Date: 25 August 2020

The Moscow Patriarchate Has a Problem in Belarus

The ongoing political turmoil in Belarus might bring severe consequences for the country’s religious organizations. The largest of them, the Moscow-occupied Belarusian Orthodox Church, was the only one to support Lukashenko and recognize the rigged ballot. Not surprisingly, for the past seven years, the Belarusian Orthodox Church has been headed by an ethnic Russian and Moscow’s man in Belarus.


Some hierarchs of the Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate condemned their Moscow-imposed metropolitan, Pavel, believing him to serve the interests of Russia, and not Belarus. Among those who spoke against is Archbishop Artemiy of Grodno and Volkovyssk; despite the obedience to the Metropolitan that his position requires, he denounced Pavel’s position both in a statement and in a sermon. Metropolitan Pavel is not a Belarusian citizen as is required by Belarusian law yet now remains in place only because Alexander Lukashenko supports him, much to the dissatisfaction of many. The whole dispute over Pavel, the leader of the Belarusian Orthodox Church since 2013, has blown considerably whilst his dismissal would be a sign of Moscow’s weakness. This would now hardly help Lukashenko and the Kremlin. Yet, by allowing Pavel to serve in Belarus, those who stand against Moscow’s meddling in the Orthodox church throughout Belarus might incite calls for a new independent Belarusian autocephalous Orthodox church, thus following what Ukraine did in the past. The Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was the only one to have welcomed the declared victory of Alexander Lukashenko in the rigged vote in a move that put it on one side of the political spat. If Lukashenko is ousted, its leaders might be in trouble.

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The Belarusian Orthodox Church, known under the official name of the Belarusian Exarchate, was created in October 1989, with Philaret, who now serves as the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, appointed to become its first patriarchal exarch. After he stepped down in 2013, he was replaced by Pavel, the incumbent leader of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, the largest religious organization in the country that has long been a mainstay of Lukashenko’s power in Belarus –– where ties between the state and church are as robust as in Russia. Christianity is the main religion in Belarus, with Orthodoxy being the largest denomination. Like its counterparts elsewhere in the post-Soviet world, the Moscow-dominated Belarusian Orthodox Church has for years been locked in fierce combat against other emigration-based Orthodox churches that are independent of the Moscow Patriarchate like the minor Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

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