Protocol no. 60 from 16 March 2004

The Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia
The Government of the Republic of Macedonia
The Republic Court Council and
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia

Dear Mr. Jordanovski, and gentlemen representatives in the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia,

Obligated by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, with Decision no.51/04, to file a protest to the Assembly, the Government, the Republic Court Council and the Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia, against the brutal violation of the basic human right to freedom of religious confession conducted by the state institutions in the Republic of Macedonia, we address You expecting of you to look into the following facts and to give us appropriate answers for the same.

On 23 January 2004, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, being the highest legislative body, reached a Decision for support of the autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Despite it being against the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, according to which the state is separated from the Church, the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, as a religious community in the Republic of Macedonia, to which the Government of the RM, against all administrative regulations still hasn’t given the answer whether it will register it, has nothing against one such support if the one is not contrary to the religious rights and freedom of those who do not wish to be identified as members of the MOC. According to our interpretation, which you are not obliged to take into consideration, there is no legal possibility for a direct interference of the Assembly in the work of the religious communities, by reaching acts of support for one and at the same time disqualifying another. What else would make the separateness of the state from the religious communities? If the Assembly reaches declarations and laws to support someone and humiliate another; if the Government creates conditions for unobstructed development of one religious community, and persecutes and pushes into catacombs another; if the Court holds as untouchable the members of some religious confession, and those of another as subject to investigations and trials, then what makes the Constitutional separateness of the state from the Church? We pose this question before the abovementioned state institutions in the name of the believers of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, but that same question, today, is being posed to those same institutions by the entire democratically oriented international public.

To begin with, the act of the Assembly, at least according to our comprehension, is contradicting the Constitution of RM, but the text of the Declaration is also contrary to the international conventions for the human rights of freedom of religious confession. The first item of the Declaration says that the Assembly “…supports the autocephalous status and unity of the Macedonian Orthodox Church”. This means that anyone who doesn’t wish to be in unity with the MOC, according to the Assembly, is automatically treated as adversary of the issue declared. Contrary to the Constitution, but also contrary to the internationally guaranteed human rights to freedom of religious confession, there is violation of the rights of those who consider themselves to be believers of the Orthodox Christians faith and do not wish to belong to the MOC. They have no alternative to decide freely whether they will be in unity with the MOC, which is supported with a Declaration by the Assembly as the only church of Orthodox confession, or if they will belong to another religious community which preaches the Orthodox Christian faith, and is not in unity with the MOC, such as the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric. Their freedom of choice will be treated as contrary to the Declaration and the same will be accused that they not only work against the unity of the MOC supported by the Assembly of RM, but also against the Assembly itself, that is, the state that supports the unity of the MOC. The legal consequences from this Declaration remain to be seen in the course of time, but the social and psychological consequences are obvious. Not only did the declaration inflict immeasurable consequences to the international reputation of the state, but the effects of the same are destructive for the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia. The first item of the declaration makes division of the citizens into those who agree to support the MOC and those who disagree with the same, but every person more acquainted with the problems already knows that this is only an introduction to the Law for the religious communities with which the one who disagrees to be in unity with the MOC will not be only peacefully observed. The Declaration prepares ground for the new Law according to which everyone who refuses to be in unity with the MOC will be treated as if working against the law.

To make it even more convincing and psychologically overpowering for those who would dare not to think like that, the Assembly does the same in item two of the Declaration. Even in items three and four it is mentioned that the Assembly “…will continue to work on the affirmation of the religious freedom…”, but it is clear to everyone that the Declaration does not start from item three and four, but from the first item, and that the third and fourth are meaningless without the first and the second item. So you cannot reach to the freedom of religious confession declared in item three, unless you have necessarily declared that you are in unity with the MOC.

We will feel free to say that precisely the reaching of this Declaration, together with all the prerequisites created by the executive authorities in the last year and a half, contributed to the emergence of such extremism and religious fanaticism that there were attempts of lynch of the high hierarchy of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, humiliation of the nuns, burning of monasteries. The prerequisites of the executive authorities are not only created through legal irregularities and psychological torments, but also through aggressive, repressive affliction of the basic human rights to the freedom of religious confession. First, in July 2002, we, the Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarje John, together with our associates, were evicted in the street without a court injunction. Later, that same month, the same participated in the eviction, once again without a court injunction, from the monastery of St. great-martyr George in Negotino. In July 2003 we were arrested and put in temporary detention for committing a “great sin”, we wanted to baptize the niece from our sister in the temple St. great-martyr Dimitry in Bitola. During the course of the year 2003, the police conducted several searches in the seat of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, of the appendage of the monastery St. John Chrysostom, as well as of the vehicle of the episcope Joachim. They placed us in catacombs, we officiate in an apartment of 50 m2, and now they want to evict us from there. On 11 January 2004 the police arrested us, the episcope Marko and all the monks and nuns present in the chapel in which we celebrated the Liturgy. On the following day, they released everyone but me. Later the court dropped all charges against these people, for they had no guilt before the law, but the purpose of the arrest was to detain them in the police station so that they would not resist while the police evicted all the other monks and nuns that joined the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, once again without a court injunction.

The court authorities, just as the Assembly and the Government, support the MOC, but at the damage of the religious freedom and rights of those who do not belong to the MOC. The temporary arrest became a customary measure of oppression, thus, once we were held in custody for 5, and another time for 20 days. After they “put us in our place” with the five days of temporary arrest in July 2003, in January 2004, they determined a much longer period to “change my mind”. After the intervention of many governmental and nongovernmental institutions from abroad we were released after 20 days, although there was a decision to hold us in pre-trial detention until the beginning of the court procedure, which could have been after three months, and as we can see, the same still hasn’t even been scheduled Contrary to the Constitution and the Law of the religious communities and religious groups, we were convicted to a year and a half of a suspended sentence for the criminal act of “autocracy”, despite the fact that the Church is separated from the state, and despite the fact that the decisions of the religious communities are of an internal character and apply only to the area of work of the religious community itself. There is an investigation for a financial embezzlement, although there still hasn’t been a trial for that, but in order not to leave us at our peace for too long, we will certainly be tried for “instigating national and religious hatred.” In the meantime, no one asked oneself, how is it possible for an episcope who serves to Christ’s Gospel, known to be a gospel of love and peace, 6to instigate hatred of any sort?

Nevertheless, the more unjust thing, conducted by the courts, is that the oppression is carried out not only over the clergy, but also over the civilian members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, all with the purpose to “change their mind” and to give up their faith. Near the end of year 2002 there was an initiative by a group of citizens to organize a citizen’s association with the name “St. John Chrysostom”. Because the judge who was supposed to register the association found the name too religious, despite the fact that all conditions for formation of the association were realized, the association was not registered. Then the name “Sisterhood Anastasija” was suggested, of course with a new request and new expenditures, but this also wasn’t registered. Finally, after several months, the judge agreed for the name to be only “Anastasija” without any additions. Another case is when the sisters from the monastic sisterhood St. John Chrysostom wanted to register a firm so that they could work something to make their living. The suggestion that the firm carries the name “Ikonomija Obitel” was rejected and the firm was not registered. The appeal has been stuck for several months somewhere in the Supreme Court and there hasn’t been an answer. In the developed democracies, this would be treated as an attempt to murder, because someone is denied to earn his living through his own work.

Not out of sentimentality, but because of justice and truth, we would like to awaken the conscience of those who will have the opportunity to read the content of this protest so that they will be able to understand how difficult it is to confess in these conditions that you belong to the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric. To be persecuted, evicted, humiliated, to have your own safety threatened, and all this with the support of the institutions of the system, only because you want to be true to your faith and convictions without using any violent methods to harm the others, is absolutely unbelievable for the epoch we live in. This religious intolerance is typical of the Middle Ages, but now, in the twenty first century after Christ, to have this intolerance supported by the state institutions is only typical for the countries that have for a Constitution the Muslim religious law, such as Saudi Arabia.

We as a high hierarchy of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, together with all the clergy and monasticism, together with the believing people, who regardless of their number should have ensured religious rights, we pray and we plead the state institutions only to secure us with the basic minimum of those rights. We ask only for that which belongs to us according to the international conventions on the human rights and according to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia. We ask for the right, without being persecuted, maltreated, humiliated and oppressed by the institutions of the system, to be permitted to gather and serve to God. We haven’t done any harm to anyone, nor do we intend to do so. The faith of the Orthodox Church is a faith of love and peace. It is not directed against anyone, but on the contrary, it serves for the salvation of all. The good will of the state institutions to stop the oppression and maltreatment conducted on religious grounds in the Republic of Macedonia will be seen if the Government registers the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric in the registry of the religious communities, for which there are fulfilled conditions and filed requests. This will give legal grounds for the freedom of religious confession of the members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, and no one will be able to wonder if there is any religious freedom for some in the Republic of Macedonia. The Court should cease all prosecutions of the members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric and related to the dealings of the Church. Neither does the state nor does the worldly court have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Church. What makes the state separated from the Church if the worldly court tries for church affairs. We do not ask that the members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric be protected from court investigation or court proceedings for affairs for which make them respond before the Constitution and the Law, but to try them for acts related to the freedom of thought and religious confession is beyond any understanding and legal effect.

Finally, we would like to make you remember if there was ever in the history use of oppression to suffocate a certain religious movement, or in the ultimate case, to destroy a certain heresy. All attempts to use force to influence the freedom of religious confession ended and will end with failure. The force used in war creates victorious and defeated. The force used in religious disagreements creates martyrs for the faith, so there are never defeated. Quite the opposite, the defeat caused by the use of force is the greatest religious victory. During the ages when the Christians confessed the faith with their blood, which makes the first three centuries after Christ, Tertulian writes down: “The blood of the martyrs is seed for new Christians”. It is up to you gentlemen, to whom this letter is addressed, to decide whether the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric will grow through martyrdom or through its free mission. Whatever the way it will remain, for in the end, the only thing that will remain is the Church.

With due respect,

President of the Holy Synod of Bishops
+ John
Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarje and Exarch of Ohrid

Enclosing – the first and the second request for opinion addressed to the Commission for relations with the religious communities and religious groups.