By Paul Goble
Some hierarchs of the Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate are following the laity and condemning their Moscow-imposed metropolitan, Pavel, who ever more people are pointing out can’t serve in Belarus because he is not a Belarusian citizen as is required by Belarusian law.
Statements by these hierarchs and by the laity mean three things. First, Pavel now remains in place only because Alyaksandr Lukashenka supports him. Unless the Belarusian dictator decides he has to go, this works against both men, with the opponents of each having ever more reason to be opponents of the other.
Second, it is rapidly becoming too late for the Moscow Patriarchate to salvage the situation by replacing Pavel. If it sacks him, that will be viewed as weakness; but if it keeps him in place, it will almost certainly provoke calls for a new independent Belarusian autocephalous Orthodox church
And third, those calls will intensify if Lukashenka is ousted or if he somehow clings to power. If he is ousted, many Belarusians will remember that only the Moscow church backed his stealing of the election and demand a wholesale change in religious life; and if he somehow remains in power, they will turn from the church as his agent, weakening it still further.
Three comments, one by an Orthodox believer, one by an archbishop, and one by someone who has already broken with the Moscow church in Belarus (ng.ru/ng_religii/2020-08-18/9_492_belorussia.html and credo.press/232531/) justify these conclusions:
In words that have gone viral, Anasastiya Nekrashevich, who calls herself an Orthodox believer, says in comments directed at Pavel: “After your speeches, I personally do not want your blessing on any account. My patriarch, my metropolitan and my president is Jesus Christ. I want to live by his commandments and I will defend them to the end.”
“We cannot hope for the powers which is now killing us; we cannot hope for you because you support this power and greet it. Personally, I now hope only in God and in his mercy to us … I am ashamed of your Orthodox church. Its priests are afraid” of standing up for its values and against the use of force.
Second, despite the obedience to the metropolitan that his position requires, Archbishop Artemiy of Grodno and Volkovyssk denounced Pavel’s position both in a statement and in a sermon, making it clear that he believes that his position as an Orthodox leader requires no less of him and other.
And third, Aleksandr Sharmko, a former priest who has broken with Pavel’s church, says that the current metropolitan remains in place only because Lukashenka supports him and he supports Lukashenka. Thus, those who oppose the one should be opposing the other.
In commenting on these remarks for Nezavisimaya gazeta, political analyst Andrey Okara suggests that what is happening in Belarus is a revolutionary situation in which the hierarchy is trying to navigate between its commitments to elites and the changing attitudes of the population, typically lagging behind the latter and thus putting itself at great risk.