By Johannes Reimer, WEA’s Director of Public Engagement and Global Director of WEA’s Peace & Reconciliation Network
- City with a tradition of Bible translation
Very few cities of Europe are so connected to the Bible translation as this is the case with Brest, a Belarusian city at the border to Poland. Brest is 1,000 years old and has been under different European rulers throughout her history.
In reformation times the city was ruled by the Lithuanian Grand Duke Mikolai Radzivill the Black (1515-1565), who became reformed and ordered the second ever Protestant translation of the Bible into a European language – Polish. The Brest Bible was published in 1563 and became a foundation for several Bible translations in different Eastern European languages. Among others, the translation into modern Belarusian by the Baptist pastor and social reformer Lukash Dziekuc-Malei (1888-1955).
Dziekuc-Malei lived and worked in Brest prior to World War II. The National Library of Belarus together with the regional Gorki Library in Brest organized a symposium in 2021 honoring his extraordinary contribution to the Bible translation into the modern Belarusian language and published the procedures of the conference. All modern translations regardless of which denominational background they may have come from build on Dziekuc-Malei´s work. And by the way, most of them have been done in Brest and the Brest region. The city is a City of the Bible in its own right.
- A Bible exhibition in Brest
Following the symposium, the regional library of Brest, named after M. Gorki, organized a Bible Exhibition. Between 22 September and 24 October this year the exhibition opened its doors for the wider population of Brest and her surroundings. The library with some evangelical assistance published 2,000 catalogues for the exhibition. More than 1,500 visitors attended the exhibition, among them school classes, groups of university students, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens of Brest. There was a special tour for deaf people. Even some companies organized a visit for their workers. All of them took with them a re-print of Diekuc-Malei´s translation of the gospel of Luke.
My wife and I visited the exhibition on 22 October just as a group of students from the philosophical faculty of the University of Brest together with their professor walked through the exhibition. The excitement of the students was loudly expressed. The local leadership of the library together with local evangelicals had trained nearly 5 library workers and 40 volunteers from different churches of the city, and they made for a very warm welcome. 124 groups with a special focus visited the exhibition and were introduced to the history and content of the Bible. No question – the Bible exhibition, to quote an official of the government, was a great success and added to the outstanding image of both the city and the Gorki Library.
During the first days of the exhibition, a man entered the hall, saw the various stands, listened carefully to the guide, and commented afterwards, “I have always intended one day to read the Bible. But due to my busy life I have always pushed the decision ahead of me. Now having heard the presentation I will not only take the Gospel of Luke with me – I will surely read it!” Others reacted similarly. Many were also fascinated to print the first page of the Brest Bible on an ancient printing press.
The Brest ethnologist Ivan Chaichits commented his visit of the exhibition on Facebook with these words, “Today I visited the exhibition ’The Bible in the Brest region.‘ The central spot is devoted to a fragment of the Brest Bible from 1563. And the famous translations of the Bible into the Belarusian language are extensively represented. Some of them are very rare and valuable. I was especially impressed by the Samizdat editions from the Soviet times. People published the Bible on their own and hid the content under a book cover of a first reader, for example. It is a great exhibition for those who are interested in the theme, as well as for those who study printing in general … And I am now in possession of the booklet ‘The Gospel according to Luke’ translated by Dziekuc-Malei from the Old Greek.”
- The Bible – a power to unite a divided country
Belarus is a deeply divided nation. Different political convictions have created a problem which the Belarusian society will need to overcome. Various parties call for unity, but typically unity according to their own views. The Bible exhibition in Brest was seen by the organizers as a contribution towards national unity. The history of the nation refers to many incidents of revival movements spreading through the country because of people reading the Bible. Spiritual renewal is what a divided society needs. Partisan solutions are seldom successful. Normally they deepen the gap, disturb even more people. Spiritual renewal, to the contrary, unites people around God-given ideals. For Belarusians, a nation with deep religious roots, this is the only way back to unity. And the Bible will significantly add to it. I am deeply thankful to the Brest authorities who made this exhibition possible.