Lithuanian Religion does
not have a founder or any single source, and it predates recorded
history. It is one of the oldest religions of the world, and the oldest one in Lithuania.
It evolved from the natural and native beliefs of its indigenous people.
Three formative periods developed the present-day religion. After the last Ice Age, the first
nomads in the region of present-day Lithuania practiced a hunting-gathering oriented religion.
Once the region became agrarian, the settlers practiced their version of Old European religion.
After a wave of cultural changes spread across Europe, the inhabitants practiced their form of
Indo-European religion. Each religious transformation incorporated elements from its predecessors.
Baltic Religion evolved primarily from these three antecedents. Each Baltic nation developed
its own ethnic variant of Baltic Religion.
Baltic Religion underwent several known reforms. Sovijus (dates unknown) is attributed with
introducing cremated burials, which eventually gained widespread acceptance. In Lithuania,
Duke Sventaragis (ca. 5th-6th Centuries) relocated cremations to sacred grounds and extended
them to the nobility.
In Prussia, the Chief Prophet Prutenis (?-573) and his younger brother King Vaidevutis (?-573)
unified the Prussians into a theocratic state, reformed the pantheon, and built the Romuva temple
at Nadruva with the Gods Patrimpas (Dievas), Perkunas and Patolas (Velnias) as the presiding trinity.
Baltic religion freely thrived in the Baltic lands until 1199, when the Roman Catholic Church began declaring
multiple crusades to christianize the Balts. It soon became evident the Christians were really interested in conquest of
the land, and not in Christianization. The Balts spent the Middle Ages defending themselves from Christian invaders.
Prussia and Latvia were conquered in 1231-83 and 1206-90, respectively. This led to the eventual genocide and
assimilation of the Baltic Prussians (ca. 1710).
In Lithuania, King Mindaugas (?-1263), Queen Morta (?-1262/3), and their court officially converted to Roman
Catholicism in 1251 in order to stop the crusades. Mindaugas continued to practice Lithuanian religion secretly, and
officially renounced Christianity in 1261, having failed to stop the crusades. Grand Duke Gediminas (ca. 1275-1341)
allowed all people to worship their own Gods in Lithuania, explaining that the Lithuanians, Catholics, and Orthodox
worship the same deity, each in their own way. Lithuania officially accepted Roman Catholicism in 1386-7, while
the Samogitian (lowland) Duchies acquiesced in 1410. Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be Christianized.
Christianity advanced only slowly as the Lithuanians continued to practice their own religion. Protestant Reformers
and Catholic Counter-Reformers began evangelization campaigns only after the Protestant Reformation of 1517.
Catholics also polonized Lithuanians by requiring the use of Polish. Both churches also banned such Lithuanian
holidays as Kucios, Kaldos, Vilinis and Rasa, all of which survived until the present. Throughout the
centuries, Christians frequently documented Lithuanian obstinacy to Christianity. During his reign (1764-95), Grand
Duke Stanislovas Augustas Poniatovskis (1732-98) cut down the last holy oak that was still worshiped in Vilnius.
By the mid-19th century most Lithuanians were nominally Christian. The 19th Century Lithuanian National
Awakening and its legacy promoted Lithuanian ethnic culture and religion. Simonas Daukantas (1793-1864) and Dr.
Jonas Basanavicius (1851-1927) were at the forefront of these efforts.
Lithuanian Religion became a popular phenomenon during Lithuania's inter-war independence. Duke Jonas
BerË›anskis (1862-1936) ardently propagated Lithuanian Religion. Vilius Storosta-Vydunas (1868-1953) organized
public celebrations of the holidays of Lithuanian Religion. He also wrote a number of very important and influential
philosophical and literary works about Lithuanian Religion. Domas ?idlauskas-Visuomis (1878-1944) reformed Lithuanian
Religion, calling it "Visuomyb," 'Universalism.' He established congregations in Lithuania and abroad,
and founded a sanctuary called "Romuva" in 1929 in northwest Lithuania. 1930, a fraternity called "Romuva" and, in
1932, a sorority called "Vestals of Romuva," were founded to foster Baltic unity, based on the principles of Baltic
Romuva was completely disbanded in Lithuania under Soviet Occupation, and many members were executed or
deported to Siberia. A clandestine Romuva congregation met in a labor camp in Inta, Russia. Upon their return to
Lithuania around 1960, several of the members were tried for their Romuva activities. In Lithuania, Jonas Trinkunas
(1939-) formed the "Vilnius Ethnological Ramuva" and began public celebrations of Lithuanian Religious holidays
in 1967. The name--a variant of Romuva--veiled the true identity of the group. Three years later, Soviet authorities
expelled its members from university study and exiled its leaders.
Romuva was reestablished in 1988 under Soviet "glaznost" and "perestroika." Since then, Romuva congregations
were established in Vilnius, Kaunas, Madison (now defunct), Chicago, Boston, Cleveland (now defunct) and Toronto.
In 1995, Lithuania passed the "Law on Religious Communities and Associations," according to which Romuva is a "nontraditional"
religion. The law requires a minimum 25 years of existence before a "non-traditional" religion receives the state
support reserved for "traditional" religions.
By Audrius Dundzila
World Congress of Ethnic Religions