Thursday, August 13, 2020

Moscow Patriarchal Church in Belarus Coming Apart

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 10 – The protests following Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s stealing of the presidential election may or may not lead to his ouster in the near term, but they almost certainly will have another effect: fragmenting the Moscow Patriarchal Orthodox Church there and leading to more demands for the creation of an autocephalous Belarusian Orthodox church.

            Belarus is the largest Orthodox country in the world which does not currently have its own church, and in the wake of Ukraine’s achievement of autocephaly ever more voices have been raised there and elsewhere for Belarus to move in that direction ( and

            Now, those voices are likely to grow louder because of two developments. On the one hand, Metropolitan Pavel, the head of the Moscow Patriarchal Church in Belarus, slavishly followed his boss Moscow Patriarch Kirill and quickly sent his congratulations to Lukashenka (

            And on the other, more than 30 priests nominally under Pavel’s church broke with him and took part in the protests against the falsification of the election, something they described as a sin, and did so not only in Minsk but in Homel, Hrodno, Zaslavya, Lida, Rogachev, Borisov, and Malorit district as well (

            Pavel’s message may win him support from Lukashenka with whom he has had a somewhat difficult relationship given that the Belarusian leader wanted a voice in the selection of the metropolitan but had to accept a Moscow-imposed candidate, but it will cost him what remaining support he may have had.

            And the actions of the priests and especially the fact that they cast opposition to the falsification  of elections in moral terms and that they appeared not just in the restive capital but throughout the country means that those who want a Belarusian autocephalous church will be able to point to the existence of a social basis for it.

            Orthodox churches, including the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople who would make a decision on that point, don’t move quickly. But Belarusian Orthodox in the West who don’t recognize Moscow’s power over them are certain to call attention to what has just happened in their homeland and seek to attain the autocephaly that Moscow has denied them.

            The Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate will fight this tooth and nail because if the Belarus Orthodox do get autocephaly, the consequences would be enormous: Not only would the Kremlin lose an important lever in Minsk, but it would have to face the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and not the ROC MP would be the largest Orthodox church in the world.

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