Olet täällä

Interview: My time as a bishop in the north

Interview with Archbishop Leo published in Paimensanomat, the newspaper of the Diocese of Oulu, in November 2008

Archbishop Leo, you were a priest responsible for Orthodox religious education at an adult education college in Karelia in 1972–1973 and a travelling priest first in the district of Ilomantsi and later in that of Turku in 1973–1979. How did those times prepare you for the role of bishop?

“My work as a priest gave me the opportunity to experience the everyday work of the church in the field, to see, hear and share the day-to-day joys and sorrows of Orthodox parishioners.”

You were 31 years old when you were consecrated bishop. What did it feel like to be faced with a new phase in your life and with work of a new kind?

“Being elected bishop came to me as a great surprise, and it meant enormous changes in my life. I could not have imagined when I was young that I would one day have been a priest, let alone a bishop.”

You were elected Assistant Bishop in 1979 and Metropolitan of Oulu towards the end of the same year, an office that you took up at the beginning of the following year. What advice did you receive from the Archbishop and the Metropolitan of Helsinki at that time?

“Archbishop Paul gave me his full support and also a good deal of freedom to develop the new Diocese of Oulu. I attached great value to a statement made by him a few years after the creation of the new diocese, to the effect that “the Diocese of Oulu is functioning just as if it had been in existence for a long time.”

When did you come to Oulu and how did you settle in?

“I moved to Oulu at the beginning of 1980 and settled in very quickly, because I had to start work immediately together with Fr. Raimo Huttu, whom I had chosen as my diocesan secretary.”

What was the reception given to the new diocese and its metropolitan?

“The last time a new Orthodox diocese had been created in Finland was in 1935, so you could say that for practical purposes the Diocese of Oulu started from nothing. The people of Northern Finland soon came to accept it, however, and it served to strengthen people’s local identity in many ways.”

What did the starting up of a new diocese mean in practice?

“The founding of a new institution always means first of all the defining of its mission and the creation of a network by which that mission can be accomplished. We set out to fashion the Diocese of Oulu into an efficient and open organization in terms of both church affairs and the surrounding society. We established relations with the parishes by visiting churches, chapels, villages and homes as often as we could, and relations with the community developed quite naturally out of the contacts made on those visits. Ecumenical relations also developed quite naturally in Oulu, as the Lutheran Bishop of Oulu at the time, the Rt. Rev. Olavi Rimpilainen, was at a personal level very close to the Orthodox Church.”

You were a single parent looking after a child at the time when you were appointed to Oulu. How did you manage to arrange your everyday family life alongside your official duties?

“I had a housekeeper who helped us in all our everyday chores. Looking back on those days, I would say that bringing up a daughter at the same time was a huge blessing: it gave me strength…”

What were the greatest difficulties and challenges that faced you in the new diocese?

“The greatest challenge in the Diocese of Oulu, as in Northern Finland as a whole, was stimulating people’s belief in the future. One of the realities of life was the drain of population away from the region, and the tasks for the diocese included helping the priests and cantors to cope with the long journeys involved in their work and making sure it was possible to hold church services and provide other facilities in the more remote areas. A further challenge that appeared in the 1990s was helping immigrants with an Orthodox background to settle in the region.”

And what were the particular joys?

“One especial source of happiness was being able to awaken an interest in preserving the language and culture of the Skolt Saame, a project in which the Orthodox diocese was intimately involved.”

What events do you remember best from your time in Oulu?

“Perhaps most of all I remember the centenary celebrations of the Fellowship of St. Sergei and St. Herman, which were held in Oulu in 1985. It was the first event since the 1950s that gathered members of our church together in one place in their thousands.”

© Suomen ortodoksisen arkkipiispan kanslia, Liisankatu 29 A 8, 00170 Helsinki, puh. 020 6100 240, helsingin.hiippakunta@ort.fi