Wednesday 2 December



by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

Macedonia and its Orthodox Church continue to suffer as a result of

controversies about their status. With the break-up of the Ottoman

Empire Macedonian territory was partitioned in 1913 between Serbia,

Bulgaria and Greece. Serbia got the largest share, claiming

Macedonians were South Serbs although their language is more akin to

Bulgarian. In 1920 in Serb-dominated Yugoslavia the Serbian Orthodox

Church (SOC) brought under its jurisdiction Macedonia's Orthodox church,

which traces its origins (with interruptions due to adverse political

circumstances) back to the ancient Patriarchate of OKhrid, which became

defunct in 1767.

To counteract Serb domination and buttress tepid Macedonian

consciousness against Greek and Bulgarian claims, TITO established a

Macedonian republic. In 1958 its government encouraged its bishops,

unilaterally, to declare autonomy and in 1967 to found an autocephalous

Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC), in the face of SOC disapproval. The

SOC questioned its viability but for the sake of its faithful stopped

short of excommunication. The MOC, which claims 1,200,000 members, 60-

70 per cent of its population, has ever since been left out in the cold,

boycotted by the local Orthodox Churches and bypassed by the WCC, which

continues to block its application for membership.

In 1991 Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia without any bloodshed

under the astute neo-Communist KIRO GLIGOROV; a decision confirmed by 90

per cent of its two million citizens. It has become a democratic multi-

confessional state. It lies at the crossroads of the Balkans, with a

multiethnic mix including a quarter Albanian, and it should have been

in EC interests to ensure its stability. Now, with the Kosovo border

only 20km from Skopje, that is even more crucial.

Bulgaria, the first country to recognise Macedonia as a state, has still

not recognised it as a nation. Greece, which cannot forget ALEXANDER

THE GREAT and denies the existence of its own 200,000 Macedonian

minority, claiming copyright of the name Macedonia, was allowed to get

away with a trade blockade which brought the fledgling landlocked

republic to the verge of collapse. It held out against acknowledging

Macedonia until 1995 and then only under the convoluted title of Former

Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Relations with the rump

Yugoslavia were normalised in 1996 but relations between the SOC and

MOC remain deadlocked. After the MOC rejected a SOC ultimatum in 1994

to return to its bosom, it declared the MOC schismatic in 1995. The

usually conciliatory ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMAIOS accused it of

tearing Orthodoxy apart, dismissing its grounds for autocephaly as

�nationalist and political, not ecclesiastical�.

There is a fairly small Serbian minority of about 44,000, about whom the

SOC claims to be particularly concerned. In June 1997 in a surprise

move the SOC Holy Synod appointed their PATRIARCH PAVLE as Church

Administrator for Macedonia, and relieved of his duties PAHONIJE GALIC,

hitherto the provisional Administrator, because for years his task had

been made impossible by the Macedonian authorities' repeated refusal of

visas. The SOC complains about its lack of rights; Macedonia is the

only country in the world where Serb priests are denied access to their

flock, they claim. For his part Gligorov condemns the SOC attitude as

�incomprehensible� and a stumbling-block to normal relations between the

two countries. Most Macedonians are not hostile towards Serbs in

general but are towards SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC.

REV BRYAN OWEN was sent to investigate by Lambeth and the Council of

Churches for Britain and Ireland in 1995 and this summer, but in a

private capacity so as not to offend local Orthodox churches. 85-year-


sick bed to spell out his church's plight to him. He reckons SOC

opposition stems from ultra-nationalist rather than theological reasons.

�Thirty years ago Serb Patriarch Pavle's predecessor GERMAN made the

then improbable prophecy that when Macedonia achieved statehood it would

get its own church. That promise is forgotten in Belgrade today.� Not

all the SOC hierarchy condemn the MOC, Mikhail told Owen. Some, like

the eirenic LAVRENTI OF SABAC, are quite sympathetic but �chauvinists�

like ARTEMIJE OF PRIZEN in adjacent Kosovo condemn it. The METROPOLITAN

OF MONTENEGRO, AMFILOHIJE, interprets Belgrade's stance in yet another

way. He regards the MOC schism as due to machinations by atheist

communists whose successors carry on just the same policies today. To

further complicate MOC problems, the SOC claims ownership of all

property built before 1967 - and almost nothing has been built since.

Mikhail complained to Owen that the MOC delegation to Istanbul's

Ecumenical Patriarchate was not allowed time to air its problems

properly; he suspects the SOC of obstruction. He pointed out positive

features of religious life in Macedonia. Since 1990 Christians have

taken advantage of opportunities for open witness and thousands have

come to faith including many former atheists. At Christmas and Easter

over 10,000 worshippers pack into Skopje Cathedral. Yet such is the

aftermath of the Greek embargo and their government's adherence to

sanctions against Serbia that with 40 per cent of Macedonians unemployed

and a further 19 per cent unpaid, giving has dropped by 40 per cent

in the last year or so. The Church is unable to repair or refurbish its

400 churches or launch soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless; all

it can provide the poor now and then is bread and oil. While the

Muslims have a new state-of-the-art madrassah, funded by Saudi Arabia,

the MOC's theological faculty is shabby, has few books, poor equipment,

no residential facilities and no funds. Its appeal to the WCC was turned

down. The state of affairs causes Macedonian Orthodox great pain. They

stress their adherence to Orthodox canons and dogma.

Its council changed its constitution to permit the use of both

traditional Church Slavonic and Macedonian and it will probably replace

the Julian with the Gregorian calendar. Tensions still exist between

those who prefer to maintain links with Belgrade and those who settle

for nothing less than autocephaly.

Faced by continuing isolation, it is not surprising that the MOC has

turned to look for support elsewhere, to other breakaway churches like

the Bulgarian Synod under rebel PATRIARCH PIMEN, and the Kiev

Patriarchate Ukrainian Church under the dubious FILARET. Even more

controversial, even before Macedonia became independent, have been its

relations with Rome, the warmest of any Orthodox Church, though the

Vatican keeps out of its conflict with the SOC. The Catholic church

has provided it with books, moral support and brotherly love. POPE JOHN

PAUL's audience with a Macedonian delegation back in 1984 led to SOC

accusations that Rome's aim was to create another Eastern-Rite Church,

which Mikhail strenously denies. He has met the Pope ten times;

Gligorov also met him, in 1995. Then, John Paul stressed the need for

different religious groups to cooperate to promote harmony within

Macedonian society. At local level relations with 13,000 Catholics

(13 priests, 35 sisters and 8 parishes) under BISHOP JOAKIM HERBUT OF

SKOPJE AND PRIZREN are good. 8000 Catholics, all Macedonian, are

Eastern-Rite; the Latin-Rite Catholics are mainly Croat, Albanian or

Polish. 18 boys attend a local minor seminary with a further 12

training for the priesthood abroad. The MOC has built up links with

Catholics in Croatia, Austria, Germany and Ireland. Catholic agencies

provide relief work; in Strumica sisters work with the Evangelical

Methodist Church in Macedonia. This has 5000 members in 11 parishes and

works with the disabled, abandoned children and those whose parents are

divorced, with sick parents and mental hospital patients. Catholics

and Methodists cooperate in the work of the Orthodox-led Macedonian

Bible Society. Mikhail also emphasised the Christian clergy's desire

for good relations with the Muslim hoxhas.

Only the MOC is mentioned in the Constitution referring to the freedom

of religion though it is not guaranteed a special status. However,

other religious communities charge the government with favouring it.

The new Law on Religious Communities and Groups, passed this year,

distinguishes between two categories, the first, the �Communities�, are

the MOC, Sunni Islam and the Catholic Church (favoured), the rest, the

�Groups�, are required to apply for registration and pay fines for


The 2000 Evangelicals who have encountered much obstruction and even

persecution by local authorities also object to its limiting access to

foreign preachers and forbidding alliances between religious groups.

They were excluded from commenting on the draft law. The Protestant

leaders� statement on 11 January last year drew attention to the fact

that the personnel in the government Commission for Relationship with

Religious Communities had been inherited from the old Yugoslav communist

government, so their hard-line policy was no surprise. The law still

imposes restrictions which are unacceptable even to the favoured

Communities. These include a ban on profit-making enterprises, the

restriction of religious activity to designated locations and a

continued ban on religious teaching in state schools. So, over all, as

WILLY FAUTRE of Droits de L�Homme sans Frontieres in Brussels points

out, the law restricts the right of assocation, the right to evangelise,

freedom of worship, the right of self-determination of religious groups

and the right to religious education and instruction.

Owen, who also has considerable experience working with Albanian relief

agencies, is very critical of the Contact Group's failure to meet and

consult Kosovo's and Macedonia's religious leaders. �It should be

giving every encouragement to moderate leaders who can promote much

needed stability within their communities; religion is such a key factor

in the Balkans.� He also re-iterate's Mikhail's impassioned plea for

proper recognition and for material aid from the other Churches.

One positive development has been the recent rapprochement between the

Macedonian and Greek governments. In a dramatic volte-face this summer

Greek officials somewhat belatedly admitted that they now regard FYROM

as the perfect buffer state in the Balkan peninsula. They are obviously

terrifed that if the conflict in Kosovo spreads to western Macedonia,

whose Albanians now openly support the Kosovo Liberation Army, they

could be in danger from a Balkan war. Apparently officials from both

governments, anxious not to lose face, secretly long for the UN in New

York to impose a solution to the name controversy. Resolution of this

problem could also enable the Orthodox world to recognise the MOC's

autocephaly and clear the way for the wealthy Greek Orthodox Church to

aid its impoverished fellow Christians.

Hoxha SULEJMAN REDZEP, president of the Islamic Community, and Hoxha

ZEJNULA FAZLIU, coordinator of the Islamic Madrassah and Muslim

representative on the Executive Board of the Macedonian Centre for

International Cooperation (MCIC), emphasised to Owen their 443,000-

strong Sunni community's commitment to pluralism, to a multi-

confessional Macedonia and to establishing close relations with

mainstream Churches. An interfaith Conference was held in 1996.

Though they have benefited financially from the training the Gulf

States and Libya provided for their clergy for years, and their generous

funding, including a million dollars for their smart new madrassah, they

resent being pressurised by them and disassociate themselves from their

fundamentalism. In 1995 police raided Saudi relief agencies working

with Bosnian refugees and confiscated what they regarded as

inflammatory tracts and even, it was alleged, weapons.

Like their cousins in Albania and Kosovo, Macedonia's Muslims reflect

the tolerance of Balkan Islam which was traditionally multifaceted,

sometimes syncretic. As many as 90 per cent practise their faith.

They intend to educate a new generation of hoxhas free from Arab

indoctrination from the 200 boys in their theological high school. They

aim to promote a specifically European form of Islam ready to coexist in

mutual respect with Christians, welcoming students from Bosnia, Albania

and Turkey.

Despite their warm relationship with mainstream church leaders Muslim

leaders feel the Slav community ought to try harder to understand their

point of view. Widespread prejudice against Muslims, rooted in

historical perspectives of Christianity as a bastion defending Europe

against Islam, was exploited by Slobodan Milosevic to demonise

Albanians, who constitute a quarter of Macedonia's population (the

exact proportion is hotly disputed, due to the Albanian boycott of the

1991 Referendum; the 1994 figure of 442,000 is probably 150,000 too

low). But since the mid-1990s the dread of another Bosnia has served

to increase the determination of the main religious communities to work

towards a multiethnic nation. Problems exist through lack of

communication, understandable given that most Orthodox are Macedonian

Slavs and most Muslims members of minorities with different languages

(83 per cent of them Albanians), and that there is no intermarriage. In

Skopje Christians and Muslims are becoming more polarised with Slavs

concentrated to the north and Muslims to the south of the river Vardar.

The main stumbling-block in Macedonia is the deep cleavage between Slavs

and Albanians in the western Macedonian towns of Tetovo and Gostivar,

where the extreme radical PDPA-NPD Albanian Coalition under ARBEN

XHAFFERI is dominant, and where there has been some bloodshed in the

past few years.

In a worst case scenario of military confrontation in Kosovo, Albanians

in Macedonia could be polarised, radicalised and ultimately mobilised

and the fragile state could be torn apart. The government has already

accepted 80,000 Bosnian refugees and is prepared to accept up to 20,000

Kosovo Albanians but is only too aware how their arrival could

destabilise the delicate ethnic balance and the economy. The crucial

issue is not religion but Albanian identity. Albanians claim to suffer

discrimination because of their nationality, not their faith. They

certainly constitute a threat to the moderate Muslim establishment's

leadership whose views are reflected in the moderate Albanian Party for

Democratic Prosperity (PDP), part of the government coalition. A PDP

MP, ESTREF ALIU, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told Owen that he

estimates 90 per cent of Albanians want Macedonia to survive.

Basically, they have nowhere else to go. Independent Albania, riven by

currency collapse, gunfights and feuds, hardly provides a role model or

haven. The Muslim establishment and the PDP support IBRAHIM RUGOVA in

Kosovo. All the people interviewed by Owen stressed there could be no

independence for Kosovo and that any solution should be within the

present internationally agreed borders.

The government is anxious to prevent assimilation of the smaller Muslim

communities by Albanians. The Muslim community is not homogeneous. The

97,000 Turks, 4.7 per cent of the population, continue to enjoy

recognition as a nationality as in communist Yugoslavia, and

considerable cultural privileges including schools and media access.

The Roma, officially 55,000, 2.73 per cent, feel stigmatised and

disadvantaged so many fail to identify themselves and they probably

number 200,000; many of them are Christian. The Torbesi, 40,000 Serbo-

Croat-speaking Slav Muslims, plus some Bosnian refugees, occupy an

uneasy position.

The Muslim leaders are extremely concerned that the new Law ON Religious

Communities and Religious Groups is too close to the legislation

implemented by the former communist regime. Its ban on profit-making

enterprises curtails opportunities for religious communities to raise

funds. Voluntary funds can be solicited only within mosques and

churches. They complain of the lag in property restitution, in which

they claim Christians have had precedence. They argue that it is unjust

that they are thus prevented from using ground-rents to fund

educational projects. They have no funds for the running costs of their

new madrassah. Social projects which are desperately needed and could

benefit their communities and help promote national stability are also

hindered by this legislation. They have even objected to the EC over the

new law. (END)

Wednesday 2 December


By Janice Broun, Keston News Service

The decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Council which met in Sofia from 30

September to 1 October to resolve the six-year-long schism in the

Bulgarian Orthodox Church have not been accepted by all sections of the

church or government, according to Keston�s informant in Sofia.

The schism originated in May 1992 when the first United Democratic

Forces (UDF) government accused PATRIARCH MAKSIM of having collaborated

with the communist government, declared his election in 1971 invalid and

replaced him and the Holy Synod with a Provisional Synod under

METROPOLITAN PIMEN OF NEVROKOP. It is now generally accepted that the

main protagonist in the schism, HIEROMONK KHRISTOFOR SUBEV, was a

Security agent bent on becoming Patriarch, though his behaviour became

progressively more erratic as he denounced the hierarchy on both sides,

tried to set up his own church and eventually disappeared to the USA.

The leading schismatic metropolitans were just as compromised as Maksim

so if (as some people suspect), the schism was a communist plot to

destabilise the Church and prevent its recovery, it certainly succeeded.

No theological issues were at stake, but property and power were. �The

schism is the result of government interference in the Church prior to

1989. The hierarchy were used to having to make compromises and doing

what they were told and had problems adjusting to new conditions of

freedom and showing initiative. Subev capitalised on these differences

and provoked and inflamed the schism�, said Keston�s informant, who had

taught Subev in the Theological Academy and suspected him all along of

being an agent - as were, he estimated, about half of the students by

1989, as a result of massive infiltration intended to corrupt the


The schism dragged on, despite an attempt by ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH

BARTHOLOMAIOS to arbitrate in autumn 1993, with Maksim and the Holy

Synod standing firm in their refusal to make any concessions to the

schismatics. The next government, formed by the Bulgarian Socialist

Party (BSP) (the recycled communists), as well as all local Orthodox

Churches supported Maksim, who unwisely, according to Keston�s

informant, received BSP leader ZHAN VIDENOV before the 1994 elections.

The hard core of the UDF electorate continued to back the schism. In

1996 at a National Church Council called by the schismatics, with UDF

politicians and representatives of other breakaway Orthodox Churches

present, Pimen was elected as patriarch - though with 55 out of 160

electors abstaining from voting.

The following summer the Holy Synod held a canonically regular National

Council but many of its delegates felt that not all problems of the

Church�s past associations with the communist era were addressed. �The

special commission on commemorating and rehabilitating Church victims of

communism does not seem to have got very far�, complained Keston�s

informant, a lay delegate to the Council. �One fellow shouted "The

Patriarch has not yet celebrated a single memorial service for the

victims of communism."�

The BSP government brought the nation to the verge of complete economic

and financial collapse. The new UDF government, elected in spring 1997

after a prolonged crisis, at first favoured Pimen but (UDF) PRESIDENT

PETAR STOYANOV and some of its members have tried to distance themselves

from both parties and leave them to settle their differences without

government interference.

The Pan-Orthodox Council, convened at Maksim�s request, was chaired by

Bartholomaios and attended by patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops

from Russia, Finland, Alexandria, Antioch, Serbia, Romania, Jerusalem,

Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Its

decisions were arrived at unanimously and seem to have been based on

more accommodating recommendations made by the Holy Synod in the late

summer. In view of the past intransigence of the schismatics, the

council showed remarkable magnanimity in forgiving all its participants,

clerical and lay. It reinstated rebel METROPOLITAN KALINIK to his see of

Vratsa but split it to create a new diocese centred in Pleven under

METROPOLITAN IGNATI who had been elected to replace him. It accepted

statements of repentance from Pimen and 12 bishops, and even thought

many had been consecrated by the schismatics, nominated them bishops to

ancient sees, placing them at the disposal of the Holy Synod. It

annulled the anathema and demotion against Pimen but in view of his age

(93) did not reinstate him. He was given the title �former Metropolitan

of Nevrokop� leaving his replacement, NATANAIL, as metropolitan. Pimen

did not attend the Council, allegedly for health reasons. The Council

emphasised the duty of the rehabilitated clergy and laity to humbly

accept Maksim and his bishops as their canonical pastors, in communion

with local Orthodox Churches. It concluded that the schism was at an

end. Bartholomaios emphasised that neither side could claim victory or

defeat. Only the devil had lost.

However, it has not all been plain sailing. Although eight of Pimen�s

bishops were made auxiliary metropolitans they did not turn up at the

Synod on 7 October to take their letters of appointment, demanding

instead �dialogue on an equal footing�. IVAN SUNGARSKY, government

chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Religion, expressed relief

that the schism had been overcome but said it would be preferable if

Maksim (aged 84) resigned to make way for a younger leader. The

truculent director of the Board for Religious Affairs, LYUBOMIR

MLADENOV, still insisted Maksim must go.

When Maksim returned from Russia with a casket of relics he stressed

that he had no intention of resigning. Only one rehabilitated bishop

attended the ceremony for the veneration of the relics.

The Pan-Orthodox Council�s decisions seemed to have done little to allay

the discontent of the parish priests and UDF laypeople. In the spring,

some lower clergy decided to take matters into their own hands at grass-

roots level and bypass their hierarchy. Many priests go unpaid and are

on the breadline. Those in depopulated villages are the hardest hit -

priests in big cities can survive on fees from the many parishioners

requiring rites of passage. Heated meetings were held in May and June at

which difficult questions were asked about their metropolitans� failure

to produce proper accounts of diocesan income. Spurred on by ANATOLI

BALACHEV and KAMEN BARAKOV of the minority pro-schism Priests� Union,

they determined to hold parish elections in October for lay parish

delegates - including women - to another National Council on 9-10

November, where they would throw out the patriarch and metropolitans and

elect new ones. On 20 October at the pre-Council Assembly they invited

all metropolitans and bishops to participate and announce it. Some

delegates demanded that the government audit church accounts. Maksim,

while admitting that he was not against having another Council in the

near future, made his disapproval clear. He says that the newly

reintegrated bishops need to work together with the Holy Synod for a

while and that unless the National Council acts in accordance with

Bulgarian Orthodox Church canons it will be invalid.

Keston�s informant�s opinion is that many of the UDF politicians and lay

delegates who continue to support the schism are �theologically

illiterate� and fail to understand that the episcopate of the Church is

far more than an administrative structure. �The majority of committed

church members who understand and respect proper church order support

Maksim.� He felt that the two priests and probably (former schismatic)

BISHOP INNOKENTI OF SOFIA were keeping the schism going; the others seem

more willing to cooperate with the Holy Synod now. �The continuing row

over Maksim diverts people�s attention from the fact that many of the

former nomenklatura and their families have wormed their way into

positions of control even within the UDF and democratic organs. There

have been worrying trends towards undemocratic practices within the UDF.

One member at their recent congress accused them of Blairism! Some

people are so busy attacking Maksim they don�t see what is in front of

them.� (END)