Reformation in Belarus

Predecessors of Reformation

One interesting movement preceding the protestant movements that appeared in GDL at the end of XV c. - beginning of XVI c. was "judazantism" or "zhidovstvuyuschie". The Christian followers of this movement directed their attention to the translation of the ancient judaic literature and middle age Jewish-Arabian texts. They were seeking the truth undistorted with multiple christian translations. The ideas of this movement promoted a strong intellectual exchange between Judaic and Christian communities. They have spread north up to Novgorod (by Shariya) and south to Hungary. The Hungarian judazantists were openly using Jewish Old Testament, Talmud and other works of Judaism in their practice.

Another heretical belief that was a predecessor of reformation was a movement of non-acquiring ("Nestiaz^acieli"). It was one of the moral foundations to criticize the low ethical level and greed of both Orthodox and Catholic Christian priests.

Anti-Trinitarians (Aryans)

The strongest protestant movement that existed in the lands of GDL was Anti-Trinity Movement or Aryan Heresy. The denial of the Trinity, led to denial of Christ's Deic nature and inadvertently has focused on a human nature. This was a source of Belarusian humanism and atheism thriving around 1570 in GDL - two centuries before it happened in France! The followers of this movement were anti-feudal and considered that feudal power over people is a anti-Christian, since only God's power is sacred. The criticism of the Greek Orthodox church was wide due to very low cultural and intellectual level of priests. One of the main points of critics was indulgence into religious rituality. Anti-trinitarians were not recognizing sacredness of church buildings, icons or statues, which were considered the idols. Some of them denied even necessity in praying since according to them God's attention is directed to the "purity of your heart but not the words". The fasting, baptism, ritual tasting the God's body and drinking his blood, the cult of saints, God's Mother, relics, cult of the cross which is "just like any other wood", any offers to church were severely criticized. The church organization - institute of monks, existence of human priests - was considered being against the Bible. The equality of different beliefs and races was proclaimed.

More information about Arianism could be read in the Catholic Encyclopedia web-site.

At the end of XVI century the ideas of reformation were wide spread in GDL and in some regions dominating. The majority of protestant communities were practicing some sort of Calvinism. Such in Navahradak area "on a hundred of protestant families there was only one Orthodox". The protestant brotherhoods were in Vil'na, Navahrudak, Smargon', Mir, Zhuprany, Ashmyany, Iuya, Lyubcha.

"Kal'vinski Sbor"(Calvinist brotherhood house for meetings) in Smarhon'


The further development of ideas of anti-trinitarians was socian movement - another seriously developed by Belarusian thinkers religious movement. Socians believed that Christ was a human and did not recognized the Trinity of God-Son, God-Father and God-Spirit in Christ. Socians expanded their beliefs to social relations. The extreme socians like Martyn Chehovich considered that Christians cannot participate in war and even touch arms, cannot own land or servants, they have generally denied the idea of the power of men and recognized only the power of God. To some extent it was an ancient form of anarchy. The power of state was endangered because Community Meetings were ruling socian brotherhoods. Symon Budny and Vasil' Cyapinski were among socian brothers. All lands where socian communities were appearing were busy organizing schools , shelters, hospitals. This has reached not only aristocracy but poor people too. The education was valued above all. The socian aristocracy refused their property and divided it among poor. Lately most of socians were expelled from the country by Jesuits and Orthodox Church. They ended up in the Netherlands and many of them left for America.

See also this information about Socianism from Catholic Encyclopedia.


One of the multiple cases of sanctions against new thinking was a case against the judge of the town of Mozyr - Stefan Lovan. He had been called in court on the basis of his denial of "Trinity of God" and not accepting Christ as a Deic redeemer of Mankind. Moreover in his protestant beliefs he was already on the line, where religion and philosophy are separating. He had made very strong conclusions: he was denying existence of soul, heaven and hell, he did not believed in the Judgement Day. St. Lovak proclaimed that the World was not made by God and it would exist eternally. Stanislav Reshka states that St. Lovan did not accepted the idea of resurrection of dead. St. Lovan reached his beliefs through a complicated intellectual path. He had started as "judazantist", than he became arian, zwinglian and, at last, atheist.

The court cases like this were very frequent around the lands of the GDL in XVI c. Vasil' Cyapinski was also often blamed in atheism at the end of his life. The rector of an Aryan school in Iuya (1585 - 93) - Ian Licynij Namyslouski, who had published in 1586 his textbook on logics "The Guide to the teachings of Aristoteles", was expelled from the school and socian community for his atheist ideas in 1615. Atheism was also taught by Kaspar Bekesh (1520 - 79) in Hrodna.

Find out more on the history of Reformation in Belarus here:

  • 450 Years of Protestantism in Belarus - an excellent page by Mikola Pachkaeu
  • The Slavic Lutheranism Discussion List by Kastus Mardzvincau
  • More on the History of Reformation from Catholic Encyclopedia. While reading this review please bare in mind that at that time our lands were referred to as Lithuania and we themselves were litwins. The word Belaia Rus' - Belarus was invented later by Russian tsar, to beautify his title - Tsar-Emperor of the Great, White and Little Russia (Russia, Belarus and Ukraine).

Go back to our Religion or Culture pages.

References used in this page:

"Historya belaruskaj (kryuskaj) knigi. Sproba payasnitel'naj knigopisi ad kanca X da pachatku XIX stagoddzya"

[The History of Belarusan (Creeve) Book. An Attempt of Explanational Description From the End of X to the Beginning of XIX Century], Ed. V. Lastouski, Published by the Belarusan Center in Lithuania, Publishing House of Sakalouski and Lan, Kauno 1926.
UCB Library PG 2834.2 A12H51926 Main

M.V. Dmitriev ,

"Pravoslavie i Reformaciya",

The printing house of Moscow University, 1990. This book is an amazing example of the Grand-Russian chauvinism.

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