Communique of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
The regular meeting of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church took place at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade May 15-23, under the presidency of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej. Participating in the Assembly were all the diocesan hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the exception of His Beatitude Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan who is unjustly imprisoned in the Skoplje prison of Idrizovo and His Grace Bishop Chrysostom of Bihac and Petrovac.
The Assembly began its work with the joint serving of the hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Holy Archangel Michael Cathedral in Belgrade, led by Serbian Patriarch Irinej, and served the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and wisdom, in Whom the Church lives and always works, especially in the assemblies of its bishops. During the liturgy Bishop Irinej of Backa, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, addressed the faithful and explained the institution of the assembly of bishops as an expression of the essential conciliar nature of the Church. After the Divine Liturgy, at the beginning of the first session, the president of the Assembly, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, addressed some of the current issues from the life and mission of the Church in our time, a time of great temptation here and throughout the world, but also a time of hope and opportunity for spiritual renewal.
During this year's Assembly of Bishops a concelebration of the hierarchical Divine Liturgy again took place on Saturday, May 19th, the feastday of the Translation of the Relics of St. Sava, at the St. Sava Church in Vracar. The liturgical and spiritual life of the Church was enriched by the addition of two Hieromartyrs and forty student-martyrs who suffered in 1688 in Momisici (Podgorica). Their feastday has been designated to be the day the Church commemorates the Holy Martyrs of Sebaste from Asia Minor (a feastday commonly known as Mladenci) of which the Holy Synod will officially inform all the local Orthodox Churches so that they might enter their names in their service books and calendars. The Assembly also determined that the feastday of St. Nikodim, Archbishop of Pec, will be on May 12/25 and not 11/24 as it has thus far been.
The Assembly confirmed the determination of our local Church to honor and celebrate during next year with church services and appropriate spiritual-cultural manifestations a momentous anniversary of Christianity and culture – 1700-year anniversary of the Edict of Milan of Emperor Constantine (313-2013), a document of freedom of faith and conscience of outstanding significance, relevant even today not only from a historical but also an existential aspect. The anniversary will be commemorated in all dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church, while the central celebration will be held in Nis, the birthplace of Emperor Constantine, and in Belgrade. All patriarchs from the Orthodox Churches and other representatives of the Orthodox Churches will be invited to take part in the commemoration of this jubilee, other distinguished individuals from world Orthodoxy (bishops, theologians, artists....), a delegation of heterodox Christian churches and church communities, Christian and inter-Christian institutions and organizations, as well as monotheistic faith groups, also representatives from the sciences, arts and culture as well as Serbian and foreign distinguished public figures. All preparations and the program itself will be coordinated by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church and a Sabor committee which will be formed for this purpose.
The Assembly, in the same spirit and direction, confirmed once again its unchanged position regarding the need to intensify, heighten and theologically enrich the current process of preparation for a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, to once again call a pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar consultation, and additional such consultations if the need arises, and to summon this general Council at a foreseeable appropriate time with due responsibility, being of course faithful to the divinely-inspired principles of operation of the ecumenical and major local councils of the Church.
The Assembly heard the report of the work of the Holy Synod and the reports of the work of the diocesan bishops and the state of affairs in their dioceses in the past year, and made appropriate decisions. At the joint meeting of the members of the Assembly and the central bodies for the completion of the St. Sava Church on Vracar a discussion ensued and decisions were rendered, having analyzed the reports, regarding everything thus far completed and the forthcoming great task of completing the interior of the church, including the mosaic and fresco work. Having been informed of the relevant facts, the Assembly postponed for a time the restructuring of the largest diocese by population of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Archdiocese of Belgrade-Karlovci, until the necessary preparations and basic infrastructure for the future dioceses on that territory can be completed. For the same reason the Assembly postponed the filling of the newly established diocese of Austria-Switzerland and Buenos Aires with diocesan bishops and extended the mandate of their current administrators. Also, the Assembly requested of Bishop Grigorije of Zahum-Hercegovina that he continue in his position as assistant to Metropolitan Nikolaj of Dabrobosna, in performing archpastoral duties.
The Assembly once again expressed its deep sadness and protested the violations of human rights and religious freedom of the faithful of the Autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which peaked in the unlawful harassment and arrests of innocent people, with persecutions and acts of violence escalating to such a point that the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan has been imprisoned for the sixth time under fabricated charges and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The troubling and alarming fact is that all this is occurring at the request of the local schismatic organization which calls itself "The Macedonian Orthodox Church." The schismatic hierarchy is publicly and maliciously, without any repercussions, rejoicing at the judicial-police persecution of the only canonical and generally accepted Church in Macedonia, especially over the re-imprisonment of its first hierarch. Thus she demonstrates how much she cares about the basic truths and ethical principles of the Christian faith, much less about the sanctity of the unity of the Church. Instead of considering all the protests and appeals that have thus far come from the Orthodox and other Christian churches throughout the world and the criticism they have received from international institutions and organizations because of the political ties and corruption of their judiciary system and the continued violations of human rights and religious freedom in their country, the authorities of the Republic of Macedonia, unfortunately, are only increasing their terrorism against the Church in a manner without precedent in the modern world.
The Assembly has followed with particular care and not a little concern the actions of the government of Montenegro which similarly—with somewhat less direct and damaging force, but with a similar course of damaging the mission of the canonical Church in Montenegro and of state sponsorship of Dedic’s minor and completely baseless sect—is trampling on the fundamental human rights of Orthodox clergy and faithful. It has not restrained itself even from the completely uncivilized and from a European understanding unprecedented deportation of certain priests only because, allegedly, the Orthodox Church, which is centuries older than either Montenegro or Serbia or any existing state in the Balkans, is not “registered” witht the police according to laws dating back to the time of Broz’s “democracy.” The denial of the very right of the Serbian Orthodox Church to exist in Montenegro, the ambition of certain Montenegrin politicians, although they think like atheists, to decide church matters, to regulate the inner life, structure and relationships within the Orthodox Church, to manipulate through pressure or even outright force the indentity of the Church in Montenegro, their open aspiration to make it an instrument of their political way of thinking and to aggressively shape the content of the Church life of Orthodox Christians in Montenegro—all this demonstrates a violation of basic human rights and religious freedom, an active repudiation of the secular, and that means religiously neutral, character of a contemporary state and the abandoning of the democratic principle of separation of church and state, as well as a reintroduction of the historically long-rejected discrimination between first and second-class citizens based on religion or ethnicity. Therefore the Assembly expects the state organs of Montenegro to respect the existing constitution and laws, including the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church and other churches and religious associations, inasmuch as this represents their obligations before the international community.
The Assembly is particularly concerned that even so many years after the exodus of the Serbian people from Kosovo and Metohija in 1999 and the March pogrom of 2004, and despite the presence of international forces and the guarantees of the great powers, there is still no agreement on the return and free life of the displaced and refugees. Moreover, they continue to violate Serbian Orthodox shrines, home and property, and the rights of the Serbian community, especially south of the Ibar River. In the context of domestic and international dialogue on the status of the southern Serbian territory, the Assembly believes that the imposition of solutions contrary to United Nations Resolution 1244, the Constitution of Serbia and the norms of international law would only bring about a lasting—and perhaps permanent—crisis and instability, which means human suffering, in an area which has already long been a symbol of division, conflict and suffering. One of the few bright points there is the life and work of the reconstituted Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Prizren, whose citizens, now overwhelmingly of Albanian nationality and Islamic faith, make possible the unmolested work of this significant establishment of the Orthodox Church and the Serbian people. This attitude deserves our respect and gratitude.
The Assembly considers the Church’s relations with the governments of Serbia and of Republika Srpska to be generally good, but it expects that the new government of Serbia will correct the mistakes of the outgoing administration concerning the restitution of expropriated property and the status of religious education, that is, catechism and religious instruction as a subject in the public schools, and to expedite the process of including military chaplains in the Serbian Army.
With satisfaction and thanks to God, the Assembly observes that the Serbian Orthodox Church maintains liturgical and canonical relations and cooperation with the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, but that in this regard there is, unfortunately, one exception. This concerns the uncanonical activity of the episcopate and clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church on the canonical territory of other Orthodox Churches, including our own. In our case, certain bishops and clergy from neighboring Romania continue to come to certain cities and towns in Eastern Serbia, that is, the Dioceses of Timok and Branicevo, and carry out priestly activities there without the knowledge or permission of the responsible bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, thus violating the very foundations of Orthodox ecclesiology and canonical order. Because of similar unauthorized activities by representatives of the Romanian Church, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem repeatedly objected most energetically, and eventually broke liturgical and canonical relations with that Church, which continues. The Assembly once again, for the who knows how many times, sent a protest to Romanian Patriach Daniel and his Synod over the uncanonical intrusions into areas under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church and with regret informed them that, to the extent that individuals from the sister Romanian Church do not cease their unbrotherly and uncanonical activities, regardless of whether they are tolerated or sent by her Patriarch or Synod, we will take all appropriate canonical and legal measures to preserve the ancient canonical order and stop the irresponsible disruption of the holy unity between Orthodox Churches and between fraternal peoples, which the Serbian and Romanian peoples have undoubtedly been over the centuries. If these measures do not help, the Assembly will be forced, with deep regret, to follow the example of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. The Assembly Fathers are aware that there are many among the Romanian bishops, clergy and theologians who do not follow the aggressive ethnophyletisic course which has occasioned no small disruption in the entire Orthodox world in recent years. Similarly, the Assembly is, as it has been earlier, grateful to the Romanian Church for its correct relations with the administrator of the Temisvar diocese, its clergy and faithful, just as the Serbian Orthodox Church enjoys brotherly relations with the clergy and faithful of the Romanian Church who live in the Serbian part of Banat.
The peace and unity of the Serbian Orthodox Church is being disturbed, in the evaluation of the Assembly, by the monk Artemije, deposed bishop of Raska-Prizren, and his adherents, who are creating a real parasynagogue (unlawful assembly) with all the expressed tendencies of developing into a pure schism and sect. Therefore the Assembly resolved to again call upon the monk Artemije (Radosvaljevic) and the former hieromonks, monks and nuns who follow him to return to the Church through repentance from the way of schism, which he himself said he realizes “is a great wound upon the body of the Church, a great sin before God, a sin which even the blood of martyrs cannot wash away,” and to give the Holy Synod of Bishops authority to explain this decision by the new canonical offenses of the above named and his ever-deeper plunge into schism: the establishing of “parasynagogues” in the Church by uncanonical, ineffective ordinations and monastic tonsures, by the opening of monasteries and houses of prayer in the dioceses of our Church, and by open slander, lies, curses and accusations against the Holy Assembly of Bishops and the episcopate of the Serbian Orthodox Church of heresy, false ecumenism, rigging of trials, the pronouncing of verdicts without trials, and so forth. If the monk Artemije, former bishop of Raska-Prizren, does not respond to this invitation to return to the Church through repentance and obedience to the decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops and the ancient canonical order of the Orthodox Church as quickly as possible, the Assembly will be obliged to take additional canonical measures.
As in all previous years, the Assembly gave great attention to church schools and education. Detailed consideration was given to problems such as seminaries, some of which need to fulfill the standards set for their entry into the Serbian educational system, as well as to institutions of higher education, especially those in the area and in the diaspora. In this context the Assembly learned of a project which may contribute greatly to the quality of theological education of Serbs in America: this is a project called Serbian House at St. Vladimir’s Academy, for which the means and conditions for its functioning already exist, so that the process of final agreement and realization of the project is imminent. The Assembly again considered the question of the adequate temporary housing of the patriarchal archives, a precious treasure of documents, as well as the question of the building of structures for the Archives, Treasury (Museum) and Library of the Patriarchate. A new statute for Covekoljulje [Philanthropy], the charitable foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was approved.
The Assembly again supported the House of Karadjeordjevic’s initiative to bring the earthly remains of the deceased members of the Serbian royal family located abroad back and give them an honorable burial in the Karadjordjevic votive church at Oplenac. The Assembly again appealed to the City of Belgrade to consider the possibility of keeping the bones of the Serbian, American and world giant of science, Nikola Tesla, on the St. Sava plateau or, eventually, in the crypt of the St. Sava Church on Vracar.
The makeup of the Holy Synod remains the same by decision of the Assembly.
The Assembly expresses its concern over the fact that the Serbian people is experiencing more deaths than births, and that each year they lose the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized city, which testifies to a deep moral failure, to a serious crisis in the family and to a lack of true faith in God among many, although a majority of our people consider themselves believers and are believers, at least in the most basic meaning of the word. Therefore the Assembly appeals to the conscience of parents, educators, government officials and all those who can influence society to do everything possible, despite material shortages, to exalt life among us as the greatest of God’s gifts which stands as an alternative to the unconscionable cult of death which has taken root in contemporary western civilization. At the same time the Assembly recommends that all the dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church and their affiliated church organizations establish funds for the support of families who have several children, that, in the first place, pastorally and therapeutically, they might prevent the scourge of immorality, drug abuse, pornography and other pathogenic occurrences which threaten from the very core the being, soul and future of the Serbian people and all Christian people who are exposed to the destructive influence of secularism, consumerism, hedonism, individualism, a pseudo-religion which has no concept of a personal God, a false Christianity without Christ as a God-man community, as well as various other ideologies, meaninglessness and hopelessness. The Assembly, in its part, calls all to life and action, through faith, hope and love, for - God is Love.
Bishop Irinej of Backa,
Spokesman for the Holy Assembly of Bishops
of the Serbian Orthodox Church