Saturday, January 12, 2019

Prospects for Belarusian Autocephaly Increase Dramatically

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Commentators have suggested that in the wake of the achievement of autocephaly by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the church in Belarus may eventually follow suit. There are many obstacles to that possibility, but three reports in the last few days suggest that they may not be as insurmountable as many think. 

            First, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s statement that autocephaly isn’t going to happen is, according to ROC MP Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev a way of signaling to the Kremlin that it could if Moscow continues its push for the amalgamation of the two countries (

            Given that under current rules, only an independent country can have an autocephalous church; and given that the support of the political leadership of that country for autocephaly appears a fundamental requirement – autocephaly in Ukraine would not have happened without the efforts of President Petro Poroshenko – this is a clear warning to Moscow, Kurayev says.

            Second, Archbishop Daniil, the exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Ukraine, told the BBC’s Ukrainian service that for the Belarusian church to receive autocephaly, “the people of Belarus, its authorities, and its pastorate must appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch” as happened in the Ukrainian case (

            The ROC MP is very much opposed to that, Daniil said, “but each people and nation which wants to establish its own Orthodox church must have the right for this” – a clear invitation from Constantinople to the Belarusian government, people and church, to follow the Ukrainian example.

            And third, there are reports that the ROC MP is sufficiently concerned about this possibility that Moscow plans to replace Metropolitan Pavel, the patriarchal exarch in Belarus, with Metropolitan Feofan of Kazan and Tatarstan (

            Pavel is viewed by many as ineffective, and his Russian-centric approach while in Kyiv has offended many. According to the Kazan Reporter, he is not now viewed in Moscow as someone who can navigate the approaching storm. Feofan has two advantages: he has shown himself a skilled diplomatist in Kazan, and he is close to Moscow’s ambassador to Minsk.

            Such a shift in personnel might give Moscow a better handle on developments in the Belarusian church and thus Belarusian society. At the same time, however, it is likely to be viewed by many Belarusians as a sign of Russian desperation and give new urgency to calls for autocephaly.

            None of these things mean autocephaly is about to happen – there are simply too many problems to be overcome including Lukashenka’s own authoritarianism and Moscow’s still-strong hand in Belarus ( But the possibility Belarus will have its own church and that that church will support the country’s independence appears to be far greater than it was.

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