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A Tomos of Strife

By: The Very Rev. Ilija Donev

In the last few months, the prominent theme for our public has been the Serbian Orthodox decision to give out a “Tomos” for recognition of the so-called “Orthodox Ohrid Archbishphoric” (OOA) as an autonomous Church in the Republic of Macedonia, however, as a church within the ranks of the SOC.

For those who are familiar with the relations between the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), the decision of “Tomos” is neither an enigma nor a surprise. This verdict is not ecclesiastical, rather political. The goal and intension of the SOC is not to promote church life in Macedonia, nor is it to develop canonical order. On the contrary, her intensions are to destroy any church order that is on Macedonian foundation, to create chaos and quarrelling among the Orthodox community in Macedonia. Furthermore, she wishes to internationally degrade the MOC, likening her to a “non- canonical” and “communist” creation, to compel Macedonia into extreme actions and loose international legitimacy, and as a final goal, to coerce the MOC to change her name. This is also the main intension of the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) and the Republic of Greece. This is why we will say: The decision to give a “Tomos” for recognition of the so-called “OOA” is provincial, hegemonic, aggressive, a direct provocation, and spiritual terrorism. Moreover, it does not correspond to any church canon, or evangelical norm. With that decision, the SOC committed terror, not only against the MOC as a spiritual and religious institution of the Macedonian Orthodox Community, but also against the Macedonian state and its’ nationhood. Therefore, let no one be fooled into believing that the government of Serbia had nothing to do with the SOC decision and that this is strictly church judgment. It is correct that most everywhere, the Church and the State are separate. However, before measures such as the SOC decision to issue a “Tomos”, it is always anticipated that the government will be asked for a “blessing”. Because of this, the statements by Serbian President Tadic, given during his visit to the Republic of Macedonia, more specifically, while in Ohrid, that he does not want to get involved in church matters because “Serbija is secular country”, are not sincere and should be acknowledged as government in concord with the SOC. If Serbija is secular country why the Prime Minister Kostunica is “concerned” about the situation with Mr. Vraniskovski? Only the naïve would believe in such two-faced statements. Therefore, the government of the Republic of Macedonia should be highly cautious, and should reject the given statements with indignation. It is most symptomatic that (Tadic) agreed to mediate the dispute between the two churches, yet, he did not find it necessary to criticize the move by his Serbian bishops. We are not asking for the government of Serbia to jail and banish the “unreasonable” bishops, rather to publicly declare that this does not relate well with the “neighborly and friendly” relations between the two Orthodox nations, as long as this means something to them. Accordingly, these actions are not surprising for us, and surely not for the members of the Holy Synod of the MOC.

MOC/SOC relations have been overtly cold for over forty years, not due to our fault but because of Greater Serbian chauvinism and their ethno-phyletism. In essence, our relations have never been good. There does not exist a period in history when, as part of a common spiritual plan, we have had good relations and cooperation with the Patriarchic of the SOC, except for very briefly, in 1958/1959 the Holy Synod of the SOC, with decision no. 6/1959, gave up their jurisdiction of the eparchies in Macedonia, giving them full right to organize themselves into a separate church. At this time, Patriarch German came to Macedonia and together with the Holy departed Archbishop Dositej, promoted the episcope, Clement as the second bishop of the MOC. However, very soon after these events, being swayed by “someone”, the SOC changed their minds and to this day declare to the world that we are not a true and canonical faithful. This is exactly why they instruct us, that as long as we want to be a “canonical” faithful, we must first become good Serbs, and only then will the door to the universal orthodox family be opened to us. Otherwise, there is no salvation. What irony!

However, for someone to be an ideal or example he must be, at least a little bit, better. The Macedonian people have always been connected to their Orthodox faith, more sincerely than the Serbian and Greek people. The Macedonian people do not spiritually terrorize anyone. The Macedonian clergy do not sell drugs, like the “other” hierarchs; they are not corrupt, nor do they waste their time with disgusting things (pedophilia) etc. Furthermore, not one Macedonian dialect supports literal cursing against Our Lord or the Virgin Mary like the Serbian language! So I ask you brothers and sisters, how is it possible to “believe” in Our Lord, to pray to Him, and then in the end, curse Him? Which Church Canon supports this? Even in the last Macedonian war the MOC remained with integrity, she didn’t go to the front to bless the weapons for killing innocent people, like the Serbian Orthodox Church did!

On the other hand, if someone should have proposed schism it should have been the Macedonian people in 1219 when Sava Nemanjik bought his “autocephaly” from Nicene, instead of asking for it from Ohrid as the church canons spell out. What is this if not destruction of church order? And what right do they have to accuse us of things they did beforehand?

Personally, I believe that the MOC doesn’t need to compromise with either the SOC or any other Orthodox Church within their block. I even think that the Russian Orthodox Church lost a little bit of her leadership position with her ambiguous messages regarding the situation. ROC statements such as: “The MOC is correct, however the SOC also isn’t wrong” doesn’t solve the problem. Because of this, I believe that the MOC must remove herself from this stagnant position and move towards communion with those Orthodox Churches and peoples who are friendly and are looking for new relationships.

As the statement goes, “one cannot remove a nail with a nail.” As much as it seems unacceptable even by some of our circles, I personally believe that renewing our relationships with the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and people helps both of our missions. Our associations with other “unrecognized” Orthodox Churches would create synergy and motivate the other Hierarchs and “leader” churches to rethink some of their unspiritual attitudes.

We must believe that creation of a “second block” of Orthodox Churches, although unrecognized, will not leave anyone, including His High Eminence Patriarch Bartholomew with a whole heart. That which they are “advising” us: “Do not contact unrecognized churches because our place is not with them” is only a strategy to suffocate our reality and to buy time for them to finish their work. Didn’t we just recently receive a statement from His Beatitude, Patriarch Alexey II that neither the MOC and the SOC should not go into extremities and divulge any individual church solutions so that he could continue to mediate our situation? Yet, while His Beatitude’s message was traveling to Belgrade, the SOC had already given her decision to place Zoran Vranishkovski as “Serbian Exarchic” for the Republic of Macedonia. To be honest, I never read anywhere that the SOC received a reprimand for this. Once and for all, we must realize that 40 years is way too long to wait, for at least someone out of brotherly love might think to the contrary.

It is a shame that today in our Orthodox Church, we have a crisis not because of our Faith, but rather because we lack love. What sort of faith exists without love? What kind of Orthodox Church do we have if you hate and exclude your brother just because he wants to call himself, MACEDONIAN? Our Holy Father, His Beatitude Stefan confessed this perfectly: “Our only sin is that we want to call ourselves Macedonian, more specifically, the Macedonian Orthodox Church.” This only goes to show us, that if Zoran Vranishkovski and his clan remained loyal Macedonians, they too would not have been as widely recognized by the “disunities” within our brothers in the faith.

Regardless, we are left to walk the road of our forerunners, to be pricked by the same thorns they suffered. There are no doubts, the Macedonian people will survive, and we will hold fast to our Macedonian Orthodox Church.

The decision for TOMOS by the SOC will be just one more reminder of the fruitless relations between our two churches, and even if we do not wish this, between the two nations.

Father Ilija Donev is Protopresbyter and Rector of “St. Ilija” Macedonian Orthodox Church in Mississauga, ON. (CAN) For further information please visit: www.moyana.org or send inquires to: moyana@moyana.org

 

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