Staunton, August 28 – Moscow specialists on religious affairs say that the Orthodox church in Belarus is unlikely to demand autocephaly as has happened in Ukraine but may face a situation in which the Universal Patriarch will recognize an autocephalous church alongside the Moscow one as Constantinople has done in Estonia.
Vladislav Petrushko, a professor at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Humanities University, says that a Ukrainian scenario in Belarus is “scarcely possible” because there are so few supporters of “the so-called Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” and most of them are in émigré centers (m.sputnik.by/religion/20200828/1045561561/Smena-ekzarkha-Chto-zhdet-pravoslavnuyu-Belarus.html).
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems and won’t be changes, he continues. “One must not exclude the possibility that Constantinople Patriarch Bartholemew will give Belarus so-called autocephaly as in Ukraine even without any desire by the Belarusians themselves.” That would be consist with his fight against the Moscow church.
Bartholemew has a certain legal basis for doing so: “Until the 17th century, Belarus was really part of the Kyiv metropolitanate.” As a result, the Ecumenical patriarch could argue that Orthodoxy in Belarus must be separate from Moscow even if Orthodox in Belarus don’t feel that way. He is clearly prepared to “go for broke” against the ROC MP.
Roman Lunkin, a specialist on Orthodoxy at the Moscow Institute of Europe, agrees. According to him, there is no serious basis for a division among believers in Belarus and “nothing serious” will happen even if Bartholemew allows Belarusians from New York to come and operate a small autocephalous church of their own.
One reason for this is that priests from the Moscow church in Belarus have shown themselves sympathetic to the Belarusian protesters, and so if the latter come to power, they will hardly be likely to want to punish the Moscow church in their country. And of course, if Lukashenka remains, he will have little interest in doing so either.
What may happen, Lunkin suggests, is that “a Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church may be established on the territory of Belarus” and some of the clergy of the Moscow church will change their affiliation and declare their loyalty to Constantinople. But the numbers won’t be large, and this won’t represent autocephaly for Belarusian Orthodoxy.
Such a scenario, he says, recalls what happened in Estonia not what has occurred in Ukraine. “In Estonia, there is also an Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate; and in the 1990s, as a result of the division between Constantinople and Moscow, the Constantinople Patriarchate established its own parallel structures in Estonia.”
After that happened, everything quieted down and has remained so, Lunkin says. There is the “large” Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the “not very large number of parishes under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate.” Something very similar could occur in Belarus.