Statement of the Christian Vision Group on the Forcible Dismissal of Archbishop Artemy from Governance of the Hrodna Diocese

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9 June 2021

On 8 June 2021, the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church decided to intercede with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the Holy Synod “for the retirement of Right Reverend Archbishop of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk Artemy for health reasons.” At an emergency online meeting on 9 June 2021, members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church considered this petition and decided to dismiss Archbishop Artemy. This decision, according to the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, is an “exceptional case” (V.26.a).

This decision is, effectively, a violent removal of the diocesan bishop. It was motivated by a deliberately false pretext: allegedly “for health reasons.” The farfetchedness of such a reason is evidenced by the absence of Archbishop Artemy’s petition for retirement, as well as the haste and canonically inaccurate character of the process.

It is reasonable to assume that the real reason for the forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy from the Hrodna diocese – as well as for the dismissal of Metropolitan Pavel (Ponomarev) from the Minsk See and the post of Patriarchal Exarch in August 2020 – was their bold and public moral position during the socio-political crisis in Belarus which began in the summer 2020.

The ongoing crisis was caused by the rigged presidential elections, the forcible retention of power by former President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko; by extreme violence, widespread repressions, torture and persecution of the people who expressed their disagreement with the lawlessness, disregard to the constitutional democratic principles and the rule of law, and gross violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Archbishop Artemy was one of the first church leaders who acted as a witness of Truth in this eternal battle of good and evil. In his address to the faithful on 14 August 2020, he prophetically warned: “No one should play with Truth distorting and shredding it for the sake of political expediency. Truth as a value phenomenon and semantic category rests on GOD! If the Truth is taken in speech marks and with a slight movement of the hands is turned into a lie, then the One who is the Father of Truth is ridiculed. And, instead, another father takes the stage – the Father of lies who the Word of God calls the Devil. Let all the facts of deception, violence and cruelty be investigated justly, honestly and openly for Justice to be done and Truth to triumph!”

In the sermon on 16 August 2020 Archbishop Artemy said: “The position of a believer is such: he does not reconcile with evil, he does not play the games of those in power, but acts as Christ commanded.”

Archbishop Artemy was a witness to the evangelical Truth not only during the political crisis. He is an authoritative and respected bishop of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. As a theologian and pastor, he taught thousands of active young laity, missionaries and students of theology. He was a real father for his flock; in his diocese, relations were built on indisputable authority, mutual trust and respect. A collegium for laity, youth Orthodox brotherhoods and a diocesan Department for Environmen have been established in his Hrodna diocese.

In the middle of August 2020, more than 300 priests, theologians, intellectuals, active laity and employees of the Belarusian Orthodox Church wrote a letter to Archbishop Artemy to acknowledge and say thank you for his position and courage.

The forcible resignation of Archbishop Artemy undermines the hierarchy’s authority among the church people, among the laity and the clergy, and also harms the reputation of the Orthodox Church in Belarusian society.

We express our resolute disagreement with the politically motivated forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy and the canonical arbitrariness towards him. We strongly condemn the actions of the Synods of the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church aimed at the unjustified persecution of Archbishop Artemy. We call on all those who actively took part in the removal of Archbishop Artemy or by staying silent supported injustice against him to make every effort for restoring justice.

We warmly welcome the solidarity of the clergy, theologians and active laity of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, as well as the solidarity of the clergy and believers of other confessions, with Archbishop Artemy. We particularly acknowledge those bishops who refused to participate in canonical violence against their brother.

We draw the attention of Churches abroad, ecumenical organisations and the international community to the fact that such a politically motivated persecution of a church leader is another vivid example of pressure on the Church and church leaders by the political regime in the Republic of Belarus, state violation of the autonomy of a religious organisation and, effectively, persecution for faith. We call on the world Christian community to solidarity with the persecuted Orthodox bishop.

We express our deep respect and gratitude to Archbishop Artemy for his courage in preaching the Gospel truths, for his decisiveness in upholding the principles of peace and justice, for a prophetic voice and for hope for the future of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.