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Upon his arrival at Minsk’s National Airport, Patriarch Kirill couldn’t conceal his high spirits:
‘I have arrived in Belarus with a very light heart. I’ve come, primarily, to pay homage to the Belarusian land’s shrines and to talk to the episcopate, to the clergy and to the Faithful’. Patriarch Kirill.
The Primate’s expectations were fully realised, with an itinerary covering the glorious places of our country. It included not only Minsk but also ancient Polotsk and historical Vitebsk. All his meetings were conducted in a warm atmosphere. No agreements were signed as a result but there was no need, as the church usually appeals to other categories. Dignity, cordiality and generosity of human spirit cannot be specified in documents. Nevertheless, altruistic spiritual and moral values never fail to bring tangible results to society.
‘…the internal moral standards that God has given us are our human law, in religious categories. ‘You shall not murder’, ‘You shall not steal’, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, ‘You shall not condemn’ — these are rational categories… Every law is based on morality’. Patriarch Kirill.
Even Marxist sermons drew on the Gospel, asserted His Holiness in one speech. The world-known motto ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat’ — written in the Soviet Constitution — does not to belong to Marx, Engels or Lenin, but to Apostle Paul (2 Thess. 3: 10).
During the four days of his stay, the Holy Patriarch was able to see the practical side of the church’s participation in people’s lives and praised interrelationships in Belarusian society:
‘There is no inter-confessional tension in the country. Rather, there are respectful relationships between various religious groups. I believe it to be a significant achievement of the Orthodox Church, of His Grace Metropolitan Filaret and, naturally, of the leaders of those religious groups that are today on good terms with the Orthodox Church’. Patriarch Kirill.
Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev, also met Patriarch Kirill. They greeted each other as old friends and Archbishop Kondrusiewicz emphasised the friendly relationships and fruitful co-operation between the Catholic Cathedral and Orthodox Church in Belarus. He asked for Kirill’s help in this sphere.
The Patriarch spoke a great deal about Belarus’ destiny, showing his interest in the topic:
‘In a certain sense, a civilised European border passes very close to Belarus.This neighbourly existence has left a corresponding imprint on the country’s and its people’s destiny. We know that these civilised borders in past centuries were often uneasy. Remember the Great Patriotic War — and the tremendous loss felt by the Belarusian people. Patriarch Kirill.
‘I’m overflowing with joy…’. Many of the Faithful flocked to see the Patriarch. His first large meeting with the Belarusian congregation took place near Minsk’s Holy Spirit Cathedral. To allow everyone to see and hear His Holiness, a large screen was installed in front of the cathedral. Of course, everybody wanted to be close to the Patriarch himself and many managed it. Some became emotional, such as Minsk district resident Sukharevo Valentina Antonovna. She noted, “I’m overflowing with joy. The visit of the Holy Patriarch is a real divine grace for Belarus.” “We’ve all gathered here because we greatly respect Patriarch Kirill,” stressed Minsk dweller Olga Stepanovna. “Our country treats believers very well. We are able to go to church at any time; there are absolutely no obstacles.”
Populous meetings with church people took place in Polotsk and Vitebsk, where the distinguished guest visited not only Orthodox churches but also saw Pobedy Square — one of the largest in Europe. Around 30,000 people gathered to see His Holiness. Besides, in Vitebsk, the Holy Patriarch went to the memorial complex erected on the site of the former Vitebsk concentration camp, where more than 100,000 people perished at the hands of the Nazis. There, he planted a young oak tree, symbolising the strength of the human spirit.
On the eve of his departure from Vitebsk to Moscow, the Patriarch met with a crowd of about 8,000 young people. In the course of his sincere talks, the Patriarch managed to find a common language with the young, evoking their interest with his thoughts and views.
Educated interest. The youth component of the Patriarch’s visit began back in Minsk, when he examined a new Belarusian Orthodox Church Religious-Education Centre. The next day, conversation about Education continued in more detail at the Cyril and Methodius Theology Institute at the Belarusian State University, where the Patriarchal Exarch handed His Holiness the Honoris Causa Diploma. There, meeting students and professors, opinions were shared on the centuries-old topic of science and religion. The Patriarch expressed his belief that co-operation between secular and church science is paramount — necessary for both sides.
‘…in contiguity with theological knowledge, secular science helps us open up a new, wider, stereophonic vision of world culture. I believe that inter-relationships between theology and secular knowledge are mutually important, acceptable and useful’. Patriarch Kirill.
Several times, Patriarch Kirill noted the unique contribution of Belarus and its people to the development of the world, Christian culture and morality. He stressed the significance of the first printer and enlightener, Belarusian Frantsisk Skorina, whose efforts ‘allowed Belarusians to have one of the first printed Bibles in Europe, back in 1517—1519’ The Patriarch also noted that Skorina’s other publications ‘had an impact on the spiritual culture of Belarus and Ukraine, promoted book-printing in Moscow’.
Belarus has given the Slavonic, Christian and world community a number of remarkable people. Yevfrosinia Polotskaya is the personification of the entire Belarusian people. At Polotsk’s Monastery of Our Saviour and St. Yevfrosinia, Patriarch Kirill bowed to the saint’s relics. By praying to her for the people’s good, the Patriarch took part in the rite of the Exaltation of the Cross. A new cross has been created in the image and likeness of the original St. Yevfrosinia’s Cross. Human history is alive, as the Partriach urged everyone to remember.
Don’t betray your forefathers’ wishes. On meeting the Head of State, the distinguished guest was given a unique reproduction of the ancient Slutsk Gospel, whose significance is equal to the Cross of St. Yevfrosinia Polotskaya. The original sacred book was created by Yuri Yurievich Olelko in 1581 and is placed at one of the national orthodox shrines of the Belarusian people.
From 2005 to 2008, the unique hand-written monument from the 16th century was carefully digitised and studied. As a result, it is now available to a wide range of users. A CD Rom of the manuscript has been blessed by Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret, while specialists from the Y. Kolas and Y. Kupala Language and Literature Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus are ensuring its implementation.
Today’s national construction trends in Belarus show that we aren’t betraying our forefathers’ wishes, as Patriarch Kirill agrees. Partnership between the church and the state for the sake of the people is natural throughout Europe, His Holiness noted. Belarus is moving forward within common European trends.
“Modern life is particularly complicated and full of temptations for those of us who frequently face serious moral and spiritual choices. If we make a wrong choice, a spiritual Chernobyl can happen,” noted Patriarch Kirill. “As insidious and disastrous as the Chernobyl catastrophe.”
‘The Lord won’t ask us about the position that we’ve occupied in church or society. He won’t ask us about what house we lived in or what cars we drove. Rather, he’ll ask us if we gave food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless and medicine to the sick’. Patriarch Kirill.
It seems simple, so why is our world so unfair? Why are the rich deaf and indifferent to the tears and sufferings of the poor? Everybody has to make their own moral choice as to whether to consider the words of the Patriarch.
In history, Belarusian people have never had an easy destiny. The Patriarch knows and understands it well. Perhaps, this is why he quoted Maxim Bogdanovich, saying, ‘a hard-working bee can gather honey even from bitter flowers’. He added, “This is Belarus’ destiny.” Today, in its garden, Belarus is cultivating absolutely different flowers.
By Galina Ulitenok