Religion

Pre-Christian Finns had gods as natural phenomena. Ahti ruled the lakes, Tapio was the master of the forests, and Ilmarinen, the hammer-wielding blacksmith, was the creator of the skies and stars, the northern lights, day, and night. When Christianity arrived in Finland in the 12th century, it came from two sides: the Orthodox version was introduced from the east through the Principality of Novgorod and Catholicism came from the west via Swedish conquerors. In the peace of Stolbova in 1617 between Sweden and Novgorod, the Swedes extended their rule eastward and began to convert the population to the Lutheran faith, causing about 25,000 Karelians of orthodox faith to flee their country and settle c.200 km to the northwest of Moscow. The present Finnish state is neutral in religious matters, but the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is mentioned in the Constitution Act. Although administrative details and activities of both the Evangelical-Lutheran and the Finnish Orthodox churches are regulated by the Church Act, both churches have extensive autonomy. In 1998,4,400,000 Finns were members of the Evangelical-Lutheran congregations and 54,000 were members of the Orthodox Church; 634,000 Finns are classified as nondenomina-tional and about 100,000 follow various revivalist movements. Catholics number no more than 6000 and Jewish congregations have about 1000 members. The number of Muslims has increased dramatically over the last 10 years due to immigrants, but few are registered as members of official religious communities.

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