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What should you visit in Podlasie? Of course, Eastern Orthodox churches
Each trip to Podlasie has its own minimum tour agenda which includes visit to Eastern Orthodox churches. Orthodox churches are our everyday sight, but still every Białystok resident hosting friends from other parts of Poland feels bombarded with questions: how many Orthodox people are here, is it true that Orthodox do not believe in the Mother of God, why do they pray “in Russian” and so on and so forth. If you have any questions, go ahead and write! For now I invite you to read it.
- The faithful of the Orthodox Church are the second largest religious group in Poland after the Roman Catholics. The Orthodox Church estimates the total number of believers at about half a million. About 200 thousand people live in Podlasie, every fifth person in Białystok is Orthodox, which gives about 50 thousand believers. Orthodox and Catholic people were simply Christians until 1054. It was then that there was a definite split in the church.
- Orthodox churches in Białystok, how many of them are there, actually? There are 13 Orthodox churches in Bialystok and the nearest neighborhood (14 of them are under construction). There are about 150 Orthodox churches scattered all over Podlasie.
- The only church accessible to tourists and opened daily is the St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker Cathedra in Bialystok. Remember that the entrance is not located directly from Lipowa Street, but from the west. Inside you cannot take photos, you should take care of the appropriate outfit: legs and arms must be covered.
- Among the 13 Orthodox churches in Białystok, the Holy Spirit Orthodox Church arouses great interest. It is the largest Orthodox church in Poland and one of the largest in Europe. It can accommodate 2.5 thousand believers. Wonderful frescoes, an impressive bell tower, the shape of the temple – everything makes a striking impression. Tourist groups can arrange sightseeing but it is a paid attraction. Be sure to check our entry and gallery dedicated to this church: HERE.
- Another interesting and worth visiting is the Wisdom of God Church in Białystok. It is inspired by the famous Hagia Sophia temple from Istanbul (Constantinople), built in 1:3 scale. A very hospitable parish priest will vividly tell not only about the building but also about the Eastern Orthodox Church as such.
3. Wooden gems of Podlasie. Apart from the monumental, brick churches in Białystok, you should definitely try to enter one of the country’s wooden Orthodox churches. It is a completely different kind of experience, a different spirituality… My most beloved is the church in Puchły, with a beautiful white iconostasis and a wonderful icon of Our Lady “Pokrow”. If you are going to Białowieża, you have it on your way! More photos and information about this beautiful church I placed in a separate post HERE. I described wooden Orthodox churches from the vicinity of Bielsko Podlaskie in two articles: HERE and part 2.
4. Participation in the Orthodox service is an unforgettable experience. I highly recommend individual tourists that they visit the Orthodox church on Sunday and take part in the Divine Liturgy. If you do not take pictures, nobody will ask you to leave, I guarantee it! You will listen to beautiful, inspired songs, smell incense, see dozens of lit candles. The mysticism of Orthodox liturgy is difficult to describe – it impresses everyone, without any exception.
5. Orthodox churches and Eastern Orthodox Church – a handful of information and curiosities:
- Orthodox priests can (but do not have to) start families, but they have to do it before they are ordained priests,
- Bishops and monks are bound by celibacy,
- The language in which Orthodox Christians pray in Podlasie is Orthodox Slavonic, only in a few places is liturgy celebrated in Polish,
- Mieszko I was baptized in 966 but the territory of today’s Małopolska was previously Christianized by the mission of Cyril and Methodius in the Eastern (Byzantine) rite,
- The Orthodox Church does not recognize the Pope and has no equivalent in its organization – each local church is independent: it has its own legislation, judiciary and hierarchy. The Polish Orthodox Church gained its independence (autocephaly) in 1924, so identifying the Orthodox with the Russians is an absolute misunderstanding,
- The Orthodox believers do not recognize the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, they perceive the origin of the Holy Spirit differently from the Catholics.