How Christian orthodoxy plays into the Belarussian political crisis? On 6th September, patriarch Kyrill of the Russian Orthodox church changed the metropolitan of the Belarussian church (under Moscow’s canonical authority) from Pavel to Veniamin.
Kyrill believes it was time to take into consideration the “nationality factor” in Belarus. Pavel was born in Kazakhstan. He carries a Russian passport and he openly supports Lukashenko. Hence he became quite unpopular over the past month of protests. Veniamin is a local, speaks Belarussian and he is politically neutral – for now.
Kyrill’s decision highlights the fact that geopolitics is indeed a factor in the Belarussian crisis. It is not only a domestic issue. Kyrill wishes to comfort Belarussian parishioners in order to prevent a rift between them and the Russian church.
The Ukrainian precedent may be an important lesson for Kyrill. Because of geopolitical tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, a majority of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians – subordinated to the Russian canonical authority for centuries) supported the autocephaly (canonical independence) of a national church. It was eventually granted by the Constantinople ecumenical patriarch in early 2019, amid some grandiose political maneuvers by then president Petro Porochenko.
Recall that there exists a Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church since 1922. Because of Polish and Soviet repressions and restrictions imposed by Lukashenko, it has never taken roots in Belarus. Its siege is in Brooklyn, New York.
The question now is whether Kyrill’s move may be enough to keep Belarussian Orthodox Christians within the Russian church – especially as the long-term perspective.