Information Service of
the Serbian Orthodox Church

July 31, 2004


Number 1499
July 30, 2004
In Belgrade

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

Re: Response to Your letter to my humbleness regarding Your desire and intent to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski in the Diocese of Vranje on St. Elijah’s Day and mark the 60 year anniversary of ASNOM in it

Esteemed Mr. President:

The lines which follow are a result of my sense of duty to immediately respond to your respected letter with regard to Your desire and intent to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski in the Diocese of Vranje accompanied by your high delegation on the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah [Ilindan] on August 2 / July 20 of the current year in order to mark the 60 year anniversary of ASNOM [trans. note: the First Session of the Anti-Fascist
Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia], an important date for your country and your people, in it in a manner defined by state protocol. While it is true that I have yet to receive your letter, I do believe that you have been so kind as to send it in the meanwhile to my address in Belgrade as you have already released it to the press, and consequently, thanks to the media, I have already had the opportunity to acquaint myself with its content; furthermore, this morning, thanks to the efforts of the Embassy of the Republic of Macedonia in Belgrade, I received a copy of it. In all my days – and permit me to mention that I am ninety years old – this is the first time I have come across such an original form of official correspondence between the head of a state and one of the heads of an Orthodox Church. However, I sincerely assure you that this form does not bother me in the least because the substance is always more important than the presentation. The only thing necessarily following from this is the need to satisfy protocol by following the same procedure; hence, I, too, God willing, upon completing the writing of this letter will first release it to the media, and subsequently forward the original and one copy to you by way of the Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro in Skoplje.

After this lengthy but, I hope, not useless introduction and prior to responding to your appeal or request in connection with the forthcoming Ilindan, allow me, Mr. President, to remind you of the prehistory of your letter and this response on my part, not so much for your sake – for you are well aware of it – but for the sake of the public in your country and mine, whom you wished to have as a third collocutor in our discussion, something I heartily and joyfully accept, and not only in this particular instance but, if you are willing, as a model for all our future contacts.

The first indications of your desires and intentions in regard to the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski and Ilindan 2004 became public at the beginning of last June through several reports in the Skoplje and Belgrade press (“Utrinski Vesnik” no. 1491 and “Dnevnik” no. 2473 issued June 5, 2004; “Vecernje Novosti” issued June 6, 2004), and the Holy Assembly of Bishops officially learned of them in due correspondence from His Grace Bishop Pahomije of Vranje. The Assembly deliberated this correspondence during its meeting on June 10, 2004 and on that occasion decided to send letters to Mr. Svetozar Marovic, president of the Council of Ministers of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and Dr. Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister of the Government of Serbia, of course, not for the purpose of seeking any sort of intervention by the state with regarding to this matter but exclusively for the purpose of informing the state and republic leadership with the views of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the only competent authority on this issue. That there was more than ample reason for this decision will be confirmed by the extensive excerpts from these letters addressed to President Marovic (Assembly no. 1204 dated June 17, 2004) and Prime Minister Kostunica (Assembly no. 1205 from the same date cited herein.

The Assembly letter includes the following:

“...Certain Macedonian officials are trying to convince their public how they will use their full strength to ‘put pressure’ on Serbia and Montenegro state officials in order to carry out their ideas. Mr. Crvenkovski himself said that he would speak with the Belgrade government regarding the aforementioned celebration in order to ensure the necessary conditions for placing of a wreath and flowers in the monastery, while at the same time excluding the possibility of any talks or contacts with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Somewhat later, the Macedonian minister of defense, Mr. Vlado Buckovski, repeated the same view. The gentlemen have, of course, overlooked three significant details: that the aforementioned monastery is owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, specifically, by the Diocese of Vranje; that in the civilized world one cannot go to someone’s home or property without the consent of the host; and that the relationship between the Church and state in Serbia are based on different civilizational and other principles.”

This is followed by a brief synopsis of the pre-existing circumstances:

“During the past ten years the commemoration of ASNOM in the monastery complex of St. Prohor Pcinjski has taken place under normal conditions and with the participation of senior representatives of both the Republic of Macedonia and our own country. On each occasion the Serbian Orthodox Church has been a good host to the guests from Skoplje.”

The letter goes on to explain that the problems between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the government of the Republic of Macedonia developed gradually and that they culminated during the course of 2003, when those authorities prohibited the highest church dignitaries, priests, monks and nuns of the Serbian Orthodox Church from entering the Republic of Macedonia and remaining in it (even during transit!) and at the same time, because of their attitude toward the canonic hierarchs of the Ochrid Archbishopric, who were exposed to harsh persecution by the police and courts solely for accepting canonic unity with the Orthodox Church.

The consequence of all this, the letter goes on to note, was the decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church that the commemoration of ASNOM in the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski not be permitted until the government of the Republic of Macedonia changes its attitude toward the Serbian Orthodox Church in keeping with democratic norms, and until it stops endangering the basic human rights of its members, trampling in the process the principles of inter-state relations. The view of the Serbian Orthodox Church formulated at that time has remained unchanged to the present. The Serbian Orthodox Church is prepared – the Assembly letter goes on to state – to accept the visit of the representatives of the Republic of Macedonia on August 2, 2004 in the monastery complex of St. Prohor Pcinjski if its state and political leadership official guarantees the following three things:

1. That state officials of Macedonia will in the future make it possible for bishops, clergy, monks and nuns of the Serbian Orthodox Church to enter Macedonia, to pass through it unobstructed, and to temporarily reside there under the same conditions as for all other persons who are not citizens of Macedonia, i.e. on the basis of their valid travel documents without any discrimination on the basis of their affiliation and hierarchic level or function in the Serbian Orthodox Church;

2. That these same officials, out of respect for international conventions and the generally accepted code of human rights, as well as the rights to freedom of conscience and confession of faith, agree not to support or allow any form of discrimination against members of Churches and religious communities solely because of their affiliation, taking into account generally accepted civilizational norms and the duty of state and political officials not to interfere in the status, internal organization, affairs or internal relations of Churches and religious communities in general; and

3. That they agree that their regional officials will stop their persecution of the canonic hierarchs of the Ochrid Archbishopric, its clergy, monks and nuns and faithful, as well as they will ensure it is provided with the possibility of registration in accordance with legislative provisions of the Republic of Macedonia under the same conditions as all other religious communities in the Republic of Macedonia.

At the conclusion of the letter, the Assembly expressed its hope and conviction that the existing problem, a problem in no way caused by the Serbian Orthodox Church, can be surmounted, and that is resolution will serve the common good as well as the goal of “improving relations with our southern neighbor with whose people we otherwise have no disputes or difficulties”.

Through the mediation of well-meaning and responsible people on both sides of the present day international border, you were acquainted with this position of the Serbian Orthodox Church. As well, you understood in accurate and timely fashion that the realization of your goal – the celebration of the anniversary of the ASNOM assembly in the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski – required dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church after all. This dialogue, God be praised, occurred, first through mediators and now directly through this public exchange of official letters. While an unusual media campaign and confusion reigned in Skoplje in recent days (with circles of the schismatic Church claiming: “One of the conditions again put forward by the Serbian Church, the free activity of Serbian priests in Macedonia, has still not been fulfilled” and similar claims being made regarding the possibility of religious services being conducted “by foreign religious communities”; A1 News on July 28, 2004), you were kind enough to inform my authorized representatives in our still indirect dialogue with the messages to be included in your future letter to me, still unwritten at that point. In order to made the discussion as substantial as possible, you were kindly asked, on my behalf, to make your principal views concrete by expressly including the following:

1. That all Churches and religious communities must be equal before the law;
2. That all Churches and religious communities have a right to legal protection by the state and registration with state officials, including the Orthodox Church in your country which is in unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church and with all other Orthodox Churches in the world;
3. That bishops, priests, monks and nuns of the Serbian Orthodox Church will have guaranteed freedom of movement in the Republic of Macedonia, freedom of temporary residence according to the same general provisions as other foreign citizens; and freedom to realize church community (communication) with their brothers and sisters by faith and by church jurisdiction or affiliation.

You were also kindly asked to confirm to me personally, and through me to the Serbian Orthodox Church as a whole, a statement from another of your addresses, which is valuable in that it reflects your personal commitment to European democratic standards with regard to the issue of relations between church and state. Specifically, you stated: “The Republic of Macedonia as a state which has as its goal integration in EU is ready to build in and implement the highest EU standards in its legislation, which refer to these areas.”

Nevertheless, Mr. President, you chose not to accept my suggestion; instead, you formulated your letter, published it and sent it to me in its original form, i.e. without specific concrete statements regarding the painful issues, which in fact have led to state delegations of your country not having access to our aforementioned holy monastery during the preceding period. But I – in the position I hold, in the light of the Gospel I serve and at my age – 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 profit and quasi-diplomatic outmaneuvering, but instead in the categories of “the reason of Christ” and the logic of the Cross and the Resurrection contained in the Gospel, which is madness in the eyes of the sons of destruction but supreme wisdom in the eyes of those who desire to follow the path of truth, love and eternal life. Hence I do not interpret your action, i.e. the formal aspect of the letter you have sent me, as your rejection of the views and requests of the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding obligatory principles of freedom for all faithful – and for all people without exception – but indeed I understand them as their precisely stated acceptance. I conclude this from the simple fact that you have addressed me by letter and sought the permission of the Serbian Orthodox Church to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski knowing the Church’s clear and unambiguous position and last year’s developments in this context, as well as that in your letter you have fundamentally and concisely supported truly humane and democratic views.

In accordance with what I have said, I invite you, at the head of a high delegation of your state, to visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski on the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah and to mark the anniversary your state and national holiday in the customary manner. As your host, you and your escort will be waited for and welcomed by the appropriate diocese hierarch, His Grace Bishop Pahomije of Vranje, with whose full agreement – essential according to canon law – I am able to extend this invitation to you. On my behalf you will be waited for and greeted by my envoy on this occasion, His Grace Bishop Irinej of Backa. You will also be greeted, of course, and welcomed as honored guests by the Right Reverend Abbot of the monastery and his brotherhood, as well as by other hierarchs, clergy, monks and nuns, and faithful that are present. You will not be treated as a stranger or the head of a state of a country that is foreign or little known to us but as our neighbor and friend. There will be, no doubt, opportunity to begin dialogue on all topics of mutual interest and importance.

Therefore, we open the gates of our ancient holy shrine, the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinjski, to you. Even more: we open the gates of our hearts to you. They will remain wide open for as long as it depends on us.

They can be closed – God forbid that it should occur – only by you or one of your associates or heirs. Whoever does this will have to accept responsibility for doing so and will not be able to shift the responsibility to someone else, least of all the Serbian Orthodox Church. If anyone should ever again give instructions to the border authorities of your state to humiliate, denigrate and even turn back from the borders of your state bishops, clergy, monks and nuns of the Serbian Orthodox Church then that person should be aware that by so doing he is once more with his own hands closing the monastery gates of Holy Father Prohor to official representatives of your state. And if anyone should ever again begin expelling people from their bishop’s residences, monasteries and parishes; to arrest them, persecute them and deny them their right to freedom of conscience, to legal status, to clerical-pastoral activity or to their property because they do not wish to be in schism with the Serbian Orthodox Church and with Ecumenical Orthodoxy but seek liturgical and canonic unity with them, then that person will quickly be made to understand that he is personally locking the already closed monastery gates of Holy Father Prohor on Ilindan or any other day. I will not continue listing everyone who is able to destroy instead of to build, to serve evil instead of good, and how.

If none of this occurs – and it is my hope it will not by the might and gentleness of God and the goodwill and reasonable actions of us humans, first and foremost those who are most responsible – every resident of the neighboring 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 so desire, not only on Ilindan or commemorative anniversaries, many of which will remain even when we are no longer on this Earth.

Mr. President!

Freedom and responsibility of choice lies with the state leadership of the Republic of Macedonia from now onwards. We remain sincerely open to the improvement of relations and cooperation, not only in the spirit of the undeniable democratic principles of the modern world but also in accordance with the great spiritual tradition of Orthodox peoples and the Christian world as a whole.

Mr. President, please be so kind to accept my expressions of respect and well wishes.

Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac
and Serbian Patriarch
+ Pavle

[Serbian Translation Services]

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