Moscow Patriarch Shares Lukashenko’s Concern for “Christian enlightenment and moral health”

Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II manages to keep a straight face as he pens a letter to President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Over to Interfax:

‘Seeing the impressive results of your previous work in this office, the multinational people of the republic have again given you a vote of confidence through supporting your candidature by a majority of votes’, the patriarchal messages says.

‘…As primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, I am very much gratified with the fact that good relations have been established between the religious and secular leaders in Belarus in the last years. These relations are called to show common concern for the restoration of shrines ruined in the past, for religious education, Christian enlightenment and moral health of society,’ the document notes.

Back in 2002, Alexy awarded Lukashenko the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh “for strengthening unity of Slav peoples”; the year before that, the Patriarch doled out a prize from  the “International Foundation for Unity of the Orthodox Peoples”.

Alexy’s support for “Europe’s last dictator” (although let’s not forget Igor Smirnov of Transnistria) is of a piece with the Russian Orthodox Church’s involvement in the Ukraine. Lawrence Uzzell, head of International Religious Freedom Watch, gave his analysis of that to the Moscow Times last summer:

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution has been a sore point for the Russian Orthodox Church for several reasons.

“Members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine acted as agents of secular Russian political interests” during the 2004 elections, Uzzell said. “There were many instances of members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine using their influence with their parishioners to get them to vote” for Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate favored by the Kremlin.

Political tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the wake of the Orange Revolution have also fueled Ukrainian desires for a church that is fully independent of Moscow. Currently, Ukraine’s main Orthodox church comes under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The Moscow Patriarchate is the last surviving Soviet institution both in terms of its statist mentality and its imperialist mentality,” Uzzell said. “In a sense it is an empire-restoring institution that is used by the Russian state as a vehicle for political interference in the affairs of countries like Ukraine.”

In Belarus, meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church is allied with the Belarusian Orthodox church; however, there is a rival Belarusian Autocephalous Church (“Authocephalous” meaning “self-governing”). Interfax reports unfavourably on this alternative group:

Moscow, March 21, Interfax – The clergy of the Belarussian Autocephalous Church, not recognized in the Orthodox world, held a service on Tuesday morning in October Square in Minsk where supporters of the former runners for Belarussian presidency, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kozulin, continue their action against the results of the elections.

…The Belarussian Autocephalous Church was established by the fascists during World War II, but not a single Belarussian bishop joined it for all the pressure from the occupants. At present, it has its headquarters in the USA, but neither there nor in Belarus there are any believers who support it, Interfax was told by a source in the Moscow Patriarchate.

In fact, the church has 4,000 or so adherents, and attempts at forming an independent church pre-dated the German invasion. The church’s leader, Bishop Petro Hushcha, was accused of indecent exposure in 1998 and imprisoned for “malicious hooliganism, committed with particular impudence and cynicism”. In 2002 a new church building belonging to the group was destroyed.

Evangelical news service ASSIST has also noted the following:

In late 2002 Belarus adopted the most repressive Religion Law in all Europe. Unregistered religious groups are illegal, and registration is severely restrictive…In December 2005 the government passed an ‘urgent’ amendment to the Criminal Code, making it illegal to ‘discredit the Republic of Belarus’. It has been at great risk that reports of systematic KGB-orchestrated religious persecution have continued to leak out of Belarus.

…On 3 March Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of Minsk was sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment for conducting worship in his home. He is pastor of Christ’s Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, one of two Reformed Baptist churches refused registration. Pastor Vyazovsky is believed to be the first pastor in Belarus to be imprisoned for religious activity since the Soviets released religious prisoners under glasnost (openness) in the mid-1980s…Forum 18 reports that the Pentecostal Minsk regional bishop, Sergei Tsvor, who is also first vice-chairman of the Pentecostal Union and pastor of the Minsk-based Good News Church, is facing the same charges.

UPDATE: Looks like Patriarch Alexy is in good company when it comes to handing out congratulations:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here Tuesday expressed felicitations to newly re-elected Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. President Ahmadinejad, in his message to his Belarussian counterpart, expressed confidence ties between Iran and Belarussia would receive a further boost during Lukashenko’s new tenure. “I believe access to development and progress, peace and tranquility and individual and collective independence of countries will be achieved in line with respect for rights and for humanity,” he said. He hoped the Belarussian president would pay a visit to Tehran in the near future.

UPDATE 2: Boing Boing brings to our attention the blog Belarus Election 2006: The Chronicle of Resistance. A couple of weeks ago it transcribed the lyrics of a pro-Lukashenko pop group:

Well-set and slim
He won’t teach you evil
Father can bridle anyone
Father is stronger than the rest

…Na-na-na-na-na-na-na
Listen to Father!
In the morning, day, and night…
Listen to Father!

UPDATE 3 (4 August): The latest issue of Private Eye gives some further details of Alexy’s links to the dictator, in an anonymous “Letter from Minsk” (paper only, issue 1164 p. 19):

A few years ago [Lukashenko] presented the Russian Orthodox Patriarch with $85,000 worth of gold, silver and jewel-encrusted banners for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. In return, Patriarch Alexis II commended Lukashenko for resisting the “cult of force, self-destruction and lack of morals that permeate the west”, then he decorated senior Belarus KGB men (we have not bothered to make the secret police sound more customer-friendly) with the Order of Apostle Grand Duke Vladimir (no relation) for “decisive implementation of the government’s policy of spiritual development of the nation.”

10 Responses

  1. […] Orthodox church has certainly “defended the interests” of Lukashenko: a few weeks ago I noted that Moscow Patriarch Alexy II had in 2002 awarded him with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, […]

  2. […] dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, of course, favours Orthodoxy – as I’ve noted on this blog, he enjoys the strong support of Moscow patriarch Alexei II. Last August, Private Eye […]

  3. […] the spat with Belarus – whose dictator Alexander Lukashenko was been honoured more than once by the Russian Orthodox Church for his pan-Slavic sentiments – has apparently been […]

  4. […] Also likely to benefit by contamination is Alexander Lukashenko, the ruler of Belarus; Alexei has heaped awards and praises on the […]

  5. […] of Lukashenko’s goons. Last year I quoted a “Letter from Minsk” in Private Eye that included the following: A few years ago [Lukashenko] presented the Russian Orthodox Patriarch with $85,000 […]

  6. […] the Russian Orthodox Church has been continually supportive of Lukashenko: Patriarch Alexei II praised the dictator’s support for “Christian enlightenment and moral health of society”, and […]

  7. […] been honoured by the Moscow Patriarchate for “strengthening unity of Slav peoples” is none other than Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus (of course, that was before the Russia-Belarus […]

  8. […] It should be recalled that in 2007 Time described the Russian Orthodox Church as Russia’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”; earlier this month, the neo-Conservative George Weigel noted the Patriarch of Moscow’s congratulatory message to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko following seriously flawed elections in December, and observed that this suggested “the unhappy possibility that the Russian Orthodox leadership is functioning as an arm of Russian state power, as it did from 1943 until 1991″ (actually, Weigel’s observation is somewhat belated). […]

  9. […] mutual backslapping follows the pattern set by Alexy II, Kyrill’s late […]

  10. […] each other, and the tradition in fact stretches back to the Alexy years. In 2006, Patriarch Alexy praised the dictator’s support for “Christian enlightenment and moral health of society” and […]

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