Thursday 27 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Several daily newspapers and TV stations in Montenegro have recently
reported that the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church held a liturgy in the
church of John the Baptist in the village of Ocinici, for the first time since the
foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as a Patriarchate in 1920.
Keston News Service has reported earlier about the conflict on Christmas Eve
and the involvement of political parties in this dispute (see KNS 12 January
and 19 January 2000). A public statement by the Serbian Orthodox
Metropolitanate of Montenegro about this issue, distributed to the media,
denies that the event ever happened. �This is shameful disinformation, worthy
of Bolshevik agitprop. DEDEIC [i.e. the Metropolitan of the MOC] was not in
Ocinici, and he did not hold his false liturgy... The Metropolitanate demands
that the state media do not deceive the public.�

On 19 January 2000 the local police station in the city of Cetinje issued a
decree stating that the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was registered formally
and had legal status in accordance with the Law on the status of religious
communities. This law was published in 1977 and requires that any religious
community should be registered with a local police station. In this respect, the
MOC is just another religious entity in Montenegro.

This act has provoked many reactions from various political parties and
leaders. The Patriotic Union of Yugoslavia stated that some defrocked priests,
�with the help of the police, illegally registered the non-existent Montenegrin
Orthodox Church.� The President of Montenegro, Mr MILO DJUKANOVIC
stated: �I am informed that two days ago the Montenegrin Orthodox Church
was registered. There is no reason now for me not to send them greetings for
Christmas and other forthcoming Orthodox holidays.� The Assembly of
People's Communities in Montenegro announced the formation of a Board for
the Defence of the SOC Metropolitanate. Several political parties also issued
statements. In an attempt to clarify the position of the SOC concerning the
whole issue, we contacted the Metropolitanate of Montenegro.

�We should not trust everything that is written in the newspapers,� Fr JOVAN
(PURIC), Protosingel of the Montenegrin Metropolitanate of the SOC, and
Professor of Dogmatics at the Seminary in Cetinje, Montenegro, for Keston
News Service. �The so-called MOC is not recognised by the government. All
that has happened is that one religious community has been registered by the
police, which is something that even non-religious associations or communities
should do. Everyone has the right to be registered; this is in the domain of
human rights. Yes, I am a member of this Metropolitanate, which is the legal
and the canonical one, but I am thinking as a human being. We cannot deny the
right of anyone to be registered. However, Orthodoxy is much greater than any
national issue. It is not the case that the nation defines Orthodoxy, but the other
way around. Personally, I believe that national identification is a matter of the
past. I suspect that the system of metropolitanates is going to be much more
developed in the future. For example, an Orthodox Albanian is much closer to
me than a Serbian who is a non-believer. He is close to me because he is a
believer, and not because of his nationality.�

�A religious community has every right in law to exist and to be registered.
What I do not approve of is their manipulation of our title; no one has the right
to take the name of our Metropolitanate. They exist in one city only (the MOC
is registered in Cetinje) and they already call themselves �Montenegrin�. Our
Metropolitanate is not commensurate with the state. The state of Montenegro
has its own borders, but our borders are different. Furthermore, we have people
who are not only Serbs, but British, Belgians, Russians and others among us. I
did not join the monastery because I am a Serb, but because I am a believer...�

�It is sad to see someone calling himself a churchman who is involved in
politics. The church has nothing to do with the state; we are separate, and our
leaders should not support any particular party� We are all aware that there is
no Christian party; it is the Church we belong to. True believers will always
stay with our Metropolitanate - sects come and go, but we remain.�

We asked Father Jovan about relations with the local population in Cetinje,
where the MOC has a lot of supporters. �I have to tell you, it is not pleasant
when someone spits on you at the street. It is almost like some sort of a
fascism. However, I do not condemn these people, they live here as in a ghetto,
closed off and they do not know much. This is a group of unemployed people
who have been manipulated and paid to go and do someone�s dirty work. The
are not typical of the people of Cetinje.�

�We are witnessing manipulation of true believers. In essence, we are in a
position that is almost worse than in the one-party system. We knew then that
we were fighting atheism. Today, claiming to be defending human rights, some
people are setting up religious organisations for their own political purposes.
Unfortunately, we have come to a point when the politicians are using religion
for their daily political needs. They are crucifying people.�

On the subject of the canonical issue of recognition of a new autocephalous
Orthodox Church, Father Jovan said: �The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the
Orthodox canons are clear. No one can give recognition to anyone, unless the
Mother Church agrees and gives its blessing. This little group that is trying to
gain a position using the political situation is very far from being in that
situation.� (END)

Thursday 27 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The Belgrade Roman Catholic Archbishopric hosted a traditional ecumenical
service and prayer meeting in the Church of Christ the King in Belgrade, the
capital of
Serbia, on 23 January 2000. Every year these meetings are organized during the
worldwide recognised prayer week for Christian unity (18-25 January).

�At the invitation of the Belgrade Archbishop Dr FRANC PERKO, several
from various denominations joined in prayer for Christian unity,� LEOPOLD
ROHMES, vicar general of the Belgrade Archbishopric and the deputy for the
Archbishop, told Keston News Service. �Apart from the hosts, the Archbishop
and the
Apostolic Vicar Monsignor SANTOS ABRIL Y CASTILLO, present were the
representative of the Patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church and
Professor of the
Orthodox Theological Faculty in Belgrade, Dr DIMITRIJE KALEZIC;
Secretary of
the Evangelical (Lutheran) Bishop from Novi Sad, VLADIMIR OPSUST; a
representative of the Reformed Church in Yugoslavia, Mr ISTVAN BERES;
and a
Greek-Catholic Ukrainian priest from Novi Sad, Rev ROMAN MIZ. They all
part in a programme that consisted of readings from the Bible, the Lord�s
Prayer, and
spiritual songs performed by the ecumenical choir of the Belgrade
Archbishopric, the
choir of the Church of Christ the King and a student choir �Spanac�. A homily
given by the Apostolic Vicar Mgr Abril, and the service ended with a joint
Among those present in the congregation were the Pastor of the First Baptist
in Belgrade, Dr ALEXANDER BIRVIS, and Pastor PESIC from a Belgrade
Evangelical Church. Sadly, no representatives from the government came.�

The week of ecumenical meetings in Serbia ended on 25 January, with the
meeting in Subotica, a multi-confessional city on the Yugoslav-Hungarian

During last weekend, similar meetings were held in Sarajevo, the capital of
and Herzegovina. This was one of the first occasions for a joint Serbian
Orthodox and
Roman Catholic service since the end of war in December 1995, and
represented the
highlight of the ecumenical meetings in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first
meeting was held on Saturday, 22 January, in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in
Sarajevo, and the next day the similar one was held in the Orthodox cathedral
(Saborna crkva), also in Sarajevo. Joint prayers were held by the Bosnian
Cardinal VINKO PULJIC and the Orthodox Metropolitan of Dabar and Bosnia,
NIKOLAJ. Both prelates emphasised the importance of Christian unity and
Puljic ended his message with a statement that �the Gospel of Christ is a shared
of our faith, and everyone in his own surrounding should contribute to the full
unity of
Christians -- both as individuals and as church communities.�

An invitation from Pope JOHN PAUL II to the 82-year-old Serbian Patriarch
to attend the opening of the Holy Door at the Basilica of St-Paul-Outside-the-
Walls in
Rome on 18 January 2000 was accepted, but the Patriarch, who is indisposed,
Metropolitan of Ljubljana and Zagreb JOVAN as his deputy. Metropolitan
Jovan is in
charge of ecumenical relations at the Serbian Orthodox Church and recently
held talks
with Zagreb Archbishop BOZANIC concerning �pastoral issues in the
territories with
a multi-confessional population,� - that is, where there is a mixed Roman
Catholic and
Serbian Orthodox population. The second round of these talks was to be held in
Sad, with Orthodox Bishop IRINEJ of Backa as host, simultaneously on 18
but the meeting was postponed to the second half of February at the last
moment; the
reason is not clear. Relations between the Roman Catholic and the Serbian
Church have deteriorated in recent years, largely because of the wars in Croatia
Bosnia. Recent ecumenical meetings at the highest level in Bosnia and
may be the first public signs that relations are improving. However, the
situation in
Serbia is still unchanged.

�We specifically asked the Patriarchate to send us a bishop as a representative
of the
Church, considering that the year 2000 is proclaimed to be the year of Christ,
the year
of Christianity worldwide. We desired to put our meetings on a higher level.
However, the representative of the Serbian Orthodox Church was again
Kalezic, who has been their representative for the last several years, and for
which we
are thankful,� concluded Vicar Rohmes. (END)

Thursday 27 January 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The prospect that a group of Satanists may apply for registration as a religious
community with the Estonian Ministry of the Interior has divided religious
communities and threatens to put the state in an awkward position. Some
members of
Christian Churches believe that the government should never allow Satanists to
legal recognition, while others - a number of them reluctantly - argue on
liberty grounds that any group that does not intend to violate the law should be
allowed recognition, however much one might disapprove of their activity.
Government officials are cautious, declining to indicate whether they would or
not grant recognition until a specific application is received. The dispute over
Satanists illustrates the problem of how far religious groups are prepared to
other religious groups that they disagree with or dislike, and how far they are
to go to try to prevent them from gaining legal recognition.

ILMO AU, chairman of the religious board at the Ministry of the Interior, told
News Service in an interview in his office in Tallinn on 5 January that the
had been in contact with his office to discuss the possibility of applying for
registration. `A representative of the Satanists came to see me in summer 1999.
I gave
him the text of the law on religion, but he has not been back with the statute.'
whether the Satanists would receive registration as a religious community if
applied, Au responded in cautiously chosen words: `It depends on whether their
statute is in accordance with the law.'

Members of various Christian Churches - many of them clearly alarmed by the
idea - have vigorously discussed the matter. Representatives of the Lutheran
Church -
the largest single denomination in Estonia - told Keston that they felt the
should not be granted official registration. Leaders from other Christian groups
this view. OLAV PARNAMETS, the superintendent of the Methodist Church
Estonia, told Keston in an interview in Tallinn that the Satanists were among
`dangerous cults' that should never be registered.

HEIGO RITSBEK, Dean of the Estonian branch of the Charismatic Episcopal
told Keston in an interview in Tallinn that he had mixed feelings about how to
with the Satanists. `Their bylaws might pass on technical grounds. As a priest
against Satanism, but on human rights grounds they should be allowed. If I was
involved in the decision whether to register them or not I do not know how I

The Satanists provide perhaps the most extreme example of groups that many
unpalatable. But other groups too arouse a mixed reception. Many mainstream
Christian groups oppose the state granting recognition to the Scientologists, the
Unification Church, the Mormons and those practising witchcraft. Even groups
have registration - like the Jehovah's Witnesses - face opposition to their status
other religious communities. `In principle there has to be equality under the law
for all
religious groups,' Parnamets told Keston, `except for dangerous groups that
harm.' When pressed, he listed the Satanists, Scientologists, the Unification
the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses and those practising witchcraft as being
such `dangerous' groups. `But there is a countless number of new and old sects,'

Sharing his view is EERIK JOKS, a Lutheran layman who is executive
secretary of
the Council of Churches, which unites eight of the larger Christian Churches.
Stressing that this was his `personal opinion' and not necessarily that of the
he told Keston: `All religious groups that accept an individual's free will over
and leaving should be equal. There are groups in Estonia using totalitarian
He believes such `totalitarian' groups should not be registered. When pressed
Keston, however, he declined to name any examples of such groups.

Ritsbek is less concerned about most of these groups. `I disagree with them
theologically - I do not accept Muslim beliefs, for example - but I believe they
the right to register officially. It is a question of human rights.'

Au confirmed to Keston that the Jehovah's Witnesses do have registration in
Asked about other groups without registration he replied: `There is the
Church, but they have never applied for registration. The Scientologists too
have not
applied. Maybe there are more, but I don't know.' (The Orthodox Church loyal
to the
Moscow Patriarchate is by far the biggest religious group without registration,
KNS 15 January 2000). Asked if the Unification Church or Scientologists
would get
registration if they applied he gave exactly the same response he had given
over the
Satanists: `It depends on whether their statute is in accordance with the law.'

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000