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The Internal Discussions in the Belarusian Orthodox Church on Identity and Policy Issues

A Contemporary Perspective

In: Journal of Religion in Europe
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  • 1 Polotsk State UniversityDepartment of Social Communications, Belarus, Novopolotsk
  • | 2 Södertörn UniversityDepartment of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Sweden, Huddinge
Open Access

Abstract

Based on extensive fieldwork across Belarus, this article analyses an ongoing discussion within the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) regarding various issues that are key in assessing the country’s identity politics and politico-ideological developments. Since the independence of Belarus in 1991, the Church has continuously played an important public and societal function. A special agreement, signed between the Church and Belarusian Government in 2003, has fostered Church cooperation with various governmental institutions, including educational establishments. Discussing the contribution of the BOC to the construction of a distinct Belarusian national identity, we will address the national language, relationships with the state, foreign policy orientation and the Church’s autocephaly. The empirical part of this study is based on seventeen in-depth interviews with clergymen and laypeople from the BOC. Our study shows that Church representatives have not hesitated to develop their profound perspectives on the important issues of identity politics and the relationships of the BOC and state, and these perspectives were often reflective of wider debates within Belarusian intellectual circles.

Abstract

Based on extensive fieldwork across Belarus, this article analyses an ongoing discussion within the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) regarding various issues that are key in assessing the country’s identity politics and politico-ideological developments. Since the independence of Belarus in 1991, the Church has continuously played an important public and societal function. A special agreement, signed between the Church and Belarusian Government in 2003, has fostered Church cooperation with various governmental institutions, including educational establishments. Discussing the contribution of the BOC to the construction of a distinct Belarusian national identity, we will address the national language, relationships with the state, foreign policy orientation and the Church’s autocephaly. The empirical part of this study is based on seventeen in-depth interviews with clergymen and laypeople from the BOC. Our study shows that Church representatives have not hesitated to develop their profound perspectives on the important issues of identity politics and the relationships of the BOC and state, and these perspectives were often reflective of wider debates within Belarusian intellectual circles.

1 Introduction

The August 2020 elections in Belarus, which were followed by unprecedented levels of political protests and oppression, revealed a high and, to some extent, unexpected degree of participation from representatives of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC). The Church hierarchs and clergy spoke on election issues during the electoral campaign and also articulated their perspectives after the result, at times severely criticising the authorities for their violence and brutality, and speaking about those who, in the words of the Artemiy, Archibishop of Grodno, “killed or forced others to kill the Truth.”1 Overall, the elections and subsequent events revealed that the religious factor in political mobilisation, and the relationship between Church and state had grown in importance in contemporary Belarus. August 2020 also brought a new level of intensity to the discussions of the issues of foreign policy, languages, national symbols and the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church. Finally, on 25 August, the leadership of the Church was changed: Metropolitan Pavel was replaced by Bishop Veniamin, a Belarus-born hierarch from the diocese of Borisov, who became the first Belarusian to occupy this position. Already during the electoral campaign, congregations had raised questions with clear political implications concerning, for example, why some alternative candidates who had collected the required signatures to stand were not allowed to, and why lawlessness had erupted.2

Despite the unexpected mobilisation and politicisation of Belarusian civil society, it would be naïve to think that the Orthodox Church has been caught by surprise by such questions. In fact, they were not alien to Church representatives, who had contributed to the discussion of identity-related issues at various stages of Belarusian political and societal development. The authors of this article managed to look at these discussions before the electoral turmoil, at a time when there was no political pressure and enmity of the level and intensity seen since the 2020 elections. We had ‘caught’ these debates and opinions before they were mixed, altered and torn apart by the growing polarisation, protest movement, political unrest and repression.

Based on extensive fieldwork across Belarus, this article analyses an ongoing discussion within the BOC regarding various issues that are key to assessing the country’s political and ideological developments. Even though some of the topics that the article raises have been discussed in other relevant literature, no field research in the past twenty years has specifically focused on studying the gamut of opinions on politics and ideologies espoused by priests of the BOC. We attribute this void to three things. First and foremost, it is difficult to inquire about politically sensitive issues in an authoritarian country. Second, the religious field in Belarus is not easy to enter given its closeness and rigid hierarchy. Third, religion was assumed not to act as a means of societal mobilisation in a rather secular and ‘tolerant’ Belarus. Thus, in addition to an attempt to analyse the logic and directions of discussion in the BOC, this text also presents unique empirical material on several sensitive and underexplored issues. It is built around the key research question: How have influential clergy and laypeople from the Belarusian Church engaged in discussions of identity-related issues? Specifically, it is split into the following principal areas: (1) relations with the state; (2) language issue; (3) geopolitical preferences; and (4) autocephaly. Overall, this article aims to analyse how the issues important to the state and to the Church (as a social institution) have been reflected at grassroots level. Such an analysis is most informative when combined with the analysis of the Church’s development and its place within the state and society.

2 Historical Background and Previous Research

In order to understand the context and the rationale of the discussions going on in the BOC, we need first to analyse how the Church has been established vis-à-vis the Belarusian state and society, both at the legislative and the practical level. It makes sense to divide the assessment of the relations between the BOC and state in post-Soviet Belarus into three periods. The first period embraces the early 1990s until 1996, when Alexander Lukashenko firmly established his power and changed both internal and external policies that had dominated Belarusian political discourse for several years. The second period embraces more than six years: from a revised Constitution (1996) to the adoption of a new Law on the Freedom of Conscience (2002), followed by the signing of the Agreement between the Orthodox Church and the State (2003). The third period is from 2003, since when there have been no substantial changes in Belarusian legislation on religion and in the principles governing the cooperation of the BOC with the state. Indeed, in 2003–2020 the activities of the BOC were within the framework of the earlier adopted laws, enriched by specialised decrees/letters, regulating some specific aspects of Church activities and its cooperation with governmental and non-governmental institutions. Most publications analyse the third period, not least due to the substantial data available for the last seventeen years.3

When assessing all three periods, the following should be noted. The first period was marked by attempts to formulate a new Belarusian national idea, demonstrating the break with the Soviet past. It is fair to claim that in Belarus, unlike some neighbouring countries, the nation’s ideology in the early 1990s “had never directly appealed to a religious tradition to support the collective identity of Belarusians.”4 Nelly Bekus explains this in the first instance by a high level of atheisation in Belarus, arising from the harsh anti-religious propaganda and anti-religious campaigns in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Two other reasons include “the strong association of the two main religions, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, with external cultural and political domination of Russia and Poland,” and the “strong association of Belarusian tradition with the Orthodox Church.”5 On the surface, these two points, also supported by Törnquist-Plewa and Buhr et al. might seem of relevance, but a closer look reveals their limitations.6 Indeed, the national idea in Belarus, even in the early 1990s, has never been formulated in the strong anti-Russian/pro-European forms. True, these were the building blocks in the ideology of Belarusian Popular Front and allying nationalist organisations, but these organisations never held a majority in the parliament, and their candidates managed to obtain only around 25 per cent of public support at the 1994 presidential elections. The leadership of Belarus, even before Lukashenko came to power, saw the ‘Belarusian revival’ in some balanced terms, while supporters of a more radical vision of this revival have always stayed in opposition.7 Finally, the Orthodox Church, at least in the person of its leader, Metropolitan Philaret, supported independence of Belarus, refraining at the same time from expressing geopolitical preferences. In January 1992, Metropolitan Philaret spoke in quite a positive tone in relation to independence, although he evidently expressed his concerns with social instability:

The independent Republic of Belarus has been revived! Its national symbols are restored, its spiritual values and cultural achievements are seen. It means that people did not lose their faith in God and their love for their Motherland. At the same time, we cannot remain unconcerned by the great social and moral shocks which have affected our society.8

In the previous assessments of the second period, most attention has been drawn to important legislative changes and new initiatives of Lukashenko’s government. Indeed, between 1996 and 2003 the main regulatory principles in the relations between state and Church were changed, transforming the ‘total separation’ style to a more ‘cooperationist’ model, making also a distinction between traditional confessions and newer ones.9 Natallia Vasilevich views the 2002 Law on the Freedom of Conscience as “the political investment of the government into the Orthodox Church in order to guarantee its loyalty,”10 but other scholars maintain that this law was an outcome of lengthy discussions of various groups and confessions involved.11

Finally, the assessments of the Church’s role after 2003 took contrasting, at times incompatible, directions. On the one hand, the BOC was seen as a “hostage of state policy,” which remained “a passive social actor.” Alena Alshanskaya claims that the Church “only enjoys the status of an official church but does not have any privileges impacting everyday life.”12 Bekus argues that the chosen model of cooperation has not been very useful for the Church, since “various initiatives implying state-supported participation of the Orthodox Church in the social and cultural spheres were not met with enthusiastic support on the official side.”13 At the same time, she does not deny some impact of the Church on Belarusian political life, although this impact, in her understanding, is more of an ideological character. She explains that the Church “provides a legitimate historical and cultural basis for the geopolitical concept of Belarus as a part of Orthodox Slavic civilization,” since the Orthodox tradition “justifies Belarusians’ political alliances with its eastern neighbour in the perception of Belarusian people.”14 Vasilevich is convinced that the real influence of the Church is not that substantial. Discussing the Church’s attempts to influence two pieces of legislation, The Law On Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Guarantees of their Application for Citizens and the Law on Healthcare, she claims that, in the first case, only “some cosmetic changes to the law were made,” while the anti-abortion lobbying in the Law on Healthcare was, in her opinion, more successful.15

There are some opposite assessments, which give to the Church more substantial role, with the recognition of its higher level of influence. Dmitriy Nizovich claims that currently Church and state “find points of interaction in the socio-cultural sphere.” Moreover, the influence of the Orthodox Church on Belarusian society is “substantial.” Therefore, the Church can be regarded as an actor “influencing the socio-cultural field of the Republic of Belarus.”16 Priest Dmitriy Vorsa, who analysed the BOC’s cooperation with educational establishments, claims that “the state has admitted that the BOC is one of the most important social institutions.” He lists the main legislative acts that have been adopted in this area, saying that in the last twenty years “there was a transition from the principles of separation of the state and school from the Church, to the principle of building constructive relationships.”17 It is worth noting that earlier, in 2009, a specialist at the Ministry of Education had admitted that it was not possible to speak about a “harmonious and efficient joint work of the educational system and the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Belarus.”18 At that time (late 2000s), according to Nikolay Sukhotski, the issues of interaction of educational establishments with the BOC seemed (for many education specialists) “non-substantial” or “explosive” even “for the discussion in a pedagogical collective.”19

Overall, we can see an abundance of scholarly analysis of Church-state relations in Belarus and the development of the Orthodox Church. At the same time, one can note a lack of analysis of discussions within the BOC, and the assessments on how these discussions might affect Church perspectives on important identity issues. This article, filling this gap, maps how the discussion is going at the grassroots level, mainly among the clergy in various Belarusian regions. Indeed, many aspects of the policies, which have been discussed at the national level, can be reflected on at the grassroots level—namely the level of parishes and parish priests, as well as such organisations as brotherhoods and sisterhoods.20 It is important for us to see how the assessments have been made and how diverse arguments have been developed.

3 Research Design and Ethical Issues

In total, we approached thirty clergymen (bishops, priests and one deacon) with the request for research interviews on identity-related issues. Twelve of them (mainly bishops) declined to participate. In some cases, there was an immediate refusal for an interview, articulated either in the phone conversation, or in response to the email enquiry. However, in most cases there was no immediate response: the clergymen took some time for reflection, or to seek advice; some of them then declined to give an interview after the conversation with their superior. In one case, the priest declined to participate after receiving the interview questions, although he did not comment on the reasons for his decision (saying that he did not want to discuss these reasons). Cases were also encountered of reversed decisions: a priest from the capital city, Minsk, who initially declined to participate, changed his mind and wrote to us several days later to say that he would be ready to give an interview. In a personal conversation, during our two-hour interview, he said that he simply spoke to another priest who knows one of us personally, and obtaining a positive reference about the researcher allowed him to change his attitude towards our request.

Out of four laypeople whom we approached, two declined to give an interview, explaining this as owing to a lack of time in one case, and by the unwillingness to discuss the issues we wanted to, in the other. All final twenty interviewees provided thorough and well-grounded answers to our questions on the Church-state relations, languages issues, autocephaly, and geopolitical preferences. It is important to note that most interviewees have been representatives of the intellectual elite of the Church; they have been actively engaged in educational, social, or informational/missionary activities.

The nature of this research presupposes that it cannot be without its ethical dilemmas and concerns. These arise from the peculiarities of the actors involved and the data-gathering techniques used, related to the need to conduct a number of in-depth interviews and the need to discuss sensitive issues of Church-state relations. In general, if there is a lack of ethical principles in research, it is normally confined to the following: harm to participants, lack of informed consent, an invasion of privacy, and deception.21 None of these factors influenced this research. Indeed, most interviewees were members of expert or elite groups, who are well aware of the nature of academic research and who understand how the information disclosed to the researcher would be used. They were aware of the fact that the research concerned their professional activity, without interference in their private life. The interviewees were informed about the aims and objectives of the research project and, at their request, they could receive the preliminary questions before the interview took place. In most cases, the interviewees preferred to remain anonymous, and they were also promised that the full versions (recordings) of their interviews would only remain with the interviewer and would not be passed to someone else. All of them gave their explicit consent to use extracts from the interviews for academic purposes, such as writing academic articles/book chapters. In most cases, there was a request to agree these quotations with the interviewee, even in case of anonymous quotation. Overall, with the observance of these principles, it appears that there would be no harm to participants.

Assessing our data against Stausberg and Engler’s approach towards reliability,22 we assume that neither the different timeframe (but certainly before August 2020), nor the different sub-group would make substantial alterations to the findings. Indeed, the assessments of identity issues from clergy would normally depend on their knowledge and expertise. Regarding the validity, we have to emphasise that we interviewed clergy from different regions of Belarus (west, east, south, north and the centre), and of various levels, including parish priests and the priests working for theological schools. At the same time, the issue of generalizability is more nuanced: we can hardly make strict conclusions about the overall attitudes among the Belarusian clergy towards, for instance, languages or autocephaly, or some other identity-related issues. Indeed, this study involves fifteen clergymen out of 1868 serving in the BOC.23 Based on the findings, one cannot categorically claim that the Orthodox clergy is, say, more inclined towards the greater support of the Belarusian language, or for keeping the status quo. What we have in our data, are the priests’ reflections on complicated and often conflicting issues. The Orthodox Church, as an institution functioning in specific Belarusian circumstances, is not taking an official stance on these issues, although some have been commented on at the level of the Holy Synod. The deliberations of the priests reflect their own personal perspectives, not the official stance of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The analysis of these deliberations allows us to see the thrust of the main arguments in the context of identity politics in Belarus. Indeed, our interviewees expressed their clear approaches towards the issues, which are regarded as important for Belarusian identity and can be seen as contributors to the process of nation-building. These include: the current status and role of languages (Belarusian/Russian); the attitude towards the state and its policies in different areas; the support/opposition to certain foreign policy priorities; and the issues of the Church’s autocephaly.

4 The Interaction with the State

Currently, the interaction of the BOC and Belarusian state is framed, first and foremost, by the constitution and the 2002 Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations. This law specifically recognises the “determining role of the Orthodox Church in the historical formation and development of spiritual, cultural and state traditions of the Belarusian people.” The provisions of this law allowed the signing in June 2003 of a special agreement between the BOC and the state (where the Orthodox Church was recognised as “one of the most important social institutions” in the country) and provided guarantees for the “freedom of the [Church’s] internal organisation.” The BOC emphasised that “cooperation with the state helps to strengthen the spiritual and social activity of the Church and to improve opportunities for the common opposition to pseudo-religious structures, which create a danger for the individual and for society.”24 The agreement gives priority to the cooperation between Church and state in the spheres of education, culture, charitable work, family and family values, morality, etc. This was a unique agreement for post-Communist Belarus; also, it was unique for this region, since no neighbouring Orthodox country (Russia or Ukraine) has elaborated anything similar to this. In our view, it was a clear recognition of the specific role and status of the BOC, as one that could be regarded by the state as a very important partner, having a higher significance in comparison with other religious organisations.

The agreement between Church and state allowed the BOC to sign more specific agreements (or programmes of cooperation) with a number of state institutions.25 The practicalities of cooperation between the Church and governmental institutions have varied in their scope and intensity. For example, cooperation with the Ministry of Information has provided some opportunities for interaction between the Church and mass media. The Ministry of Culture has cooperated with the Church in the area of caring for items of cultural and religious heritage. Cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has been necessary, inter alia, to guarantee the access of priests to geriatric homes in order to help elderly people resident there. The Ministry of Defence has allowed priests to be present in military units, although not on a full-time basis. In fact, the institution of full-time army chaplains has never developed in Belarus, therefore the priests conducting their pastoral duties in the army do so on a voluntary basis. The same applies to pastoral work in prisons and hospitals. The cooperation with the Ministry of Education was particularly productive, leading to the opening at secondary schools of the elective course ‘Foundations of Orthodox Culture’ and other similar courses.

The opinions of priests about the interaction with state institutions and the practical significance of the agreements between the BOC and state26 reflect mainly their own experiences and reflect their practical work in this field. This allows us to assess the practicalities at the grassroots level, which are not always seen on a more global state level. Normally, clergy have provided a balanced assessment of this cooperation, avoiding sharp corners. Fr Pavel claimed that the state had done everything it could have: it established an appropriate legal model that “could be used, in the first instance, by the state institutions, civil servants, so that they could implement all of these documents and agreements in their work.”27 Fr Sergiy A. believes that relations between Church and state are now optimal, and the state “does not interfere substantially in inter-Church affairs.”28 Priest Sergiy G. also praises these agreements, saying that they are “good,” and that they speak about the partnership of Church and state institutions, when both institutions have been called “equal partners.” He believes that, at the time of signing, the thrust of these agreements had been satisfactory, but that now there is a need to look for more concrete and substantial cooperation.29 On the positive side, these agreements allow access to health institutions and educational establishments: this was more difficult to do before the agreements were in place. As a priest said, previously he was asked (when invited to schools) “not to speak about God,” or not to wear priest’s vestments. Then the developments turned to the better, and now, according to Fr Evgeniy, “we can interact [with educational establishments] without violating any laws.”30 As was recognised by a priest from Vitebsk region (eastern Belarus), these agreements really work, although they (clergy) wish to enlarge and intensify them.31 On the other hand, Fr Sergiy M. is much less optimistic; he says that he is deeply dissatisfied with the agreements, since “much effort is directed at the creation of some bulky structures, and holding meetings. We then need to report all this, and much effort and time is consumed by such activities.”32

At the same time, almost all priests interviewed admit that the practical implementation of these agreements depends on the will of local authorities or representatives of the local institutions involved. There is also a regional dimension in this. For instance, in the areas of Belarus that had been part of Poland up to September 1939, the level of religiosity is higher and the attitudes towards religious communities are often more positive than in the regions that were subject to the communist anti-religious policies from the early 1920s. Fr Pavel mentions the “inertia of the Soviet era,” when people, who grew up in that era, may not be convinced “even by state directives or agreements with the Church.” As a result, they will not allow Church representatives to appear in, say, educational establishments.33 Fr Sergiy B., sharing his experience of interaction with local institutions in a provincial Belarusian town, admits the inability to cooperate, since there are no concrete points in the agreements and some local authorities are still making decisions affected by “the Communist inertia in their heads.”34 Another priest, working at the regional level, admits that the agreements “did not work in such a way that all [people] immediately decided to help us.” He claims that at times a confessional factor plays a role here: a civil servant might delay what he is obliged to do just because he is, for instance, a devout Catholic and therefore is not willing to help the Orthodox Church.35 In a town in the Grodno region, a local priest experienced some difficulties in getting regular access to the local schools, mainly because their principals, members of the Catholic Church, were unwilling to cooperate.36 Father Sergiy M. describes some situations where a lack of concrete points may lead to uncertainties:

Let us discuss some practical issues. Can we place an icon of St Ephrosinia of Polotsk at school? No. But if we say that she is an educator of the 10th century? Then yes. Can we place an icon at kindergarten? No. But I can put it on a chest of drawers of my child, since it is his private space. These issues have not been solved. There is still the illusion that if we get together with state officials, sign something, then the state and society will become much closer to the Church.37

On the other hand, if the attitudes of local institutions towards the Church are more positive, then the agreements function well, with good results. For example, in Novogrudok, mainly due to the successful work of a local Orthodox sisterhood, an elective course ‘The Foundations of Orthodox Morality’ was introduced in all the schools of that town. As was recognised by the senior sister of this sisterhood, they have managed to establish good working relations with the local authorities and educational establishments.38 Therefore it is not accidental that Fr Pavel spoke about the cases when the doors are indeed open for the Church. At the same time, he admitted that in the opposite cases, if the doors are closed, “we shall be waiting, we shall not force our way.”39 Indeed, the fierce struggle to get what the Church is entitled to have (in accordance with the agreements), will not necessarily allow reaching a clear (positive) result at the end.40 However, even in these fluctuating circumstances, it is fair to claim, based on the clergy opinions, that the agreements have allowed the BOC to become more visible and influential at both national and regional levels, and some barriers to Church representatives have been lowered, or even removed altogether.

5 The Language Issue

As evident from sociological polls, the language issue is not regarded as very significant for the identity of Belarusians: only 54 per cent of the respondents in Belarus say that “it [the national language] is important/somewhat important” to truly share their national identity.41 This importance is lower compared to neighbouring countries (for Russia it is 86 per cent, for Ukraine 62 per cent, for Poland 94 per cent). Unlike in Ukraine, the issue of language is not that divisive for Belarusian society, since the existence of two official languages—Russian and Belarusian—is acceptable to the majority of Belarusians. Most Belarusians speak Russian in everyday life, whilst the use of Belarusian language is limited. There are some ongoing debates whether the current status of this language is sufficient for its appropriate support and development. This clash of opinions has been noted in the Church, and the arguments of the priests and laypeople on this issue were, in our view, following more general debates.

Those who are in favour of the current language policy point to the normality of the developments in this area. Elena, an Orthodox editor and journalist, says that “the situation is optimal now,” since the Belarusian language is not forcibly imposed, but “it has a status, a respectful status … If you send your enquiry to the governmental institutions in Belarusian, they are obliged to respond to you in the same language.”42 This viewpoint is supported by Fr Dimitriy, who says that in spite of the claims of “Belarusianphiles” about “discrimination” of the Belarusian language and culture, in reality “nobody forbids Belarusian language, and Belarusian development.”43 On the top of this, there is also explanation that a specific geopolitical situation in Belarus justifies the use of two official languages, and no pressure or coercion should be allowed in this sphere:

A person should speak the language he is accustomed to speak. For me personally it would have been difficult to switch [into Belarusian] if, say, from tomorrow, everything was to be in Belarusian only. I assume that the current status of two official languages is justified in our country. We have a specific geopolitical situation; therefore it is pertinent that everyone can speak the language which is closer to him, either Russian, or Belarusian … I also think that a serious contribution [from the Church to the language development] is the translation of the Holy Scriptures into Belarusian. It is a very substantial contribution to the development of our Belarusian culture, especially its Church component.44

Finally, some priests assume that the contraposition between two languages should be avoided, since both can be regarded as native ones for Belarusians. Therefore, the use of two languages is beneficial for the development of culture, for improving scientific ties with other countries, and for a better spread of Belarusian culture outside Belarus. However, this optimistic approach is challenged by those who feel that the Belarusian language is not adequately supported. This position is reflective of the perspective that the national language is key to Belarusian identity and nation-building. As Fr Georgiy explained:

I believe that as an official language and as the language of the titular nation, the Belarusian language does not fulfil its functions. Unfortunately, it is somewhere on the periphery. I remember that in the early 1990s it was introduced more actively. If we had not changed it, we would have had by now a normal Belarusian-language society. For instance, in Lithuania the youth speak Lithuanian; they do not assume that this language is worse than the Russian.45

According to Fr Sergiy G., “regarding the native language, the current situation is absolutely abnormal.” He explains this by the legacies of the Soviet era, when the forcible exclusion of the Belarusian language from education and society had taken place. Now it is necessary to return “the native language” to everyday life, but the measures taken should avoid coercion:

We had a program of Belarusification, in the 1990s, and I liked it. For instance, teachers who used Belarusian got some premium. Nobody was forced to teach in Belarusian, but the premium was like a stimulus. As a result, teachers made some efforts and improved their knowledge of Belarusian. Also, schoolchildren got accustomed to communicate in Belarusian. There was no coercion, but there was a result. I think that some similar stimulus should be used now: this is the duty of the Belarusian state.46

Overall, these two approaches co-exist in the Church, remaining a part of the appropriate intellectual discussions. At the top hierarchical level, the Church is supportive of translating services into Belarusian, but only in cases where there is demand from parishioners. Currently, there are around ten parishes in Belarus where, at the request of members of the congregation, the liturgy is celebrated (from time to time) in Belarusian. Interestingly, there is no Church in Belarus where Russian is used as a liturgical language, since Church-Slavonic has remained throughout Belarusian Orthodox parishes, with the exception of the ten parishes where Belarusian was introduced.

6 The Geopolitical Controversies

Since Belarus is located between the EU and Russia, there is a certain influence on the identity of Belarusians from this location, by often incompatible and diverse paradigms coming from the East and the West, and by certain political and ideological connotations. The choice between Russia and the EU is not just confined to simple geopolitical or economic preferences or benefits; it often includes the religious dimension, which makes this choice important from the perspective of the believer. The BOC did not take any official stance on where the country should go, since this issue is not regarded as one where the Church feels itself competent to make a recommendation. As seen in the “Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church,” the Russian Orthodox Church is more in favour of integration processes than nation-states, but this is not a compulsory guidance on this issue for the Church structures (say, exarchates, dioceses, etc.).47 Metropolitan Pavel, head of the BOC from December 2013 until August 2020, when asked in an interview about possible unification of Slavs and the origin of the Slavs from the old-Rus people, replied in a rather vague manner:

If we go further, we all originated from Adam and Eve … Regarding Slavs, there are indeed Slavic people. Unfortunately, we are now divided by political borders. Someone lives in Russia; someone lives in Belarus or Ukraine. But there are many Slavs around the globe. Of course, Slavs are united by common language, culture, religion and, of course, the Orthodox Church. We all are united by the Gospel. But the Gospel also unites Africans, Europeans, Americans. Therefore I do not divide people on the basis of their national origin and the colour of their skin … Any division does not bring good results. Yes, we are now separated by political and geographical borders, but there are no borders for Christians; we communicate with each other in prayer.48

Analysing our interviews, we have discovered that the main arguments in favour of closer union with Russia (in the case of if Belarus needs to choose between Russia and the EU) were following cultural and moral dimensions. Fr Dimitriy specified that in Russia, from the perspectives of moral and spiritual values, there is an appropriate order. On the contrary, he observes in Europe a terrible devastating spiritual power, with the recognition of same-sex marriages: “This is worse for me, than, for instance, poverty … This really destroys souls. And it is awful that this is encouraged.”49 Speaking in a more cultural sense, Fr Sergiy G. specified that “in our relations with Russia, with Russian people, we have deep, going into centuries, historical and spiritual commonality.” At the same time, he underlined that in all circumstances, “Belarusians should remain themselves, and Russia should put no obstacles to [our] original identity.” Also, Fr Sergiy G. is convinced that Belarus has no prospects without Russia, both in economic and spiritual dimensions.50 Fr Sergiy B. is convinced that the integration should be with East, not West, because “the West has always been hostile towards Russia, and Belarus has been perceived, historically, as a part of Russia.” Furthermore, he believes that Russia occupies a unique place in the contemporary world, and Russia is closer to Belarus than anybody else.51 Fr Igor is convinced of the importance of the union with Russia, especially in view of the fact that:

We were able to begin in the unity with Russia. If there was no Russia, nor its policy, its enlargement, there would be no Belarus. As a bishop said, we now glorify Kosciuszko, Kalinowski, as if they were our national heroes, and, at the same time, we celebrate, say, 75th anniversary of Brest region. But if Kosciuszko won, there would be no Brest region, only eastern borderland of Poland. They say that Suvorov was a bad guy, but, honestly, we exist thanks to him. Otherwise it would have been Poland here. Also, Belarus appeared in the Soviet Union, and we bear the legacy of the BSSR [Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic], not the Belarusian Peoples’ Republic.52

The arguments of the opposite side were mainly appealing towards the importance of European values and the high living standards in the European Union (in some cases, the political and ideological reasons were also mentioned). Fr Georgiy argued that “closer contacts with the EU could bring economic and political usefulness,” while “the stock phrases of the Russian world” should not be applied to Belarus.53 Priest Evgeniy S. emphasised that, as a father, he sees the perspectives of his children “in terms of further studies, or more stable prospects, in Europe.” However, he also admits that there are few real believers in Europe, and “their mind is different, regarding the Church attendance on Sundays and the Church status, although they [Europeans] have better social protection than in Belarus.”54 Finally, some priests provided assessments of a more neutral character, emphasising the need for spiritual foundation in any choice. Fr Pavel S. was adamant to claim that the importance of “going to God and repentance” is in the first place; it cannot be substituted by the discussions of where Belarus should be, with the EU, or Russia. Thus, if the spiritual crisis is not overcome, it would be bad for Belarusians in all corners of the world, be it West or East.55

7 The Church Autocephaly

The issue of full ecclesiastical independence of the Church became particularly politicised after the 2018–2019 events in Ukraine, with the granting of autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the Church group formed from the Kiev Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.56 The creation of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was generally perceived with negativity in Belarus, and the BOC joined the voices condemning the unilateral interference of Constantinople in Ukrainian religious life. The issue of autocephaly in the Belarusian context could be regarded as a reflection of the ‘East–West’ debates; it is partly seen in the argumentation of the priests and laypeople who expressed their diverse assessments. Those who argue in favour of, at least, a greater autonomy for the Belarusian Church, normally point to the necessity to have a head of the Church from among local hierarchs, not from outside Belarus. Elena, an Orthodox journalist, made her emphasis on this issue, explaining that “if the hierarch comes from abroad, not properly knowing some of the traditions of the Belarusian Church, he may (in a mistaken move) reject something that has become a part of our tradition.”57

The arguments of the opponents of autocephaly could be confined to the following. First, the size and significance of the Church: it is not as large and influential as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Second, some priests were afraid that in the case of the Church becoming fully independent, it may be heavily controlled by Belarusian authorities (currently they cannot exercise their full control, since the Church’s centre is in Moscow). As Fr Evgeniy stated, “if we had had autocephaly, our metropolitans would have been changed more often than the governmental ministers.”58 According to Fr Sergiy A. there is not “any need and thirst for autocephaly, or autonomy, coming from inside.”59 Some priests assume that there will be no spiritual (or related) changes if autocephaly is received, therefore they do not regard it as necessary for the Church, for religious reasons. In fact, these religious reasons and the interest of the Church surely prevail in the assessments, although, as Fr Sergiy G. has noted, at times a political component is also visible:

The autocephaly is the idea of politicians, of those politicians who are not positive about the Church, who do not like Orthodoxy. Moreover, when, in December 2014, an idea of autonomy for the Church was articulated by Metropolitan Pavel at the gathering of clergy of Minsk region, how was it perceived? In those political circles who wish to separate Belarus from Russia, it was perceived positively. But was it [separation] a real idea of Metropolitan Pavel? Of course, no. He did not mean that, it was just an interpretation of his words. On the other hand, people who love Russia, who are sure that the Belarusians and Russians are brotherly people (and these are the majority who have such views in Belarus), they saw a threat in this, as if it was an attempt to separate us. Therefore, Metropolitan Pavel sometime later said that the idea should be abandoned, at least for a decade. So, what was the result of this idea? It was a negative result, from both sides.60

To an extent, the religious events in Ukraine have also contributed to the negative perception of autocephaly. Belarusians were observing a strong involvement of Ukrainian authorities in gaining this autocephaly, and the violence against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). As a result, the idea of autocephaly became perceived more as a political-ideological project, which is of relevance to politicians, but has much less significance to clergy and ordinary believers. The autocephaly acquired divisive rather than uniting features. Although there is a portion of Orthodox believers in Belarus who share the ideas of full ecclesiastical independence, they are in the minority whose identity is often shaped by anti-Russian sentiments. Even if they belong formally to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, this affiliation is at times uncomfortable for them, since it comes into contradiction with their political choices. However, leaving the BOC is currently not an option for them, since there are no other canonical Orthodox Churches in Belarus to join. At the same time, the majority of our interviewees do not regard the autocephaly as an acute and important issue, having a clear understanding that it is not a priority either for a Church, or for a state.

8 Conclusions

After 1991, when Belarus became an independent country, the Church was increasing its influence, establishing a cooperationist model of its interaction with the state, which denotes the recognition of the contribution of the Church to certain policy areas. At the same time, the overall influence of the Church on Belarusian identity formation has remained limited, reflective of the level of religiosity of Belarusians, the Soviet legacies and the specificities of Church-state relations in Belarus as well as the specific features of its political regime. Internally, the discussion of the identity-related issues in the BOC reflects the existence of various approaches and the ability to develop rather sophisticated intellectual arguments.

The following conclusions can be made here. First, there are no reliable empirical studies that allow researchers to identify the prevailing attitudes within the BOC towards identity-marking issues, such as the language debates or foreign policy preferences. Making a claim that the Church is ‘pro-Russian’, or ‘anti-European’ is not supported by the available adequate evidence, nor can it be regarded as a reflection of the essence of the Church as a social institution. In fact, in most cases the representatives of the BOC refrain from making one-sided statements, trying to find a more balanced approach, acceptable to people with different political views. The BOC encompasses a variety of views and perspectives, and the priests try to find those points that will be less divisive, although in general their arguments are close to the reasoning of those who represent some similar viewpoints of the community of experts and researchers. This means that those priests who are in favour of integration with Russia will mainly utilise cultural arguments, whilst priests supporting closer relations with the EU will make an emphasis on economic benefits or political freedoms. The clergymen who are supportive of the current language policies will stress the importance of the freedom of choice in this area and the status of Russian as a native language for Belarusians, but the clergy who are unhappy with the current developments will speak about the necessity of supporting the Belarusian language. The issue of autocephaly is discussed always bearing in mind the negative perception of developments in Ukraine, where a greater politicisation of this ecclesiastical problem only escalated tensions and blurred the prospects of reconciliation.

Second, we challenge the view of the BOC as a rather ‘weak’ social institution, unable to efficiently and effectively formulate its visions and interests, and ‘heavily dependent’ on the government. In our opinion, this is a simplification of the role and place of the Church in Belarus. The discussions within the intellectual elite of the Church that we analysed in this article reflect and recognise the importance of the BOC in Belarusian society. Although the ongoing influence of the Church on identity formation and governmental policies in different fields is subject to various interpretations, we have demonstrated that Church representatives have not hesitated to develop their perspectives on the important issues of the relationships of the BOC, state and society. Our study has shown that these approaches reflect, to an extent, the viewpoints of individual clergymen and laypeople, and they also reveal the direction (education, family policies, etc.) of the Church’s interests in the Belarusian public sphere.

Funding

This study was supported by The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies (Östersjöstiftelsen), Research project “Religion in post-Soviet nation-building: Official mediations and grassroots’ accounts in Belarus” (61/2017).

1

Archbishop Artemiy was in office until June 2021. Archbishop of Grodno, “Obrashcheniye arkhiyepiskopa Grodnenskogo i Volkovysskogo Artemiya k kliru i pastve Grodnenskoy yeparkhii” [Appeal of Archbishop of Grodno and Volkovysk Artemiy to the clergy and flock of Grodno diocese]. https://orthos.org/eparhiya/bishop/speech/2020/08/14/obrashchenie-arhiepiskopa-grodnenskogo-volkovysskogo-artemiya-k.

2

Alexei Zalitsaev, “V takie dni sviashchenniki prizvany byt′ mirotvorcami: Ierey Alexei Zalitsaev—o sobytiyach v Belarusi” [In Such Days Priests Are Called to be Peacebuilders: Priest Alexei Zalitsaev—About Events in Belarus]. https://www.pravmir.ru/v-takie-dni-svyashhenniki-prizvany-byt-mirotvorczami-ierej-aleksej-zaliczaev-o-sobytiyah-v-belarusi/.

3

Nelly Bekus, “On the Political Mission of Orthodoxy in Belarus and its Consequences for the Church and State,” in: Michal Wawrzonek, Nelly Bekus and Mirella Korzeniewska-Wiszniewska, Orthodoxy Versus Post-Communism?: Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine and the Russkiy Mir (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 71–158; Katja Richters, The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church: Politics, Culture and Greater Russia (London: Routledge, 2013); Natallia Vasilevich, “Unequal by Default: Church and State in Belarus in the Period of Consolidated Authoritarianism,” in: Valer Bulhakaŭ and Aliaksei Lastouski (eds.), Civil Society in Belarus 2000–2015: Collection of Texts (Warsaw: East European Democratic Centre, 2015), 97–128; Galina Miazhevich, “Religious Affiliation and the Politics of Post-Soviet Identity: The Case of Belarus,” in: C. Kelly and M. Bassin (eds.), Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 341–361; Larissa Titarenko, “On the Shifting Nature of Religion During the Ongoing Post-Communist Transformation in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine,” Social Compass 55/2 (2008), 237–254.

4

Bekus, “On the Political Mission,” 73.

5

Bekus, “On the Political Mission,” 74–75.

6

B. Törnquist-Plewa, Vitryssland: Språk och nationalism i ett kulturellt gransland [Belarus: Language and Nationalism of the “Cultural Next-Door”] (Lund: Studentlitteratur AB, 2001); R. Buhr, V. Shadurski and S. Hoffman, “Belarus: An Emerging Civic Nation?” Nationalities Papers 39/3 (2011), 425–440.

7

Aliaksei Lastouski, Nikolay Zakharov, and Sven Hort, “Belarus—Another ‘Iceberg Society’?: Class, Memory, Nation-Building and State-Formation in European Modernity,” in: Gunnar Olofsson and Sven Hort (eds.), Class, Sex and Revolutions: Göran Therborn—A Critical Appraisal (Lund: Arkiv Academic Press, 2016): 155–183.

8

“Rozhdestvenskoye poslaniye mitropolita Philareta” [Christmas Pastoral Letter of Metropolitan Philaret], Minskiye Eparkhialniye Vedomosti [Minsk Diocese Bulletin] 6 (1991), 6.

9

Sergei Mudrov, “Church-State Relations in the Post-Communist World: The Cases of Belarus and Estonia,” Journal of Church and State 59/4 (2017), 649–671.

10

Vasilevich, “Unequal by Default,” 114.

11

Igor Kotliarov and Leonid Zemliakov, Respublika Belarus v konfessionalnom izmereniyi [The Republic of Belarus from a Confessional Dimension] (Minsk: Izdatelstvo MIU, 2004).

12

Alena Alshanskaya, “The Russian–Ukrainian Conflict and the European Refugee Crisis: The Policies of State and Church and Civil Society in Belarus,” in: L. Leustean (ed.) Forced Migration and Human Security in the Eastern Orthodox World (London: Routledge 2019), 128.

13

Bekus, “On the Political Mission,” 127

14

Bekus, “On the Political Mission,” 146.

15

Vasilevich, “Unequal by Default,” 124–125.

16

Dimitry V. Nizovich, “Predposylki i soderzhaniye sotsial′no-kul′turnoy deyatel′nosti Pravoslavnoy tserkvi v Respublike Belarus” [Preconditions and Content of Social and Cultural Activity of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Belarus]. Istoricheskiye i psikhologo-pedagogicheskiye nauki: sb. nauch. statey [Historical and psychological-pedagogical sciences: collection of research articles] (Minsk: RIVSH, 2019), 386.

17

Dmitriy Vorsa, “Retrospektivnyy analiz normativnoy pravovoy bazy Respubliki Belarus′ po voprosam vzaimodeystviya gosudarstvennykh organov s Belorusskoy Pravoslavnoy Tserkov′yu v sfere obrazovaniya” [Retrospective Analysis of the Legal Basis of the Republic of Belarus on the Issues of Interaction of Governmental Institutions with the Belarusian Orthodox Church in the Sphere of Education] Vysheishay shkola 4 (2019), 51.

18

Nikolay N. Sukhotski, “Sotsial′no-pedagogicheskiye aspekty vzaimodeystviya uchrezhdeniy obrazovaniya i pravoslavnoy tserkvi v respubliki Belarus” [Social and Pedagogical Aspects of the Interaction of Educational Establishments and Orthodox Church in the Republic of Belarus], Problemy upravleniya 4 (2009), 218.

19

Sukhotski, “Sotsial′no-pedagogicheskiye aspekty,” 219.

20

Sergei Mudrov and Nikolay Zakharov, “The Belarusian Orthodox Church at Grassroots Level: The Organisation, Functioning and Role of Orthodox Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods in Belarus.” Journal of the Belarusian State University. Sociology 1 (2021), 70–78.

21

Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 479.

22

Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion (London: Routledge, 2014), 7

23

As of November 2019.

24

Soglasheniye o sotrudnichestve mezhdu Respublikoi Belarus i Belorusskoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkoviyu [The Agreement on Cooperation between the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Orthodox Church], 2003. http://www.church.by/resource/Dir0009/Dir0015/index.html.

25

The Belarusian Orthodox Church adopted the programmes of cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on the Prevention of the Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster and with the Ministries of Interior, Health, Information, Culture, Defence, Education, Emergencies, Natural Resources, Sport and Tourism, and Labour and Social protection.

26

Here we mean the 2003 Agreement on Cooperation between the Belarusian Church and State, and the specific Programmes of Cooperation, about which we wrote earlier.

27

Research interview with archdeacon Pavel, 24.08.2019.

28

Research interview with priest Sergiy A., 24.05.2019.

29

Research interview with priest Sergiy G., 27.06.2019.

30

Research interview with priest Evgeniy, 12.03.2019.

31

Research interview with priest Peter (name has been changed), 23.05.2019.

32

Research interview with priest Sergiy M., 16.05.2019.

33

Research interview with archdeacon Pavel, 24.08.2019.

34

Research interview with priest Sergiy B., 02.05.2019.

35

Research interview with priest Dimitriy B., 04.04.2019.

36

Research interview with priest Sergiy S., 16.10.2020.

37

Interview with Fr Sergiy M.

38

Research interview with Irina Kokosh, senior sister of Orthodox sisterhood in Novogrudok, 14.07.2020.

39

Interview with Fr Pavel.

40

Interview with Fr Sergiy B.

41

Pew Research Center, “Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues” (2018). https://www.pewforum.org/2018/10/29/eastern-and-western-europeans-differ-on-importance-of-religion-views-of-minorities-and-key-social-issues/, 28.

42

Research interview with Elena, an Orthodox journalist and editor, 14.06.2019.

43

Research interview with priest Dimitriy B., 04.04.2019.

44

Research interview with priest Sviatoslav, 02.05.2019.

45

Research interview with priest Georgiy, 29.06.2019.

46

Research interview with priest Sergiy G., 27.06.2019.

47

As noted in the “Basis of the Social Concept,” the Orthodox Church, “not denying the historical significance of the mono-ethnic state,” at the same time “welcomes the voluntary unification of peoples into a single organism and the creation of multinational states, if in these states the rights of any of their peoples are not violated.” See, https://russianorthodoxchurch.ca/en/the-basis-of-the-social-concept-of-the-russian-orthodox-church/2408.

48

Research interview with Metropolitan Pavel Ponomarev, 05.07.2019.

49

Interview with Fr Dimitriy B.

50

Interview with Fr Sergiy G.

51

Interview with Fr Sergiy B.

52

Research interview with priest Igor, 15.07.2019.

53

Research interview with priest Georgiy, 29.06.2019.

54

Research interview with priest Evgeniy S., 30.05.2019.

55

Research interview with priest Pavel S., 15.04.2019.

56

Sergei Mudrov, “The Confrontation, Intimidation and New Divisions? A Controversial Path to the Creation of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 18/54 (2019), 62–78; Andriy Mykhaleyko, “The New Independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” Südosteuropa 67/4 (2020), 476–499.

57

Interview with Elena.

58

Interview with Fr Evgeniy L.

59

Interview with Fr Sergiy A.

60

Interview with Fr Sergiy G.

References

  • Alshanskaya, Alena, “The Russian–Ukrainian Conflict and the European Refugee Crisis: The Policies of State and Church and Civil Society in Belarus,” in: L. Leustean (ed.) Forced Migration and Human Security in the Eastern Orthodox World (London: Routledge 2019), 126–140.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Archbishop of Grodno, “Obrashcheniye arkhiyepiskopa Grodnenskogo i Volkovysskogo Artemiya k kliru i pastve Grodnenskoy yeparkhii” [Appeal of Archbishop of Grodno and Volkovysk Artemiy to the Clergy and Flock of Grodno Diocese], (2020). https://orthos.org/eparhiya/bishop/speech/2020/08/14/obrashchenie-arhiepiskopa-grodnenskogo-volkovysskogo-artemiya-k (accessed 15 December 2021).

  • Bekus, Nelly, “On the Political Mission of Orthodoxy in Belarus and its Consequences for the Church and State,” in: Michal Wawrzonek, Nelly Bekus and Mirella Korzeniewska-Wiszniewska, Orthodoxy Versus Post-Communism?: Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine and the Russkiy Mir (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 71–158.

  • Bryman, Alan, Social Research Methods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

  • Buhr, Renee, Victor Shadurski, and Steven Hoffman, “Belarus: An Emerging Civic Nation?,” Nationalities Papers 39/3 (2011), 425–440.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Kotliarov, Igor and Leonid Zemliakov, Respublika Belarus v konfessionalnom izmereniyi [The Republic of Belarus from a Confessional Dimension], (Minsk: Izdatelstvo MIU, 2004).

  • Lastouski, Aliaksei, Nikolay Zakharov and Sven Hort, “Belarus—Another ‘Iceberg Society’?: Class, Memory, Nation-Building and State-formation in European Modernity,” in: Gunnar Olofsson and Sven Hort (eds.), Class, Sex and Revolutions: Göran Therborn—A Critical Appraisal (Lund: Arkiv Academic Press, 2016), 155–183.

  • Miazhevich, Galina, “Religious Affiliation and the Politics of Post-Soviet Identity: The Case of Belarus,” in: C. Kelly and M. Bassin (eds.), Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 341–361.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Mudrov, Sergei, “Church-State Relations in the Post-Communist World: The Cases of Belarus and Estonia,” Journal of Church and State 59/4 (2017), 649–671.

  • Mudrov, Sergei, “The Confrontation, Intimidation and New Divisions? A Controversial Path to the Creation of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 18/54 (2019), 62–78.

  • Mudrov, Sergei and Nikolay Zakharov, “The Belarusian Orthodox Church at Grassroots Level: The Organisation, Functioning and Role of Orthodox Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods in Belarus,” Journal of the Belarusian State University. Sociology 1 (2021), 70–78.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Mykhaleyko, Andriy, “The New Independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” Südosteuropa 67/4 (2020), 476–499.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Nizovich, Dmitriy V. “Predposylki i soderzhaniye sotsial′no-kul′turnoy deyatel′nosti Pravoslavnoy tserkvi v Respublike Belarus” [Preconditions and Content of Social and Cultural Activity of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Belarus]. Istoricheskiye i psikhologo-pedagogicheskiye nauki: sb. nauch. statey [Historical and psychological-pedagogical sciences: collection of research articles] (Minsk: RIVSH, 2019) 380–388.

  • Pew Research Center, “Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues,” (2018). https://www.pewforum.org/2018/10/29/eastern-and-western-europeans-differ-on-importance-of-religion-views-of-minorities-and-key-social-issues/ (accessed 15 December 2021).

  • Richters, Katja, The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church: Politics, Culture and Greater Russia (London: Routledge 2013).

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • “Rozhdestvenskoye poslaniye mitropolita Philareta” [Christmas Pastoral Letter of Metropolitan Philaret], Minskiye Eparkhialniye Vedomosti [Minsk Diocese Bulletin] 6 (1991), 6.

  • Soglasheniye o sotrudnichestve mezhdu Respublikoi Belarus i Belorusskoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkoviyu [The Agreement on Cooperation between the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Orthodox Church], (2003). http://www.church.by/resource/Dir0009/Dir0015/index.html (accessed 15 December 2021).

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Stausberg, Michael and Steven Engler (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion (London: Routledge, 2014).

  • Sukhotski, Nikolay N. “Sotsial′no-pedagogicheskiye aspekty vzaimodeystviya uchrezhdeniy obrazovaniya i pravoslavnoy tserkvi v respubliki Belarus” [Social-Pedagogical Aspects of the Interaction of Educational Establishments and Orthodox Church in the Republic of Belarus], Problemy upravleniya 4 (2009), 212–220.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Titarenko, Larissa, “On the Shifting Nature of Religion during the Ongoing Post-Communist Transformation in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine,” Social Compass 55/2 (2008), 237–254.

  • Törnquist-Plewa, Barbara, Vitryssland: Språk och nationalism i ett kulturellt gransland [Belarus: Language and Nationalism of the “Cultural Next-Door”] (Lund: Studentlitteratur AB, 2001).

  • Vasilevich, Natallia, “Unequal by Default: Church and State in Belarus in the Period of Consolidated Authoritarianism,” in Valer Bulhakaŭ and Aliaksei Lastouski (eds.), Civil Society in Belarus 2000–2015: Collection of Texts (Warsaw: East European Democratic Centre, 2015), 97–128.

  • Vorsa, Dmitriy, “Retrospektivnyy analiz normativnoy pravovoy bazy Respubliki Belarus′ po voprosam vzaimodeystviya gosudarstvennykh organov s Belorusskoy Pravoslavnoy Tserkov′yu v sfere obrazovaniya” [Retrospective Analysis of the Legal Basis of the Republic of Belarus on the Issues of Interaction of Governmental Institutions with the Belarusian Orthodox Church in the Sphere of Education], Vysheishay shkola 4 (2016), 48–51.

  • Zalitsaev, Alexei, “V takie dni sviashchenniki prizvany byt′ mirotvorcami: Ierey Alexei Zalitsaev—o sobytiyach v Belarusi” [In Such Days Priests are Called to be Peacebuilders: Priest Alexei Zalitsaev—About Events in Belarus], (2020). https://www.pravmir.ru/v-takie-dni-svyashhenniki-prizvany-byt-mirotvorczami-ierej-aleksej-zaliczaev-o-sobytiyah-v-belarusi/ (accessed 15 December 2021).

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation

List of Research Interviews

  • Fr Dimitriy B., 04.04.2019.

  • Elena, an Orthodox journalist and editor, 14.06.2019.

  • Fr Evgeniy, 12.03.2019.

  • Fr Evgeniy K., 30.05.2019.

  • Fr Georgiy, 29.06.2019.

  • Fr Igor, 15.07.2019.

  • Irina Kokosh, senior sister of Orthodox sisterhood, Novogrudok, 14.07.2020.

  • Metropolitan Pavel Ponomarev, 05.07.2019.

  • Fr Pavel, 24.08.2019.

  • Fr Pavel S., 15.04.2019.

  • Fr Peter, 23.05.2019.

  • Fr Sergiy A., 24.05.2019.

  • Fr Sergiy B., 02.05.2019.

  • Fr Sergiy G., 27.06.2019.

  • Fr Sergiy M., 16.05.2019.

  • Fr Sergiy S., 16.10.2020.

  • Fr Sviatoslav, 02.05.2019.

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