Metropolitan Philaret about Belarus

About Belarus and its People

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Belarus is located on the geographical, confessional and ideological border between the East and West. Today, it is neither the "eastern outskirts" nor the "north-western edge", but a sovereign state. The concept of unity in its broadest sense is therefore a historical issue of vital importance for the people of Belarus.

The following is a message given by Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeev) on January 12 about Belarus and its people.

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Belarus, where the Lord has blessed me to serve as a bishop, [...] has a unique historical mission in the fate of the East Slavic peoples. The Belarusians' national way of thinking and living has been subjected to numerous trials for centuries. In my opinion, the main result of these trials is the fact that despite its difficult history, Belarus has become neither "the eastern outskirts" of Poland, nor "the north-western region" of the Russian Empire. Regardless of how they have been perceived by their eastern and western neighbours, the Belarusians have remained themselves: authentic, hardworking, sincerely hospitable, very peaceful, deliberate, generous, kind and down-to-earth people who (in a good sense) always have their own agenda. The image of a quiet and calm people suggested by this very partial list of the mentioned national qualities has given many aggressors an idea that conquering "White Russia" would be an easy headstart for confronting Great Russia... We all know how deep this delusion turned out to be. Besides learning to survive in conditions of periodic enemy invasions, Belarusians have learned to fight, remaining a stronghold of resistance in all military conflicts. For centuries, Swedish, French and German invasions of Russia have devastated the Belarusian lands before them. However, the Belarusians would restore everything and continue to live on the land of their fathers. Such a fiery fate deserves deep respect and admiration of the people of White Russia and their amazing vitality.

In Belarus, there has never been any ambiguity among believers regarding the restoration of unity in the bosom of the Mother Church. Back in the early 90s of the last century, the Belarusian Orthodox Church gained self-government, preserving its sacred legacy of the canonical unity with the Moscow Patriarchate. The feeling of Homeland among the Belarusian people is associated with the Holy Church no less than among the Russians. This sometimes unarticulated but quite deliberate motive explains the mutual desire of the Belarusians and Russians to unite our peoples. Truly, we have one Lord, one faith, one Baptism and One Church.

There is no doubt that the well-being of our Fatherland is inseparable from its all-round spiritual revival. Only a nation that preserves the faith of its fathers, [...] united by a centuries-old Christian tradition, can face the future.

Nations, as well as individuals rarely think about the extent of their deviation from God, as long as nothing threatens their material well-being. The Lord has warned us about this, "When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them and when your herds and flocks have multiplied and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God (Deut. 8: 12-14).

We can choose any regime or "socio-economic formation" and argue about its advantages or disadvantages in intellectual discussions or street brawls, yet the well-being of any given nation or state will always directly depend on the presence or absence of love for God and neighbour in each of its citizens.

The entire history of our country, as well as the history of the entire human race, is a chronicle of departing from God's ways and returning to them. It would be appropriate to compare these transitions in popular customs to a pendulum balancing between the hand of God and the sinister hand of the devil, but its oscillations and the associated historical periods are extremely irregular (from several centuries to several days).

Over the years of service, Belarus has become my homeland. I have deep respect for the Belarusian people. This is a long-suffering nation with a complex history, uniting steadfast, courageous and sincere people.

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I am amazed and fascinated by the simplicity of the people who approach me despite my episcopal position and my sometimes excessively solemn look. Ordinary men and women come up and fold their hands asking for a blessing. How can one not venerate these hands of ploughmen and breadwinners? This desire is constantly born in me when I meet with our wonderful prudent Belarusian people. Glory be to God! May He bless Belarus and our people for their simplicity, cordiality and purity of thoughts.

People have different talents, interests and abilities. However, if in our hearts we have love for our neighbour and for our Fatherland, then our differences are like flowers in a meadow. They reveal the shared beauty of our nation.

The good of our Fatherland lies in the fact that it always preserves a small remnant faithful to the patristic Orthodox tradition. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy said in the early 1990s that in a thousand years Orthodoxy had entered the repositories of our compatriots' genetic memory and that it was only a matter of time for it to revive and bear fruit. Today we testify to the truth of that belief.

In the words of Scripture, today we hope that "steadfast love and faithfulness will meet" and that "righteousness and peace will kiss each other" (Ps. 84: 11) in the land of White Russia during the days of our earthly life. This means that we all need to have sincere faith and follow in deed the biblical promise that "the generation of the upright will be blessed ... and their righteousness endures forever" (Ps. 111: 2, 3). We are called not only to inherit the Christian dignity of our [...] ancestors, but also to put forth our own efforts affirming and strengthening it, upholding and multiplying this precious heritage in our homes and places of work, both in our personal lives and before God.

For me, the concept of homeland has never been associated with either state ideology or patriotic rhetoric. In the spiritual sense, Homeland consists of places where we met God and gained freedom. I mean freedom in the highest, I would even say, sacred sense; the one that the holy Apostle Paul has described briefly and clearly, "…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17).

The Slavic lands are neither "tabula rasa" nor "terra incognita", where the gospel has not been preached. Our lands and peoples have been nourished by Orthodoxy for a thousand years of their Christian existence. Even more so, having absorbed the Word of God at the level of their genetic nature, they view their entire subsequent national history as standing in faith for Holy Russia, a Domain of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrimages to the resurrected shrines, prayers before miraculous icons, the construction and revival of churches and monasteries – all these are works of faith. They transform the hearts of people, testifying that we have not lost Holy Russia as the spiritual Fatherland of our ancestors. In order to regain one's losses, one should always begin his search in the innermost depths of his heart, in the voice of blood, and personal memory. Then the acquired image must be revived with prayer and gradually brought into life.

The host of saints who shone forth in the Belarusian land left us an example of devotion to the cause of spiritual enlightenment, serving God and people, regardless of rank, age and origin. Our holy teachers showed us with their very lives that the nature of true love is Divine, and that Divine love is always sacrificial. It is for the sake of multiplying this love for God and man that they carried out their ministry in the world. Above all, let us acknowledge that our holy fathers and mothers fully recognized the truth of the statement made by the Apostle James that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20, 26).

Today, all kinds of teachers are trying to educate us on how we should live and what we should teach our youth. It is impossible to think of a distant country overseas that has not sent us a multitude of mentors and preachers. However, we have our own Christian history that is over a thousand years old. We have our holy fathers and mothers, whose labours and prayers established White Russia and its people among the Christian family of European peoples since the end of the 10th century.

In church language, the unanimity and agreement of opinion shared by all members of a society is called sobornost (catholicity). This concept underlies the powerful feature of the Slavic peoples' sovereignty. This is the foundation of state-building.

When the ways of nations deviate from God, there is only one way to correct them. In the words of St John the Forerunner, we should bear fruit worthy of repentance, prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths to people's hearts (see: Matt. 3: 2, 3). This will always remain the main objective for those who associate their lives' ministry with literature and culture. We need to remember this and never forget about the enormous responsibility that Christians of all times bear for the spiritual state of the world. Then they will rightfully say about the Slavs, as they say about our divinely inspired teachers, "...the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day" (Prov. 4:18).

Truly, my ministry in Belarus turned out to be profoundly instructive for me. I learned much from humble ordinary working people. Looking at their hard-working hands stretched to accept the archpastoral blessing, I realize that it is me who should be asking them for a blessing. It is their prayers that strengthen our Holy Church, our Fatherland, and me personally.

Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeev), January 12

June 29, 2022
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