the lutheran church in belarus: historical facts
When Martin Luther announced his famous 95 points, Byelorussian scientist and educator Frantishek Scorina published some parts of the Bible in his printing house in Prague. Later he moved his printing house to Belarus. This man met with Luther and Melangton and this was vital for spreading of Reformation ideas in Belarus. The first building project of Lutheran Church is dated 1535 and is linked with town Slutsk. In 1539, Avraam Kulva the Lutheran preacher and promoter of Lutheran faith arrived in Belarus. He was born in Belarus, received his theological education in Germany and came back to his native country with Doctor of theology degree. He then started spreading Lutheran teaching in Vilno, the former capital of Belarus, and worked in a religious school.
For a short time Lutheran Churches started to appear in all Belarus and in such big cities as Vitebsk and Polotsk. Lutheran ideas were even accepted by some of the Orthodox clergy. A monk, Thomas, was ordained as Lutheran pastor and worked in Polotsk (a city 100 km away from Vitebsk). In the year 1563 after Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible captured Polotsk, he ordered Thomas to be thrown into the river Zapadnua Dvina as a heretic. Thomas became the first martyr who was killed for the Lutheran faith.
From 1650-1660, the Lutheran Church was led by dukes and other rich and politically influential people. The most famous of them was duke Nicolas Radzivil the Black who established Lutheran parishes in many cities and towns of Belarus at that time. He used castles as the church buildings and in them there were pictures of Martin Luther. The first Lutheran church of this kind was in Vilno in Radzivil’s palace (1553). In this same year this man established a printing house in the city of Brest where Lutheran literature was published and distributed throughout Belarus.
In 1561-1562 in the town of Nesviz, protestant Simon Budny and his supporters build another printing house for the spreading of the ideas of reformation among Belarus people. In 1562 Simon Budny translated from German into Byelorussian and published a shorter catechesis of Martin Luther. This was the first translation and edition of the catechesis in Europe. Just 50 years later it appeared in Russia.
For 300 years the Lutheran Church in Belarus was independent, but on December 28, 1832 it lost its independence. 30 Lutheran Churches as well as the Belarus counties were joined to the Russian empire.
In the Soviet times, starting from the year 1919, the Lutheran Church was completely destroyed. Some of the Lutheran Church buildings were used for state proposes. In Grodno, the Church building was turned into an archive and in Polotsk into a museum. At the present moment there are just three church Lutheran buildings (Polotsk, Grodno and Brest) preserved but just Grodno building is given back to Lutherans.
Throughout the 470 years since its beginning in 1535, the Lutheran Church in Belarus was destroyed for four times:
- During the times of Counterreformation and the signing of Brest treaty (1596).
- As a result of division of Rech Pospolitaya (Poland) and the joint of Belarus to Russian empire in the end of the 18 century.
- When the Soviet power banned Vilno consistory (1930).
- When Belarus was joined to the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet atheistic state fell, it left after itself chaos, a broken economy and empty hearts for millions of people. In 1990, three Lutheran parishes were reborn in Grodno, Vitebsk and Minsk. In 1995, a preacher of Lutheran parish, Leonid Zviki, addressesd the bishop of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Dr. Georg Krechmar sent a request to help the Lutherans of Belarus. Some years later Leonid Zviki was ordained to be a pastor at the synod of ELKRAS in Moscow and was appointed to be a bishop visitor in Belarus.
On December 2, 2000 there was a founding Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Belarus (BELC) held in Vitebsk. In January 2001, Pastor Leonid Zviki was ordained as a bishop of BELC. However in May 2002 the Synod of BELC voted bishop Zviki out of his office for his sinful life and violation of financial discipline and the BELC’s charter. Also he was banned by the Synod to carry out pastor’s duties and serve in the present and future parishes of the Lutheran Church in the Republic of Belarus.
In 2005, because of the problems with BELC leadership, many Lutheran parishes registered as independent. However some of them are not able to survive alone and grow spiritually. Therefore it was decided to form Belarus Lutheran Missionary Fellowship, a home mission of Belarus parishes with its aim to restore the unity of Belarus Lutheran Church and help the parishes to grow spiritually and serve our Lord (see the BLMF Declaration).