Staunton, June 3 – Aleksandr Babuk, an instructor in international relations at the Belarusian State University, says that some priests and hierarchs of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate are behind a drift away from Moscow among that church’s followers.
Such a development, he acknowledges, is still in the early stages; but it resembles what has happened in Ukraine and thus threatens both the church itself, by raising the specter of demands for autocephaly, and Moscow’s influence within Belarus more generally (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2018/05/14/nasilstvennaya_belorusizaciya_v_cerkovnoj_srede/).
Babuk, a native of Grodno, says that services in Orthodox churches there used to be in Belarusian only once a month; but now they have increased to once a week, not in response to any popular demand, he suggests, but rather because of the actions of some higher-ranking churchmen who are promoting their own nationalist agendas.
He argues that this trend is part of what he calls “forced Belarusianization in the church milieu.”
The Minsk instructor singles out for particular criticism in this regard Archpriest Sergey Lepin, who heads the Synodal Information Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, who has argued for treating the Belarusian state as the legal successor of the Belarusian Peoples Republic of a century ago, and who has even called the St. George ribbon “a fascist symbol.”
Because Father Sergey’s Living Journal page is among the top 25 most read sites in the Belarusian Internet, his influence is widespread; and because no one else in the hierarchy is challenging him, Sergey’s words are viewed by many in Belarus as a reflection of the position of the Belarus Orthodox Church.
“In fact,” Babuk says, “Father Sergey Lepin has begun to play in the Belarusian Exarchate the role of Aleksandr, the vicar of the Kyiv metropolitan, who ‘from the inside’ is actively helping the pro-Nazi regime of Poroshenko to destroy the Church.” If Sergey isn’t stopped or at least countered, the future is grim, the Minsk instructor says.
On the one hand, this diatribe may be nothing more than the latest of an ongoing set of scandalous charges intended to change the balance of forces with the Exarchate. But on the other, it is a sign of just how worried some are that the drive toward autocephaly in Ukraine is spreading to Belarus, something that would very much weaken Moscow’s position.