- July 15, 2014
Old Believers from Gaj were celebrating the 300th anniversary of their community’s existence
Old Believers community from Gaj, in the Solcininkai region, was celebrating the 300th anniversary of its existence on the Solcininkai land. On this occasion, on Saturday of 12 July, there was Blessing of the renovated orthodox church of St. Nikolai the Miracle Worker and the memorial cross, which was placed there in the honour of the first Old Believers who settled on this land.
“Our community in Gaj is around 300-year old” that is what the active member of Old Believers community in Gaj in the Solcininkai region, Paweł Griaznow, said to “Kurier” on the celebration of this event. “Old Believers settled here when they were given land by the Balińscy land owners. At that time it was a big community, after the War it had about 350 followers. Presently, we have about 50-60 members. The orthodox church is also visited by the followers of this faith from surrounding villages – Zielonkowo in the Solcininkai region, Prioteczenko lying on the border of the Solcininkai and Vilinius regions. Ceremonies started with the Mass celebrated by father Grigorij Bojarow and concelebrated by father Sergij Krasnopiorow.
Afterwards, the believers, guests and citizens of neighbouring Jaszuny became witnesses of Blessing of renovated orthodox church and memorial cross in honour of the first Old Believers in this region which was set thanks to the common efforts of Old Believers community on the initiative of Paweł and Piotr Griaznow. Those who attended the ceremonies are the members of the Solcininkai district government: deputy mayor Andrzej Andruszkiewicz and Director of Administration Józef Rybak, the members of the local government council Maria Suchocka, Stanisław Iwanowskij, Henryk Tomaszewicz, as well as foreman of Jaszuny Zofia Griaznowa and distinguished guests: rector of the orthodox church in Soleczniki father Oleg Pristawko, dr Nadieżda Morozowa from the chair of Slavic philology at the Vilinius University, co-author of the book “Old Believers of Lithuania. History, culture, art”, as well as Aleksandr Balinskij, descendant of the Balińscy family from Jaszuny?
When speaking with the journalist from “Kurier” Józef Rybak said “We live in a country which has always been multicultural and this is what our greatest treasure is, that is why we support different confessions belonging to the traditional ones. Old Believers have always been among us and contributed to the well-being of our region. For that reason, via “LeaderPlus” program, we supported the orthodox church’s renovation project as it is the unique historical monument in that area and we devoted 100 thousand Lt for this renovation. This orthodox church has also been assigned to the Tourist Route.
The renovation work was accomplished by Aleksander Niecwietny’s “RTS Baltic” company. During the celebrations and after the Mass, Wasilij Szarapajew and Paweł Griaznow presented the history and origin of this Old Believers as well as how they came to settle in the Solcininkai region. As Paweł Griaznow said, schism of 1653 was the mast tragic event in the history of the orthodox church. Old Believers did not approve the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon and stood by their old traditions. Two main Orthodox groups emerged: New Believers and Old Believers. Russians who resisted newness were dislodged to the periphery of Russia, after which they moved abroad. This is how they appeared on all the continents. At the turn of XVII and XVIII century they appeared in the Baltic countries and in Poland.
Paweł Griaznow said “ Repressions, once stronger, once weaker, were used by Russian authorities continuously. Only at the Council in 1971, did Russian Orthodox Church remove the anathema (curse), which had been put on Old Believers since 1667, and announced their rites as equal to the Nikon’s. Equal dialogue between both churches began. As Paweł Griznow added “Old Believers have never accepted the anathema and they did not think of themselves as the ones to be blamed for the schism. Griaznow continued that “Our community in Gaj was created in the 50. in XVIII century on the land owned by the Balińscy family. There is little known about the earlier history of this community. As we can read in historical documents, Old Believers are the descendants of Pomeranian Russians from the north of the country (between Karnelia and Ural) and those from Smolensk Oblast. The first families who settled there were those which live here till present days: the Fiedotow, the Andrieje, the Griaznow, the Trifonow, the Szewiakow. Old Believers are know from the fact that they are very strict about the orthodox church’s rules, which was the reason why they are so different from the other members of the Orthodox community. For the maintenance of faith special Houses of Pray were built. The first wooden orthodox church, which is no longer existing, was built in the XVIII century nearby present-day church, which was built as a whole in 1937 and has been now renovated.
According to Griaznow, Old Believers have always paid a lot of attention to the maintaining of their tradition and passing moral values. They prayed a lot, hardened from early childhood, blessed new born children in “life” water in summer as well as winter. Even 3-year old children had to observe fasting. The most important festivals are Christmas and Easter, but in Gaj the day which is particularly celebrated is St. Nikolai the Miracle Worker’s day – the patron Saint of Gaj’s orthodox church. Old Believers’ liturgy can be distinguished from others by such features as making a cross sign with only two fingers put together and the three-barred cross.
Deputy mayor Andrzej Andruszewicz said to the gathered “Christianity exists for more than 2thousand years. Its development was marked by a lot of difficulties, often very painful. That is why we are glad that on the Jaruszyn land this memorial cross stands as the evidence and sign of faith and co-existence of people of different nationalities and beliefs. The most joy comes from the fact that there is so many young people among us now, which allows us to hope that the faith of the ancestors will be the faith of the descendants.
Translated by Aneta Gębska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.