’s impact to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century. It spurred the Polish-dominated Catholic Church to improve itself in the Counter-Reformation that followed after 1569. The Lithuanian language and nation owe a huge debt to the Protestant waves that came from outside Lietuva from Prussia and inside the Grand Duchy with the help of the Radvila family, including Sigismund II Augustus (the King’s son and heir) who expressed an active interest in the Reformation. Calvinism was embraced by two highly placed members of the Radvila family, the two cousins Nicholas the Red and Nicholas the Black. They were close friends with Sigismund Augustus who was to marry Barbora Radvilaite, the widowed sister of Nicholas the Red. Radvila the Black was a spokesperson for the Reformation in Lithuania and was the founder of the Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church, with the first Synod of Vilnius held in 1557.

    • This hyperlink to Lituanus online is a good historical reference about the Reformation in Prussian-Lithuania and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. http://www.lituanus.org/1997/97_1_05.htm

    • Thanks for the expansion. Of course, it is possible to write entire books about the Reformed faith in Lithuania (or any other traditional Lithuanian religious minority), however, the point of these articles is simply to introduce each religious group of Lithuania to foreigners. Mentioning some historical details, we concentrate on today (the population share, religious practices, cities/towns where the religion is prevalent), in order to keep articles short and introductory, so even casual readers (who are not into religion or history and are not Reformed Christians themselves) would read the whole article and grasp the main facts.

      • Thank you for the reply. The reference to Birzai being a center and main congregation for the Reformed faith is a tired footnote. Rev. Rimas Mikalauskas, a pastor at the Evangelical Reformed Church in Birzai, explained in an interview online with Tolle Lege back in January 2018 that congregations are growing in the bigger cities like Kaunas, Panevezys and Vilnius.

        • Indeed, there are congregations in the big cities as well.

          These communities are much smaller than that of Biržai area, however.

          According to the most recent census (2011), there were 6731 Reformed Christians in Lithuania, out of them, 2460 were in Biržai district municipality (that is more than a third of total). In comparison, there were 1186 Reformed Christians in Vilnius city, 502 in Kaunas city and 348 in Panevėžys city. Even if those communities have grown since, it is highly unlikely they would have surpassed Biržai area in numbers.

          Moreover, by the Reformed Christian percentage of the total local population, no other municipality could even come close to Biržai district, where some 10% of the total population is of reformed faith and numerous Reformed Christian churches exist in the area around Biržai. Previously (before the Soviet occupation), the share of Reformed Christians was even larger there. That is why, in the Biržai area, Reformed Christian impact on the area, main tourist sites and culture is much larger than anywhere else in Lithuania, with Kėdainiai probably coming a distant second. In the main cities like Vilnius, Reformed Christians are just one of many communities, typically smaller than either Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, and Old Believer. Merely 0,2% of Vilnius population are Reformed Christians, for example.

          • And Jesus said to His disciples, ” . . . For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” -Matthew 18:20.


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