Religion in Belarus

Before 990 A.D. Belarusians – a mix of several Eastern Slavic tribes (mostly Kryvichi and their branches) and several Baltic tribes (Yatviangians, Litts, Latts) – were pagans in their beliefs. As the Slavs have arrived from South to the lands of today’s Belarus they have encountered and absorbed the cultures and beliefs of Baltic and other peoples inhabiting the land. There was already a rich Pagan heritage which reveals today through ancient names. Neman (Nioman, Niamunas) – one of the main rivers of the area is bearing the name of Celtic Goddess of War – Neman. Kupala – an ancient Goddess of Water. One of the mysterious peoples completely assimilated by us was Yatviangians. Ancient Belarusians believed in God of Sun – Yaryla, celebrated seasons of nature very much similar to druidic calendar. The cycles of folk songs that were sang at these celebrations still exist. The main pagan festivities are:

Spring Greeting – a plentitude of spring greeting songs -Vesnavyya pesni exists, including Yur’ya. Yur’ia is related to calling Yaryla (Yur’ya), the Sun-God, to bring out the keys and open mothers Nature womb – to let out the grass, and flowers, and animals

Kupalle (Solstice, June 21). Kupalle – is the most loved and cherished pagan holiday in contemporary Belarus. It is a hedonistic summer celebration of fertility in the name of a female God – Kupala. It seems like she is considered a lunar Goddess by some pagan sources, although direct translation of the name is She Who Bathes. Lately it was renamed into a Christian celebration of a male saint – Ivan Kupala. Kupalle usually involves youth going into the forests and the meadows, wearing flower and grass garlands (see these modern pictures of Belarusian girls in wreaths on Kupala night), dancing in karagods (circles around fires), jumping through fires, competing in strength and a lot’s of eroticism. For those interested, you can watch a documentary Night on Ivan Kupala to learn more. Also here are some notes about celebration of Kupalle by Ukrainians in Canada. See more on Kupalle in Belarusian Holidays page.

Dzyady(October 31?) – I believe is celebrated twice a year in April and in late October – it’s a celebration of dead, bringing bread and drinks to their groves etc. Unlike Halloween it’s a light holiday of commemoration of dead. It does not involve any satanic stuff.

Kaliady (a week before Christmas) – Pre-Christian celebration of the end of year. Later it was very nicely adopted for Christmas celebration by Orthodox and Catholic churches. Still they have a problem to explain the meaning of spruce (evergreen – eternal life returning) and people dressed as animals and fantastic beasts carrying the sun and the goat’s head in their hands

Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Around 990 A.D. the Orthodox Christianity came from Greece to our land. It has absorbed lots of formerly pagan traditions and used them for it’s own purpose. In the first few centuries Kiev, Polacak and Novgorod were competing in their claims to unite eastern Slavs in religious belief. Belarusians have developed their own approach to Orthodoxy with more interest in human side of the life. Several religious figures in Belarus (St. Efrasinnia of Polacak, Simeon Polacki) were very influential and even canonized. To those unfamiliar with Orthodox religion it we can say that it is generally more tolerant to other religions than Roman Catholic religion. The human side is excused and treated with respect, rather than tortured 🙂 Such the priests (except high priests) are required to marry. Although depiction of saints is allowed it is thoroughly restricted to certain canonical types. Belarus has developed it’s own Belarusian school of icon with several renown masterpieces. The Orthodox churches are usually very decorated inside. The service involves lot’s of sacral magic, which is considered almost equally important Christ heritage as Bible. The idea of spiritual unity of all Orthodox believers mirrored in the compassion and cooperation in everyday life is one of the most cherished. Nowadays (as it was always) Orthodox Christianity is a leading religion of Belarusians (> 50%). You can read the file written by Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (BAOC) edited for the web by Dzmitry Zelenka for more information. The first in Belarus independent of Russian Mitropolit BAOC Church was built near Hrodna in 2002. Lukashenka regime authorities have literally bulldozed the church down because it threatened the lure some believers from the KGB infested Russian Orthodox Church, with which Mr. Lukashenka affiliates himself. The Furor of Slavs is really into uniting Belarus with Russia – body and soul. And so he got spooked by a separatist Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.