During the Soviet era, all religious observance in Belarus was suppressed, but never completely outlawed. Churches, synagogues and mosques continued to perform services and observe major festivals in a subdued way. Children could not be legally baptized, but parents would go to the countryside to have the ceremony performed there. Since independence, however, religion is experiencing a revival. Many people are rediscovering their religious roots and celebrating festivals. Many ancient churches are being restored and reopened.

 Most Belarusians are Eastern Orthodox Christians. A significant minority are Catholic. The remaining few are Protestants, Jews, Muslims or Uniates.

Orthodox Christianity was introduced to Belarus more than 1,000 years ago by Prince Vladimir, ruler of the empire of Kievan Rus. He made Byzantine (now known as Orthodox) Christianity the state religion. The primary difference between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism is that Orthodox Christianity traditionally accepted leadership from Constantinople rather than Rome. But there are also differences in beliefs and rituals. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Eastern faith baptizes and confirms infants at the same time so that young children can take part in communion. Catholic children are baptized in infancy but do not receive communion until they are about seven years old. Also, Orthodox priests and deacons may be married, unlike their Catholic counterparts.

 The struggle between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism in Belarus reflects the competing claims on the land made by Russia and Poland respectively. The Uniate Church was formed in 1595 in an attempt to resolve the conflict between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Its rituals and rites are those of the Orthodox Church, but the Pope in Rome is recognized as the head of the church. Since 1990, attempts have been made to re-establish this church, which has many branches outside Belarus.

  Did you know?
Saint Efrasinnia of Polotsk (1110-73) was a young princess who became a nun. She transcribed books, initiated the building of churches and monasteries, and founded schools, libraries and orphanages. The first Belarusian saint, she is revered today by both Orthodox Christians and Catholics. A 15th-century cathedral built in her honour stands in the city of Polotsk.
Jewish communities have existed in Belarus since the 14th century. The Russian empire required Jews to live in designated areas, one of which was Belarus. Most Jews lived in urban centres. In some towns they made up half the population. By 1914, Jews made up 10% of the population. Because of the genocide of the Second World War and postwar emigration, Jews now represent only 1% of the population. However, the Jewish community is also experiencing a revival. Belarus has a yeshiva (an advanced Jewish educational institution) and many Jewish schools are being opened.

 The small number of Muslims in Belarus are mostly Tatars, people from central Asia who settled in Belarus in the 11th century.