“The Serbian-Macedonian Church Conflict” –
from a Macedonian Ecclesiastic, and not Schismatic, Point of View


An answer to the interview with kyr Stephen, the Archbishop who lives in a schism

We have nothing against the fact that the Archbishop of the schismatic organisation that calls itself Macedonian Orthodox Church, kyr Stephen is being given so much space in Politika and in other mass media in Serbia and Montenegro, for, by the level of the dialogue developed in the media, one can estimate the level of democracy in a country. But, it is difficult to face the reality of the media “at home”: the media in the Republic of Macedonia do not even have a d from democracy when the nature of the church crisis and church conflict between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the schismatic MOC is to be presented, and it is even more so between the latter and the legal, canonical and recognised Orthodox Church in Macedonia, the Ohrid Archbishopric. The Macedonian media are, in the greater part, shut to the truth of the Church: neither do they feel a need to research nor to hear out those who have a different opinion from the schismatic bishops, and they particularly refuse to give some space to our written or spoken word.

Being of the opinion that Politika gives space to dialogue, I feel free to offer this text with which I answer to the untruths encompassed in the interview with the schismatic archbishop Stephen, published in Politika on February 9, 2004 (pg. A5). Knowing this man quite well, I consider the untruths uttered in this conversation with him more as a fruit of his ignorance than of his tendentiousness. It is a different issue that people do not expect a man of his position to have such a frail knowledge of the church history and canonical law, that in certain cases one can speak of absolute ignorance, not to even mention the Orthodox ecclesiology, Christology or Pneumatology. He has become a bishop in a period when the bishops in Macedonia were expected to have some other qualities and capabilities, and not faith in God, the Church and the Holy Christian Tradition.

With an appeal to the readership of Politika to have an understanding for the extensive introduction, we will cross over to the presentation and denial of the existing fallacies and propaganda thesis with which the archbishop manipulates in his own country and abroad. It cannot be characterised as other than ignorance when someone says that until the fifth century all the local Churches, with a bishop at their head were independent, and from the fifth century onwards, “some were called autocephalous, that is, Churches that have a bishop at their head, with sovereign and independent authority.” The sole construction of the sentence is very unclear, but I believe that what he wanted to say was that until the fifth century all bishoprics, as local Churches, were in a way autocephalous and after the fifth century, their autocephaly was limited in use of the first bishop of a Church on a given sovereign territory. But this is quite incorrect. Neither were the bishops fully independent in the first five centuries of Christianity nor did they become less independent after the fifth century. A bishop is true and canonical only when he is ordained by bishops who have apostolic succession, but also if he is in a liturgical and canonical communion with the bishops of the other local Churches. If only one of these requirements is not satisfied, then that bishop is not canonical or legal bishop for the area of the Orthodox Church. On the other hand, every bishop is autocephalous and he only answers to God for his spiritual guidance with his local Church, but this autocephaly is abolished at the moment when the bishop stops his liturgical communion with the other bishops. Therefore, the autocephaly is not underrated by the fact that bishops on a wider territory give honour to one and call him the first. This is an ancient, primordial church teaching, dating from the time of the apostle Paul, to give the others greater honour, but just as old and primordial is the teaching that we shouldn’t, out of craving for power and greed, elevate ourselves to a greater status but to wait for the others to elevate us to it.

The act of proclaiming an autocephaly with putschist methods, just as it was done by the schismatics in the Republic of Macedonia, is completely contrary to the above mentioned. The autocephaly is confirmed in a community. This is why, from the moment of breaking of the liturgical communion with the other local Churches, not only does the autocephaly become senseless, but also a question emerges to whether a certain “autocephalous group” could at all be called a Church. This schismatic organisation, in time, turns into a heresy. This particular fact – the impossibility of being in a schism and at the same time existing as a Church – is the fact that we had in mind when we said that the archbishop Stephen, who lives in a schism, doesn’t know a lot of it. It has already been said for many times that no one has anything against the Church in the Republic of Macedonia being given an autocephaly, but also, for God knows how many times, all the Orthodox Churches have formally stated that they agree that an autocephaly cannot be given to those who ask for it in a putschist manner. After all these happenings, all who know the circumstances in the church, even those less informed, would ask themselves: are the bishops in the unrecognized Church in Macedonia whatsoever ready for an autonomy, let alone an autocephaly?

Another notorious untruth is that the former Ohrid Archbishopric was autocephalous in the way that the autocephalous, that is independent, autocephalous Churches of today are, with the right to choose and confirm the first of the bishops on a certain territory. The Ohrid Archbishop in the Romeian (Byzantine) age was a really important person in the Czarigrad (Constantinople) Patriarchate: he was the first on the right hand of the Ecumenical Patriarch. But, only in the age of Samuel’s Kingdom he was chosen and confirmed by the bishops of the Ohrid Archbishopric. In all other historical periods, the archbishop of Ohrid could not be enthroned without the confirmation of the patriarch of Constantinople. From the point of view of the Orthodox ecclesiology and canonical law, this is completely supportable and normal. For, the autocephaly in the Eastern Orthodox Church has always been understood in the way presented in this text. The disruption appears in the 19th century. But, you cannot make a rule out of an exception.

The most prominent part of the interview, and an obvious sign that its content has been ‘cured’ from the truth, is the paragraph in which there is a reference to Saint Sabbas. Saint Sabbas, was accused and proclaimed to be, not less than, a violator of the holy canons only because he didn’t ask for autocephaly from the archbishop of Ohrid Dimitry Homatian, but from the patriarch of Constantinople, who during the invasion of the Latins was withdrawn in Nicene, in Asia Minor. Homatian couldn’t have given him autocephaly because he, himself didn’t have it. He wanted to be autocephalous, so he was preparing to crown the despot of Epir Theodore for a czar, and to proclaim himself a patriarch. But Saint Sabbas knew who the patriarch was, so he went to him to ask for what only he could give. Homatian was, of course, angry for more than one reason. First of all, his jurisdiction was reduced. In Macedonia, we only tried to enter one of the city churches, and kyr Stephen raised the entire police, so to say the full state apparatus, he arrested us and put us in temporary arrest… Imagine how Homatian felt when he lost from his jurisdiction such a great territory that became independent by the decision of the Constantinople patriarch! And second of all, maybe even more important than the first to him was that with this act he lost all chances to become a patriarch. In other words, it is quite irrational to identify the medieval church circumstances with those of today.

And finally, since the above-title of the interview said the Serbian-Macedonian church conflict from a Macedonian point of view, allow us to say that in Macedonia there are some other points of view on this “conflict”, and observed from these points of view it is no longer a conflict but a denouement. Besides the schismatics, entangled in their own delusions and obsessions, in Macedonia there is also the free, canonical, recognized Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric. It is in catacombs now, put there by the state apparatus in Macedonia with the use of force and brutal breaking of the basic civil and natural human rights, and nevertheless it celebrates the liturgy, it develops and lives in the fullness of communication with all of the Orthodox Churches.

+John Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarje
Exarch of Ohrid