Opening: Orthodox dirge playing while showing a funeral procession.
Turn down music.
Eleven centuries ago Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev chose Greek Orthodoxy instead of Roman Catholicism and Islam. Upon his baptism, the Orthodox Church became the State Church of Russia. Today, the Orthodox Church is the dominant religious institution of this country despite the significant decline during the 70 years of Communist rule.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed Belarus to become a country independent from Russia. With the support of the government, the Orthodox Church regained much of its prominence and today about 80% of the Belarussians claim the Orthodox faith.
The Orthodox Church is a powerful political force and receives financial support from the government. Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko and the Orthodox Church crafted religious laws that were enacted in 2002 to preserve supremacy of the Church.
The Orthodox Cross, the distinctive symbol of the Church is everywhere … on the churches, along the highways, in the cities, the villages, and at religious shrines. The first bar on the cross refers to the inscription in three languages: “Jesus, the King of the Jews”. The second bar is the cross upon which Jesus hung. The third a slanting bar represents the disposition of the two thieves … one pointing downward to hell and other pointing upward to heaven.
Inside the churches, the focus is on visual symbols of the Saints important during the history of the church. These images, known as icons, are always paintings since statues are not allowed in the Orthodox tradition. The icons are considered to be windows to heaven through which people pray to God. Often worshippers light candles to emphasize a special need or an answered prayer.
In the Church, there are no pews; people must stand during the entire worship service, which may last two or three hours. The worship music is entirely vocal, no musical instruments are allowed. Despite the de facto allegiance to the Orthodox Church with the elaborate worship rituals, the icons and the spacious sanctuary, … attendance is low. People usually only attend one or two times a year, if at all.
The Catholic Church is the second largest church representing about 15% of the population. A large portion of the followers of this church is in the western part of the country, an area that was once part of Poland. Most of the priests are from this neighboring country, which is predominantly Catholic. A very large church in Mogilev was constructed in 1692 but today it is hard to see because of the apartment buildings surrounding the structure.
Inside the Catholic Church, … such as this large one in Grodno, … there are pews to sit on and statues instead of the icons. The Catholic Church, … like the Orthodox Church, … is sparsely attended.
The Jews … once representing over 20% of Belarus … are few now. During Hitler’s rampage of conquest and ethnic cleansing, the Jews were either killed or they left the country. The monument in Minsk pays respect to the many Jews who were annihilated during this time. Markers along the highway identify some of the scores of concentration camps.
A small synagogue in Pinsk is one of the few in Belarus. Inside, the students learn the scriptures in Hebrew. Some of the trainees are from other countries including the United States.
[Leave out the following re mosques if we don’t find a suitable picture.]
There are five Islamic mosques in Belarus but these are small as is the Muslim population.
Unlike the dirge from the Orthodox, the Catholic, the Jewish and the Islamic faiths there is a different kind of music coming from the Baptist and other evangelical churches. It is alive! It is growing! It does not depend upon paintings, on statues, on Hebrew or Arabic writing. Instead, it depends on the Word of God and the faithfulness of Believers as they reach others who are seeking hope in their lives.
In Belarus today, it is estimated that more people … on a regular basis … attend the evangelical churches than the combined attendance of the other faiths even though the evangelical Believers make up less than 1% of the population of this country.
Why is this so? The answer is the HOPE found in the Word of God and in Jesus Christ.
Closing here with song.
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