Staunton, August 3 – In Belarus, as in many countries with authoritarian leaders, the clergy of the dominant religious groups, has generally been an important backer of the regime and its leader; but this year, in advance of the elections, many Orthodox and Catholic priests are signaling to their congregations that voting against him is consistent with their faith.
The leaders of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church there have continued to support the existing order, thus more or less clearly kept up their support for Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Milena Fuastova says; but ordinary priests and religious from other faiths are ever more often coming out in opposition to him (ng.ru/ng_religii/2020-08-04/9_491_belorussia.html
This is a remarkable development in two ways. On the one hand, it represents a further breakdown in discipline in those denominations, something that will have the effect of reducing the importance of these hierarchies in Belarus regardless of the outcome of the elections, something that may even lead to the collapse of the Moscow patriarchal church there.
And on the other, it reflects a response by parish leaders to the attitudes of their parishioners, a desire not to be add odds with those they seek to lead and an effort to introduce morality into politics, something many have talked about but all too few in Belarus have done in the past.
The Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist reports that the leaders of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics in Belarus issued the kind of statements they have issued before, statements which call for order and avoid doing anything that would suggest they are in opposition to the existing regime.
But their subordinate religious and religious figures in other denominations have taken a different position, openly opposing what they see as the risk of falsifications, a sin in their eyes, that the current regime is likely to engage in to try to remain in power and even worked in some cases to join election monitoring efforts to prevent that.
Aleksandr Shramko, a dissident Orthodox priest, says that “the Orthodox Church in Belarus typically passively is on the side of those in power,” but he argues that “the church can and must express its attitude toward illegality and falsifications.” Church law requires that and believers need to be reminded of that reality.
Another Orthodox priest, Andrey Yarovets, says that “the illness of church slavery [to the state] has entered its terminal phase;” but to finally overcome it will likely require the creation of a new church because the existing one is so thoroughly compromised. (On that possibility, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/to-be-independent-belarus-must-have-its.html).
Roman Catholics in Minsk and Gomel have gone further and organized a group “A Catholic Does Not Falsify” to prevent the incumbent powers from stealing the election. They note that church leaders often say that “elections must be honest” but point out that “calling not to falsify them” is something different.
Protestant clergy are also aligning themselves with the movement against Lukashenka. Vyacheslav Goncharenko, a pastor of the Evangelical Church in Minsk, has declared that “illegality in the government is the beginning of its end and that sooner or later, the winds of change will come and another order will be established.”
Evangelicals have organized a prayer marathon this month because in the words of the leaders, “God expects that we agree to stand up like defenders” of his law and the law of Belarus. The Belarusian people deserve no less. Unfortunately, one of these activists was arrested earlier this summer during the collection of signatures for opposition candidates.
Lukashenka has always been careful in his dealings with Catholics because of the attention they get in the West, but “the Catholics of Belarus are more liberally inclined … and they are always more active. Lukashenka in principle doesn’t like it when church figures get involved in politics” at Kuropaty or now, Belarusian observers say.
Lukashenka’s relations with the Orthodox Church are complicated. He hopes for the traditional support Orthodox give to the civil power, but he failed to install his own man as head of the church. Instead, Moscow imposed its candidate, Metropolitan Pavel, who has no ties with Belarus or Belarusians.
That has weakened the Orthodox Church in Belarus, opened the way for splits between the hierarch and the clergy, and allowed Roman Catholics to play an outsized role. Many of them hope to bring freedom to Belarus just as Pope John Paul II did in his native Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe when he called on people “not to be afraid” and to stand up for their rights.