Official Minsk gives in its influence to Moscow in the Belarusian Orthodox Church
Official Minsk has to yield to the pressure of Moscow and accept the Russian appointee to the post of the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus in exchange for short-term economic benefits. Tendencies to develop the Belarusian Exarchate independently of the Russian Patriarchate are coming to a halt. Following short-term benefits, the Belarusian authorities keep on losing their influence in religious, military, economic and other areas of life in favour of Russia in the long run.
On December 25, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) appointed Pavel (Georgy Ponomarev), the Metropolitan of Ryazan and Mikhailov, the Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus.
Metropolitan Filaret headed the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) since 1978 and the Belarusian Exarchate as of today was practically established by him. Under Filaret, the Belarusian Exarchate opened 10 dioceses, the number of parishes increased significantly, new monasteries and theological schools were established. Despite limited autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, the Belarusian Orthodox Church reached considerable independence in terms of internal development in the days of Filaret.
The formal plea for resignation ‘in connection with the 75th birthday’, as required by the statutes of the ROC, was filed by Metropolitan Filaret back in 2010. Practically unable to lead the BOC for health reasons, Filaret did not repeat his plea for resignation, which would have indicated the seriousness of his intentions. Still, almost four years later the Synod of the ROC suddenly complied with the request of Filaret and appointed its protégé as the head of the Belarusian Exarchate.
This being said, in his rhetoric, president A. Lukashenko tries to emphasize his independence in decision-making as regards the development of the Orthodox Church in Belarus. And he wanted to see his protégé at this post. The head of the state strongly patronized Archpriest Feodor Povny who was considered to be the most likely candidate for the post of the leader of the BOC.
It is noteworthy that president A. Lukashenko has repeatedly made statements about the need to reform the BOC thus increasing the threat of
distancing from the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2013 president A. Lukashenko refused to travel
to Kiev to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus. During the first visit of Patriarch Kirill to Minsk in 2009 the head of the state ostentatiously did not come to hear the speech of the head of the ROC in the Palace of the Republic.
It is noteworthy that the appointment of Metropolitan Pavel as the head of the BOC took place on the same day when Russian President V. Putin decided to provide Belarus with a loan of USD 2 bn. Concurrently, the new metropolitan Pavel is notorious for his harsh anti-Western statements, as he is the supporter of the unity of ‘the Russian world’. Patriarch Kirill, while bidding farewell to the new head of the BOC, defined the primary mission of the newly elected metropolitan of the BOC as that of ‘keeping the unity of historical Russia’.
The decision to appoint a non-Belarusian citizen as the metropolitan of the BOC induced an extremely negative reaction on behalf of Belarusian citizens. One can note certain consolidation of opinion among the Belarusian society - regardless of political views - that would like to see a native of Belarus as the head of the BOC.
Thus, alongside the weakening of the Belarusian state, the Russian influence is going to aggravate in all areas of life of the Belarusian society. The growing dependence on external financing augments pressure from Moscow, while resources and capabilities of official Minsk to counter it are nearly fully depleted.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.