Peter Anderson reports from the Orthodox world.
Longstanding reporter of the news from the Eastern Church, Peter Anderson shares our dream of a unified Christianity. His love for Orthodoxy has driven him to this personal mission to share the news of East with the world through his email list. The Urbi et Orbi Foundation is proud to share his efforts and his insights with you.
On June 9 the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate held a special remote meeting for the sole purpose of approving the following resolution: “Retire His Grace Archbishop Artemy of Grodno and Volkovyssk for health reasons according to the petition of the Synod of the Belarusian Exarchate.” The Archbishop was sent to live in Minsk and not to remain in Grodno. His replacement is Bishop Anthony of Slutsk and Soligorsk (age 40). https://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5818575.html (minutes of the meeting) Archbishop Artemy was born in Minsk, is 69 years old, and has been the Orthodox bishop of Grodno since 1996. He was the only Orthodox bishop in Belarus who spoke out strongly against the actions of the Lukashenko government during the time of the 2020 protests. His criticism of the government was the subject of a number of my previous news reports. In reporting the retirement, the media almost always noted the Archbishop’s previous criticism of the government’s treatment of protesters. Emeritus Professor Paul D. Steeves on his website Russian Religious News has translated into English three of these media news reports. See https://www2.stetson.edu/religious-news/210609a.html There have already been appeals relating to the retirement of Archbishop Artemy. The “Christian Vision Group” has issued a statement “on the forcible dismissal of Archbishop Artemy from governance of the Grodno Diocese.” (English) https://belarus2020.churchby.info/archbishop-artemy-hrodna/ The following is an interesting video, posted on June 12, in which Orthodox believers express their support for Archbishop Artemy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3LULN8NAGc There are also several online petitions seeking the reinstatement of the Archbishop. https://belsat.eu/news/10-06-2021-pravaslaunyya-belarusy-prosyats-kiraunitstva-bpts-i-rpts-admyanits-adstauku-arhiepiskapa-artsemiya/
On June 13, Radio Svoboda (funded by the United States government) posted an interview of Archbishop Artemy concerning his removal from the Grodno diocese. As was true of his remarks last year, the Archbishop is very blunt in his remarks. With respect to his retirement, he states:
It happened at the behest of the State. Now the situation has changed a little after the August unrest and a general cleansing is taking place. The border is closed, people are fired, imprisoned. While they have a lull – time to put the Church in its place a wee bit, because the churchmen do not all support the existing regime. Now representatives of the authorities are touring the dioceses, speaking there. I have even heard that they are asked not to pray for those who are imprisoned. Such prayers are forbidden so that there is not the slightest dissent anywhere. Well, and they considered it necessary to deal with me. At the initiative of this government, representatives of our system spoke with the Patriarch in Moscow and asked him to provide assistance in order to pacify the situation in Belarus. Apparently, he gave them his blessing and consent to this. The Synod immediately announced its decision.
In the interview, Archbishop Artemy discusses the claims that the government has made against him. These include a photo showing an Easter egg with the ancient coat of arms (a mounted knight with a raised sword used as the Belarusian coat of arms from 1991 to 1995). The Archbishop replies that the diocese has 100 parishes and how can he control what an individual paints on an Easter egg. With respect to the clergy singing the Belarusian hymn, “Might God,” he states, “We sang it for years. Our music festival Kolozhsky Blagovest with an international musical program always began with this hymn, and then suddenly it became forbidden and almost anti-church.” With respect to autocephaly for the Belarusian Church, he states that he never spoke about autocephaly and that this question is not even ripe for discussion. With respect to visiting prisoners, this is what Christ told us to do. The Archbishop states that “we have become a church of the period of stagnation, persecution, and captivity. We are already surpassing the Khrushchev times, when the commissioner conveyed his will on how to live to the parishes and on what to say.” [Interestingly, on April 27, Alexander Rumak, the Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs for Belarus, came to Grodno to meet with Archbishop Artemy. https://orthos.org/news/2021/04/27/arhiepiskop-artemiy-provyol-vstrechu-upolnomochennym-po-delam-religiy-nacionalnostey]
The Archbishop stated that he did not seek to retire and that he does not believe that his health prevents him from serving. With respect to his health, he admits that he has some age-related problems, but they are not serious. There are no statements by doctors that he cannot do his work. With respect to the Belarusian Synod seeking his retirement “for health reasons,” he told the Synod at its meeting on June 8 “you are acting dishonestly.” With respect to being ordered to live in Minsk, he states: “For some reason I was ordered to leave my place of residence. I have to leave for Minsk in order to stay there all alone. They want to corner me. We will live. I have a state pension … we’ll see if it is necessary, I’ll get a job as a watchman in a parish.” With respect to speaking out with respect to the protests and violence, he states: “It is natural to grieve for your people. We do not assess the authorities or the political structure. We say that we see a violation of all the norms of human existence. We consider this unacceptable and call for an end to the brutality against our people and the release of innocent prisoners. There was no reaction of the Church to this, and now it is not even remembered, as if no one had ever written anything.”
In my opinion, whether or not one agrees with the statements made by the Archbishop, one cannot accuse him of being easily intimidated. However, since the first of 2021 and prior to this interview, I have not seen on the Internet any statements by him critical of the government. In response to questions from journalists, the Vatican Press Office issued the following statement on June 11: “The Holy See continues to follow closely the developments of the situation in Belarus and the steps taken by the various actors involved, remaining committed to the achievement of democratic and peaceful solutions to the legitimate demands of the Belarusian people. ” https://www.agensir.it/quotidiano/2021/6/11/bielorussia-bruni-la-santa-sede-continua-a-seguire-gli-sviluppi/
There have been a number of trips to the Republic of Georgia recently by Ukrainian visitors who discussed the church situation in Ukraine. On June 3 Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmygal met with Patriarch Ilia of Georgia. https://www.kmu.gov.ua/en/news/premyer-ministr-ukrayini-zustrivsya-z-katolikosom-patriarhom-vsiyeyi-gruziyi Perhaps to counter the effect of this visit, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil led a UOC-MP delegation (which included Vadim Novinsky) to meet with Patriarch Ilia on June 7. https://spzh.news/en/news/80463-upravdelami-upc-vstretilsya-s-patriarkhom-gruzii-ilijej On June 11 Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun was in Tbilisi and gave an interview to Georgian television. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDzo8tywFRw&t=7s (original interview in Russian); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfHR8ydzNsU (Georgian translation). The following is an article giving some of his comments in English. https://raskolam.net/en/38128-govorun-rozpoviv-pro-podolannya-rozkolu-v-ukraini-na-gruzinskomu-telekanali Archimandrite Cyril was the head of the DECR of the UOC-MP under Metropolitan Volodymyr and now is a supporter of the OCU. Earlier the Ecumenical Patriarch gave an interview to a Georgian television channel. With this activity, one wonders whether some action by the Georgian Patriarchate with respect to Ukraine is anticipated.
On June 11, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated at the Phanar the Divine Liturgy on his saint name day. https://orthodoxtimes.com/divine-liturgy-for-ecumenical-patriarchs-name-day-in-the-phanar-video/; https://www.romfea.gr/oikoumeniko-patriarxeio/43996-oikoumenikos-patriarxis-den-diapragmatevometha-tas-efthynas-tou-thronou-mas After the completion of the Liturgy, the Ecumenical Patriarch stated: “We have and recognize that we have a unique responsibility to the Orthodox as the Archbishop of Constantinople. We do not negotiate the responsibilities of our Throne. We do not give them up. We do not abdicate them. We will not allow the alienation of blessed ecclesiology as it is boldly described in the texts of our history.” This statement highlights an important difference between Constantinople and Moscow. Moscow contends that the Ecumenical Patriarch is seeking to assert powers which he never had and is seeking to become a form of Eastern pope. On the other hand, Constantinople claims that it has been exercising the powers that it already had and that Moscow is seeking to take these powers away. The following article from the Pantocrator Monastery at Mt. Athos is an example of some of the arguments used by Constantinople to justify its actions in Ukraine. https://www.archons.org/documents/2170772/4929147/ukraine-guide.pdf/65e90856-8852-4ce1-83d2-0e5af27857ff
In other news, Metropolitan Hilarion has been awarded the prestigious Russian Federation State Prize “‘for a contribution to the development of culture and educational work”. https://mospat.ru/en/news/87408/ As previously reported, the Bose Monastery, which holds the highly regarded annual conference on Orthodox spirituality, experienced internal tensions with respect to its leadership after Enzo Bianchi (the founder of the Monastery) stepped down as its head in 2017. After a Vatican investigation last year, Bianchi was ordered to leave the Monastery, apparently to avoid interference with the current leadership. Now after a year, Bianchi has complied with this order. https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2021/06/one-year-after-order-to-exile-founder-leaves-bose-monastery/ It is a sad situation, but hopefully the Monastery will continue to provide its excellent conferences. Finally, the Supreme Court of Ukraine has ruled that the UOC-KP was legally liquidated. https://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=69788; https://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/97352424?fbclid=IwAR0eDxIKHJq5dI8JKZv-sOzDG1BIh2zRCJbmzZUZtUM5VK5qab7Y291_7-4 (actual court decision).
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA