By Paul Goble
The decision of the Moscow Patriarchal church leadership to congratulate Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the election outcome has outraged many priests and lay persons in that church and led them to violate church norms and take part in protests against the Belarusian dictator (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/moscow-patriarchal-church-in-belarus.html).
Metropolitan Pavel, Moscow’s man in Minsk, has tried to recover by associating himself with a call by Tadeusz Kondrusevic, the president of the Belarusian Conference of Catholic Bishops, for “a roundtable” between Lukashenka’s regime and the opposition; but that may have only radicalized the believers further (ng.ru/faith/2020-08-13/100_bel13082020.html).
On the one hand, Pavel’s move appears to many to have been forced by events and will likely lead even more Belarusian Orthodox to conclude that their future should be in a national autocephalous church rather than in the Moscow occupation one. (On such attitudes, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/to-be-independent-belarus-must-have-its.html.)
And on the other hand, calls for a roundtable are both too radical and too late in the current situation, too radical in that they are opposed by both Moscow and Minsk because of their links to Poland’s experience a generation ago, and too late in that Lukashenka has completely compromised himself as an interlocutor by his violence against demonstrators.
Christians from these two denominations and from others as well are now joining in daily marches, unsanctioned by the state, to show they are in opposition not only to Lukashenka but to church leaders, and especially the leaders of the Moscow church in Belarus, something that both reflects and will intensify the loss of authority by both.
Whatever happens in the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities politically, the religious arrangements in Belarus almost certainly are going to change, quite likely involving the collapse of Moscow’s church and the rise of a Belarusian national Orthodox church that will absorb more than just the membership of the Russian Orthodox Church there.
If that happens, Belarus will be transformed from below however long Lukashenka can hang onto power by the use of brute force.