Orthodox Church and mass protests in Belarus

  • Belarus
  • 16.Aug ‘20
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Commentary by Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun

RelTodayFather Cyril, how would you assess the fact that an increasing number of clergy and parishioners of the Belarusian Orthodox Church are being drawn into the protest movement? Do you think that clergy and laity can join the opposition movement if they believe that the current government ignores the will of the people? Naturally, we mean that participation in the opposition movement should be peaceful and non-violent.

CH – Lay people, in my opinion, can be participants in any political movement, if it does not contradict the evangelical norms. The protest movement in Belarus has been largely caused by the realization that the authorities shamelessly violate these norms. In this sense, Belarusian protests are a classic case when vox populi is vox Dei. The same awareness of the gross injustice on the part of those in power was the main motive of the Ukrainian Maidans. By the way, as once in Ukraine, and now in Belarus, we are witnessing attempts to propagate conspiracy theories about insidious driving forces behind the protests — this is being done to compromise the protest movement. Although conspiracy theories are cheap, alas, they often work and influence the mindset of those who are used to being content with simple answers to difficult questions.

As for the clergy and hierarchs, in my opinion, their participation in political movements is inappropriate. Their function is to be a prophetic voice outside any political movement, which, although it can be moved by this voice, due to its mass and political nature can also easily replace it with ideology. Therefore, in the Belarusian situation, it is better for clerics and hierarchs to stand aside from the columns of protesters. However, they should stand not in silence, but prophesying. I speak of prophecy not in the widespread vulgar sense of predicting the future, but in the biblical sense — as the proclamation of the truth of God, including in the face of a tyrant. Not vulgar and ideologized, but truly biblical and patristic theology makes it possible for clergy and hierarchs to articulate meanings, to which all those hungry for truth and justice could subscribe. Everyone — laity, clergy, and hierarchs — must confirm these meanings with actions: by helping those who suffered, were thrown into dungeons and beaten. This is a direct evangelical imperative for those who do not have the prophetic charisma of articulating meanings.

RelTodayWhat, in your opinion, could the highest hierarchs of the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church really do to resolve the current situation?

CH – The hierarchs of both the BOC and the ROC, more than anyone else in the Church, should serve in the capacity of prophets who speak out against injustice and violence on the part of those in power. Alas, in the current situation, they have reserved for themselves only one “charisma” — that of administration. However, this is not even a charisma, because in such case any CEO of a large corporation would have been a more successful “bishop” than our bishops. In the ancient Church, administration was generally the responsibility of deacons, while the charisma of the bishops was to teach and proclaim the truth of God. Now everything has turned around — bishops administer, while deacons, priests and especially the laity proclaim the truth. In other words, the current silence or ambiguity of the hierarchy is a consequence of a serious breakdown somewhere in the depths of our ecclesiological consciousness. Fortunately, there are exceptions here, such as the truly prophetic appeal by the Archbishop of Grodno and Volkovysk Artemy. I would also like to pinpoint the words and actions of Archbishop-Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who demonstrates to us the Orthodox what the Roman Catholic Church has learned as a result of overcoming the crises that had been caused by the same reduction of episcopal charisma to exclusively administration. This reduction once had struck the Western Church, and now it has become the norm in the Russian Church.

RelTodayIn most CIS countries, the Orthodox Church is somehow integrated into political processes. In your opinion, in the event of a conflict between the elites and the opposition, which also affects the broad masses of the people, when the whole society is divided into two camps, should the church (as a public institution) come out 1. on the side of the current government, with which good contacts have already been established; 2. on the side of the opposition, with the expectation that if it wins, the church will be able to establish no less productive relations with the new government; 3. to take a wait-and-see attitude, guaranteeing political immunity, but fraught with negative reactions from ordinary church members, who expect pastors to more actively participate in the life of the country?

CH – As in Ukraine in 2014, and now in Belarus, the flat line “state – church” became a more complicated triangle: “society – state – church”. The two angles of this triangle — society and the state — found themselves in a tough confrontation with each other, and the church faced a dilemma — whom to choose. It is not possible anymore to be both with the authorities and with the people (that is what the BOC Synod has unsuccessfully tried to do in its statement on August 15). But to choose a society while opposing political authority — for any church of the Byzantine tradition this would mean making a quantum leap into the abyss of unknown and, in a sense, turning against its own nature. After all, over the centuries of historical evolution, the bodies of Byzantine churches have developed what I call “symphonic DNA” — an ecclesial “gene” that urges churches to merge with political power, however inhuman the latter may be. During the Soviet era, the church managed to enter into symphonic relationship even with the atheistic regime. In sum, the church in Belarus is now facing a difficult existential choice: stay with the regime or ally itself with the civil society. In Ukraine, in 2014, the majority of churches went over to the side of the society. I hope that now the same may happen in Belarus, and in the near future — in Russia.


Russian versian of the commentary by Cyril Hovorun can be found here.

See also the commentaries by Mikhail Turenkov and Natallia Vasilevich.

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