Patriarch Kirill in Bialystok
This month the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill visited Poland at the invitation of Metropolitan Sawa, the Primate of the Polish Orthodox Church. Accompanying the Patriarch on his visit were many of the top functionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thousands of Orthodox Poles greeted Russian Orthodox Patriarch.
At the last day of his visit Patriarch Kirill arrived in Białystok.
At the Cathedral of St Nicholas, Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Sawa and members of the Moscow Patriarchate’s delegation venerated the relics of the Holy Child-Martyr Gabriel of Białystok.
It is not possible to understand the importance of the event without knowledge of the history of the Gabriel of Białystok and the Church, where his relics are located.
According to the legend, in 1690 the six-year-old boy Gabriel was kidnapped from his home in the village of Zverki during the Jewish Passover, while his parents, pious Orthodox Christians Peter and Anastasia Gavdel, were away. Shutko, a Jewish tenant in Zverki, was accused of bringing the boy to Białystok and the city’s Jews of crucifying the boy, poking him with sharp objects and draining his blood for nine days… then of bringing the dead body back to Zverki and dumping it in a local field where it was found.
The parents quietly buried the boy. Thirty years later, the coffin of the boy was ‘accidentally’ damaged, while burying another man and the Gabriel’s body allegedly was found incorrupt.
In 1755 his relics were transferred to Slutsky Monastery of Saint Trinity, Minsk region, attached was a placard blaming Jews for his death. His cult developed and spread throughout the Russian Empire, and the boy was canonized in 1820. Gabriel is considered the patron saint of children.
In the 1930s the relics were transferred by communist authorities to the Minsk museum of Atheism. In 1944, they were moved to Grodno, where they remained until 1992, and then they were moved to Białystok’s Cathedral of St Nicholas. The transfer was an international event, as the relics were moved from Belarus to Poland.
On the Belarusian-Polish border the movers met thousands of believers who accompanied the relics to the Bialystok through the numerous towns and villages. The relics of the infant martyr Gabriel were transported by car in an oak casket. On the way the believers showered it with flowers. In every town or village where there was an Orthodox church, a stop was made and the relics were placed there for the overnight keeping. Local believers kept vigil all night long at these churches, praying.
The relics were met on the outskirts of Bialystok and carried through the city streets in procession to St Nicholas Cathedral. Traffic in the city was stopped. The religious procession lasted about three hours. About 60,000 people participated in it, including secular authorities. All this was happening in the city, in which during World War II, 56,000 Jews were murdered.
The relics are still the focus of pilgrimages.
Those are the icons one can see in the St Nicholas Cathedral. They are depicting the image of the infant martyr Gabriel. The text under the icon states: “Saint infant Gabriel, you died for us from the wicked Jews…”
The text of the prayer for the Saint Gabriel starts with the words:
“Jewish wicked flocks are getting together,
from Brest to Bialystok
to torment the innocent infant…”
The prayer praises Gabriel for defending Christian souls from “Jewish derangement”.
The revival of Saint Gabriel’s cult in Belarus and Russia in the 1990s raised numerous concerns among human rights organizations. But the “martyr boy” still remains canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. Thousands of believers pronounce the prayer quoted above every year on April 20, a day of the Saint Gabriel, defender of children.
Patriarch Kirill’s visit to the notorious church would probably pass unnoticed by the most of Russians if the Russian State TV would not mentioned that Saint Gabriel was tortured to death by Jews in the news about Kirill’s visit to Białystok. The news appeared on the Web Site of the TV station and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia have send to the TV administration and to the Patriarchy letters asking for an explanation.
TV authorities sent the official apologies to the Federation, blaming the “error” on an editor, who published the Patriarchy’s press release without checking it first.
As much as we know Patriarchy never answered the letter of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
EDITOR: “Blood libel (also blood accusation) is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims—alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration—have been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.” (Wikipedia)