In 2008, Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia by Prince Vladimir. It was celebrated in Moscow, Kiev, and Minsk.
1020 years. Is it much or not? Probably, there are variants of answers. The archbishop Seraphim, the bishop of Bobruisk and Bykhov, the pro-rector of the Institute of Theology of Belarusian State University thinks that all the dates are conditional; secondly, 1000 years is a very short term.
“The Baptism of Russia lasted approximately 100 years. This is not a long term for such a great country as Russia. The Greeks refer to us patronizingly as to children, because there are 2000 years of enlightenment of Mediterranean nations behind there shoulders and the history of the Orthodox Church. 2000 years!”
“Which fruits did the Baptism bring to Belarusian lands and nation?”
“We shall not separate Belarus from Ukraine and Russia in this sense, because we were all baptized in the same Dnieper baptistery.”
“And Dnieper flows…”
“… through Mogilev and Bobruisk eparchy, through Bykhov. Indeed, it’s a river, uniting the nations. When I look at it, I often think about our common history.”
Belarusian lands were at once covered with Christian preachment, as well as Kiev, Chernigov, Turov, and Polotsk. Turov and Polotsk eparchies are included into top-five of the oldest ones in the Russian Orthodox Church. Byzantium, Constantinople, and Kiev — everything happened quickly and almost simultaneously. This is why we celebrated the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia. Besides, the stage of the great jubilee concert in Kremlin palace in Moscow was decorated with sense — with the temples’ images of Sophia Polotskaya, Sophia Kievskaya and Moscow Saint-Assumption Cathedral in Kremlin.
Our atheistic opponents often say that Christianity was introduced “with fire and sword.” The princes used such methods only in case of a threat to the state’s unity. In whole, the Christianization of Russia wasn’t forcible.
Who stood against baptism? First of all, it was a sacerdotal class, which considered the reforms of Prince Vladimir unprofitable. This is why Christianity opponents presented the social discontent of people religiously. The rate of renewal of all life aspects of the society was stunning at the time of Vladimir. The potential of the nation, as if accumulating over centuries, was released. Stone buildings were constructed. The capital was developing. There were changes in agriculture. Russian people started the development of horticulture. Schools were organized. Chronicles were introduced. Kievan Russia started minting golden coins. Monasteries were founded, which played the role of universities at that time. New generations of educated people were brought up there, new intelligentzia. Scientific tractates were written on different topics. The books were collected in the monasteries. New knowledge appeared — from the essays of Aristotle and Plato, which wouldn’t be preserved if not for Byzantine monks, to the ways of brick-laying of a stone arc. Literally, in two generations Kievan Russia turned into a powerful and reputable state, which was included into the family of European nations. It is vividly illustrated by the dynastical marriages. Prince Vladimir found a wife in Constantinople, the sister of Byzantine emperor. Yaroslav Mudry, his son, married the daughter of the Swedish king. His sister became the queen of Poland. Her three daughters were the queens of Hungary, Norway, and France. Her grandson married the daughter of the king of England…
“Positions of Christian Catholics are traditionally strong in Belarus. It inevitably seals the Orthodox Church activity. What can you say about the level of the inter-confessional dialogue in the country?”
“Indeed, a large part of the indigenous population belongs to Roman Catholic Church. However, Orthodoxy became the religion for the major part of Belarusian people. There is no religious confrontation in the society. The celebration of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia confirmed this. We were glad to see that Catholics sincerely shared our happiness of celebration of the Christianity jubilee in Russia.”
During the XXth century, there were good relations between orthodox Christians and Catholics in Belarus. We live in the same house; this is why we will work at our common problems together. First of all, at the modern society secularization. It is necessary to support each other in the work against such negative manifestations.
“How do you refer to the so-called religion fashion?”
“If something good is in fashion, why not. Drugs, abortions and violence are bad fashion.”
“And what about individuals, building big temples? They petition for their sins, don’t they?”
“Petitioning of sins? It is better, when sins are being realized, when a person repents and bears the fruit of repentance, than demonstration of his sins and obduracy.”
“The temples are built in the convict colonies. There are two such temples in your eparchy…”
“There are two big colonies in Bobruisk — for adults and juvenile offenders. It is especially difficult to work in the second one, because the contingent changes rather fast. If a priest manages to sow a seed of kindness into their souls, we hope for the God that it will grow.”
“Are there many young Belarusian priests?”
“Yes, the majority of them are young. They are mainly graduates from Minsk ecclesiastical seminary. The personnel are good. We shall be proud that we have such a school, worthily fulfilling its destination.”
“How do priests communicate with local authorities?”
“In one hundred per cent cases there are good relations and cooperation.”
“What is a social function of a parish priest? Shall its activity be limited to the church fence?”
“I am disappointed, if a priest is limited only to the liturgical activity within the limits of his parish. I would like a priest to be an active man, paying maximum attention to children and young people, engaged in social work. There are such examples today.”
“What for do you call the priests, instructing them? To a temple construction?”
“They studied in the seminary, how to organize a parish and church life. However, reality makes its allowances. Today a priest shall see significantly farther, than a churchyard. The temple is a culmination of a spiritual life.”
“How do you refer to the icons exhibited in museums?”
“This is not new. In the beginning of the XXth century in Minsk in the building of the church and archeological museum the icons, church books, and utensils were exhibited for educational purposes. Museums still exist in ecclesiastical academies. For example, in a famous church and archeological office of Moscow ecclesiastical academy. There is the exposition of icons and books in Minsk ecclesiastical academy. Everything is made as a religion guide. Thousands of people come to museums. There are many people among them, being afraid to cross the threshold of a church or a temple. Let them see spiritual treasures, created by the nation. Perhaps, they will come further…”
“When in the National Art Museum old icons of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus were exhibited, the organizers had to protect showpieces and icons, even symbolically. The visitors crossed themselves looking at the icons; they wanted to kiss the shrines…”
“Of course, icons live in the temple. We have such an idea — “don’t breathe on a masterpiece.” In Mediterranean countries, Cyprus, and Greece you can see how everything old is smoothly merged with the modern church life. Old temples are functioning, nobody is afraid to light a candle, and there are frescos there, the icons are far older, than ours are.
The church is not a museum of archeological antiquity. The church lives with live people of its time. This is why it tries to use, if appropriate, many modern methods and means.”
“What shall be unshakable, as well as over recent two thousand years?”
“It can be said in two words — sacrificial love. The church will carry it over centuries, and at all times it will place an emphasis on this idea in its activity.”