Macedonian Church Rejects Constantinople’s Conditions For Independence


By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Archbishop Stefan, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, MPC, on Tuesday, described the conditions to get a “tomos”, or decree of autocephaly (Church independence) from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, as unacceptable.

He said the Constantinople Patriarch, the head of global Orthodoxy, wanted the MPC give up its name that includes the term Macedonia, abandon its missions in the diaspora and recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – whose independence is recognised by Constantinople but hotly disputed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

“We have our name and that name is ours and does not belong to anybody else. Thus, no one should ask us to give up our name, which is Macedonian Orthodox Church – Renewed Ohrid Archbishopric [MPC-OA],” Stefan told local TV Star.

Regarding halting the activity of the Church among the Macedonian diaspora, Stefan said “this issue will be hard to realize”.

Unlike the Catholic Church, which is governed by one central figure in Rome, authority in the Orthodox world is dispersed. Many of the world’s Orthodox Churches are de-facto national churches, led by their own patriarchs.

The Patriarch of Constantinople, as “Ecumenical Patriarch”, enjoys a theoretical primacy, but much of the real power in the Orthodox world rests with the Patriarch of Moscow, as head of the world’s largest and richest Orthodox Church by far.

The Macedonian Church’s decades-long quest for independence is now caught between the different interests of Moscow and Constantinople.

In 2022, the MPC rejoiced when the Serbian Orthodox Church suddenly recognised its independence from Belgrade. It had been the main obstacle to the Church’s ecclesiastical independence for five decades, insisting that all that the Macedonians could hope for was autonomy within the Serbian Church.

But, with the Serbian Church close to Moscow, many observers in Skopje worried that this has put the Macedonian Church firmly in the Russian Church camp as well. A sign of that came last year when the Macedonian Church aligned with Moscow against the Ukrainian Church.

Unlike Belgrade and Moscow, which have no problem with the use of the name “Macedonian”, the Constantinople Patriarchate has serious reservations.

However, just before the Serbian Church abruptly granted the MPC its own “tomos”, the Constantinople Patriarchate also seemed finally to be about to move.

On May 9, 2022, Patriach Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a decision ending what it termed the schismatic status of the “Ohrid Archbishopric”, i.e. today’s Macedonian Orthodox Church.

But since then, despite high hopes, a “tomos” from Constantinople has not arrived. Many fear this issue is now in limbo, caught between the rival interests of Moscow and Constantinople.

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The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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