Founder of Lutheran church in Erzyan Mastor dies aged 62

Андрєй Альошкін

Andrei Alyoshkin, a well-known Erzyan activist, has died on February 27, aged 62. Although Russian newspapers are full of headlines like “Author of  the state flag of Republic of Mordovia dies aged 62”, he is famous among Erzya people not just for this work.

Alyoshkin’s painting appeals to Erya traditions and beliefs, his works are full of mysticism. At the end of 1980s Alyoshkin, who was already known as talented Erzya ethno-futurist, moves to Leningrad (now StPetersburg). Here he creates series of paintings intended to demonstrate the very essence of ancient beliefs of Erzya and Moksha peoples. His works were noticed by Arvo Survo, lutheran pastor and leader of religious revival among Finnish peoples in Ingria. Survo converts Alyoshkin into Lutheranism.

Shortly after his return from Leningrad to Saransk Andrei becomes national-wide popular artist. He was elected as chairman of Union of artists of Mordovia, he was also known as a leader of Society of Finno-Ugric culture. As well-known artist, Alyoshkin convinces a few activists of Saransk intelligentsia that future of Christianity in Mordovia lies in Lutheranism.

In 1991 Alyoshkin becomes one of founing members of small community of believers known as Mordovian Christian church according to teachings of Dr. Martin Luther. Church activists struggle for a lot land to erect Christian temple there, Arvo Survo serves the very first divine services, and lutherans of Finland promise some financial help. Aleksei Alyoshkin, Andrei’s brothern, becomes first cleric of the new church. However this new church face numerous challenges very soon after its official registration: Russian Orthodox Church starts an aggressive informational campaign against so-called “Finno-Ugric sectarianism”, and pretty soon Finnish Lutherans, unhappy with independent actions of Erzyan and Mokshan brothers, stop their financial support. The immediate cause of the conflict with Finns was the fundamentally different approach to church community life as well as to sermons and prayers. Alyoshkin brothers refused to support secularized, formal Lutheran understanding of the community and Christianity at all. They tried to make life of the new church more sacred, and on the other hand to become closer to common people via combining both elements of Orthodoxy (in particular icons) and folk customs (Erzyan and Mokshan national costumes, songs, paintings etc.) in church services.

Last decades of Andrei Alyoshkin’s life were focused on paintings and teaching. He distanced from active Erzyan national movement, retired from church community building. At the same time Alyoshkin’s role in awakening of national consciousness among Erzya and Moksha people is quite difficult to be hidden under bureaucratic, official obituaries. Andrei not just “designed a flag” – in early 1990s he had rang a bell that is still calling Erzyan lutherans to prayers at Velmema church. 

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