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 and in Nis May 21-June 3, 2013 under the presidency of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej. Participating in the Assembly were the majority of the diocesan hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Absent were only His Beatitude Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan and His Eminence Metropolitan Nikolaj of Dabro-Bosna.
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 the traditional Invocation of the Holy Spirit served for a successful course and outcome of the Assembly, bestowing upon the gathered faithful the archpastoral message dedicated to the summoning of the Assembly. Afterward, at the beginning of the first meeting of the Assembly, in his introductory remarks to the gathered hierarchs, Patriarch, as president of the Assembly, indicated the most essential life issues, witnessing and mission in the Serbian Orthodox Church at this historic moment, in days of great temptation and challenges, but also of great possibilities for spiritual renewal beneath the prism of the Edict of Milan of Emperor Constantine, the first and first-rate public document for freedom of the Christian faith and freedom of conscience in general.
The Assembly approved the reports of the Holy Synod and Bishop Jovan of Nis regarding the preparation which has been completed for the celebration of the significant jubilee of Christianity and culture – the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan of the holy Emperor Constantine the Great (313-2013) – within the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well progress in preparation for the central celebration in October of this year, intended to be pan-Orthodox, pan-Christian and an all-cultural manifestation.
The Assembly heard the reports of the work of the Holy Synod as well as reports of the work of diocesan hierarchs, and made appropriate decisions for the improvement of the general spiritual state in all dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the furtherance of church education and a more intensified evangelical mission of the Church in the modern world, under globalism and secularism. At the joint meeting of the members of the Assembly with the central bodies for the completion of the St. Sava Church in Vracar, decisions were made for the approaching great task of finally completing the interior of the church.
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 certain representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Church on the canonical territory of other Orthodox Churches. This threatens the very foundations of Orthodox ecclesiology and canonical order. Because of similar unauthorized activities by representative of the Romanian Church, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem has broken liturgical and canonical communion with this Church, until further notice. The Assembly has once again, for the who knows how many times, sent a protest 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. The Assembly hopes that such measures will help, or the Assembly will be forced, with much 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.
Once again this year the Assembly confirmed its unchanged position regarding the need to intensify, and deepen the spiritual and theological preparations for a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, as well fostering a pan-Orthodox accountability for the future course of official dialogue of the Orthodox Church, first with the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian Churches and confessions, but also dialogue with other religions, Judaism and Muslim in the first place.
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. Instead of repenting and returning to his Church, he even hold his own schismatic “antisabor” and lectures to the Assembly. Therefore, unless the same does not respond to this invitation to return to the Church and the ancient canonical order of the Orthodox Church as quickly as possible, the Assembly will be obliged to take additional canonical measures.
The Assembly noted with regret that the international protectorate, and the presence of NATO forces in Kosovo and Metohija, including the latest process of negotiations at the highest levels in Brussels, brought neither justice nor a solution. Serbian people continue to suffer in the Province: after the destruction and desecration of Orthodox churches and monasteries, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, organ trafficking and other similar misdeeds, now a milder violence and "softer" terror is at play - the barbaric destruction of tombstones, murders, attacks on property , ghettoization, daily threats... In a word, there is very little of that which, with their presence, the European Union and NATO should gurantee. Expressing concern that the implementation of the reached agreement and the agreement does not meet the ignominious fate of earlier "standards before status", the Assembly, with approval, took note of the activities of the Holy Synod, taken as a contribution to the Serbian state and the Serbian people as a whole in the way of finding a just and lasting solution.
In order to better acquaint themselves with the efforts of the Serbian government and other responsible state bodies, the Assembly requested of Mr. Aleksandar Vucic, First Deputy Prime Minister, to make an official visit to the Assembly while it was in session. On that occasion, after a thorough and sincere conversation, with mutual understanding and goodwill, it was concluded that, despite the differences in the approach to certain issues, there is unity and agreement on the basic commitment to the future of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, to preserve its churches and monasteries and the integrity of Serbia, which means the refusal of direct or indirect recognition of the phantom statehood of Kosovo outside of Serbia. The fathers of the Assembly, in the words of His Holiness, assured Mr Vucic that the government and Serbian Parliament, acting in that direction, can count on the full support of the Serbian Orthodox Church, naturally, in the course of its jurisdiction and capabilities.
The Assembly again reminds the domestic and world media of the suffering of Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan, the head of the canonical Orthodox Church of the FYR of Macedonia, for the sixth time unjustly imprisoned on the grounds of fabricated false charges and by a rigged, farcical judicial process, as well as of the new judicial-police threats against the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ohrid Archdiocese. They are all, with their First Hierarch at their head, being persecuted—as if they do not live in 21st century Europe and as if there do not exist principles of freedom of religion and conscience, whose first historical document was the Holy Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, and which are today guaranteed by binding international conventions. Therefore the Assembly again appeals to all people and institutions, both here and throughout the world, which can contribute to the freeing of Archbishop Jovan and to the securing of equal civil rights for all the adherents of of the Ohrid Archdiocese, to raise their voices and quickly do everything possible, as the health of the Archbishop has already been seriously damaged by confinement and to a large extent by his conditions of imprisonment.
With the same co-suffering love and concern, the Assembly asks all those who are called upon and responsible to intercede for the freeing of the kidnapped Metropolitan of Aleppo Paul of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch, whose whereabouts are unknown, as well as of so many other innocent victims of the brutal civil war on the territory of Syria. Similarly, the Assembly appeals to the responsibility of the great powers, as well as the domestic political elites in the countries of the Near and Middle East, on behalf of the suffering and drastically shrinking number of Christians in that area, and for the no less suffering tens of millions of Muslim believers.
The Assembly grieves over the frequent anti-Orthodox and anti-Serb provocations in the neighboring countries—Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Montenegro—as well as occasional incidents in Serbia itself, first of all in the region of Raska.
His Holiness the Patriarch and the members of the Assembly liturgically and prayerfully participated in the burial of the earthly remains of King Peter II and other members of the House of Karadjordjevic on May 26, in the church of the Holy Great-martyr George on Oplenac.
In the presence of the President of Serbia, members of the Government, representatives of other Christian bodies as well of the Islamic and Jewish communities of Serbia, representatives of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, diplomats, distinguished cultural workers and other distinguished guests, His Holiness the Patriarch along with members of the Assembly opened the expanded and renovated premises of the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church and expressed the Church’s appreciation to the Government of Serbia, in particular to the Ministry of Culture, which made possible this significant spiritual and cultural undertaking. The Assembly awaits similar support for ensuring adequate premises for the Library and Archives of the Serbian Patriarchate, as well as for the Orthodox Theological Faculty and the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade. The Assembly expects a quick—full and not selective—adoption of the law on restitution of church properties, as well as just restitution for confiscated private properties.
The Assembly also decided to help the renovation of the Orthodox Church in Kucanci, the birthplace of Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory, from the funds of the Patriarch Pavle Foundation.
For the Diocese of Raska-Prizren, due to the specific conditions in Kosovo and Metohija, the Assembly approved the establishment of a Diocesan office for the protection of the spiritual and cultural patrimony, and approved in principle an initiative to establish such an office for the entire Church. The establishment of a new Church Foundation for helping the needy of Kosovo and Metohija was approved, along with a decision to intensify and improve the work of the existing charitable foundation Covekoljublje (Philanthropy).
Monastery Krka was approved as a second see for the Diocese of Dalmatia. The transfer of the see of the Diocese of Eastern America to the New York City area was approved, and the missionary parish on the island of Malta was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Austria and Switzerland, which also includes the Serbian Orthodox parishes in Italy.
The composition of the Assembly Commission for dialogue with the Croatian Bishops’ Conference was expanded, and a separate Commission for dialogue with the Bishops’ Conference of Slovenia was established.
The Sabor did not accept the proposal to add the name of our greatest poet, Petar Petrovic Njegos, to the diptych of saints.
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla Vasilije and Bishop of Central Europe Konstantin were permanently released from their respective dioceses and from overseeing the same.
Decisions regarding the vacant dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church were brought forth. Two dioceses were filled, and others, for important practical reasons, have administrators in charge. To the vacant cathedra seat of Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla was elected bishop of Bihac-Petrovac Hrizostom, and to the vacant cathedra seat of bishop of Bihac-Petrovac was elected the heretofore Vicar Bishop of Hvostan Atanasije.
His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej is confirmed as administrator of the Central European Diocese, Bishop Jovan of Sumadija as administrator of the Diocese of Zicha, for administrator of diocese of Austria-Switzerland, Bishop of Backa Irinej as administrator of the Diocese of Austria and Switzerland, and Metropolitan of Montenegro-Coastlands Amfilohije as administrator of the Diocese of South-Central America.
Bishop Grigorije of Zahum-Hercegovina will continue to be auxiliary bishop to Metropolitan of Dabar-Bosnia Nikolaj.
Members of the Holy Synod in its new composition are: Bishop of Srem Vasilije, Bishop of Sumadija Jovan, Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla Hrizostom and Bishop of Ras-Prizren Teodosije.
Because of abortions, the population of Serbia every year is less for equal population of an average city in Serbia. This attests to a deep moral degradation, a great crisis of family life and lack of true faith in God among many people, though many of our people declare themselves as faithful Orthodox Christians at least in the elementary sense of that word. The Assembly has, therefore, supported the initiative of doctors who adhere to the teachings of our Church that the state should ban abortions, accept in cases of extreme medical reasons. The Assembly appeals to the consciousness of parents, teachers, state officials and all those who can make an impact on the status in society to do everything they can that among us, despite material poverty, the celebration of life as God’s greatest gift becomes the alternative to the unconscious cult of death which has spread in the contemporary western civilization. At the same time, the Assembly recommends to all dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church and all their respective local church units and organizations to establish funds for the support of families with a great number of children, to preventatively, pastorally and therapeutically, prevent displays of immorality, the use of narcotics, pornography and all other pathogenic phenomena which violate human existence, the soul and the future of the Serbian people and all Christian people, exposed to the fatal influence of secularism, consumer mentality, hedonism, individualism, pseudo-religiousness without concept of personal God, false Christianity without Christ as God-Man (Theanthropos) and without Church as the divine-human community, as well as various ideologies of nonsensical thinking and hope. The Assembly, for its part, calls all to life and works through faith, hope and love, for God is Love.
In celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Nis on the Feast Day of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, the Emperor and the Empress, we celebrated the 1700th anniversary of Edict of Milan on our local level, as preparation for the general celebration in October of this year, and the city of Nis has been awarded the Order of Saint Sava the First Degree. With this the work of this year’s Assembly concluded.
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Spokesman of the Holy Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church