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Before Baptism of Lithuania
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Before Baptism of Lithuania

Missionary Bishop St. Bruno Bonifatius, the follower of St. Adalbert, died as martyr in 1009 in Lithuania. The Annals of Quedlinburg describing the martyrdom of St. Bruno mention the name of Lithuania for the first time in history. St. Adalbert and St. Bruno are the predecessors of evangelization of the Baltic countries. The first Lithuanian ruler who agreed to be baptized, was Netimeras, mentioned in the history of martyrdom of St. Bruno. The Church structures in neighboring Latvia (Livonia) were set up by blessed Bishop Meinhard in 1186. The apostleship of the sword was one of the important reasons of the delay of Lithuanian christianization. In the beginning of the 13th century military monastic orders were established in Livonia and Prussia. They organized Crusades against pagan Lithuania. Lithuanians therefor were placed before a dilemma: to accept the baptism and to lose freedom, or to reject baptism by use of military force.

Mindaugas is considered to be the founder of the Lithuanian state. He was the first Lithuanian ruler, who attempted to resolve the dilemma between the sword and the cross. Under the pressure of Teutonic Knights, he agreed to be baptized along with his wife Martha, two of his sons and the number of courtiers. The ceremonies were performed around 1251 by the priests sent from Riga (Livonia). Subsequently Mindaugas entered into relations with the Holy See, sending several letters as well as the delegation to Rome. The crucial response was the bull from Pope Innocent IV (July 17, 1251) establishing the diocese of Lithuania. Christian, a priest from the Teutonic Order was appointed to be the first bishop of that diocese. However he submitted his oath of obedience to the German archbishop of Riga. After Mindaugas complained to the Holy See, the Lithuanian diocese was removed from the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Riga and made directly subordinate to the Holy See.

Since Bishop Christian established his See in Samogitian territory donated to him by Mindaugas, he found himself surrounded by hostile pagans. He left for Germany in 1259, ending his days as suffragan bishop of Mainz. In 1253 Mindaugas was crowned king of Lithuania in the name of Pope Innocent IV, who called him “special son of the Holy Roman Church”. The question whether and how long Mindaugas stayed faithful to the Church, still remains open. In 1263 he and two of his sons were assassinated by a conspiracy of pagan princes. Following the death of King Mindaugas, the conversion of Lithuania was at a standstill for over a hundred years. During the same period the Lithuanian state expanded to the east and to the south into Slavic-inhabited territories, where the Eastern Orthodox Church had taken root at the end of the 11th century. The grand princes of Lithuania not only tolerated this local faith, but their sons and relatives who were sent out as regional viceroys received baptism according to Byzantine rites. Yet in territories predominantly inhabited by the Lithuanians the Byzantine Church made no headway. The Lithuanian rulers realized that accepting Eastern Orthodoxy would have meant no more than exchanging a pagan for “a schismatic faith”, which in the eyes of the loyally Catholic Teutonic Knights was an equally serious offense. In the effort to stave off their incessant attacks, Grand Princes Gediminas, Algirdas and Kæstutis sought independent relations with Western European Christians by inviting their craftsmen, tradesmen, and monks; by building churches for their use (Vilnius, Naugardukas); and by exploring further possibilities for Lithuanian’s Christianization. Gediminas required a guarantee of peace from the Teutonic Order as a condition for accepting baptism. As a result, a breakthrough in pagan Lithuanian’s relations with the Christian West bad to await the day that Grand Prince Jogaila of Lithuania became king of Poland.

 
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