Polotsk, Belarus, February 27, 2019
Celebrations in honor of the 180th anniversary of the Polotsk Council that reunited Belarusian and Lithuanian Uniates with the Orthodox Church in 1839 were held on Sunday in the ancient town of Polotsk.
The festive celebrations began with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in St. Sophia’s Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in Belarus. The Divine service was headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslav, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, with the concelebration of several other hierarchs and a number of clergy, reports sobor.by.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral, rebuilt after a devastating war in the 18th century on the foundations of an 11th-century Byzantine cathedral, witnessed the fateful decision of the Uniate hierarchs and clergy to return to the bosom of the Orthodox Church, the main initiator of which was the Uniate bishop (later Orthodox Metropolitan of Lithuania and Vilna) Joseph (Semashko).
The Belarusian Church has discussed the possibility of canonizing this great reunifier, and 2018 was declared the year of Met. Joseph in the Belarusian Exarchate.
As Met. Pavel noted during the service, 180 years ago, Met. Joseph gathered bishop and priests and, with God’s help, abolished the 1596 Union of Brest that saw a number of Orthodox bishops departing from the Church and placing themselves under the authority of the Pope, thus creating the Unia.
Two years before the council, Met. Joseph initiated the collecting of signatures from Uniate clergy who desired to return to Orthodoxy. Only 2% of the Belarusian and Lithuanian Uniate clergy opposed, and the council in the Cathedral of St. Sophia opened on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1839. As a result of the council, more than 1,600 parishes, with more than 1.6 million parishioners were reunited to holy Orthodoxy, who are the ancestors of modern Central and Western Belarus.
The Polotsk Council put an end to difficult times of hostility and hatred, Met. Pavel said. His Eminence Archbishop Theodosy of Polotsk and Glubokoe highlighted that through Met. Joseph’s efforts, the ancient Orthodox Diocese of Polotsk was able to return to its ancient and unique spiritual, ecclesiastical, social, political, scientific, and educational sources and fruits.
“We continue to live in the traditions that were originally laid in our Church, that were at the origins of our state and nation. And now we enjoy their fruits by the labors of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk, and Joseph (Semashko), who was able to renew and revive all of it,” Abp. Theodosius said.
During the celebrations, it was announced that an international forum decided to the 180th anniversary of the council will be held in October.
In September 2016, Polish Orthodox believers also celebrated the 90th anniversary of the return of the people of Lemkos to the Orthodox Church from Uniatism.
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