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Alexander Lukashenko congratulates Patriarch Kirill on 70th birthday

Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin visited the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour where they congratulated Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on his anniversary. On Sunday, November 20, His Holliness turned 70 years old.

The birthday gifts of the Belarusian leader to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church were a Slutsk belt and a painting featuring St Nicholas Garrison Church in Brest.

It is interesting to know that this church was visited by the Russian Emperors starting from Alexander II, and by all the Presidents of the Russian Federation. This gift has a special meaning for Patriarch Kirill, as he has a personal connection with Brest. As it turned out,

Patriarch's uncle is believed to have died either in Brest Fortress or near its walls,

though, for many years it had been believed that the man was missing. While visiting the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on November 22, the Belarusian leader noted the contribution of Patriarch Kirill to the strengthening of spiritual unity between Belarus and Russia.

70 years is a considerable age, but the Patriarch is at the height of his powers.

The Belarus President has become the first foreign head of state who congratulated the Patriarch on his anniversary in person.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus President:
For all these years, you have been preaching restlessly the Gospel truths of kindness, love and mercy. You seek to teach people Christian traditions, helping millions of believers to find sound spiritual support and a road to the church. Your wise words strengthen faith and give hope and energy to work for the common good. Today your service as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church is aimed at preserving the moral core of the public life, spiritual and cultural traditions of our religion, education of the younger generation.

The Patriarchate is very hard everyday work and an enormous burden of responsibility. Faith, wisdom, resilience and strength of spirit help you to perform this noble mission. Thanks to your work and prayers, the Russian Orthodox Church continues to develop and, what is most important, to increase its influence while enjoying a respectable place in the Christian world. You pay special attention to the unity of the Church. Today, when the world is torn by wars, religious and interethnic conflicts, the words of Venerable Sergius of Radonezh ‘Save the love and unity to be saved' get a special meaning.

The pleasant mission took place in Church Councils Hall. This hall is a kind of the holy of holies of everyday's church life. It is the venue for meetings of hierarchs and of the Holy Synod. Nevertheless, either the grandeur of the interior or protocol rules were not able to hide the essence of the ceremony.

Vladimir Putin, Russian Federation president:
You embody the high authority of the Russian Orthodox Church for millions of people all over the world. You carry on devotedly its traditions and outstanding acts of the ascetics, who contributed inestimably to witnessing of Christian values and played a significant role in the formation and development of the Russian state. The Russian Orthodox Church is a great preacher of patriotism.

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia:
I would like to thank you, Mr Putin, for your kind words, as well as you, Mr Lukashenko, for your warm greetings. But, first of all, I would like to thank all those who have been supporting me both by words and by deeds during the seven laborious years of my Patriarchate. I guess that now I have to speak in essence and reasonably in short. So, while dwelling on what I have to say at such a solemn moment, a thought has stricken me – but what does the Church exist for? Theologians often describe the Church being in the terms that are not always clear to an ordinary man. But what an ordinary man knows is that when he comes to a church and prays, he has a light heart. We leave a church being different from what we were when we entered it. It means that the Church does something that changes a man's heart and a man's inner state. And it is our inner state that causes all the things we used to describe in political, economic, ethical and cultural categories. As apostle Paul said, though evil thoughts come out of the heart, we know that the light of God also shines in our hearts.

Alexander Lukashenko brought highly symbolic gifts for the Patriarch. These were a Slutsk belt, a symbol of deep connections, and a painting

depicting St Nicholas Garrison Church, which stands on the territory of Brest Fortress. This church is a small copy of the Constantinople Hagia Sophia.

Vitaly Khonovets, dean of St Nicholas Garrison Church in Brest:
This church is a real symbol of the unity of the two countries, Russia and Belarus. It played a significant role in history, as it was the main military church on the whole territory of Western military district of the Imperial Russian Army.

The walls of the church have been standing there since the 19th century and remember the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, WWII.

The church seems to be the only building that survived perfectly a month long siege of Brest Fortress by Nazis.

Patriarch Kirill was here on the night of June 22, 2016, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the day when the Nazis attacked the Soviet fortress and the Great Patriotic War began. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church conducted the lity for all the perished defenders of the fortress. A relative of Kirill’s was among them.

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia:
The defence of Brest Fortress is a great symbol of unity and ability to overcome the mortal danger and win when we stand together.

This warm and natural dialogue between temporal and spiritual power impacts the relations between the state and the Church as well.

More than 80% of Belarusians are Orthodox Christian believers. There are more than 1,500 Orthodox churches in the country. Lots of Orthodox shrines are closely connected with the national culture. That's why the state plays a very important role in restoration and preservation of Christian monuments, renders financial support to spiritual institutions.

It has to be noted that both Belarusian Orthodox laymen and their clergy have a special attitude to Patriarch Kirill.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus President:
Your Holiness, you know that you enjoy the highest deserved regard and, I'd rather name it, fond appreciation of the Belarusian people. Christians, Muslims and other religious communities – everybody knows you. This is the result of your hard work and kind regard for our country as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. I'd like to express my gratitude to Your Holiness for the attention you have been giving to Belarusian people. Your every visit to Belarus becomes an important event. Wherever you have led a service – be it in the legendary Polatsk, heroic Brest, ancient Vitebsk or the capital city of Minsk – people welcome you everywhere as a good shepherd and brave mentor. Under your leadership, the Orthodox Church has been contributing to the consolidation of the spiritual unity of the Slavic peoples of Russia and Belarus based on Christian values of mutual help, love of peace, humanism and justice.

During his almost half centennial service, Patriarch Kirill has visited dozens of countries,

but it is Belarus that the Hierarch has visited more than any other state.

The Primate has visited Belarus four times already, and every time he met the President.

In 2012, Alexander Lukashenko awarded the Patriarch with the order of Friendship, saying, “You are a devoted and reliable friend of our country.” The time has proved these words.