Last year, on August 19, 2022, on the feast of Transfiguration of the Lord and the 1030th anniversary of Orthodoxy in the Belarusian lands, with the blessing of Metropolitan Veniamin of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, the procession of the cross set off from the Holy Dormition Zhirovichi monastery towards the Holy Spirit Cathedral Church in Minsk and its Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. This was eight days of walking, two hundred and fifty kilometers through four dioceses, visiting eighteen churches. The pilgrims came from all over Belarus, Orthodox Russia and the Russian Church Abroad. “Look, did not your heart burn within you?” the organizers of the first All-Belarusian cross procession from Zhirovichi to Minsk appealed using the Gospel words of the holy Apostle Luke.
These were the most beautiful areas of White Rus: the fields, the rivers, the forests, the lakes and the springs. They were driven by a solid spiritual impulse: to glorify the Lord, to display their spiritual unity and to repent of personal sins. Waking up in the early morning hours, praying unceasingly, serving the molebens and panikhidas along the way, attending night Liturgies and chanting the sacred hymns. The clergy also walked in the procession.
In our challenging times, Orthodox Christians observe this ancient tradition. More and more Christians, realizing its spiritual vigor, join cross processions that last for days. People have learned to love these processions for their sincerity, simplicity and living testimony of faith. They responded to the call of the Lord: “Leave everything and follow Me” (cf. Matt. 19:21) in order to glorify Christ, to repent, to renounce daily cares and to fully immerse themselves in prayer. The processions give you the chance to feel brotherly care, because the participants treat each other as a family. They bear each other’s difficulties and weaknesses as they intone collectively, in unison and with one heart: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us!” Metropolitan Veniamin of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, walked a part of the way with the procession participants.
“Today we walk in this cross procession and pray that the Lord will protect our Fatherland in good faith and strengthen our people in piety. Of course, it is very important nowadays to pray for peace in the world and peace in our Fatherland.
“The procession is also necessary for us to experience hardships and suffer inconveniences for the betterment of our souls. Those who don’t have strong health pray for health, those who are not married ask for a faithful companion, those who are aware of their sins ask for the remission of sins. In the ancient tradition, it was common to make vows in order to acquire grace and to receive what we pray for. One such example is to join a long cross procession and to endure hardships and all kinds of challenges.”
Memories of the participants
I would really like to express my gratitude to the participants of the cross procession:
—First of all, to the organizers, and to those who thought over the resting places, the leisure activities, the overnight stays and cared for our safety throughout the journey;
—to those who traveled this path from the beginning to the end;
—to those who joined in the last moments of the procession and labored by praying fervently for the glory of the Most Holy Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ;
—my deepest gratitude to those who modestly, simply delivered water, food, carried things, or walked with the speed of a turtle at the end of the procession to pick up anyone who could no longer walk;
—to our men who carried a precious but a very heavy icon;
—to the choir leaders and the owner of the bright voice who counted “one-two” and made it easy for all the sisters to delve into the words of the prayer at the same time;
—to those who rushed to our aid or simply tried to cheer us up with a kind word;
—to every parish that welcomed us like very special guests;
—I would like to express my special gratitude for the inexhaustible reserves of our Matushka the Mother of God, and all the “heavenly” goodies like gingerbread, cookies, berries, etc., etc. They will remain in my heart forever.
Thank God to all of you. Holy Mother of God, pray God for us!
Tatiana from Volgograd:
We are very grateful to you all for organizing this procession! We are still under the deepest impression! We keep singing our hymns that we sang during the procession anytime we walk now!
The cross procession was a challenging experience, but so spiritually abundant! The soul undergoes transformation, you have a good mind to be a better person…
The soul becomes transformed, you have a good mind to become a better person…
We also want to thank all the organizers, assistants, and local residents for the well-run implementation of the procession, their selfless work, and the warm and hospitable welcome!
We are truly happy that we walked and prayed together with you, immersing ourselves in this grace-filled atmosphere. We thank God for everything, for meeting these people and for all that we could learn from them, as we were able to observe their life according to the Gospel!
How great it was to see and experience the way that Christ brings us all together, even though we are so different and live in various corners of our vast homeland!”
I have had heart problems since birth. These problems have gotten worse recently. I also have a really hard time dealing with sleep deprivation, my heart rhythm goes out of whack and I get tachycardia. But here, I actually couldn’t fall asleep earlier than midnight, and then I had to get up at three in the morning, as soon as I heard the first rustle. But not even once, throughout these eight days, did my heart act up! Besides, I had just recently recovered from cancer and my doctors strictly forbade me to be in the sun. I wasn’t sure what to do at first, but I felt that God wanted me to be a part of this procession. For the first few days, I walked some, but I mostly helped with the food and clothing distribution. But for the last two days, I walked like everyone else. What I noticed was that the miracles, if they come from God, they often arrive as something simple and easy. I noticed on the first day how hard it was at first, and my batiushka from Grodno called me:
“You’d better go home,” he said. “You don’t need it, with your heart condition and your recent recovery from cancer.”
Toward the evening of the first day, I felt very weak and even had a fever. I hesitated. Maybe he was right and I should return home. But when I got up the next morning, I had no fever and somehow I stayed with the procession. Then I met an elderly lady from Volgograd aged eighty or even more, who was walking with us. I also noticed that there were many people walking with fevers and sore feet, who also vacillated between staying or going home—but somehow they kept on walking. Some were lying flat on their backs in the evening, but the next morning, they just got up and continued walking: isn’t it a miracle?! After a few days, I found myself thinking that, despite the lack of sleep, my heart was beating like clockwork. Had I not been in the cross procession, I would not have been able to endure anything like that.
Miracles of God are often very simple. Some were lying flat on their backs in the evening, but the next morning, they got up and walked: isn’t it a miracle?!
I joined the procession with a goal in mind: I wanted to change something in my life. And I asked God for certain things. I don’t know yet whether it will happen or not, but I think that I didn’t walk in pain for nothing. You know, in Zhirovichi, in the monastery, we solicited prayers from a monk to get the strength to finish this walk in the procession. But he told me:
“You’ll make it.”
But my friend then asked:
“What about me?”
“Well, I don’t know about you—you see, many are called but few are chosen. I don’t know what to say about you, but your friend is going to make it.”
A day passed and my friend went home. But I kept thinking about that monk when, at one of the last stops, after the meal, I didn’t even have strength to get up and carry my plate back. But somehow, with God’s help, I made it to the end. I was thinking at the time that the monk had made a mistake, but he didn’t, and I made it to the end.”
From Irina, with gratitude to all the organizers of the Cross Procession, “Zhirovichi-Minsk 2022.” The Church of the Holy Royal Passion Bearers, Bremen, Germany:
“I used to break up every time I saw programs about the cross processions, I felt so excited and emotional, or even envious, about them—because its participants are doing something that cannot be explained in words: a good deed, a work of faith. Since my childhood my life had been nothing but success, and God has always somehow protected me, and given me talents of craftsmanship and creativity. I have everything one can wish for in life: a beloved husband, a daughter, and I was soon to become a grandmother. I had my favorite work and our home… But my health has deteriorated. I had no choice—the surgery was scheduled. By that time I had been attending our church for several years. So, I put my trust in the Lord. I had to endure a long recovery after the surgery… But I thank the Lord for His mercy on me, for giving me a chance to live on. I’ve become a grandmother, I had my family, my church community, and my work.
But then, I heard about this cross procession and immediately said to myself: I can’t fly there. I really want to be there, but… And so, this thought never left me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, day in and day out. Everything got too complicated though, and not in my favor. But then, there I was, in the plane, and we took off and landed. All was well, and we made it there… I had to go to Zhirovichi. I read about the icon of the Mother of God and thought: I should definitely travel there. My dear ones tried to talk me out of it. They simply didn’t understand it. But some others said, “Irina, you can do it.” And I said that I needed to go there, to see Her.
And so, we entered the church in Zhirovichi, and the first thing I saw was the “Tenderness” Icon of the Mother of God as if standing there, ready to lead us in the procession. It felt like a dream. It was so good… We began our walk, and the first day was hard, so in the evening we had a lot of dropouts. On the second day, after many kilometers of walking, our feet were sore and it was painful to step on them. But by the morning of the third day, we were back on the beat. The army of Christ is made up of the lame, the elderly, and the infirm. Everyone kept on walking with prayer, toughing it out despite the pain of blistered feet at every step.
The passersby we met along the way, those who drove by or those who met us on the side of the road, were looking at us, choking back tears. It was the same feeling I used to have when I watched these processions on TV, and so now I understand why. The procession is similar to work, or the process of carrying your cross despite pain and weaknesses, the temporary loss of familiar things and the comforts of life that we are so attached to… And I realize now that all this was not in vain. At the beginning of our journey, we counted how far we had walked and how much was left to go. But then, one day, when I felt exhausted and hot and thought that I was about to collapse, unable to go any further after resting, I was struck by the thought that I was about to lose everything I had found while there. So I decided to go to my destination by car, to one of the churches. When the bells rang and the parishioners of that church came out to meet the procession, we stood up, and weeping and crying greeted our dearest brothers and sisters, the true warriors of Christ… The Most Holy Mother of God—it was She Who called us, weak and feeble, with all our passions, to accompany Her in this procession.
The Most Holy Mother of God—it was She Who has called us, weak and feeble, to accompany Her in this procession
There were eople from far and wide. We somehow became close and dear to each other and we found the strength, we kept on walking, and we were greeted by people from many parishes, some big and some small, some new and some sanctified with centuries of prayer. We thank everyone for the welcome and prayers for us—the participants in the procession with the cross. When we arrived in Zaslavl, I kept thinking, we made it, we arrived! But when we went through Minsk, the emotions were so high, because our army has grown there, getting stronger to thousands… I am so happy, so grateful, and I will remember to my last breath: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.” I would wake up in my own bed many days later as if I didn’t know where I was. I was singing, and walking, and praying… I, who had to learn how to breathe all over again following my surgery six years ago, who counted every step—I was able to walk almost two hundred and fifty kilometers across the blessed land of Belarus! I thank the Lord, the Most Holy Mother of God, and all those who contributed to this. God bless you all! And I hope that our common prayer, as clumsy as it is, will reach the Lord. For the strengthening of peace and the forgiveness of our sins. For the strengthening of Orthodox faith in Russia, White Russia and Little Russia. And beyond borders, abroad.”
Tatiana from Germany:
“Our group came together quite spontaneously. A parishioner once asked me whether I ever wanted to travel to Russia and walk in the cross procession. I replied that it was something I must think about. Elena (our parishioner) overheard our conversation. And when she met me at the next church service, she said that yesterday her relatives from Belarus sent her a link about the Zhirovichi-Minsk cross procession. Then she added something like, “You should try to join it—it’s not far” and it was coming up soon, in August. We decided to think about it. We told a few other parishioners, and so we ended up with a group of six. All of us were first-timers.
It was really easy to get there—we flew to Vilnius, then took a bus to Minsk, and then, a shuttle bus to Zhirovichi. Our trip there went without a hitch. We were warned before the trip that we would have problems at the border crossing, but the Lord handled them all.
I was only able to walk the first day. I had to return to the Zhirovichi Monastery with two other pilgrims. Three others continued on. I was a little upset at first that I had given up so quickly. But what were able to experience in Zhirovichi—it was simply indescribable! They celebrated the Liturgy daily. The Lord kept putting people on our path who were able to show us so much around the area: the churches, the sketes, the springs. We met Archimandrite Boris. He invited us to visit him and showed us his pet, Ryabchik. We were fortunate to meet Fr. Vadim from Bolshiye Shilovichi. The following day, we went in a procession from Zhirovichi to Bolshie Shilovichi for the Liturgy.
It was the first Liturgy and confession where I prayed and cried. I had never experienced anything like that in all the seven years I’ve been in the Church. I love Belarus so much, and I am grateful to the Lord that He did not give me the strength to continue walking in the procession, but allowed me to feel what the never-ceasing Liturgy was all about. It was a week of prayer and grace.
As a result, after the procession and traveling around Belarus, I fell in love with Belarus, the churches and the people there, so much so that I realized: I no longer want to live in Germany; it is meaningless to have all that material wealth if your soul is suffering. So my husband and I decided—as soon as our youngest child finds his life’s direction, God willing, we will move to Zhirovichi.
Soon the time will come when I will fly there again, this time with my husband. I want him to experience this feeling of kinship with his Orthodox people. For what did we exchange our homeland twenty-two years ago?! It is too shameful and sad. But, thank God, it’s not too late. And we want to search houses for sale in Zhirovichi.
For what did we exchange our common Motherland twenty-two years ago?!… So shameful and sad
After the procession, I was hesitant to leave Belarus at all. I arrived in Germany and started to cry. Yes, we have everything here: our house, work, and money. But the most important thing is missing. You can’t find here the atmosphere that we have in Belarus. It’s the right atmosphere, and you all probably don’t even notice it! What street advertisements you have on every step! I read them and cried with joy: Mother, father, children! Respect for the Motherland!
This year, the All-Belarusian Cross Procession Zhirovichi-Minsk is taking place August 18-26.
The procession’s route.
Day 1. August 18. 26 km. Zhirovichi (Holy Dormition Zhirovichi Monastery) early Liturgy, prayer service for the beginning of the cross procession, leaving at 9 am, arriving at noon to Slonim, Krasnoarmeyskaya Street (Trinity Cathedral), 1 pm to 3 pm, Slonim Annunciation monastery, dinner at 6:30 pm. Derevnaya (Trinity Church). Overnight stay.
Day 2. August 19. 21 km. The feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Derevnaya, Liturgy, departing at 7:30 am – 3 pm Molchad village (Sts. Peter and Paul Church). Overnight stay.
Day 3. August 20. 26 km. Sunday. Village of Molchad, Liturgy, leaving 7:30 to 11–12:30 pm, Zheleznitsa village – 4 pm Gorodishche village (Holy Cross Church). Overnight stay.
Day 4. August 21. 39 km. Village Gorodishche, Liturgy, leaving 5:45 am – 8 am village Karchevo (Church of Seraphim of Sarov) – 10:30 am to 12:30 pm v. Tsirin (Archangel Michael Church), lunch – 3:25 pm Liubanichi village (Dormition Church) – 7:30 pm Korelichi (Sts. Peter and Paul Church). Overnight stay.
Day 5. August 22. 36 km. Korelichi, Liturgy, leaving 6:30 am – 8:45 to 10 am village Shchorsy (St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Church), breakfast at Naliboki Pushcha – 1:30 to 3:30 pm Lake Kroman (rest) – 7 pm Naliboki (Archangel Michael Church). Overnight stay.
Day 6. August 23. 26 km. Naliboki, Liturgy, leaving 6:30 – 9 am Rudnya Pilnyanskaya – 5:30 pm Ivenets settlement (St. Euphrosyne Church). Overnight stay.
Day 7. August 24. 27 km. Ivenets settlement, Liturgy, leaving 6:30 am – 9:45 to 11:45 pm, Kievets village (Holy Trinity Church), lunch – 6 pm Rakov (Church of Transfiguration). Overnight stay.
Day 7. August 24. 27 km. Ivenets, Liturgy, leaving 6:30 – 9:45 to 11:45 am, village Kievets (Trinity Church), lunch – 6 pm Rakov (Church of Transfiguration). Overnight stay.
Day 8. August 25. 36 km. Rakov, Liturgy, leaving 6 am – 7 am, Aksakovshchina village (Joy and Consolation Icon Church) – 12 to 2 pm, Zaslavl (Transfiguration Cathedral), dinner – 6:30 pm Zhdanovichi (Ascension Church). Overnight stay.
Day 9. August 26. 10 km. The feast of the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. Zhdanovichi (Ascension Church), 6:30 am moleben, leaving 7 am – 8 am Pokrovsky Church (Pobediteley Ave., 82), gathering of the participants of the last day – 10 am, Minsk, Holy Spirit Cathedral Church. Festive Liturgy.