The Eastern Christian Churches by Ronald Roberson

The Belarusan Autocephalous Orthodox Church

Belarus (formerly known as Byelorussia or “White Russia”) was for many centuries a part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. When united to Russia, the country’s mostly Orthodox population was part of the Russian Orthodox Church.

When Moscow’s authority was weak because of the chaos that followed the 1917 revolution, unsuccessful attempts were made in 1922 and 1927 to establish an autocephalous Orthodox church in Belarus. Under Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the Germans supported both the revival of religious practice and the creation of separate Orthodox churches in non-Russian areas in order to weaken the allegiance of local populations to Moscow. Under these conditions, a Belarusian Orthodox Sobor (convention) held in Minsk in 1942 declared the church autocephalous. By 1944 there were ten hierarchs in nine dioceses in the new Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (BAOC). But after the Soviet armies returned, the Orthodox in Belarus were again absorbed into the Moscow Patriarchate and the autocephalous bishops fled to the West.

In 1946 those bishops joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which has since reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate. Bishop Siarhiej Okhotenko of the non-canonical Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (also in exile) was then charged with reestablishing the BAOC. In 1949 Basil Tamashchyk was ordained as his auxiliary bishop. As Belarusians in refugee camps in Germany began new lives elsewhere, Archbishop Siarhiej moved with them to Australia and Bishop Basil to the United States. In 1972, soon after the death of both these bishops, a BAOC Sobor meeting in New Jersey raised the church’s status to metropolitanate and elected Bishop Andrey Kryt as first Metropolitan and primate.

Just before the death of Metropolitan Kryt in 1983, a dissident group split away under the leadership of Archbishop Mikalay Maciukevich in Toronto. After Archbishop Mikalay’s death in 2002, the two groups were reconciled under Metropolitan Iziaslau Brucki in New York, who had succeeded Metropolitan Kryt as primate in 1984. Metropolitan Iziaslau died in 2007, and the following year Metropolitan Sviatoslav Lohin was elected to succeed him. By 2020 the BAOC had four parishes in the US, three in Australia, and one each in Canada and the United Kingdom served by a total of five priests.

The BAOC has not been recognized by any Orthodox church. Following the independence of Belarus in 1991, there have been some attempts to re-establish an autocephalous church in that country, but these have been vigorously suppressed by the government. There is, however, a small worshipping community in Minsk served by one priest.

Location: United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia
Head: Metropolitan Sviatoslav Lohin (born 1964, elected 2008)
Title: Primate of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Residence: Brooklyn, New York

Last Modified: 07 September 2021

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