Reflections

Love the neighbor as God
It’s a tradition in Belarus that many families can be called poly-confessional.
No one is astonished today seeing an Orthodox breadwinner and his Catholic spouse. Belarusian Tartars are Muslims yet they often marry Christian girls. There are many Jews, Lutherans and Protestants… 25 confessions, 2971 religious organizations including 142 those of general confession character: missions, theological schools, episcopates, associations, monasteries, sodalities and sisterhoods are registered in Belarus. Their relations towards the state and society are governed by Law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations” adopted in 2002 and agreed by all major confessions. Article 6 of the Law named “Equality of religions” says: “Religions and confessions are equal under the law.”

The preamble of the Law recognizes special role of five confessions traditional in Belarus — Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism and Lutheranism. Belarusian Orthodox Church is the major among those and holds about 80 per cent of believers. Catholics are another large group with 14 percent, which is small wonder as about 400 thousand ethnic Poles are among our citizens. In general, representatives of about 140 nations can be met among our citizens. Just imagine how many religions and confessions they belong to! The state takes great pains to acknowledge dominating confessions that have contributed much to our culture and history, and to let no one be deprived or derogated.

There are many places on Earth torn by cruel wars, the parties of which are tainted with religious zealotry or varnish their horrible deeds with religious slogans. So much the more is positive result of joint efforts taken in Belarus. One cannot love God and hate his neighbor. In due time adoption of the Law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations caused much discussion in the society. Aware of galling experience of the past, believers were apprehensive of impairment to their rights and liberties. Yet reality repulsed any skepticism.

Not long ago Belarus celebrated the 60th anniversary of Liberation from German fascists and the 60th year from the Great Victory. All churches held memorial services to commemorate victims of fascist terror. The Brownshirts made no religious difference between their victims. Thus everyone fought them conjointly. Hundreds of Jews doomed to die found shelter in Belarusian homes at that time. Years later their self-sacrificing hosts were designated the Righteous Among the Nations. Of 2 thousand people in this honorary list, one fourth is of our fellow citizens! It should be mentioned that Belarus shows a precedent of most close and tolerant relations between native residents and Jews. It’s not about the Holocaust only. These links have formed much earlier.

The so-called pogroms (massacres against Jews) never took place here, which is rare in world history. Interdenominational agreement in Belarus is in many instances determined historically. Our country has become true motherland for the Tartars who came here not as invaders but were invited here about 600 years ago. They ploughed soil, built homes, protected their new motherland, found common language with their neighbors and, of course, erected mosques where they prayed about peace and harmony for their homes. Filareth, Metropolitan of Slutsk and Minsk and Patriarchal Exarch to all Belarus, often quotes a Christian law in his preachings: “Do as you would be done by.” This postulate has long ago become a panhuman rule and serves as a basis for the complex construction of societal and inter-confessional partnership and civil understanding in Belarus.

by Anna Utochkina
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