The Estonian Evengelical Lutheran Church
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Independence Day sermon by Archbishop Urmas Viilma in Kaarli Church in Tallinn on the 101st anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, 24 February 2019  

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This sermon on Estonia’s day of celebration is based on the Scripture reading from the Apostle Paul:

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:8)

For nearly two years, there have been various events in Estonia and Estonian settlements throughout the world to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Republic of Estonia. This was the first century of our statehood but, unfortunately, barely a half of it has been marked by a life in peace and freedom. This century of interrupted freedom, preceded by hundreds of years under foreign powers, has taught us how to keep our love for this land and people in silence, to hide it deep within our soul. Being introverted by nature, we Estonians have found that singing is the best way for us to express our joys and griefs, as well as our love for Estonia. These gentlest and most fragile words sound hollow and insincere, at least to our ears, if they are uttered in any other way than through poetry or song. Singing gives us courage to bare our entire soul in the verse! My Love, the minimalistic slogan of the jubilee Song and Dance Celebration in the summer, encapsulates the soulful essence of the love for our homeland – the sorrow and charm of our people’s history of defeats and victories. This is underpinned by the song Hoia, Jumal, Eestit (“God Protect Estonia”), always sung as a prayer. Thus, the mutual love between the Estonian land and the Estonian people will ring forever as timeless truth in the perfect words of Lydia Koidula, our Singer of the Dawn: Estonian soil and Estonian heart – who could tear them apart?

Our sense of love owed to our land and people is best expressed in Estonia’s soulful choral tradition. No matter how much we give, contribute and endeavour, the words of the Apostle Paul, owe no one anything, except to love each other, seem always relevant. Love for our homeland is the common statement of all people in Estonia – it is our slogan under which we all may gather as one.

Next week is election. On this morning of celebration, this sentence sounds cold and unresonant under the arches of Kaarli Church. Nevertheless, voting in election is a specific act of love towards securing the independence and future of the Estonian state – our land and all the people living here. If we do not use our vote, we increase our debt of love to Estonia. Admittedly, it is not easy to make a choice when we scrutinise the election promises and set them against each other. The emphasis on the words “political party” creates almost a painful physical sensation of separation and antagonism. From this, it is only a small step to a complete entrenchment of opposing views. In the context of the Year of Estonian Language and the film “Truth and Justice”, which premiered in cinemas last week and has already been described as the ‘film of the century’, we may perhaps find the best appraisal of the long-winded party programs in the third volume of Tammsaare’s epic work: “Everyone suspected that words are not spent for the sake of truth and justice, but for profit. Even truth and justice are nothing beyond what is profitable.”

I understand that some people, being tired of the antagonism between parties and the verbosity of their promises, are on the verge of abstaining from the election. However, I would like to say to those who consider this option that, when I try to find a common ground in the parties’ programmatic muddle of words, I can detect genuine love for Estonia behind their exalted promises. I also notice that they envision a common future for the Estonian people here, on the Estonian land. This gives me courage to continue in love and to contribute for the good of my land and people. Even if it means voting in election. After seeing this common ground, even the words “political party” become less jarring, albeit we could consider using the more inclusive expression “political community”.

Looking at the bigger picture and trying to find positives, I suggest taking a lighter approach, for example, by writing a patriotic poem based on the parties’ campaign slogans. While the result may sound rather naive and is certainly not the pinnacle of the Year of Estonian Language, the idea behind these verses is to convey a message of unification for the Estonian land and people, instead of separation and antagonism.

A poem entitled “For the Good of All Estonia”

Fatherland is eternal

A better future

A long-term plan for Estonia

The first clean state

New narrative for Estonia –

A smart organic country

Everyone matters for Estonia

A just state for all

Even though these verses would need some tinkering before they could be set to a melody and sung in the jubilee Song Celebration, the rap artist Nublu could probably use them to write a chart-topping patriotic whisper rap song.

We know that the 800-year-old Tallinn has ghosts and Tartu has its own Spirit. But what about Estonia as a whole – does Estonia have a soul? The debate over the existence of human soul continues to this day. It is a matter of faith! Would we start a debate over the existence of an Estonian soul? What or whom could we consider as manifestations of the Estonian soul? I believe that we would be able to describe the Estonian soul by compiling an epic work of poetry and prose, interspersed with many photos, film clips, sports achievements, pieces of musical compositions, bouquets of tastes, aromas and colours, formulas and drawings, church steeples, woven glove and belt patterns and many more specific elements. It would become Estonia’s new seminal text, entitled “Picture of the Estonian Soul”.

We have perhaps all been teary-eyed, singing the words “until your village is still alive, you are also alive”. We have understood that these verses would also be true in reverse: until I am alive, my village, my country is also alive. A person is alive until they pass away. Estonia will not pass away, and will live and persist, as long as there are Estonian people and the Estonian language is spoken. Estonia has a soul! While it may not be seen, it is clearly perceptible. The aggregate Estonian soul is comprised of the souls of all people in Estonia. Until we breathe, Estonia will live and breathe as well!

Like soul, love is invisible and yet perceptible. While I spoke before about love owed to our homeland, it is directly linked to our love for each other – our charity. We may think that we are perfect in everything else, knowing and proclaiming the truth and justice, but we all suffer from the same great deficit. It is a deficit of love. This is the perpetual condition of all people, originating in our imperfection and sin, and the love we owe each other also becomes our own fault and sin. Consequently, we are all people with special needs – we need the help of our neighbours. At the same time, our neighbours await the same help and love from us.

Love does not mean a denial of truth or, like the first people, hiding and escaping from the truth. Denying or hiding the truth may often seem easier than facing it head-on, especially if it is an honest truth, sometimes even painful and uncomfortable. But if we offer the naked, painful truth without speaking the language of love, it becomes, in the words of the Apostle Paul, merely a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Such truth may have a loud ring, but it can also be stinging and paralysing in its harsh brutality. In such moments, our debt of love only continues to grow. However, our task is to work ceaselessly on reducing, not increasing, this debt “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8), as the Apostle says in today’s Scripture passage.

In order to reduce our debt by showing care and love to each other, we need to admit to ourselves and others that we are all simultaneously in need of help and responsible for providing help to others. Referring to a famous Biblical parable: every one of us is at once a victim of robbery lying on the ground as well as a good Samaritan. By acknowledging this, we all perform a mutual act of love and create the conditions in which we can naturally fulfil the Greatest Commandment – love your neighbour as yourself.

Estonia will continue to live and breathe for hundreds of years if this life and breath is fed by our unending love for the Creator and for all visible and invisible creation. Congratulations to Estonia, may her breath be full of health!