In defense of the deposed Belarusian archbishop


Statement by "Christian Vision" group

Credo.Press, 10 June 2021


On 8 June 2021, the Synod of the Belorussian Orthodox Church (BPTsMP) made the decision to petition His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill and the Holy Synod for "sending into retirement His Eminence Archbishop of Grodno and Volkovyssk Artemy for reasons of health." On 9 June 2021, members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church reviewed this petition in an extraordinary conference remotely on line and made the decision for the dismissal of Archbishop Artemy into retirement. Such a decision, according to the bylaws of the Russian Orthodox Church, is an "exceptional event" (V.26.a.).


Actually, this decision is the forcible dismissal of the diocesan bishop based on the obviously false reason: supposedly "for reasons of health." The artificiality of this reason is evidenced by the absence of a request for dismissal into retirement from Archbishop Artemy himself and also by the haste and canonical disorder with which this decision was effectuated.


It should be supposed that the real reason for the forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy from the Grodno diocese, like the reason for the removal from the Minsk see and office of patriarchal exarch of Metropolitan Pavel in August 2020, was the courageous public moral position of both bishops during the social and political crisis that began in Belarus in the summer of 2020.


The crisis, which has continued to the present, was evoked by the falsification of the results of the presidential election and the violent maintenance of power by the former president of the republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and also the extraordinary violence, mass repressions, tortures, and persecution against citizens of the republic of Belarus, who expressed their dissent against the lawlessness and violation of constitutional principles of democracy and legal government and the crude trampling of the foundations of human rights and liberties.


Archbishop Artemy was one of the first church leaders to speak out as a witness to Truth in the eternal battle between good and evil, in his appeal to the flock of 14 August, prophetically warning: "One must not play with Truth, distorting and mangling it for the sake of political expedience. For Truth is the valuable phenomenon and conceptual category behind which stands GOD! And if Truth is placed in quotes and transformed by slight of hand into a lie, then it flouts the One who is the Father of Truth. And another father enters the arena. The father of lies. Who, as we know from the Word of God, is called the Devil. And let all the instances of deception, force, and cruelty be justly, honestly, and openly investigated, in order that Justice be done and Truth triumph."


In his sermon of 16 August, Archbishop Artemy declared: "The position of the believing person is that he is not reconciled with evil, he does not yield to the power of ownership, but he acts as Christ commanded."


Archbishop Artemy witnessed to the evangelical truth not only in the conditions of political crisis. He is an authoritative and respected bishop of the Belorussian Orthodox Church and through his theological and pastoral school have passed thousands of active young laity, missionaries, and students of theology. He is a genuine father for his flock in whose diocese relationships are built on the foundation of incontrovertible authority, mutual trust, and respect. In the Grodno diocese, which he administered, there functioned a lay college, Orthodox youth brotherhoods, and a diocesan ecology department.


In mid-August more than 300 persons—priests, theologians, intellectuals, active laymen, staff of structures of the BPTs—wrote a letter to Vladyka Artemy with thanks for his position and courage.


The forcible retirement of Archbishop Artemy undermines the authority of the hierarchy among church folk, among laity and clergy, and also damages the image of the Orthodox church in Belorussian society.


We express our decisive dissent against the politically motivated forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy and the canonical arbitrariness regarding him. We sharply condemn the actions of the Synod of the Belorussian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church aimed at the baseless harassment of Archbishop Artemy. We call those who actively participated in the removal of Archbishop Artemy or who by their silence supported the injustice against him to undertake all measures in order to restore justice.


We ardently welcome the solidarity of clergy, theologians, and active laity of the Belorussian Orthodox Church with respect to Archbishop Artemy, and also the solidarity on the part of the clergy and believers of other confessions. We especially take note of those bishops who refused to participate in the canonical violation with respect to their brother.


We call to the attention of foreign churches, ecumenical organizations, and the international community that such a politically motivated persecution of a leader of the church is another clear example of pressure on the church and church leaders promulgated by the political regime in the republic of Belarus, and interference by the state in the autonomy of the church's organization and actual persecution for faith. We call the world Christian community to solidarity with the persecuted Orthodox bishop.


We express our profound respect and thanks to Archbishop Artemy for his courage in preaching evangelical truths, for his resolution in defending the principles of peace and justice, for his prophetic voice, and for hope for the future of the Belorussian Orthodox Church. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2021)

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