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Orthodox Church is Losing Belarus

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://belarusdigest.com/story/orthodox-church-losing-belarus-8036 Orthodox Church is Losing Belarus Published: 01 March 2012 Belarus is turning away from the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2012
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      http://belarusdigest.com/story/orthodox-church-losing-belarus-8036

      Orthodox Church is Losing Belarus

      Published: 01 March 2012

      Belarus is turning away from the Orthodox Church. That is what
      statistics presented last week by Lieanid Huliaka, the Commissioner for
      Religions and Nationalities suggests. Belarusian protestants are the
      most active churchgoers, while Orthodox Christians are the least active.
      Only state support allows the Orthodox Church to keep up the appearance
      that it dominates religious life in Belarus.

      According to the official statistics 59 percent of Belarusian citizens
      are Orthodox Christians, while just 12 percent are considered Catholics.
      But while only 18 percent of Orthodox believers attend mass regularly -
      every second Catholic does. Indeed, during Christmas 2011, only 254,000
      Orthodox Christians attended mass, just 14,000 more than the total
      number of Catholics who attended. And despite state repression and
      restrictions, the Protestant communities remain vigorous and numerous in
      Belarus.

      Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants

      A closer look at churches and their communities also casts doubt on the
      future of Orthodox Christianity in Belarus. There are 1,567 Orthodox
      Christian communities registered in the country with 1,348 churches,
      says Huliaka. That does significantly outnumber the 479 communities and
      465 churches of the Catholics. But Protestants have 1,025 communities.
      The leading Protestant denominations - Pentecostals and Baptists -
      together account for 798 communities.

      The independent strength of the Protestant communities is truly
      impressive. While Orthodox and Catholic parishes have support from state
      authorities, the Protestant communities have to fend for themselves -
      and even face persecution. In 2006, one Protestant community resorted to
      mass hunger strikes to defend their church against state confiscation.
      Mandatory military conscription has also been a source of conflict.
      Young Protestants have been prosecuted for refusal to serve in the army
      - consciousness objectors demanded to enter social service instead of
      bearing arms.

      The state has gone so far as to break up small gatherings of Protestants
      reading Gospel and singing religious songs. In November 2009, a
      protestant in Mahilyou province was fined for holding a Thanksgiving Day
      celebration at his home. The following summer, officials broke up a
      gathering in a small village in Brest region. In both cases, the
      organisers had to pay fines for holding unauthorised religious services.

      The Russian Church in Belarus

      Today the Orthodox Church, also knows as the Russian Orthodox Church,
      has massive state support. But the numbers of Orthodox Church members
      are inflated by the state. To qualify as Orthodox, it is enough to
      declare one's Orthodox denomination on surveys.

      In 2008, President Lukashenka stated: 'The Belarusian state considers
      the Orthodox Church to be the main ideological force of the nation... We
      never separated ourselves from the church because the state and the
      church are committed to the same goals.'

      Nevertheless, the Orthodox Orthodox failed to become a truly national
      church in Belarus revival in the country. Orthodox institutions in
      Belarus are a part of the Russian Orthodox Church directed from Moscow.
      Over time, cooperation with the Belarusian state has brought many
      material benefits, but has also tarnished the Church's image. In the
      1990s, for instance government allowed the Church to earn money through
      tobacco and alcohol trade. Current attempts to introduce Orthodox
      religious education into state schools could further undermine its
      positions.

      Lukashenka knows how to use Orthodox institutions to satisfy his own
      ends. As the scholar Valiancin Akudovich has stated: "The Russian
      Orthodox Church is Moscow's 'fifth column' in Belarus. … [Lukashenka] is
      constantly balancing his relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. If
      it displays too much initiative and independence, he 'disciplines' it,
      and when necessary, he earns political capital on it – both inside the
      country and in foreign relations.”

      Indeed, at times the state has lashed out against the Church. In 2007,
      the deputy head of the presidential administration Anatol Rubinau
      stated: “Strengthening the influence of the religion means at the same
      time weakening the influence of the state and state ideology.”

      Silent Success of the Catholic Church

      The Catholic Church in Belarus has been cautious in recent decades. It
      is aware that Moscow is sensitive about Catholic activities in areas
      that the Russian Orthodox Church considers its own. And yet, the
      Catholic Church has quietly expanded its influence, establishing
      parishes in some eastern regions of Belarus that had never witnessed a
      Catholic presence.

      An important ingredient of the Catholic Church's success was renouncing
      the old policy of sending Polish priests to propagate and maintain
      Catholicism in Belarus. Many in the Polish elite used Catholicism to
      assimilate Belarusians to Polish culture. Even now some Belarusians call
      Catholicism 'Polish religion.' However, today most of services in
      Belarusian Catholic Church are conducted in the Belarusian language. The
      Orthodox Church uses predominantly Russian.

      Lukashenka has been eager to work with the Catholic Church and even met
      with the Pope in Vatican in 2009. Last November, he expressed gratitude
      for the 'support which the Catholic Church gives us, in particular in
      the international arena' and added that 'we expect more of the Catholic
      Church and of the Pope personally to defend our interests, particularly
      in the West.'

      These developments reinforce the fact that the Belarusian regime has no
      serious religious preferences. As Catholic scholar Piotra Rudlouski has
      noted: 'A state established in the atheistic Soviet past is organically
      alien to the Church, and vice versa. Therefore, using the church can be
      only conditional and unsustainable.'

      A Nation Without Religion

      But in reality neither the Orthodox, nor the Catholic church exert any
      considerable impact on people's views. Belarusians generally are not
      religious. According to a 2009 Gallup survey, Belarus was one of the
      least religious nations in the world, with only 27 percent of
      respondents saying that religion played an important part in their
      everyday life. “I am Orthodox atheist,” summarised once credo of many
      the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenka.

      History made many Belarusians sceptical of organised religion. First of
      all, the country has always been far from global and regional religious
      centres. It is unclear whether Eastern or Western Christianity came
      first to Belarus in the 10th century, but Belarus suffered from their
      confrontation. However, the clash of faiths did not split Belarusians
      along religious lines - rather, it made them extremely flexible in their
      beliefs. Even great Belarusian statesmen switched faiths in their
      lifetime as they found suitable; Duke Vitaut, for example, reconverted
      between Paganism, Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism.

      Religion in Belarus is less important than even in neighbouring Russia
      or the Ukraine. While Ukrainians fill stadiums to hear sermons and clash
      with each other over religion, Belarusians show almost no interest.
      Adherence to the Orthodox Church is mostly declarative and could
      disappear once all denominations obtain equal treatment.

      Belarusians hardly allot any room for religion in politics either.
      Politicians have to be cautious about referring to religion. Only
      general adherence to Christianity is accepted - excessive talk of God
      are viewed with deep suspicion. Paval Sieviaryniec, the former leader of
      the Christian Democrats, once preached his religious ideas to some old
      ladies while serving his sentence in Eastern Belarus. They answered:
      'Yes, we know there is God. But we do not believe in Him.'
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