Staunton, June 9 – Decisions taken yesterday at a synod of the archbishops of the Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate suggest, even though they must still be confirmed by Moscow, that the Belarusian church is moving toward autocephaly but under the tight control of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime, Father Aleksandr Shramko says.
The dissident blogger says that the clearest sign of this was the dismissal of Grodno Archbishop Artemy who has been uncompromising in his criticism of the repressive policies of the Lukashenka regime. His ouster is something that both Minsk and Moscow have long wanted (t.me/popoffside/1074 and ahilla.ru/avtokefalizatsiya-bpts-pod-rezhim/).
But Shramko says that there are indications that this and other cadres decisions of the synod were taken without preliminary agreement with Moscow and that what is in fact going on is “the growing autocephalization [that is, independence from Moscow] of the Belarusian Orthodox Church under the regime.”
Most discussions in the past about the possibility of an autocephalous status for the Belarusian Orthodox have focused on independence both from the Moscow Patriarchate and hence the Kremlin and from the Belarusian regime itself. But what is happening looks more like the nationalization of the church by Minsk officials.
Moscow and Minsk don’t want the BOC to be critical of either regime but they also don’t want to see it weakened and lose more of its adherents to the more nationalistic Roman Catholics and Protestants. But they divide on how far the church should go in making concessions to Belarusianness.
Moscow has been willing to nativize the BOC’s leadership which hitherto had consisted of Russians from Russia almost exclusively (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/moscow-patriarchate-thinks-nativizing.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/moscow-patriarchates-new-man-in-minsk.html). But it wants the Belarusians to act like Russians.
That hasn’t been enough to prevent more Belarusians from shifting their religious affiliation to the Roman Catholics in the first instance and the Protestants in the second, something neither Moscow nor Minsk want (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/protests-may-lead-more-orthodox-in.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/moscow-church-in-belarus-coming-apart.html).
But Moscow and Minsk have very different ideas about the role the BOC should play in the future relationship between the two countries. Moscow wants the Orthodox church in Belarus to promote unity, while Minsk wants at least so far to have it be a bastion of support for the Lukashenka regime.
Two years ago, Lukashenka reportedly sought to have the Belarusian church seek autocephaly so that he could control it and so that it could help maintain Belarusian statehood (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/02/has-lukashenka-ordered-makei-to-seek.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/prospects-for-belarusian-autocephaly.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/autocephaly-for-belarusian-orthodox.html).
Not much has been heard about such ideas since, even though some commentators have suggested that what Lukashenka wants is to control at least part of the Orthodoxy in his country even at the price of splitting the church (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/orthodoxy-in-belarus-more-likely-to.html).
Yesterday’s moves, if Father Shramko is right, suggest that the game continues and may even be heating up.