The Head of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Pavel, has abandoned the policy of self-government of the Exarchate. It took the Metropolitan exactly a month to declare and then withdraw his own initiative. According to him, now the question of the independence of the Belarusian Orthodoxy will not be relevant for at least another 50 years.
The name “The Belarusian Orthodox Church” is officially used only in the territory of Belarus. In fact, we are talking about the Belarusian Exarchate, which consists of administratively united dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in the territory of Belarus.
The institute of Exarchate within modern Russian Orthodox Church was established just before the collapse of the Soviet Union specifically for the Ukraine and Belarus. However, over time, the Ukrainian Exarchate has acquired the status of a self-governing church. The same status was given to Orthodox dioceses in Latvia, Estonia and Moldova. It is not surprising that Belarusian priests considered themselves to be left-out, and the demand for the independence of the Belarusian Orthodox Church was occurring from time to time in the media. However, this question has never been raised, especially publicly, by Belarusian priests themselves. The Belarusian Exarchate, like no other, remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.
That is why on December 16th, 2014 the words of Metropolitan Pavel literally shook the public space of the country. At a meeting with priests from the Minsk diocese Pavel announced his plans to ask Moscow for greater independence. Such an announcement could be expected from anyone, but not from Pavel.
In fact, Pavel was sent from Russia to manage the Belarusian Exarchate little over a year ago. Moreover, the way he was appointed by Moscow, without any coordination with the Belarusian bishops, was only possible because Belarusian Exarchate has no self-government.
In addition, the newly appointed Metropolitan has not been overly respectful of the secular laws of Belarus. For instance, the heads of religious organizations in Belarus are required to have Belarusian citizenship. It was assumed that Pavel would just get Belarusian passport in an accelerated mode to avoid formal contradictions with the law. The Metropolitan, however, refused to get the new passport, and said that he saw no problem in his Russian citizenship. The need to study the Belarusian language was approached in the similar manner. In short, Pavel was the least suited to the role of a fighter for the independence of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
It is still unknown what Pavel counted on and what reaction he was expecting, as the Moscow Patriarchate has never responded to the new “idea” publicly. Already on January 20th, 2015, Pavel announced that the initiative had been made public prematurely, without preparation, and thus caused more harm than good.
At the same time the Metropolitan put blame on some unnamed priest who had allegedly voiced the idea first, but was not able to justify it.
Apparently, the Metropolitan Pavel was talking about himself, since all the media covered his announcement and the call to the Belarusian priests to support his idea.