Today, the national self-determination of the Belarusian culture plays an important role in the development of our society. Looking into the future, it is of crucial importance to focus on the historical, moral and spiritual traditions of the people. This is what has always helped to crystallize the true images of our culture.
Belarusian church architecture is one of our main orientation points. It expresses the focus of the spiritual and socio-cultural foundations of the Belarusian people. And now, perhaps more than ever, it is necessary to have a clear image of the Belarusian temple. It has always been and remains an important symbol of the national culture. The definition of this image goes together with the national idea and the course of the society's development.
I am going to talk about Orthodox temples. Agreement on cooperation between the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Orthodox Church says the following: "The Church is one of the most important social institutions. Its historical experience, spiritual potential and centuries-old cultural heritage have had a great impact in the past. They are currently exerting a significant influence on the formation of the spiritual, cultural and national traditions of the Belarusian people". And the temple, as you know, is the repository and focus of these traditions. They are expressed in its architectural environment and iconography. It can be said that the image of the Belarusian Orthodox church is the image of the entire Belarusian culture. So, understanding this image is very important for understanding our culture and its development. This is all the more relevant knowing that for a modern person visual perception is more and more important than verbal. The Church is called to maintain stability, unity and peace on our Belarusian land, and to preserve our spiritual and cultural values. But it can do it not only in the verbal, but also in the figurative and symbolic field. Its center is the Orthodox temple.
The development of the Orthodox art and, in particular, church building, doesn't only mean an increase in the number of churches. Sometimes the quality of new churches leaves much to be desired. There is a need for educational programs in the fields of science and the development of historical and cultural heritage. This is the way to increase interest in Orthodox art and provide the state and the Church with educated professionals. And this is important, because, as in icon painting, in designing churches it is not enough to know the rules and regulations. The artist has to be involved in the life of the Church. It is interesting that graduates of theological schools in icon painting are considered clergy of the Church. The temples are also the spatial icons. But they are sometimes designed by people who are far from Church life. Often these architects do not understand the theological foundations of church building. But we hope that this area of church art will develop. By the way, I would like to quote the words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. At a meeting with abbots and abbesses, held in September of this year, he said that "it is necessary to educate both architects and icon painters". He mentioned that a lot of work is being done with icon painters in theological schools. At the same time "there's not much going on with architects yet. But temple design is a new and very important trend in our architectural community". The Patriarch added that "if this trend continues, we will need to think about theological education for architects." I would like to add that it is also important for clergy to understand the basics of Christian art. Those who order the design of new churches are usually the priests. But the churches, like icons, are not a matter of the customer's taste (or the lack of it). They are among the main symbols of the nation's culture.
In this context, Belarusian Orthodox Church and state structures can think of some joint activities. It can be the creation of methodological manuals and educational programs, the holding of conferences. They can reflect the recommendations and principles of church building in Belarus. Both the clergy and the architects and artists can take part in such activities. And of course, the work of the diocesan art committee is very important here, besides its main functions.
So, what are the genuine examples of the Belarusian churches? What traditions of church building should be followed in the Belarusian sacred architecture?
I would like to begin with one remark. It is clear that church architecture should develop, that it is appropriate to apply some modern architectural ideas in it. But let's say that this development should be rooted in tradition. The traditional architecture and its best examples are the foundation on which the modern church can be built. But, in following the tradition, simple copying and thoughtless quotations from the past should be avoided.
Today I am not going into the theological problems of church building. But let us define several directions of the search for the image of the Belarusian church.
The first one focuses on the image of the pre-Mongolian period churches. This includes such Belarusian landmarks as the Transfiguration church of the Polatsk Monastery or Saints Boris and Gleb church in Hrodna. Although unique, they are close in style to some churches in Chernihiv, Kyiv, Smolensk, Novgorod and Pskov.