BELARUS: Moscow Patriarchate Priest Still Refuses To Say if he Blessed Church Destroyers.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 7 August 2002

Despite repeated attempts by Keston News Service to discover from Father Sergei Shelest whether he blessed those sent to destroy the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Pahranichny on 26 July (see separate KNS article), he again refused to confirm or deny it. "I have already answered that question," he told Keston by telephone from the town on 7 August. "I have no further comment to add to that." Contacted by Keston by telephone on 29 July, Father Sergei had declined to tell Keston if this information was true or not. "I can't comment without the blessing of my hierarch, Bishop Artemi of Hrodna," he had repeatedly declared (see KNS 29 July 2002). However, local journalist Andrej Pachobut, who was in Pahranichny to witness the first and second attempts to destroy the church, told Keston on 7 August that workers who had been on the bus to be transported to the site on 26 July to begin demolition had told him of the priest's blessing.

Pachobut reported that he had met Father Sergei later to question him about this and had likewise failed to discover whether the priest had blessed those due to destroy the church. "He refused to tell me."

Father Sergei insisted to Keston that the demolition had been the decision solely of the local authorities and that he had had nothing to do with it. "I didn't propose anything to anyone."

He continued to insist that the destroyed building was simply a house, not a church. "I looked at the plans some time ago and they were simply for a house. It is not therefore a place of worship."

Asked what reaction he had to the destruction of another Christian church, he paused for a long time before answering: "It is difficult to say what reaction I have. As a priest I am for a united, canonical, apostolic church. Spasyuk was deprived of his holy orders by our Church. We don't relate to him as a priest. He has committed a legal violation - let the authorities deal with it." Asked whether, if he believes the destruction of the church was a matter for the authorities, not for the Moscow Patriarchate Church, any blessing he gave to the demolition workers would have meant he was involved in the demolition and welcomed it, Father Sergei declined to answer.

Speaking to Keston on 30 July, Andrei Petrashkevich, official spokesman for Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Belarusian Exarchate, declared that Father Sergei could not have blessed the demolition workers as the Bishop of Hrodna, Artemy, had issued an instruction a month earlier to all his clergy not to participate in anything to do with Father Spasyuk's parish. "We have nothing in common with this group," Petrashkevich reported Bishop Artemy as telling his clergy. "Bishop Artemy told me yesterday that Father Sergei did not give any such blessing - it is not possible in principle because it would violate elementary etiquette." Told that this was not conclusive proof that Father Sergei had not blessed the demolition workers, merely proof that Bishop Artemy had instructed his clergy to have nothing to do with Father Spasyuk's parish, Petrashkevich said he was sure Father Sergei would himself be able to answer Keston's query. "Bishop Artemy has spoken to me about this issue so I believe he will have given Father Sergei his blessing to tell you."

Despite Father Sergei's persistent and unexplained refusal to say, witnesses who have spoken to the people on the bus insist that Father Sergei did give his blessing to the demolition. (END)