Thursday, August 25, 2011


Iconostasis, Bierascie, Belarus (Byelorussia, White Russia)

The altar is behind this. Hooray for Russian baroque. Interestingly Bierascie is Brest where what’s now the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was founded in 1596. In its beginning much of what’s now the Russian Orthodox Church was in it: the Ukraine and north, Byelorussia. The Metropolitan of Kiev in the Ukraine and others, hoping to stop the Poles harassing them, went under Rome, which didn’t achieve that goal and yes, Russian persecution in the 1800s ended that church in Byelorussia as it did in the centuries that Kiev and most of the Ukraine was under Russian rule. The UGCC is concentrated in the far west, Polish since the 1300s, which Stalin stole in WWII. To be fair, Fr Joseph Syemashko (Siamaška) in the 1800s, whom the Greek Catholics understandably see as a traitor, was like the high-church minority convert Greek Catholics now: he wanted to be just like the Orthodox in practice like Rome says Greek Catholics should be, was rebuffed, got fed up and converted. Not like the few churchmen who sold out to the Communists and their Orthodox puppets under Soviet rule. Slavic Greek Catholics are heroic – a traditional Catholic church that survived 40 years of modern persecution – but are ethnic Novus Ordo in ethos. Like the ones in Syemashko’s day who self-latinised: a few Russianisms to show you’re not Polish but lots of Polish latinisms, old and new, to show you’re not Russian. Even more than the Ukraine, Byelorussia (Minsk) is really historically part of Russia.

Being liturgically purist/high-church (pure Russian Orthodox for Russian churches for example) is not the same as being anti-Western though it’s understandably mistaken for it. It’s like the difference between the few high-church purist Greek Catholics (liturgically Orthodox), again usually converts, and the even fewer Orthodox in communion with Rome, again usually converts, who don’t make sense. They reject Rome’s teaching authority and think they’re like a fifth column preparing Rome to convert to Orthodoxy... they’re more like Protestants who happen to agree with the Orthodox than good Greek Catholics or good Orthodox. If Roman Catholics knew they existed, they’d rightly call them traitors. Anyway, my line: rite controls what you do in church; the rules rightly say don’t mix rites there. (Also the reason the churches don’t commemorate the other side’s saints; not necessarily anti-Westernism.) Devotion at home is freestyle; the Holy Spirit moves where he will.



Slavic-American Russian Orthodoxy.

Greek Catholics who converted 100 years ago when the local Irish gave them guff.

The music is Russian: Archangelsky’s ‘Praise ye the name of the Lord’.

I know someone married to a lovely lady from Minsk (of Ukrainian descent: Russians sometimes move around). He’s been there. He and a Russian told me:
  • Byelorussians have a dictator because they like him. (Like Transdniester.) Rather like pre-war Iraq, nobody pretends the politics are free but other than that people really are free, arguably more so than here.
  • Most people speak Russian all the time.
  • Union with Russia is possible. There was talk about bringing the two rubles back together.
  • Russians and Ukrainians have had slang putdowns for each other. Not so Russians and Byelorussians.
Хорошо. Good.

Remember Olga Korbut? Byelorussian.

Photo from Daniel Nichols.

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