The Belarusian Greek Catholic Church (Belarusian: Беларуская грэка-каталіцкая царква, BHKC), sometimes called, in reference to its Byzantine Rite, the Belarusian Byzantine Catholic Church, is the heir within Belarus of the Union of Brest. It is listed in the Annuario Pontificio as a sui iuris Church, an Eastern rite particular Church in full union with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Christians who, through the Union of Brest (1595-96), entered full communion with the See of Rome while keeping their Byzantine liturgy in the Church Slavonic language, were at first mainly Belarusian (Litvin). Even after further Ukrainians joined the Union around 1700, Belarusians still formed about half of the group.
The partition of Poland and the incorporation of the whole of Belarus into Russia led, according to the Russian Orthodox Church, many Belarusians (1,553 priests, 2,603 parishes and 1,483,111 people) to unite, by March 1795, with the Russian Orthodox Church. Another source seems to contradict this, since it gives the number of parishes that came under Russian rule in 1772 only as "over 800", meaning that many priests and people remained in communion with Rome.
After the unsuccessful 1830-1831 November Uprising against Russian rule and the subsequent removal of the predominantly Roman Catholic local nobility from influence in Belarusian society, the three bishops of the Church, along with 21 priests, convoked in February 1839 a synod that was held in Polatsk on 25 March 1839. This officially brought 1,600,000 Christians and either 1,305 or some 2,500 priests to join the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, some priests and faithful still refused to join. The Russian state assigned most of the property to the Orthodox Church in the 1840s, and some priests emigrated to Austrian Galicia, while others chose to practise in secret the now-forbidden religion.
When, in 1905, Tsar Nicholas II published a decree granting freedom of religion, as many as 230,000 Belarusians wanted union with Rome. However, since the government refused to allow them to form a Byzantine-Rite community, they adopted the Latin Rite, to which most Belarusian Catholics now belong.
After the First World War, the western part of Belarus was included in the reconstituted Polish state, and some 30,000 descendants of those who, less than a century before, had joined the Russian Orthodox Church joined the Roman Catholic Church, while keeping their Byzantine liturgy. In 1931, the Holy See sent them a bishop as Apostolic Visitator. After the Soviet Union annexed West Belarus in 1939, an exarch for the Belarusian Byzantine-Rite faithful was appointed in May 1940, but, a mere two years later, he was arrested and taken to a Soviet concentration camp, where he died.
While from then on very little information about the Byzantine Catholics in Belarus could reach Rome, refugees from among them founded centres in western Europe (Paris, London and Louvain) and in parts of the United States of America, especially in Chicago. From 1947, Father Leo Haroshka initiated in Paris a pastoral and cultural periodical called Bozhym Shliakham (Божым Шляхам), which was published from 1960 to the end of 1980 in London. In London also, Father Alexander Nadson began, in the 1970s, the immense task of translating the Byzantine liturgical texts into the Belarusian language. Thanks to this work, when in 1990 the first Greek-Catholic parishes could be organized in Belarus, they were able immediately to use these texts in their national language.
In 1960, the Holy See appointed Cheslau Sipovich as Apostolic Visitator for the Belarusian faithful abroad. He was the first Belarusian Catholic bishop since the Synod of Polatsk. A successor, Father Uladzimir Tarasevich, was appointed in 1983, but, after his death in 1986, Father Alexander Nadson was appointed Apostolic Visitator, but not, at his request, raised to episcopal rank.
The 1980s saw a gradual increase in interest among Minsk intellectuals in the Greek-Catholic Church. Articles by Anatol Sidarevich and Jury Khadyka about its history appeared in the 1987-1988 issues of Litaratura i Mastastva. And in the autumn of 1989 some young intellectuals of Minsk decided to publish the periodical Unija intended to promote the rebirth of the Greek-Catholic Church.
In early 1990, Father Nadson brought humanitarian aid from Belarusians abroad to their compatriots at home still suffering as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He was surprised to meet young Belarusians who said they were Greek Catholics. On 11 March, he celebrated Minsk's first Divine Liturgy in the national language, and, two days later, had a meeting with the editors of Unija, the first issue of which was then printed in Latvia.
September 1990 saw the registration of the first Greek-Catholic parish since the Second World War, and in early 1991 Father Jan Matusevich began to celebrate the liturgy in his Minsk apartment. He was later put in charge of all the Greek-Catholic parishes in Belarus, and died in 1998.
By 1992, three priests and two deacons in Belarus were celebrating the Byzantine liturgy in Belarusian. The same year, a survey by Belarus State University found that 10,000 people in Minsk identified themselves as Greek Catholics. Extrapolated to the country as a whole, this was interpreted to mean that, especially among the intelligentsia and nationally conscious youth, some 120,000 Belarusians were in favour of a rebirth of the Greek-Catholic Church. Because of the lack of priests and churches this interest did not lead to membership.
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At the beginning of 2005, the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church had 20 parishes, of which 13 had obtained state recognition. As of 2003, there have been two Belarusian Greek Catholic parishes in each of the following cities - Minsk, Polatsk and Vitsebsk; and only one in Brest, Hrodna, Mahiliou, Maladziechna and Lida. The faithful permanently attached to these came to about 3,000, while some 4,000 others lived outside the pastoral range of the parishes. There were 10 priests, and 15 seminarians. There was a small Studite monastery at Polatsk.
Two of the parishes had small churches. Some of the others had pastoral centres with an oratory.
Belarusian Greek Catholics abroad, numbering about 2,000, are under the care of Mitred Protopresbyter Alexander Nadson as Apostolic Visitator. The chief centres are in London and Antwerp (constituted in 2003).
A parish in Chicago, that of Christ the Redeemer, existed from 1955 to 2003. It was founded by Father John Chrysostom Tarasevich and was later the home parish of Bishop Uladzimir Tarasevich until his death, after which it was administered by the local Latin Catholic ordinary, who appointed first Father Joseph Cirou and then Father John Mcdonnell as administrators. On 7 September 1996, the parish had seen the ordination of Michael Huskey as the first Belarusian deacon in the United States. Father Deacon Michael served in the parish until it was closed by Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, on 20 July 2003.