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