Holiday of sincere feeling
[b]One early July morning, a stranger approached our group of journalists, who had gathered before the beginning of a solemn Divine liturgy under an open sky, at Nemiga, on the site of ancient Minsk Citadel. He said, ”Holiday greetings to you! I wish you well and good spirits.” He congratulated us, smiled and moved on to where the participants of the finishing procession had gathered in front of the main stage for a prayer service.[/b]
At least 50,000 Minsk residents and pilgrims from 11 eparchies of the Belarusian Exarchate attended that day, alongside those from abroad. Some arrived by car while others came in specially rented buses for the 1,025th anniversary celebrations, marking the arrival of Christianity to Rus. Pobediteley Avenue was filled with the joyous sound of church bells change ringing, recalling the movement of the Faith along the rivers Moskva, Dnieper and Svisloch.
An atmosphere of spiritual calm reigned, with some parishioners looking closely to find ‘their’ priest among the clergymen, like children searching for their parents, to acquire greater confidence and inner comfort. ‘Where is our priest Serafim?’ I heard a woman say worriedly from behind. Then, she composed herself, deciding that he must be busy, and moved to discussing with her neighbours an unexpected snow-white cross which had appeared mysteriously in the cloudless sky. Sceptics would have declared it the result of planes flying through but it certainly looked magnificent. According to legend, a similar sign appeared in the sky on the day St. Andrew the Apostle was crucified.
The liturgy featured the choir of Minsk’s Holy Spirit Cathedral, filling everyone with a feeling of powerful elevation. It seemed that the triumphant Earth was combining with the radiant celestial heights. The prayers, led by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and various primates and hierarchs of local Orthodox churches, were pronounced in several languages but, each time, everyone responded ‘Peace be with you’. Patriarch Kirill joined our Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus, Filaret, alongside ordinary Belarusian priests and their parishioners for the church service, which was also attended by hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus: the Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, and the Bishop of Pinsk, Anthony Demyanko.
At the end of the liturgy, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed everyone with an archpastoral word while the Metropolitan Filaret called on all those present to take Christ into their hearts. He emphasised, “At the heart of our meeting is Christ. He is and will ever be amongst us. In front of Him, we today proclaim Orthodox unity. I believe that no one will leave Minsk Citadel without receiving consolation. Each of us should feel the heart beat of the Universal Church during the Patriarchal liturgy. Moreover, we should know that our own heart, in God’s eyes, weighs no less than the whole world.”
Events then moved to the place where a stone Orthodox church once stood: probably one of the first around Minsk, dating from the late 11th-early 12th century. Here, a memorable plaque marking the 1,025th anniversary of Christianity arriving in Rus was laid into the church’s foundations, in the altar apse. In addition, a certificate was signed by the primates of local Orthodox churches.
By Galina Ulitenok