“The fact that supreme hierarchs celebrate this great historical date together with our people indicates the huge role that Orthodox spirituality plays in the life of the Belarusians," said Aliaksandr Lukashenka when meeting with with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and primates of other Orthodox churches on July 29.
Eight primates of Orthodox churches arriving in Minsk is a unique event, which raised significantly the status of festivities. Official sources said nearly 50,000 people gathered for an open-air solemn service to celebrate 1025 years since the Baptism of Kievan Rus'. But one key man was missing: Belarus president. Was he very busy? According to the official website of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, he signed only one edict on that day to extend the deadline for enrollment applications with agricultural universities in Belarus. Political commentator Roman Yakauleuski reckons that the absence of Lukashenka at official celebrations is noteworhty.
"Lukashenka did not attend the solemn service. In Kiev, Ukraine, the similar event was attended by presidents Putin and Yanukovich."
Mr Yakauleuski suggests the Belarus head of state and the leader of Russian Orthodox Church failed to reach an agreement about something very important during their meeting in Russia's Krasnodar region back in June. According to official sources, when in Krasnodar region Lukashenka and Patriarch Kirill discussed preparations for festive events to celebrate 1025 years since Christianity's arrival to Russia. One can only guess what they talked about in reality. But Lukashenka eventually did not travel to Kiev even after his and his son Mikalai's visit had been heavily advertised by Ukrainian media. The visit by Patriarch Kirill to Belarus capital was not impressive either, as the Russian Orthodox Patriarch spent less than 24 hours in Minsk. Roman Yakauleuski notes people had expected something much more significant out of this visit.
"Unfortunately, Patriarch did not pay a visit to Kurapaty (the site of mass executions by Stalin's secret police in late 1930s. Many people did expect that from him. He had visited similar site in other countries, for instance, in Estonia. His grandfather was repressed, but he chose not to go to Kurapaty."
There is one more thing: three days before the high-profile visit by Orthodox primates to Minsk, Aliaksandr Lukashenka made a surprise statement urging the Orthodox Church to reform, critisizing the lenthgy sermons and high budgets for the construction of new churches. On top of that, he put forward Roman Catholic Pope as an example for the Orthodox faithful. Lukashenka's statements caught pro-government commentator Yury Shautsou off-guard.
"1025 years since the Baptism of Russia is a significant event not only for Belarus and Ukraine but also for Russia. This event is no doubt part of high-level politics. Therefore, this statement is 100 per cent political. One can only guess what it might mean."
It is yet to be known what Patriarch Kirill thinks about all this, but he said during the open-air service in downtown Minsk that a new Orthodox church would be built on the site of the ancient city borders.