February 26, 2004

ERP KiM Newsletter 26-02-04

Persecution of canonic Ochrid Diocese by Skopje authorities and group of schismatic bishops continues in FYR Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia is losing much of its international respect, especially now when a decision on its ascension to the European Union is to be made. By supporting seven schismatic bishops, who do not enjoy any support among Orthodox Christians, the government is exposing itself to the risk of not being admitted to the Union due not only to repression and disregard for human rights, as the government has been conducting against the members of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid, but also because of the same sort of treatment toward foreign citizens of Orthodox confession who wish to enter the Republic of Macedonia or who seek to pass through it in transit, which they are being forbidden to do upon the urging of the aforementioned schismatics. In this manner, the acceptance of the Republic of Macedonia into European civilization and European institutions is excluded (from the Communiqué by the persecuted Synod of Ochrid Archdiocese)


The only canonic Orthodox bishops in FYR Macedonia recognized by the Orthodox Church worldwide with Serbian Patriarch Pavle  (left to right: Bishop Marko, Metropolitan Jovan, Patriarch Pavle, Bishop Joakim)

EDITORIAL

Persecutions like in Stalin's time

 

ERP KIM Info-Service
February 26, 2004

 

After the recent attack on the monastery of St. John Chrysostom by the paramilitary special police unit "Lions", controlled by the Skopje Government, the position of the Orthodox Church in FYR Macedonia is becoming more and more precarious. There are many indicators which show that the setting on fire of the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom and harassment of two nuns was innitiated by a group of "bishops" who falsely present themselves as "the Synod of the so called Macedonian Orthodox Church" which is not officially recognized by any of the canonic Orthodox Church worldwide. In fear that more young Orthodox would join the only canonic hierarchy under Metropolitan Jovan, the exarch of the autonomous Ochrid Archdiocese, Skopje "latrocinium synod" with the assistance of the state police authorities plotted  a conspiracy to eliminate the Ochrid Archdiocese and discourage attrition in their own ranks ranks. After imprisonment of Bishop Jovan for almost 30 days, the pressures culminated by the attack of a paramilitary group "Lions" armed with automatic weapons on the monastery of St. John Chrysostom which was eventually set on fire last week.

 

The strategy is twofold. On one hand Bishop Jovan, his monks and nuns are exposed to physical threats and imprisonment, their property is destroyed and looted and they are not allowed to have places of worship. On the other hand false accusations are fabricated in order to denigrate the moral authority of Bishop Jovan in the public. He has been falsely accused of money misappropriation, spreading of hatred even of being a foreign agent. A very dishonest role in this anti-Christian campaign play some Skopje media who fan the religious hatred against Bishop Jovan and his faithful. However, this campaign has so far only produced opposite results. Young Orthodox in FYR Macedonia clearly see the innocence of Bishop Jovan, the persecution of which reminds them of the unjust judgment over Christ himself by secular authorities and high-priests of Jerusalem.That is why the great majority of young monks and nuns have already joined the persecuted bishop and thus entered within Eucharistic unity of the Orthodox Church worldwide.

 

Skopje authorities have also introduced measures which are thoroughly opposite to elementary principles of religious freedom and human rights. Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian Orthodox clerics who would like to visit the country and give their support to Metropolitan Jovan are barred from entering FYR Macedonia and are exposed to humiliating request to take off their priestly robes which are found "offensive" by the custom officers and border police. Although Skopje authorities publicly deny these measures, they nevertheless remain in force. Such unheard of persecution of the Orthodox Church, on account of a group of uncanonic bishops who have usurped Orthodox churches in Macedonia thanks to former Communist authorities is a clear indicator that FYROM is rapidly sliding into openly repressive society in which freedom of Christian faith is not only violated but in which Christians are openly persecuted like in worst times of communism under Stalin.

 

In our today's edition we are enclosing:

 

1. Public communiqué by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the (persecuted) Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid
 

2. News report by the Ecumenical News International
 

3. Report by the Forum 18, Oslo (Norway) based organization for promotion of religious rights in the world

 

Information Service of the
Serbian Orthodox Church
February 24, 2004


 

Public Communique

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid
 

 

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid, meeting for its regular monthly assembly, the first since the release from detention of the Head of the Holy Synod, the Rt. Rev. Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarje and the Exarch of Ochrid Kyr Jovan, has decided to express in writing its thanks to His Holiness the Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac, and Serbian Patriarch Kyr Pavle, as well as to the heads of local Churches, who sought from the state authorities in the Republic of Macedonia, as well as before international government and nongovernmental organizations the immediate release from detention of Metropolitan Jovan, whose only "transgression" is using his right to freedom of confession, guaranteed by international conventions as well as by the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.

 

The Synod resolved to again inform the international civilized community of the uncivilized pressure being applied by legislative, executive and judicial authorities in the Republic of Macedonia on members of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid. Toward that end a protest will be addressed to the Government and Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia regarding the adoption of the "Declaration of support for the autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church", passed by the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia on January 23, 2004. A protest will also be addressed to the Republic Judicial Council, as well as to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia, for their participation in the political persecution of members of the Orthodox Archdiocese. The Synod also discussed information provided by two abbots, David and Maksim, who met with the head of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities. The Synod learned that the same does not have the intention of responding to a request addressed to it by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid for its opinion on the registration of the Church. As a result it was decided to send a new request, and that the Head of the Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Jovan, should meet with them as soon as possible in order to request the registration of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid.

 

The Synod concludes with regret that because of seven schismatic bishops, who have managed to convince the government that it should protect their skins, the Republic of Macedonia is losing much of its international respect, especially now when a decision on its ascension to the European Union is to be made. By supporting seven schismatic bishops, who do not enjoy any support among Orthodox Christians, the government is exposing itself to the risk of not being admitted to the Union due not only to repression and disregard for human rights, as the government has been conducting against the members of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid, but also because of the same sort of treatment toward foreign citizens of Orthodox confession who wish to enter the Republic of Macedonia or who seek to pass through it in transit, which they are being forbidden to do upon the urging of the aforementioned schismatics. In this manner, the acceptance of the Republic of Macedonia into European civilization and European institutions is excluded.

 

The Holy Synod of Bishops also discussed a letter addressed to it by the Protate of the Holy Mt. Athos, giving its clear support for the activities of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid in the service of the unity of the Church and approving the manner of bearing witness practiced by its members. The letter also states that the "schismatic Metropolitan Naum" is falsely presenting himself. He has no ties with the Holy Mt. Athos and the Grigoriou Monastery. On the contrary, he fled from that monastery without the blessing of his abbot, was ordained in Romania, and subsequently elevated to the rank of bishop by schismatics in Macedonia. On several occasions he requested a meeting with Abbot Georgije Kapsanis; however, the latter rejected any sort of meeting until Naum publicly repents for his schismatic activities.

 

 

February 20/07, 2004
In the Monastery of St.
John Chrysostom

 

 

From the Office of the
Holy Synod of Bishops of the
Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid



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Balkan church leader blames Macedonian officials for attack

 

Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service / 24 February 2004

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Sofia, 24 February (ENI)--Metropolitan Jovan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia has accused Macedonian government officials of attacking a monastery loyal to his archdiocese, the Oslo-based Forum 18 News Service reported on Tuesday.

"Somebody from them did it, if you ask me," the metropolitan told the news service, which campaigns to promote religious freedom. "Who else would dare to walk 200 metres on a snowy, dark mountain slope, armed with automatic guns?"

Five masked men armed with machine guns were reported to have broken into the monastery, located at a house in the village of Nizepolje near the southern town of Bitola, in the attack on 20 February. The report said the attackers smashed most of the religious items, stole a dozen icons, and attacked two nuns.

The attack follows numerous legal cases brought by the Macedonian authorities in recent months against clergy and nuns of the Serbian church, and at a period of heightened tension between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox churches.

The two churches have been in dispute since 1967, when the Macedonian church unilaterally declared its independence from the Serbian church. The Macedonian church's independence has not been recognised by any canonical Orthodox jurisdiction.

Tensions between the two churches reached a new level in 2003 when the Serbian church moved against the Macedonian church by setting up an autonomous archbishopric of Ohrid under Jovan, who had previously been a bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

In a message at Christmas, Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church blamed the separation of the two churches on the machinations of the Communist regime in the former Yugoslavia and appealed for unity.

"Discussions will continue only when the Serbian Orthodox Church withdraws all of its subordinates from Macedonia, and all its decisions which refer to the territory of Macedonia and the jurisdiction of the Macedonian Orthodox Church," said Macedonian
church head Archbishop Stefan, rejecting Pavle's appeal.

At the same time, Macedonian prime minister Branko Crvenkovski entered the fray, saying that a new law on religious communities was to be introduced, and said that the Macedonian church could count on the support of the government.

Soon after Jovan was arrested along with some of his followers on 11 January, in connection with the "spread of religious hatred", and most of those arrested were released to appear in court later.

Meanwhile, Macedonian church officials backed up by police took control of four monasteries whose monks and nuns had declared themselves loyal to Jovan and the Serbian church.

Mirjana Konteska, spokesperson for the Macedonian interior ministry, said on Tuesday that claims of state involvement in the most recent attack were "speculation" on the part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. She said: "The investigators and the courts will determine the accuracy of the reports."

* * *
All articles (c) Ecumenical News International Reproduction permitted only by media subscribers and provided ENI is acknowledged as the source.

Ecumenical News International
PO Box 2100
CH - 1211 Geneva 2
Switzerland

Tel: (41-22) 791 6088/6111
Fax: (41-22) 788 7244
Email: eni@eni.ch
 

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FORUM 18 (OSLO, NORWAY)
This article was published by F18News on: 24 February 2004

MACEDONIA: Who attacked, armed with machine guns, an Orthodox monastery?

By Branko Bjelajac, Balkans Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service

Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski) of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, has accused Macedonian state officials of attacking a monastery loyal to his archdiocese. The "infamous Lions, a paramilitary state security unit, which was established in FYR Macedonia under supervision of former Milosevic paramilitary instructors", has been accused of responsibility by the Kosovo diocese. During the attack, five masked men armed with machine guns men broke in, smashed most of the religious items, stole a dozen icons, poured petrol on the furniture and set it alight. They alos attacked two nuns, Renata Mizhimakovska and Dana Stojanovska, cutting their hair. The perpetrators escaped into the dark. The attack follows numerous legal cases brought by the Macwedonian authorities in recent months against clergy and nuns of the church, including an accusation that Metropolitan Jovan is a spy of a foreign state. Metropolitan Jovan denies all the accusations.

Archdiocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, has accused state officials of organising the 20 February attack on a monastery loyal to his archdiocese and based in a remote, private house. "Somebody from them did it, if you ask me," he told Forum 18 News Service from the southern Macedonian town of Bitola on 23 February. "Who else would dare to walk 200 metres on a snowy, dark mountain slope, armed with automatic guns? Where does their courage come from? Were and are they not afraid that the nuns would report them or that they may've been seen by others in the neighbourhood?"

The Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate issued a strongly-worded condemnation in the Serbian capital Belgrade. "It is almost certain that the real target of the attackers was not only the monastery building, the nuns and church vessels," it declared in a 21 February statement, "but apparently the intent was to carry out the physical liquidation of all the canonical bishops in this region." The Serbian Orthodox Church questioned what use anyone would have for "stolen church items and liturgical books".

The Serbian Orthodox diocese in Kosovo went further, accusing the Macedonian authorities and the Macedonian Orthodox Church of engaging the "infamous Lions, a paramilitary state security unit, which was established in FYR Macedonia under supervision of former Milosevic paramilitary instructors", which was officially disbanded last April.

However, Mirjana Konteska, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, said such claims of state involvement in the attack were "speculation" on the part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. "There is no proof that any members of the ex-Lions were involved and I can't speculate on that," she told Forum 18 from the capital Skopje on 24 February. "The investigators and the courts will determine the accuracy of the reports." She said the Interior Ministry would announce the results of the investigation "after a few days".

The weekend house on a hilltop in the village of Nizepolje ten kilometres (six miles) from Bitola, which was attacked in the evening of 20 February, has housed the Serbian Orthodox monastery of St John Chrysostom since 2002. Five masked armed men broke in, smashed most of the religious items, stole a dozen icons, poured petrol on the furniture and set it alight and cut the hair of two nuns, Renata Mizhimakovska and Dana Stojanovska. The nuns were later released, while the perpetrators escaped into the dark.

Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18 that on the day of the attack he and his fellow bishops Marko and Jovan had been holding a synodal meeting at the house, together with the synod secretary, Father Superior David. "We have to hold synodal meetings in extraordinary conditions. We meet in this adopted weekend house because the Macedonian state and executive power (government) attacks us, as does the so-called Macedonian Orthodox Church."

He said that after 4 pm Bishops Marko and Joakim left for Skopje, while he and Father Superior David left at about 6 pm, when it was already dark. Only 15 minutes after reaching Bitola, Metropolitan Jovan received emergency calls from both nuns. "Strangely, my phone was not working properly only at the time of the attack - after some time, it was all right," he told Forum 18. "The nuns ran in different directions.
One of them stopped a car and called me from a mobile phone. The other reached the village and called from a neighbour. They told us that five armed men had entered the house, that they are destroying property, set fire, and desecrated them by cutting their hair."

Metropolitan Jovan went back immediately and found that the fire had burnt out inside the house. "It was a miracle from God that the house did not burn to the ground." He said damage came to at least 15,000 Euros (131,670 Norwegian kroner or 18,860 US dollars). "It was a terrible scene."

The next day, the police and a local investigative judge made a reconstruction of the attack, attended also by officers from Proxima, a European Union (EU) mission to observe, mentor and advise the Macedonian police to help bring it up to European standards, though with no executive power.

"I can confirm that two Proxima officers visited the site and were at the reconstruction of the incident," EU spokesperson Sheena Thomson told Forum 18 from Skopje. "We observed no breach of EU standards and the conduct of the police officers was quite adequate. The only remark is that some documents in Macedonian were seized at the scene, but this is accepted under local law, and we will continue to monitor their use in the continuation of the investigation. So far there were no other investigative activities." Bitola police are protecting the house, while the incident is still under investigation.

Numerous legal cases have been launched in recent months against clergy and nuns of the church (see for example F18News 28 January 2004
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=238 ).

In the wake of a baptism service last summer and unity liturgy with the monks and nuns who left the Macedonian for the Serbian jurisdiction last month, two legal cases against Metropolitan Jovan are continuing. Two more have been announced: one that he is a spy of a foreign state, and another that, during his reign as Macedonian bishop of Veles before he joined the Serbian Church, he misused one million Denars. Metropolitan Jovan denies all the accusations

"I have not received the two last charges yet," Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18. "But this is very symptomatic of the state of religious freedom in Macedonia: firstly the state (parliament) denies our rights. Then the executive power (police) arrests us and bans our services, questions us as if we are the criminals. And now the judicial system is producing a mass of accusations and allegations." He said all he and his followers can do is to sue the Macedonian state for what it claims are violations of its rights under Article 9 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees free religious practice.

The local MIA agency reported on 9 February that the Interior Ministry pressed robbery charges against monks who joined the Serbian Church in January. They are accused of taking five liturgical books and two seals valued at 150,000 Denars (21,577 Norwegian kroner, 2,458 Euros or 3,090 US dollars).

Earlier this month, the Greek Orthodox Synod issued a strong protest over the refusal of the Macedonian border police at the Bogorodica border crossing to allow two Greek priests to enter Macedonia. The two planned to meet clergy of the Ohrid Archdiocese.

The Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches have been in dispute since 1967, when the Macedonian Church unilaterally declared its independence from the Serbian Church. The Macedonian Church's independence has not been recognised by any canonical Orthodox jurisdiction.

After several attempts to resolve the schism, the Serbian Orthodox Church established the Ohrid Archbishopric in Macedonia in 2002, and ordained former Macedonian Bishop Jovan to be Metropolitan of the diocese and a patriarchal representative. In late 2003 two more bishops were consecrated, Marko and Joakim. In early 2004, about 30 monks and nuns in Macedonia left the Macedonian Church and joined the Serbian Orthodox.

Despite the tensions, Metropolitan Jovan maintains that his Church's religious life is normal. "We have regular liturgies in Bitola, where people are attending the services. Unfortunately, only 60-70 people can enter my father's apartment, which we adapted into a chapel," he reported.

He said his Church is planning to press charges against the Macedonian state because of parliament's 23 January declaration of support for the Macedonian Orthodox Church. "Within the first two sentences, our religious and human rights are wiped out. They do not recognise our very existence," Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18. "The state is permitting neither Greek nor Bulgarian Orthodox clerics to enter Macedonia for fear that the people will see with whom they have canonical unity."

But Konteska denies that the Macedonian authorities have anything against the Serbian Church's adherents in Macedonia. "They can practice their faith freely," she told Forum 18, "but not to have private churches in their homes and disturbing people of other faith by singing and making noise." She said the Interior Ministry is not interested in internal church matters "but only in people who break the law". She pointed out that Metropolitan Jovan is facing numerous criminal charges, but rejected suggestions that such charges were motivated by any official hostility to the Serbian Church. "We don't punish him for his faith, but for breaking the law."

Konteska also denied that the authorities prevented foreign Orthodox priests from visiting Macedonia. "But no foreign priest can come in wearing priestly vestments and serve in a church unless they have an official invitation from a religious community - it's the same for Catholic priests or Muslim imams." She said the Ohrid Archdiocese is free to invite foreign clergy.
 

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*Remark by ERP KIM Info-Service:

The statements by Ms. Kontevska do not only correspond to the true situation on the ground but are blatant attempts to falsify the truth and hide responsibility of Skopje Government and the group of Bishops who falsely present themselves as "Macedonian Orthodox Church". Many Serbian and Greek clerics have openly testified that they were not allowed to enter FYR Macedonia. The writer of these lines remembers that even in 1996 a group of monks from Serbia were humiliated by Skopje border authorities and were offered a scandalous choice, either to take off their priestly robes and Christian insignia or to turn away and travel to Greece via Bulgaria. Of course, the monks decided to leave the border pass and travel along several hours longer route through Bulgaria.


ERP KIM Info-Service is the official Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren and works with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Artemije.
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