The head of an unrecognized, Brooklyn-based church with its 20th-century roots in Minsk Orthodoxy has declared Belarus's embattled Alyaksandr Lukashenka anathema for his abuses against "the pious Belarusian people."
The metropolitan of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (BAOC), Archbishop Sviataslau (Lohin), announced the symbolic declaration against the longtime Belarusian leader at a service at St. Cyril of Turau Cathedral in Toronto on November 22.
The BAOC is a minor, independent jurisdiction that mostly serves small numbers of emigres and their families and is not recognized in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
It does not disguise its disdain for Belarus's current leadership, which regards it as wholly illegitimate.
Lukashenka has faced unprecedented protests that have mobilized hundreds of thousands of Belarusians since officials declared him the winner of a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged.
He has responded with a brutal crackdown in which many thousands have been jailed, media further muzzled and foreign correspondents expelled, and opposition leaders systematically imprisoned or forced into exile.
In the statement declaring Lukashenka anathema -- a move that amounts to a symbolic excommunication -- Lohin accused the Belarusian president of 26 years of being a "dictator, murderer, and torturer of the pious Belarusian people."
It goes on to say that "the church is a spiritual and nonpolitical institution [but] teaching the flock to fight for the truth, it cannot just watch the genocide of Belarusians."
Western governments have demanded an end to violence against Belarusian protesters and a new vote, and last week the European Union's foreign ministers agreed to expand sanctions against Minsk in response to the "brutality of authorities" against more than 100 days of pro-democracy protests triggered by the disputed vote.
At least several protesters have been killed and footage and other credible evidence of torture of detainees has become increasingly widespread.
Police again detained hundreds and launched flashbangs and other nonlethal measures to disperse protesters in Minsk on November 22.
The Moscow-influenced Belarusian Orthodox Church that operates within Belarus -- created in 1989 and known as the Belarusian Exarchate -- was the main domestic religious body to have recognized Lukashenka's proclamation of victory in the October election.
Some senior Belarusian Orthodox Church clerics have criticized the institution's leader, Pavol, as unduly beholden to Russia instead of Belarus since his Moscow-imposed appointment in 2013.
The Warsaw Institute, a think tank, noted recently that "the Moscow-dominated Belarusian Orthodox Church has for years been locked in fierce combat against other emigration-based Orthodox churches that are independent of the Moscow Patriarchate like the minor Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church."
The BAOC reportedly has three parishes each in the United States and Australia, and parishes in Canada and the United Kingdom.