The Orthodox Lublin-Chełm Diocese was reestablished based upon the resolution, dated March, 25, 1989, of Bishops’ Council of the Orthodox Church in Poland.
The diocese has included the central-eastern Polish voivodeships of: Biała Podlaska, Chełm, Lublin, Siedlce, Tarnobrzeg, Zamość and partly Rzeszów. When it was reestablished, there were 16 parishes divided into two deaneries. There is also St. Onufry Monastery in Jabłeczna, which is under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland. There was also the Orthodox Seminary in Jabłeczna.
Today the diocese includes 4 deaneries, 31 parishes, 5 branch-churches and male monastery; there exist 48 churches and about 270 cemeteries. The diocese has 27 priests and 3 psalmists. The Archbishop has his residence in Lublin whose cathedral of the Transfiguration is the oldest Orthodox church in Poland. The first information on the Orthodox church in Lublin comes from 1395. Lublin was a town located near Polish-Ruthenian ethnic boundary and in the Middle Ages, apart from Poles, there lived as well Ruthenians. The present church has been built, as the previous burned down, at the beginning of the 17th c. in difficult for the Orthodox Church years. It was probably consecrated in 1633 by Piotr (Mohyla), Metropolitan of Kiev. The church was taken away few times from the Orthodox people and in 1695 it became the Uniate church but in 1875 it became the Orthodox property again. During the 20th c. it was a cathedral church of nominal bishops of Lublin and since 1989 it has been a diocesan cathedral.
In the past Chełm was the capital of the diocese and it had many Orthodox churches but today there is only one St. Apostle John the Theologist Church. The others either do not longer exist or are owned by the Roman-Catholic Church, e.g. Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on the Chełm Mountain, built in the 17th c. at the place of the church founded by Daniel in the 13th c, which was the first residence of Bishops of Chełm.
St. John Church was built in 1840 and it was then the only Orthodox temple in the town. The tradition of adoring the icon of the Theotokos of Chełm was brought here and this is the place where the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, so called ‘Preczysta’, is celebrated. The church since 1989 is the second cathedral of the Bishop of Lublin and Chełm. St. Onufry Monastery in Jabłeczna, which was built in the 15th c., (the saint was an Egyptian hermit living in the 4th c.) has been the only Orthodox monastery at the area of the diocese. It played a significant role during the time of the Union of Brest, being the important centre of the Orthodox faith. In the first half of the 17th c. Bishop of Chełm was residing here. This monastery, as one of very few, has always been Orthodox. The beginning of the 20th c. was the greatest in monastery’s history, there were 80 monks, 5 schools, patient’s clinic as well as a farm were operating there. The major feast is on June, 25 -patron saint's day. Today there are 5 monks in the monastery. Today the monastery in Jabłeczna is under jurisdiction of Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland. At the area of the diocese there has been existing since 2003 in Kostomłoty village the Monastic House of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
In 1993 in Lublin the adherents were celebrating 360th anniversary of Church’s establishment. On October, 17, 1993, there was a feast of the icon of the Mother of God of Lublin. There were many guests and pilgrims not only from Lublin-Chełm Diocese, but also from other Orthodox dioceses in Poland, Ukraine, Germany and France taking part in the ceremony. There was before the liturgy a scientific conference with scientists from Poland, Ukraine and Russia on the history of the Orthodox church in Lublin.
It is very important in the diocese’ life to talk about the history and traditions of the Church. In 1992, for instance, the 110th birth anniversary and the 20th death anniversary of Ilarion, Bishop of Chełm was celebrated. On February, 6, 1996 there was a Meeting of priests and ordinary people of Lublin- Chełm Diocese who decided to set up a diocesan Commission of Historical Memory, whose task would be to strengthen religious identity of people and gather information on the diocese’ s history.
Monastery in Turkowice was one of the significant Orthodox centers in Chełm region. It had already existed in the 16th c.; in the 18th c. it was liquidated but was reestablished at the beginning of the 20th c. as a convent. Polish authorities, after the First World War, did not allow the convent to exist and in the buildings there has been established agricultural school, which is still open. In the monastery there was a famous icon of the Mother of God of Turkowice and thousands of pilgrims were coming for the annual feast, even when the monastery did not longer exist. However the tradition of celebrating the feast ended in the forties when Ukrainian inhabitants were expelled. Nevertheless, it has reborn in the eighties but in Tomaszów Lubelski where there is the nearest to Turkowice Orthodox church. People who have lived here before being expelled to Ukraine and western part of Poland come to Tomaszów, after the political situation has changed and when Ukraine gained independence, for the feast as well. They also come to other feasts in Chełm region, e.g. in Chełm, Hrubieszów, Hola. Today the monastic life in Turkowice has revived as on August, 28, 2008 Abel, Archbishop of Lublin and Chełm has reestablished female Monastic House where 6 nuns are now living.
Pilgrimages are important for Orthodox people and have quite a long tradition in the Diocese of Chełm. People were making pilgrimages for feasts in Jabłeczna, Chełm, Turkowice and Tomaszów. However that tradition came to an end in the post-war period when Orthodox inhabitants were forced to leave their homes and go to other regions. Nevertheless, after the diocese was reestablished in the nineties, the pilgrimages have become popular again. Today the pilgrims march from Jabłeczna to the Holy Mount Grabarka for the feast of the Transfiguration (in August) and to St. Onufry Monastery in Jabłeczna to celebrate in June its patron saint's day. The diocesan Fellowship of Orthodox Youth initiated in 2006 pilgrimages to Chełm to celebrate the feast of Martyrs of Chełm and Podlasie regions (in June) and to Kostomłoty- feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov (in July). Church choirs also play an important role in all parishes as it is almost impossible to have a liturgy without choir’s singing. Every parish in the diocese has a choir, some of which are very professional and famous in the diocese. The most prominent is the choir from the cathedral in Lublin, whose director is Wlodzimierz Wolosiuk. In the eighties the choir has won the first positions in the International Festival of Orthodox Music in Hajnówka and it has concerts in the country and abroad. There are many undertakings in the diocese concerning practising church singing; since 1995 there has existed the choir in which young people from deaneries in Terespol and Biała Podlaska are singing. In January 1996 there was organized, for the first time, in Terespol upon Bug the overview of choirs singing carols, in which 4 choirs of Orthodox parishes from deanery in Terespol and one youth choir from Lwow participated. In February 1996 at the Meeting of priests and ordinary people of Lublin-Chełm Diocese the diocesan Commission of Church Singing was set up. The task of the commission is to prepare a plan of studies for choir directors.
In the Orthodox community people are very important as they constitute church. In the 16th-17th c. church fraternities with secular people were the centers fighting for the Orthodox faith. There have also always existed parish councils that helped to organize the life in parishes. On February, 6, 1996 at the meeting of priests and representatives of all parishes of Lublin-Chełm Diocese held in Lublin the Council of Priests and Secular People of Lublin-Chełm Diocese was set up, whose role is to advice bishop in making decisions. There were also few commissions set up, of: historical memory, cooperation with other countries, economy, charity and church singing.
The youth is an important part of the Orthodox community in the diocese. At the beginning of the eighties The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland was created. First centers of that fellowship at the area of today's diocese were set up in Biała Podlaska (running the activity at the whole region of Southern Podlasie) and in Lublin. In 1990, soon after reestablishment of the diocese, the structure of the diocesan Fellowship of Orthodox Youth was set up. Many parochial fellowships were established as well and various activities have been organized: meetings of the young people, bonfires, pilgrimages, camps, trips. The diocesan fellowship is also publishing the paper “Istocznik – news of The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth of Lublin-Chełm Diocese”. They have also created a website (www.bmpdiecezjalch.cerkiew.pl), where the information on the fellowship’s activity is published. In the diocese there also exists, apart from youth organization, Orthodox Fellowship of St. Atanazy of Brest, created in 1992. The fellowship organizes meetings, lectures on the role of secular people in the Church life and organizes charity (e.g. organizes help for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine).
The tragic history of the Orthodox Church in the last century, especially destroying churches in 1938, resulted in that in many towns there were no Orthodox churches. In the post-war period, the greatest number of churches was built in the eighties and nineties. At that time 8 temples were consecrated, in: Biała Podlaska, Kijowiec, Holeszów, Zahorów, Zamość, Siedlce, Kodeń, Dobratycze. However the orthodox communities in the diocese did not have enough money to build churches themselves and they received help from orthodox people from the whole country and from those who had been living here. In Kijowiec, for example, the church was built thanks to donation from a person who had lived there and emigrated to the US. The churches in Janówka and Olszanki are still being erected.
In many towns and villages there have also been built parish houses in which the priests live and there are also special rooms for parishioners’ meetings, like in: Biała Podlaska, Siedlce, Terespol, Zahorów, Międzyleś, Sławatycze and Kobylany; in Lublin the diocesan centre was built. In Jabłeczna a wing was added to one of the monastic buildings. Those investments were financially donated also by German organization "Diakonisches Werk der EKD in Deutschland" and by Greek Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church owns many historic churches, cemeteries, antique iconostases, liturgical equipment and icons. However many of those things got devastated and they have been under renovation since the eighties. Those reconstruction works were financed with money collected by people and from the government donations. Churches in Lublin, Hola, Włodawa, Kobylany, Chełm, Wojsławice, Hrubieszów, Dubienka, Sosnowica and monastery in Jabłeczna have been already renovated. The equipment of churches in Chełm, Hola, Hrubieszów, and Lublin has been restored. There are many churches that are still in the process of renovation and many that are waiting for that.
In the diocese there are many lonely elderly people without any care as often their children have converted into another denomination and left parents who want to remain orthodox. When the Orthodox Church won back the land in the centre of Lublin there appeared the idea of building Home for Elderly People from the diocese. It was designed by a famous Lublin architect A. Załuski. The works have started in 1994. The Social Insurance Institution in Poland and Evangelical Church Centre Balingen as well as ordinary people have donated some money for that undertaking. There is also a small church of the Exaltation of the Cross. More information on the Home for Elderly People can be found in bookmark ‘diocesan institutions’ on our website.
The Orthodox Church lost many properties and temples after the First and the Second World Wars. Those which belonged to the Church (among others temples) did not have property certificates. The Act of July, 4, 1991 specified legal status of the Orthodox Church in Poland and helped to change the situation. On the basis of that Act the Church had two years to make property claims, which was a difficult and a long process for Lublin-Chełm Diocese as many real estate have been taken away. Dean W. U. Deetjen, the then parish priest in Täbingen and Swiss organization "Glaube in der 2. Welt" have helped a lot in that process. Lublin-Chełm Diocese filed 300 documents on giving property certificates and returning properties: churches, cemeteries, buildings, and lands. Most of the claims were settled, however in many cases the ruling was not such as it had been expected. The properties that have been won back will contribute to the diocese’s development, e.g. in Włodawa the former barracks were given in return for other property and they will be changed into a convent; in Jabłeczna at the land gained there will be a modern farm.
The repossession concerned also cemeteries as the Orthodox Church did not have legal property rights. Many of the cemeteries were destroyed and left without any care after the Orthodox inhabitants had been expelled in the forties. Lublin-Chełm Diocese has gained legal property rights to 270 of the Orthodox cemeteries. There were however few disputes with the Roman-Catholic Church over some cemeteries as the Catholics had made claims to property rights to old Orthodox cemeteries, for instance, in Jabłeczna, Dobratycze, Bubel, Hrubieszów, Rakołupy. The most heated dispute concerned Jabłeczna, where the Catholic Church had illegally gained in the eighties property rights to the necropolis. The case ended in 1995 when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in the Orthodox Church’s favour. However that conflict influenced the relations between the two Churches.
The diocese has also started publishing activity with publishing in 1990 few liturgical books. In 1993 on the occasion of the 360th anniversary of consecrating the cathedral in Lublin there was published in Polish and Ukrainian languages a book on cathedral’s history; and in 1993-1995 there were issued three editions of brochure on St. Onufry Monastery in Jabłeczna. In 1995 the publication of ‘Marriage in the Orthodox Church’ by father J. Meyendorff, a famous Orthodox theologian, has started the series ‘Światło Przemienienia’ [Light of Transfiguration] that aims at presenting the richness of the Orthodox theology. Another important publication is "Prawosławie. Światło wiary i zdrój doświadczenia" [The Orthodox Church. The Light of Faith and the Source of Experience] edited by K. and J. Leśniewscy - a good source of information on the Orthodox Church. There were printed also some postcards and icons. There were attempts made to publish periodicals: in 1992 there was one issue of "News from Lublin-Chełm Diocese"; The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Lublin published magazine “Orthodox” (1991-1992); and in 1995 parish in Lublin published few issues of magazine also titled “Orthodox”. The publishing activity was financed with donations from government's authorities as well as with own money. The books published in 1995 were printed in Greece and were a gift of Greek Orthodox Church for Lublin-Chełm Diocese. The diocese still continues its publishing activity.