An amazing son of the Belarusian land, Alex Leonovich was born in 1922 (i.e. 94 years ago). Imagine, this was a time when the Soviet regime was taking its first steps, and Vladimir Lenin, the leader of Russia, was still alive, Winston Churchill was young, Stalin was not yet a monster, and little-known Warren G. Harding was the President of the United States.
In those days, the naïve world hoped that World War I would remain the last war in the history of civilization. As in all times, people then lived with baseless and unfounded hopes. Their naiveté was interwoven with feverish romanticism and pacifism of a revolutionary nature. Most of the civilized people in the world were hoping for a bright future and did not see the silhouette of death on the horizon with its bloody scythe. No one could foresee that the beautiful slogans of Stalin’s brotherhood would be found at the mass graves of concentration camps, or that Hitler, after yelling about the greatness of the nation, would spill the brown poison of Nazism all over Europe, resulting in the death of tens of millions of people. The world did not foresee Khatyn and Babi Yar, Auschwitz, and the famine in Ukraine, Hiroshima, and Chernobyl. No one could imagine that in China, Cambodia, Africa, and Syria, there would be senseless killing of people. Mankind could not imagine that human life, although created by God, would lose all value. The world could not foresee the terror attacks in New York, the fall of the Twin Towers, and the cold-blooded massacre of children in Beslan. The world could not foresee that those devoted to Allah would blow up children. Many in the world did not know the words of the Bible: “The whole world lies in wickedness” (John 5:19).
In 1929, when Alex was seven years old, his family immigrated to the United States. The difficulty of moving to a completely different country is familiar to many Americans. However, part of the makeup of the soul of Alex Leonovich was that he never forgot his long-suffering homeland, which lost millions of people during the storms of war. He never forgot the village houses from his childhood, the churches that he went to as a young boy, the quiet river under the bowed reverent trees, or the eyes of Belarusians. Throughout his life, during the hard Soviet times and afterwards, he tried to help the patient and humble land of his childhood. He preserved the language of his homeland, until his death at almost 90 years old.
Each person has a word that is key in their life. For Alex Leonovich, this word was “love.” He often would say to me, “It doesn’t matter to me if other people don’t love a person. For me, what’s important is how I act, how I love the person!” There are people who think that it is possible to love God and not to love a person. But Alex Leonovich knew that those people are what the Bible calls “hypocrites.”
He called himself an American with a Belarusian soul. Of course, with American schooling, a university education, work, and a different life…one could forget about a distant land…But the blood, sweat, and tears of the land always remained in his heart. As they say, the first love is the deepest. Once, on a train in Belarus, he said to me, “I know that if I love people, I love God.” Then we talked about how the world was changing, but how people remained the same. As in the past, most people continue to dwell in misery, loneliness, indifference, and anger. Only the living God can change the soul of human beings, by filling them with spiritual happiness. Alex Leonovich said, “I see that my purpose is that, in helping man, I remind him of the words of the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”
Undoubtedly, Alex Leonovich was a wonderful Belarusian living in America. He was one of the first to transmit spiritual radio programs in Russian and Belarusian. He was the President of the Slavic Service and a member of the Board of Directors of the NRB, an American association involved in radio and television. He received an honorary doctorate from a university in Moscow, and, as an outstanding peacekeeper, was awarded a medal by the United Nations Foundation. Most importantly, he was always humbled and radiated love, often repeating, “The most important thing in life is to fill the human heart with warmth and love.” He really loved and respected America, but never stopped loving Belarus.
As I write these lines, I remember how much he loved to touch Belarusian land, as it sang songs to him from his childhood. I remember how much he loved to see people, for whom his loving heart did beat. I hope that many Belarusians, living in America, will remember the beautiful soul of a man, who devoted his life to America and Belarus. He once wrote a poem dedicated to Belarus, and these are its five lines:
My native land, my soul is with you forever, Your forests, fields, and rivers are with me, Your patient and quiet people are with me… Oh, native land, warm-hearted and magnificent!