ORTHODOX Christians in Belarus have demanded the reinstatement of one of their Church’s archbishops, who was dismissed by the governing Holy Synod after criticising government-backed repression.
“We reject your decision — the Archbishop did not ask to be appointed and coped well administering the diocese entrusted to him,” said a petition to the synod this week, published by the independent news agency Belsat.eu.
“His voice is undesirable to our country’s authorities, who wished to be rid of it through your hands. But such use of the church for political purposes brings temptation and division, and destroys the trust of society.”
The petition was published after the dismissal of Archbishop Volodymyr Artemy of Grodno-Volkovysk, announced in a synod statement, which referred to “health grounds” as the reason, and was approved by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
In addition, another petition said that at least 15 protesters had been killed by security forces since the disputed August 2020 re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko (News, 14 August 2020), and that about 500 political prisoners were still in prison. It was a “sin and disgrace”, this petition said, that Orthodox leaders had failed to defend those “unjustly imprisoned, raped and tortured”.
”We urge you to abandon your fear of those in power and speak directly about God’s commandments: Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness.
“We also call for the Belarusian Orthodox Church’s integrity to be preserved, and anti-church forces prevented from interfering in the lives of parishes and dioceses, bringing discord and destruction through lies and misinformation,” the petition said.
Archbishop Artemy became well known in Belarus for condemning repression, accusing the Lukashenko regime last summer of “mangling and tinkering with the truth for political purposes”, and of allowing police to “act like beasts, tearing up their own brothers”.
In a sermon in March, he warned the Church against staying “silent and indifferent. . . the path of accommodation is the path of self-destruction.”
The dismissal of the 69-year-old Archbishop, who was also ordered to leave his western see, follows growing criticism of the predominant Orthodox Church — as well as of Belarus’s minority Roman Catholic Church — for staying silent in face of continued arrests and imprisonments during 2021.
In an interview with Radio Svaboda, Archbishop Artemy denied seeking retirement on health grounds, and said that he had been forced out “at the behest of the state” as part of efforts to “pacify the situation in Belarus”.
He considered it “natural to grieve for your people”, he said, and feared that his Church was being drawn back into Soviet-style “stagnation, persecution, and captivity”.
The country’s ecumenical organisation Christian Vision condemned the Archbishop’s “violent removal”, recalling that more than 300 Orthodox clergy and lay people had thanked him for his courage in 2020, and iurged Churches abroad to show solidarity.
“The ongoing crisis was caused by the rigged presidential elections and forcible retention of power by the former president — by extreme violence, widespread repression, torture and persecution of people expressing their disagreement,” Christian Vision said in a statement.
“The forced resignation of Archbishop Artemy undermines the hierarchy’s authority among church people, laity and clergy, and harms the reputation of the Orthodox Church in Belarusian society.”