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 January 3, 2021, the 75th birthday of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Pope Francis accepted the Archbishop’s resignation letter (required under canon law for all bishops upon reaching age 75) and appointed Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec, O.P. [a Dominican] as apostolic administrator of the Minsk-Mogilev Archdiocese.   The speed of the acceptance of the resignation letter came as a surprise.  The Reuters news agency observed: “It is highly unusual for the pope to accept a bishop’s resignation precisely on his 75th birthday and even more so to announce it on a Sunday.  The speed with which the resignation was accepted indicated the possibility that a face-saving deal for both sides was found in negotiations between the Vatican and the Belarus government to win Kondrusiewicz’s return from exile in December, a diplomatic source in Rome said.”  One journalist who has covered the Vatican for many years could not recall a prior case where the resignation letter was accepted on the bishop’s exact 75th birthday.  The appointment of an apostolic administrator is also not a common practice after the retirement of a bishop at age 75.  One practical effect of the appointment of an apostolic administrator is that the vicar general will not head the archdiocese during the period after the resignation of the archbishop and before the appointment of a new archbishop.  With respect to the Minsk archdiocese, the vicar general has been Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, who has been very outspoken in defense of the protesters and who has been official warned by the Belarusian government concerning his remarks.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz announced the acceptance of his resignation letter during his homily at the festive Mass to celebrate his 75th birthday.   The Archbishop stated:

“You know that according to canon law, a bishop who has reached the age of 75 must ask the pope to release him from his duties.  Today at 12.00 Roman time, at 14.00 Belarusian time, the Vatican announced that the Pope had accepted my request.  This is reality, we cannot escape from this.  The Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese does not remain without a leader.  Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec has been appointed apostolic administrator.  I ask you to receive him with an open heart.  You probably know him well.  The church must live.  People change, but the church remains.  Thank you all, accept the blessing.”

According to an article in The Tablet by Jonathan Luxmoore, “a senior Catholic academic [presumably in Belarus] said the resignation had caused ‘shock and consternation’ among Church members and would be widely seen as a victory for the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.”

Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec (the transliteration of the Belarusian spelling of his name is actually “Kazimir Velikoselets”) is the oldest of the Catholic bishops in Belarus and will be 76 years old in May.  In May 2020 he submitted his resignation to the Pope but was informed that he would continue his functions donec aliter provideatur (until determined otherwise) for at least the next two years.  He has been the auxiliary bishop of the Pinsk diocese for over 21 years and vicar general of the diocese for 29 years.  Of the four Catholic dioceses in Belarus, Pinsk has by far the fewest Catholics – approximately 50,000 or 1.6% of the total population of the area.  I found the best descriptions of his interesting past life at ;; and .  I found the best video of him at (2019 Easter message 2+minutes).

In December 2012 Bishop Wielikosielec moved to the Gomel area (within the Pinsk diocese), a city with a population of 500,000, which then had only one Catholic parish, and has lived there in a room at the parish house since that time.    In 2018 he was instrumental in the beginning of construction of a new parish church in Gomel.   At the present time, there is a temporary small wooden chapel at the site, and apparently construction of the new church has been very slow because of lack of funds.  Bishop Wielikosielec appears to be a very spiritual person and is very well-liked.  He has stated that the problems that he has faced in his past life were overcome through prayers before the Blessed Sacrament and through the intercession of Our Lady.  Since the Belarus election, the following letter appears to be the only public statement made by him with respect to the current situation in Belarus:  In the letter, he prays for the return of Archbishop Kondrusiewicz to Belarus but does not specifically mention the protests.  He appears to live a quiet life and is seldom the subject of media coverage.  On January 4, he told the website that he was completely surprised by the announcement and is grateful to Pope Francis for “the trust placed in my humble person.”  It should be remembered that the appointment of Bishop Wielikosielec is temporary until an ordinary is appointed to the Archdiocese.  Under Belarusian law, the future archbishop must be a citizen of Belarus.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz has been chairman of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Belarus since 2015.  The vice-chairman has been Bishop Alexander Kashkevich of Grodno.  Kashkevich (now age 71) had been chairman from 2006 to 2015.  The officers of the Conference are determined by an election held by the Belarusian Catholic bishops themselves, usually every three years.  The website, the official portal of the Catholic Church in Belarus, has immediately posted that Kashkevich, by virtue of his vice-chairmanship, is now the head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops upon the retirement of Kondrusiewicz.  One website has made the point that Kashkevich as chairman of the Conference will actually be the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus.

In an interview on January 3, Metropolitan Veniamin, head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC), has stated:  “Not only the church, but every person should take care of harmony and peace in our society.  Analysis of the past year and correction of mistakes, repentance, correction of wrong actions, smoothing them out with good deeds is the main contribution.  In addition, caution in business and actions, everything must be balanced, done with love, so that there is no new development of opposition.”  The Metropolitan also stated that the BOC has submitted to the government proposed constitutional changes in such areas as marriage and allowing religious instruction in public schools.

In other Orthodox developments, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided on December 29 to hold a Bishops’ Conference November 15-18, 2021.  The statute of the Patriarchate requires that a council of bishops be held at least once every four years, and the last conference was held in 2017.  There has been no announcement with respect to the agenda of the forthcoming council.   In Montenegro, President Milo Đukanović has refused to sign and has returned to parliament the amendments relating to the very controversial law on religion.  The basis for the return relates to the quorum at the beginning of the session and the substitution of a new deputy for one who resigned.  The president of parliament has stated that parliament will vote on the amendments again, presumably with the technical procedural objections cured.  The new majority clearly has the votes to approve the amendments.  It appears that the President does not have a veto power.  One must feel sorry for Montenegro.  As I previously reported, the government in Montenegro claimed on May 25 to be the first European nation to become “Covid-free” after a number of weeks of no positive tests.  Now, the statistics show that Montenegro has the highest number of total cases per population of any nation in the world except for Andorra.

Bishop Irinej of Backa, who may be the next Serbian patriarch, has given a very long interview covering a number of different subjects.  The interview includes a discussion of “neo-papism,” which Irinej claims has now been adopted by Constantinople.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in a very recent interview has rejected the accusation of papism.  Patriarch Kirill has sent Christmas greetings to Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus.;  In the letter, Kirill appeals to Chrysostomos to “reconsider your decision [to recognize the OCU] or to postpone it until a pan-Orthodox decision is made on the Ukrainian issue.”

To all of you celebrating Christmas on January 7, I wish you a very blessed Nativity of Our Lord!

Anderson, Seattle USA