Wednesday 12 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The traditional burning of a dry tree with leaves on Orthodox Christmas Eve (6
January) in Montenegro was the cause for another conflict between the Serbian
Orthodox Church (hereafter SOC) and the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox
Church (hereafter MOC). Metropolitan AMFILOHIJE of the SOC blessed the
branch in front of the new Christ's Resurrection church in the Montenegrin
capital Podgorica. Present were several thousand people and high
representatives of the government, including the minister of religion
SLOBODAN TOMOVIC. The MOC tried to organise its own celebration and
planned to burn the tree in front of the Chapel at the Petrovic Court in
Podgorica, but a strong police force prevented their supporters and their
Metropolitan MIHAILO from doing so. After two hours of waiting, the MOC
supporters burned the tree in front of the police cordon and left calling angrily
for revenge. MOC planned the same activity in the city of Niksic, but it was
cancelled at the last moment �because the programme was too crowded�.

The Montenegrin government consists of a coalition of three parties: the
Democratic Party of Socialists, the People's Party and the Social Democratic
Party. It is indicative that representatives of the first two were present at the
celebrations organised by the SOC and the last one was represented at the
MOC activities. After the police prevented the MOC�s activities at the Petrovic
Court, the President of the Social Democratic Party, ZARKO RAKCEVIC, told
the media that this was �scandalous� and that he would inform the party
headquarters. The implication is that this event might have some impact on the
present ruling coalition. The President of Montenegro and also the Prime
Minister, who in previous years have always been present at the Christmas Eve
tree burnings, did not appear in public this year.

This conflict is the latest in a series of incidents involving the SOC and MOC
representatives or their supporters. During the last one, in late November 1999,
MOC supporters attacked and injured two SOC priests as well as six students at
the SOC theological academy in Cetinje. A group of about fifty MOC
supporters entered the SOC church in Cevo in Cetinje after they had beaten the
priests and the theology students. Reactions to this incident were so strong that
a debate in Parliament was initiated with representatives of the People's Party
and the Social Democratic Party coming out in suport of the MOC. The Liberal
Alliance in Montenegro is also a supporter of the MOC.

The so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church is a self-proclaimed small group
of defrocked Orthodox priests. They say that they �reestablished� the MOC on
31 October 1992. Their sympathisers �insisted on their historical right to the
property confiscated by the SOC (650 churches and monasteries), as well as
wishing to be able to choose themselves a Metropolitan of their own ethnicity,
and to be able to baptise their children as Montenegrins of the Christian-
Orthodox faith.� The present MOC leader, Metropolitan Mihailo (lay name
Miras Dedeic), used to be a priest in Italy from 1988 to 1994 when he was
reportedly defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. According to the MOC
sources, on 14 March 1998, in the cathedral church of Saint Paraskeva in Sofia,
Bulgaria, Archimandrite Mihailo was ordained a bishop. This ordination took
place after a decision reportedly taken by the Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox
Church, and was conducted by Bulgarian Patriarch Pimen assisted by seven
bishops and four priests. This ordination is the legal basis on which the MOC
claims the episcopal status of its Metropolitan.

The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is not recognised by any autocephalous
Orthodox Church in the world. The representatives of the Serbian Orthodox
Church recently referred to the MOC as to a �tribal-party sect� (Politika, 2
December 1999) without any church or religious status. The Serbian Orthodox
Metropolitanate in Montenegro recently celebrated the 780th year of its
foundation. The SOC has requested the Montenegrin state institutions to
protect the property of SOC and to support decisions of the church bodies, as
well as to prosecute those who attack SOC representatives. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999