Orthodox in Belarus condemn outspoken ousting of archbishop
Orthodox Christians in Belarus have called for the reinstatement of one of their Church’s archbishops, who was sacked by the ruling Holy Synod after criticizing the government-backed crackdown.
“We reject your decision – the archbishop did not ask to be appointed and has managed the diocese entrusted to him well,” a petition to the synod said this week, published by the independent news agency Belsat.eu .
âHis voice is undesirable for the authorities of our country, who wished to get rid of him by your hands. But such political use of the church causes 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 reasons” as the reason, and was approved by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
In addition, another petition stated that at least 15 protesters had been killed by security forces since the disputed August 2020 re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko (News, August 14, 2020), and that around 500 political prisoners were still in custody. jail. It was a âsin and a shame,â the petition said, that Orthodox leaders failed to defend those âunjustly imprisoned, raped and torturedâ.
âWe urge you to let go of your fear of the powerful and speak directly about the commandments of God: You shall not kill, You shall not bear false witness.
“We also demand that the integrity of the Belarusian Orthodox Church be preserved and that anti-church forces be prevented from interfering in the life of parishes and dioceses, sowing discord and destruction through lies and disinformation. Â», Says the petition.
Archbishop Artemy has become well known in Belarus for condemning the crackdown, accusing Lukashenko’s regime last summer of “mutilating and tinkering with the truth for political ends” and allowing the police “to act like beasts , to tear off his own brothers “.
In a sermon in March, he warned the Church against remaining âsilent and indifferent. . . the path to accommodation is the path to self-destruction.
The dismissal of the 69-year-old archbishop, who was also ordered to leave his western seat, follows growing criticism from the predominant Orthodox Church – as well as the minority Roman Catholic Church in Belarus – for keeping silence in the face of continued arrests and imprisonments. during 2021.
In an interview with Radio Svaboda, Archbishop Artemy denied seeking retirement for health reasons and said he was forced to leave “by order of the state” as part of efforts to “Pacify the situation in Belarus”.
He considered it “natural to mourn his people,” he said, and feared that his Church would be dragged back into Soviet “stagnation, persecution and captivity”.
The country’s ecumenical organization Christian Vision condemned the Archbishop’s “violent estrangement”, recalling that more than 300 Orthodox clergy and lay people thanked him for his courage in 2020, and urged churches abroad to show solidarity.
“The current crisis has been caused by the rigged presidential elections and the forced retention of power by the former president – by extreme violence, widespread repression, torture and persecution of those expressing their disagreement,” Christian Vision said in a statement.
âThe forced resignation of Archbishop Artemy undermines the authority of the hierarchy among the faithful, the laity and the clergy, and damages the reputation of the Orthodox Church in Belarusian society.