By Maja Zivanovic
Possibly with Ukraine, Macedonia and even Montenegro in mind, the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch has written to the global head of Orthodoxy, saying new countries should not necessarily have their own independent churches.
As the battle hots up over whether a number of countries in the region should get their own Orthodox Churches, Serbian Patriarch Irinej has written to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople warning him about the danger of introducing the principle of giving ecclesiastical independence, or autocephaly, to new states or nations.
“This principle could directly jeopardize the unity of the Orthodox Church,” Irinej said, the Serbian daily Blic reported on Thursday.
The head of the Serbian Church also expressed concerns that the principle could be invoked by the “separatist Macedonian Church”, which threw off Serbian Church control in the 1960s.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church remains unrecognised by other Orthodox Churches due to a long-lasting dispute over its ecclesiastical independence from the Serbian Orthodox Church, to which it was formerly united.
The Serbian Church, which has close ties with other Orthodox churches, has blocked recognition of the Macedonian Church ever since it unilaterally declared “autocephaly”, or ecclesiastical independence, in the 1960s.
Irinej’s letter, according to the Blic report, said granting church independence to new states went “against the canonical and historical rights of the Church”.
In Montenegro, however, the media reported that behind Irinej’s letter to Bartholomew was also a fear that Constantinople might acknowledge another breakaway church, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church.
Suppressed after Montenegro lost its independence after World War 1, it was refounded in 1993 and has only regained some influence since the country declared independence in 2006.
“From Irinej’s letter his fear can be seen that our church, as well as the Ukrainian Church, will get a tomos [a Church decree of independence],” the vice-president of the Council of the Montenegrin Church, Stevo Vucinic, told the Montenegrin paper Pobjeda.
A recent gathering of clerics affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople confirmed that Bartholomew has the right to decree the autocephaly of local churches.
Bartholomew has also made it clear that, despite Russian opposition, he is mulling granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which the media say would be “a tectonic shift”.
Another issue for the Orthodox Church is also the situation in Moldova, where two rival churches are in dispute.
The main Moldovan Orthodox Church is subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Its rival is the younger Orthodox Church of Bessarabia, [the historic Romanian name for Moldova], which is subordinated to the Romanian Orthodox Church.