<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-379.jpg">[b]Traditions of various cultures and beliefs in Belarus are connected into unique mosaic[/b]<br />Ales Susha, the Deputy Director of the National Library for Scientific Work and Publishing Activities, is not only an ‘official’ who should take care of the preservation of funds of the main book storehouse of the country, he is also a researcher, an expert on the history of Christianity, cultural heritage of Orthodox and Uniate Church and is the author of more than 200 scientific works. In the course of his duties he devotes the majority of his work to the affairs of the library. However, he finds the time to research the past of our people. The results of his researches can be read in many scientific collections, as well as in encyclopaedias. But one should not call him ‘armchair scientist’. He is also interested in global cultural processes and how they are reflected inside Belarus. After all our country traditionally was a link between Western and Eastern Europe. It is no accident that the Belarusian Frantsisk Skorina founded book-printing in the Eastern Europe. And it is the book, which during the past centuries was a symbol, around which were united various traditions of different peoples who found home in Belarus: Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Tatars, Russians and Ukrainians. Now, during the days when the 60th anniversary of Belarus’ becoming a member of UNESCO is being celebrated, the problem of preservation of multicultural, multi-confessional heritage is again raised at an international level.
Ales Susha, the Deputy Director of the National Library for Scientific Work and Publishing Activities, is not only an ‘official’ who should take care of the preservation of funds of the main book storehouse of the country, he is also a researcher, an expert on the history of Christianity, cultural heritage of Orthodox and Uniate Church and is the author of more than 200 scientific works. In the course of his duties he devotes the majority of his work to the affairs of the library. However, he finds the time to research the past of our people. The results of his researches can be read in many scientific collections, as well as in encyclopaedias. But one should not call him ‘armchair scientist’. He is also interested in global cultural processes and how they are reflected inside Belarus. After all our country traditionally was a link between Western and Eastern Europe. It is no accident that the Belarusian Frantsisk Skorina founded book-printing in the Eastern Europe. And it is the book, which during the past centuries was a symbol, around which were united various traditions of different peoples who found home in Belarus: Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Tatars, Russians and Ukrainians. Now, during the days when the 60th anniversary of Belarus’ becoming a member of UNESCO is being celebrated, the problem of preservation of multicultural, multi-confessional heritage is again raised at an international level.
I enquired of Ales Susha what were the bases of traditions of consent and cultural dialogue which was formed in the country throughout the many centuries. But firstly, I asked how his interest in books appeared.
I’ve been interested in books since childhood. My parents created a big home library. Being a pupil, I constantly tried to somehow organise that library, to write a separate catalogue of the library in a big notebook, which would make it easier to find the necessary book. Since my childhood, I visited Minsk libraries: the library named after Yanka Kupala and the Alexander Pushkin library, where in the reading halls there were good conditions for work. In the 9th form I signed up to the National Library (at that time it was possible to sign up when you were a third-year student at an institution of higher education) and I had no need to search for literature any more. Eh, school days! Now it is hard to imagine that I had time to study, to play sports (3-4 hours of trainings daily), to visit rehearsals of the folklore collective with which we constantly went on tours with concerts across all Belarus and even abroad, to visit the choreographic circle, to go hiking during the holidays, to help my parents to work in the country and to read books. Now, probably, I could not do all that.
[b][i]What place does a book occupy in your life?[/b][/i]
I read books connected with work, but reading books just for pleasure, I have time after work, and that’s normal. A book is a possibility to reflect about something important, to mentally argue with the author and at last to have rest. I always read slowly, but thoughtfully, therefore I read books when I have free time. But the great competition to reading is provided by desire to go with the wife and my little son to an interesting exhibition in particular museum or gallery, to go with friends to the theatre or cinema, to go to a sports event or simply to have a rest in the country. Thanks God that the cultural life of Minsk is rich, but it is often necessary to make an uneasy choice.
[b][i]The National Library has been republishing rare old books lately. Does it mean that all written materials not only remain, but also demand repeat readings?[/b][/i]
The National Library developed a list of rare book monuments which are available in small quantities or which are not present in the country. They are unavailable to the general public, therefore they should be returned to public use, including through facsimile editions. During the creation of this list, we carried out consultations with researchers, workers at educational and scientific institutions, publishers and representatives of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The list comprises several hundred volumes. The most significant old printing, first and rare editions of key works of national literature, the first scientific and educational editions, monuments of religious book learning. The library issued the first facsimile copy in 2009 using our own printing equipment. It was ‘Topographical Note about the Most Distinguished Places of Travels of Her Imperial Majesty into Belarusian Vicariate’ (St. Petersburg, 1780). This book describes in detail, for the first time, the history and the condition of eastern Belarusian lands attached to the Russian Empire in 1772, which Empress Catherine II visited at that time. The joint project of the National Library, the National Academy of Sciences, the Belarusian Republican Fund of Fundamental Researches and the Publishing house of Belarusian Exarchate on studying and publishing of a facsimile edition of the Slutsk Gospel was also completed in 2009. In 2012-2013, together with the National Academy of Sciences and the Publishing House of Belarusian Exarchate, we prepared and published the following facsimile editions: ‘Biography of Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya’ and Polotsk Gospel, Vilnius’ ‘ABC Book of 1767’, ‘Christmas Pisanka’ of 1913 with works of young Kolas, Kupala, Bogdanovich, Goretsky. Another three facsimile editions were released as the result of co-operation with the Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishing House. ‘History of Belarusian (Krivichi) Book’ by Vatslav Lastovsky, ‘Symon, the Musician’ by Yakub Kolas and ‘Along the Path of Life’ by Yanka Kupala. The facsimile of Barkulabovskaya Chronicles, from the 16th-17th centuries, was issued last year. It is well-known and included in the school curriculum but very few people have seen the original manuscript, which is stored as part of big book in collections of the Moscow State Historical Museum.
[b][i]Annually, the National Library publishes the enlightener’s calendar in a series called We Remember the Past Moving to the Future. How long has been the tradition of issuing calendars in our country?[/b][/i]
The first book milestones which are known in our country are directly relevant to calendar. These are Menaia — liturgical texts for each month of the year and evangelical gospel texts built in order of divine services according to the days of the calendar year. The 10th century Cyrillic Codex Suprasliensis is Menaion for March while the Polotsk Gospel is evangelical.
In the ‘Small Traveller Book’ by Skorina, there is a section ‘description of church collection’, including ‘svyattsy’ — church calendar (a calendar of fixed holidays) and paschal cycles (a technique of calculating the dates of the Easter celebrations). Only by checking this section was it possible to find out the date of issue of the ‘Small Traveller Book’ and to determine that it was the first printed edition in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The so-called Polish and Russian calendars which were printed by Belarusian and Polish printing houses, and contained data of both the Gregorian and Julian calendar, were very popular in the 18th century. Some interesting calendars were prepared by separate monastic orders. For example, during the 18th century the Jesuits issued their own calendars every year.
Household calendars, church, comic, teacher’s calendars, calendar-directories, information-encyclopaedic calendars, calendars of certain dioceses, regions and even separate settlements became very popular in the 19th century. The late 19th-early 20th century became a period of calendars which were prepared by editorial offices of separate periodicals: for example calendar of North-western Land which was published by Mitrofan Dovnar-Zapolsky and the Belarusian calendar of ‘Nasha Niva’.
[b][i]As we know, Belarus changed to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century. Why are the traditions of the Julian calendar still strongly felt, for example in the Orthodox Church?[/b][/i]
Coexistence in Belarus of various calendars is an old reality that people have got used to. The source of current calendars lies in the events of thousand-year old prescription, when Christianity offered our ancestors a different system of chronology. The most ancient of them developed from the traditions of the Jewish calendar and rose from the year of creation of the world by God — 5508 B.C. In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar defined the first day of year as January, 1st, and the year was divided into 365.25 days, which were distributed between 12 months. This calendar received the name of Julian. It was accepted by the Byzantine Empire and it came to Belarus in a modified form together with Christianity. Until the 15th century, the year began on March 1st. After that, according to the Byzantine tradition, the beginning of year was replaced with September 1st. This date was the first day of the year, and it was the beginning of recalculation of church services in literature of that time. It is necessary to note that the chancellery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania willingly used not only the ‘January’, but also the ‘September’ year. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced new, more exact calendar which we use today the Gregorian (it is often called the ‘new style’). At that time they corrected an error of 10 days of difference with real time. Naturally, such a fundamental reform could not help but shock society. It was not clear for all people, and not all of them accepted it at once. As the author of the Barkulabovskaya Chronicles recollects, ‘a new calendar was issued in 1583. At that time there was a great panic among the gentry and ecclesiastical people, as well as among simple people. There were scares, complaints, praises, quarrels, murders, robberies and spells because people saw how new holidays were introduced while the old were cancelled. Merchant sales or fairs were cancelled. It was like the beginning of the coming of Antichrist’.
The Orthodox, and subsequently the Uniate Church continued to use the old calendar, but secular power, the Catholic Church and the state passed to the Gregorian calendar, whilst officially, it was permitted to celebrate basic holidays of the country using both Julian and Gregorian calendars. Therefore, by the 16th century in Belarus, there was a situation which still exists in our country today. It is important that the country as a whole, being a secular structure, passed to the new style. And it happened even earlier than in some European countries. In Protestant and Orthodox, jurisdictions, the people did not want anything to do with the Catholic states. Chronologically, the Gregorian calendar was accepted in Lutheran Denmark and Norway in 1700, 1751 in England, 1753 in Sweden and Finland, at the end of the 19th century in Japan and Korea and only in the 20th century in Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Russia, Turkey and Egypt.
After the annexation of Belarusian land to the Russian Empire in the 18th century, they introduced the Julian calendar as the state calendar. And only in 1918 did Belarus return to, and Russia convert to the Gregorian calendar. It happened during the time of the Soviet power, but the Orthodox Church did not want to accept this, therefore, the Orthodox Church, at least in Russia, still does not accept the transition to the style created in honour of the Pope.
[b][i]One specific thing about Belarus is its position at the crossroads between the East and the West. How did it happen?[/b][/i]
It is first of all connected with the expansion of Christianity in two ways — eastern and western. During the 9-13th centuries, as it seems at first sight, the Byzantine tradition dominated in Belarus, while western influence was insignificant. However latest research shows that eastern and western Christian missionaries arrived in Belarus simultaneously and created monasteries here. At almost the same time the first bishops appeared, who were subordinate to Constantinople in Polotsk (not earlier than in 992) and to Rome in Turov (nearly 1009). Christianity started to spread across the Belarusian lands even before its official split into western and eastern in 1054. This split was less notable in Belarus, as opposed to neighbours.
[b][i]But first of all Byzantine culture predetermined the orientation of our society at that time, did it not?[/b][/i]
It is necessary to recognise that Byzantine-Orthodox values were one of the basic sources of development of domestic culture at the beginning of the second millennium. Church ceremonialism, terminology, communion of saints, calendar of holidays, monastic practices and the principle of dependence of the church power from secular — all these had Eastern Christian roots. The samples for the first generations of Christians were the Byzantine prayer books, collections of church psalms, monuments of canon law, eastern theological and philosophical works. However, the samples taken from other cultures went through a process of adaptation to local conditions and national traditions, supplementing with new elements (local saints, the Church Slavonic language and new works of sacred art). As a result the Byzantine sample of Christianity was strongly processed and in the consciousness of people it was perceived as local. On the other hand, eastern Christian tradition on Belarusian lands interacted with western tradition. Merchants and other strangers had the right to practice their own faiths. In western centres of the Kievan Rus (Polotsk, Smolensk, Kiev and Veliky Novgorod) Catholic churches existed. It is interesting that western (Scandinavian) princes, soldiers and monks were often bearers of ideas of eastern Christianity, and this is proved by archaeological data. Besides, Christianity which came to us from the East, already bore many western adoptions. So, Belarusian Christian thought made references not only to works of founders of the Eastern Church, but also to philosophical thought of Greek-Roman antiquity. In secular cultural life, eastern and western influences merged into an inseparable accord. Active and versatile contacts with Poland, Germany, Scandinavia and other western regions made an essential impact on Belarusian lands. Researchers have found a number of western adoptions in the state and legal system of the Polotsk principality, as well as in trading systems concerning weight and volume. Some churches were built by western masters and according to western technology and therefore they had no similarity with other monuments of Kievan Rus (for example, the church of early 12th century in Minsk).
[b][i]How constructive or destructive was the introduction church union in 1596?[/b][/i]
The occurrence of considerable quantity of attempts to conclude a union between various faiths in the history of Belarusian-Ukrainian region is impressive. Probably, nowhere in the world was such an intensive attempt at union made. It is interesting that the idea of church union did not in come from the Catholic environment nor at the end of 16th century, as some researchers consider, but much earlier and under the Orthodox priesthood. The degree of importance and the urgency of the idea of church union in Belarus during the 15th century is visible in the fact that almost all Belarusian-Ukrainian Orthodox metropolitans of that time had a very positive attitude to this idea and even undertook measures to unify the churches. The idea of a reunion of eastern and western Christianity was close to many laypeople and was actively discussed in Belarusian society. Two outstanding examples of this are Frantsisk Skorina and Lev Sapega. Thus, the Brest church union of 1596 became only the next, though also the most successful attempt at reconciliation of churches. Following the results of this union, the overwhelming majority of hierarchs of Orthodox Church of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania entered into alliance with western church. Part of the eastern priesthood and laymen did not support this idea and decided to break off relations with metropolitan and their adherents and, over several decades created their own church hierarchy. As a result, the single Eastern Church was divided into two parts, and representatives of each of them continued to call themselves Orthodox or representatives of the eastern church. Therefore, it is not absolutely correct to say that at the Brest council in 1596 they created the Greek-Catholic church (this is the way the researchers call these events). A referendum was held in the Eastern Church of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which according to its results can be compared to those of patriarch Nikon in Russia. The same metropolitan continued to govern the church, the same bishops were in the same dioceses, the same priests in the same churches conducted services and they chanted the same eastern liturgy, while the same believers visited these services. The church preserved almost all riches of cultural heritage of its predecessors and continued to use them for the same purposes. Some of the priests and believers did not support this reform and, as a result there was a split in the church. Therefore, the Brest union represented not an abrupt and unexpected revolution in religious life, but a difficult reform which, throughout the centuries was thought over and developed by our compatriots. The essence of the reform consisted in change of subordination — from one primate (Constantinople’s primate who, after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and its invasion by Turkey, lost his authority) to another (the Roman primate who, at that time had the greatest authority in Europe).
[b][i]However, western elements gradually started to dominate in our culture. Could there have been a full reorientation of church and all Belarusian society of that time towards the West?[/b][/i]
The most intensive reorientation occurred not during the time of the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth, but at the beginning of the 20th century. We know that, at the end of the 18th century, Belarus was annexed to the Russian Empire. It is often said that the culture of Belarus during that ‘Russian’ period had an eastern character, and an eastern tradition dominating it. However, a number of facts contradict this. Yes, strangely enough, after annexation to the Russian Empire, Belarusian lands underwent greater Polonisation and, to a great degree stepped aside from eastern tradition. At that time, most of the Uniate Church moved to Catholicism. At the end of 18th-early 19th century, Belarus became an area of the most vigorous activity of order of the Jesuits in the world.
The process of Russification and the reorientation of Belarus towards eastern vector of development became stronger in the 1830s. The increase of Russian influence on the culture of Belarus, the spread of the Russian language and the stimulation of Orthodox life promoted the preservation of balance in Belarusian culture between the West and the East. After all, strong western influence, increase of tendencies of Polonisation and the conversion of Belarus to the Catholic faith at the end of 18th-early 19th century might take Belarusian culture out of the state of balance and incline them to the side of the West. The policy of the Russian Empire concerning newly converted territories could not completely clear Belarusian culture from ‘harmful’ western influence and eliminate its differences from Russian culture, but it managed to balance western and eastern influences. And despite the state policy, orientated towards the East, the culture of Belarus continued to be enriched with western influences.
[b][i]Does religion define the cultural orientation of modern Belarusians?[/b][/i]
During the 20th century the partition of Belarus into spheres of influence of the German and Russian empires (during the First World War) and the Soviet Union and Poland (1920-1930) people strongly felt the border status of Belarus and its culture. If the Soviet Union reacted against all Christian confessions and this ‘equalised’ them, so in Poland (Western Belarus was part of it) the support of Catholicism and the activation of Protestantism essentially strengthened western influence and almost equalised the influence of Orthodoxy.
Modern Belarus has equally favourable conditions for the coexistence of various Christian traditions — both western, and eastern. It is natural that the Belarusian Orthodox Church is closely connected with the spiritual life of Russia (eastern canons in icon painting, music and spiritual literature published in Russia and the Russian communion of saints). The Catholic Church experiences a cultural influence from the Western Europe. Belarusian Catholics traditionally keep in touch with Poland. Spiritual literature and use of church objects are delivered from Poland and Polish priests often visit Belarus. Despite the orientation of the Orthodox Church in Belarus towards the East and the Catholic Church towards the West, in both these churches, in my opinion, there is a tendency towards interaction and they are disposed to toleration. And that is a big achievement of our society.
[i]Ales Susha was born in Minsk. In 2005, he graduated from the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts, specialising in culturology and in 2007 from the Republican Institute of Higher School of BSU (culturology). In 2009, he defended the dissertation for the degree of candidate of culturology.
Since 2005 he has worked at the National Library of Belarus, firstly in the department of manuscripts, old printed and rare editions. In 2009 he became academic secretary. Since 2012 he has been the Deputy Director on Scientific Work and Publishing Activities. He is a participant and initiator of a whole number of scientific projects, the author of 2 monographs and more than 200 scientific articles and the author of a number of printed and electronic editions on the culture of Belarus. He is also the Deputy Chairman of the International Association of Specialists in the Belarusian language.[/i]
By Viktar [b]Korbut[/b]