Number 1499
July 30, 2004
In Belgrade

To His Excellency
Mr. Branko Crvenkovski
President of the Republic of Macedonia

Subject: Response to Your letter to my humbleness regarding Your wish and intention to visit the monastery of Saint Prohor Pcinjski in the Eparchy of Vranje on St. Elijah’s Day and commemorate the 60th anniversary of ASNOM in it

Esteemed Mr. President,

The lines which follow stem from my feeling of obligation to immediately respond to your valued letter which regards Your wish and intention to visit the monastery of Saint Prohor Pcinjski in the Eparchy of Vranje, accompanied by your high escort, on the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah (Ilinden) on 2 August/20 July of the current year so that You would in a manner established by state protocol commemorate an important jubilee for Your people and Your country, the 60th anniversary since the day of the conference of ASNOM. Indeed, I have still not received your letter, but I do believe that you have in the meanwhile sent it to my address in Belgrade since you have already released it to the press, so I had the opportunity, through the media, to get acquainted with its content even yesterday, and this morning, through the efforts of the Embassy of the Republic of Macedonia in Belgrade, I received a copy of it. In all my days – and allow me to remark that I am ninety years old – this is the first time I encounter such an original form of official correspondence between the head of a state and one of the prelates of the Orthodox Churches. However, I sincerely assure you that do not mind this manner even in the least, for the substance is always more important than the form. The only thing that necessarily follows is the protocol need to follow the same procedure when answering; hence, I too, God willing, upon completing the writing of this letter, will first communicate it to the media, and immediately after I will forward the original and a copy to You through the Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro in Skopje.

After this rather long but, I hope, not completely ineffectual introduction, and before I respond to Your plea, that is request, concerning the forthcoming Ilinden, allow me, Mr. President, to remind you of the prehistory of Your letter and this response of mine, not as much for Your knowledge – for you are well acquainted – as for the public in Your country and mine, whom you wished to have as a third collocutor in our conversation, which I wholeheartedly and gladly accept, and not only for this particular occasion, if you agree, but also as a pattern for our future contacts.

The first indications of your wishes and intentions regarding the monastery of Saint Prohor Pcinjski and Ilinden 2004 reached the public at the beginning of the previous month, June, through several articles in the Skopje and Belgrade press (“Utrinski Vesnik” no. 1491 and “Dnevnik” no. 2473 from 5 June 2004; “Vecernje Novosti” from 6 June 2004), and the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church was officially informed of them through the letter from His Eminence the Bishop of Vranje, kyr Pahomy. The Synod looked into this letter during its session on June 10, 2004 and on that occasion decided to send letters to Mr. Svetozar Marovic, the President of the Council of Ministers of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and d-r Voislav Kostunica, the Prime Minister of the Government of Serbia, of course, not with a purpose to ask for any intervention by the state on this matter but solely for the purpose of informing the state and republic leadership with the positions of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the only competent authority on this matter. That there were many reasons for this decision may be confirmed by the extensive excerpts from the named letters addressed to the Presidents Marovic (Syn. no. 1204 from 17 June 2004) and Kostunica (Syn. no. 1205 under the same date) which we present further.

The synod letter includes the following:

“...Certain Macedonian officials persuade their public that they will use their full power to ‘exert pressure’ on the state agencies of Serbia and Montenegro in order to put into effect what they have in mind. Mr. Crvenkovski himself states that he will speak with official Belgrade about the aforementioned celebration so that he will ensure the necessary environment for laying wreaths and flowers in the monastery, while at the same time he excludes the possibility for any talks or contacts with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Somewhat later, a similar position was repeated by the Macedonian Minister of Defense, Mr. Vlado Buckovski,. The gentlemen have, of course, overlooked three significant details – that the monastery in question is property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in fact of the Eparchy of Vranje; that in the civilized world, one cannot enter one’s home or property without the consent of the host; and that the relations between the Church and state in Serbia are based on different civilizational and other principles.

Then there is a brief survey of the earlier situation:

“During the past ten years the commemoration of “ASNOM” in the monastery building of St. Prohor Pcinjski was performed in normal conditions, with the participation of high representatives as from the Republic of Macedonia and from our country. On each occasion, the Serbian Orthodox Church had been a good host to the visitors from Skopje.”

The continuation explains that the problems between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the government of the Republic of Macedonia occurred gradually and that they culminated during the year 2003, when those authorities forbade the highest church dignitaries, priests and monastics of the Serbian Orthodox Church to enter the Republic of Macedonia and to reside there (even in transit!) and at the same time, because of their behaviour toward the canonic hierarchy of the Ohrid Archbishopric, who were subject to ruthless police and legal persecution solely for their acceptance of the canonic unity with the Orthodox Church.

The consequence of all this – is given further in the letter – was the decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the commemoration of ASNOM in the monastery of Saint Prohor Pcinjski not to be allowed until the authorities of the Republic of Macedonia changes their behaviour toward the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is in discord with the democratic norms, and until they stop endangering the basic human rights of its members, during which they trample the principles of the inter-state relations. The position of the Serbian Orthodox Church, formulated at that time, remained unchanged until now. The Serbian Orthodox Church is prepared – is the continuation of the synod’s letter – to accept the visit of the representatives of the Republic of Macedonia on 2 August 2004 in the monastery complex of Saint Prohor Pcinjski if its state-political leadership officially guarantee the three following objectives:

In the closing of the letter we express hope and assurance that there will be a surpassing of the created problem, a problem which was by no means created by the Serbian Orthodox Church, and that is surpassing will serve the common good and the aspiration for “improving the relations with our southern neighbour with whose people we otherwise have no disputes or difficulties”.

Through the mediation of some well-intentioned and responsible people, on both sides of the current international border, you were acquainted with this position of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In addition, You understood accurately and promptly that the realization of Your goal – the jubilee commemoration of the ASNOM conference in the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski – requires dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church after all. This dialogue, praise to God, occurred, first through mediators, and now directly through this public exchange of official letters. While an unusual media campaign and confusion reigned in Skopje these days (some, from the circles of Church which dwells in schism, claimed: “One of the conditions posed by the Serbian Church, the free transition of the Serbian priests through Macedonia, has still not been fulfilled” and similar claims were made on the possibility of conducting religious services “by foreign religious communities”; A1 information from 28 July 2004), you were kind enough to inform my authorized representatives in our, still intermediary, dialogue with the messages to be included in your, then still to come, letter to me, still unwritten at that point. You were asked, on my behalf, to make the discussion as substantial as possible, to concretize your basic principles by explicitly including the following:

You were also asked to confirm to me personally, and through me to the Serbian Orthodox Church in entirety, Your statement from one of Your other addresses, which is precious for it reflects Your personal attachment to the European democratic standards regarding the issue of the Church-state relation, worded like this: “The Republic of Macedonia as a state which has as its goal the integration in the EU is prepared to incorporate and implement the highest EU standards regarding these areas in its legislation.”

You, Mr. President, nevertheless, chose not to accept my suggestion and instead, you formulated, published and sent Your letter to me in as You first intended, that is, without explicit, concrete statements regarding the painful issues, which, in fact, in the previous period, have led to a situation in which the state delegations of your country do not have access to our aforementioned holy monastery. But I – having the position I hold, in the light of the Gospel I serve, and at the age I have – do not have the right to think purely in the categories of the “Euclidean” logic of this transitory and deceptive age, and even less in the categories of political calculations and quasi-diplomatic outwitting, but, instead, in the categories of “the reason of Christ” and the Cross-Resurrecting logic of the Gospel, which is madness in the eyes of the sons of desolation, but grand wisdom in the eyes of those who desire to walk the path of truth, love and eternal life. Hence, I do not interpret your action, that is, the formal aspect of the letter you have sent me, as your rejection of the positions and requests of the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding obligatory principles of freedom for all believers – and for all people without exception – but I understand them as their, lapidarily said, acceptance. I derive this from the simple fact that you addressed me with a letter and sought the agreement of the Serbian Orthodox Church to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski knowing the its clear and definite position and last-year’s developments in this context, as well as that, in your letter, you fundamentally and concisely held genuinely humane and democratic positions.

On the basis of what has been previously said, I invite you, leading a high delegation of Your state, to visit the monastery St. Prohor Pcinjski on the feast of the holy Prophet Elijah and to customarily commemorate the jubilee of your state-national holiday. You and Your escort will have as a host and will be greeted and welcomed by the responsible eparchial bishop, His Eminence the Bishop of Vranje kyr Pahomy, with whose utter – canonically obligatory – agreement I am able to forward this invitation to You. On my behalf You will be greeted and welcomed by my emissary on this occasion, by His Eminence the Bishop of Backa kyr Irineos. Obviously, You will also be greeted and warmly welcomed by the Right Reverend Abbot of the monastery with his brotherhood, as well as by other attending bishops, clerics, monastics and believing people. You will not be treated as a foreigner, a head of state of a country distant or unknown to us, but as our neighbour and a friend. Undoubtedly, there will opportunity to begin dialogue on all subjects of mutual interest and relevance.

So, we open for You the gates of our ancient sanctuary, the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski. Even more: we open for You the gates of our hearts. They will, as far as we are concerned, remain wide open.

They can be closed – God forbid – only by You or one of Your associates, that is successors. Whoever does this will have to accept the responsibility for doing so. There won’t be a possibility to blame anyone else, and in the least of all the Serbian Orthodox Church. If anyone should ever again give instructions to the border authorities of Your country to humiliate, harass and, finally, return from the border crossings the bishops, clergy and monastics of the Serbian Orthodox Church, that person will have to be aware that, by doing so, once again, with his own hands, he is closing the monastery gates of the Holy Father Prohor for the official representatives of his state. And if anyone, ever again starts evicting people from their episcopal seats, monasteries and parishes; starts arresting, persecuting and denying them their right to freedom of conscience, to a legal status, to church-pastoral activity or to possession because they do not wish to be in schism with the Serbian Orthodox Church and with the ecumenical Orthodoxy but instead want to be in liturgical and canonical unity with them, that person will promptly realize that he is single-handedly locking the already closed monastery doors of the Holy Father Prohor on Saint Elijah’s day or any other day. I would rather refrain now from further enumerating who and how could destroy instead of build and serve evil instead of good.

If this does not happen – and I hope that it will not, with the might and grace of God and the goodwill and reasonable actions of us, the people, first and foremost of those with the greatest responsibility – every citizen of the neighbouring and friendly Republic of Macedonia, from its president to its most humble citizen, will be able to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski whenever they wish, and not only on Ilinden or jubilee anniversaries, which will be many even when we are no longer on this earth.

Mr. President!

From now on the freedom and responsibility of choice rests on the state leadership of the Republic of Macedonia. We remain sincerely open to the enhancement of the relations and cooperation, not only in the spirit of the undeniable democratic principles of the contemporary world, but also in accordance with the grand spiritual tradition of the Orthodox peoples and the Christian world in general.

Mr. President, I greet and offer You my respect and good wishes.

Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci
and Patriarch of Serbia
+ Pavle