Rev. Charles Evanson, serving in Lithuania with partner church body The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), recently shared the following brief description of some of the Lenten practices in the ELCL.
In Lithuania, the day before Ash Wednesday is the traditional occasion on which boys and girls go in costume from door to door to ask for a last treat before the Lenten Fast begins. I suppose that it could be likened to “Beggar’s Day” at Halloween in the USA and Canada, since there is no “Trick or Treat” at Halloween in Lithuania.
It is traditional in Lutheran parishes here that the Sacrament of the Altar is celebrated at every Divine Service during Lent, culminating with large crowds of communicants on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It is the custom here that as many of the parish pastors as possible meet on Maundy Thursday morning with the Bishop for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. At this Divine Service the clergy reaffirm their Ordination vows to teach and preach the pure Word of God and pledge their faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions and Church. The noon meal together is followed by announcements and a theological paper. The three Latvian dioceses have similar Maundy Thursday traditions.
The Reformation entered Lithuania in the 16th Century. The first Small Catechism was printed in the Lithuanian language in 1547 and the first Bible in the Lithuanian language was printed in 1590. The ELCL had grown to 80 congregations prior to World War II, however the war and the resulting Communist rule devastated the ELCL. Members fled or were exiled or killed. Churches closed and Soviet rule (1940-1990) forbade religious instruction. Since the fall of Communisim, the ELCL has negotiated back a few church properties that had been confiscated, and with the help of Iowa District East of the LCMS, as well as LCMS World Mission, the ELCL has restored some churches, built a new one and begun educating more pastors. Rev. Evanson says, “St John’s congregation in Klaipeda is trying to raise money to rebuild. Before the war there were two churches here – one German and the other Lithuanian. One was destroyed by bombing during the war; the other was partially destroyed, and after the war the Soviets finished the job. Since the war the congregation has been meeting in the parish house.” The LCMS and ELCL entered into altar and pulpit fellowship in 2001.