By Nikos Fragopoulos of the Skopje News
The action of the so-called “Macedonian Orthodox Church” to send a letter to the Sofia Patriarchate expressing its readiness to come under the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, recognizing it as its “Mother Church”, provided that the Patriarchate of Sofia will recognize the autocephalous of the Church of fYROMacedonia, has made the headlines in the country’s media.
According to information, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will examine the request of the Church of fYROMacedonia at its next meeting on November 27, but it is not expected to be decided immediately, as it is estimated that this is a very serious issue for which it should consult with the other Orthodox churches.
The general estimation of the media and analysts in Skopje is that this move of the so-called “‘Macedonian’ Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archdiocese” (MOC) is a serious change in its attempt to gain international recognition, with unknown consequences.
The Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarje, Agathangelos (considered the most hard-core in the Church of fYROMacedonia), publicly expressed his opposition to the action of the fYROMacedonia church to ask for membership in the Bulgarian Patriarchate.
Agathangelos said that “this action is a continuation of the recent Good Neighbourly and Partnership Agreement signed by the governments of FYROM and Bulgaria on 1 August”, in which, as he said, Skopje accepted the role of the defeated party.
“This agreement in its essence resembles a treaty after a war, between the winner and the loser. No part of the Neighbourly Agreement protects either the Macedonians or the interests of the state, and I believe it will have devastating consequences for the Macedonians in Macedonia and the Macedonians living in neighbouring countries and in the Diaspora”, Agathangelos said.
“I am afraid that the talks to be held with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will be covered with the veil of dishonesty and hypocrisy and will lead to another national humiliation and the division of the people, since it is an agreement with political goals”, Metropolitan Agathangelos pointed out.
In his statement to Skopje’s media, ecclesiastical analyst Branko Georgievski noted that the letter marks an attempt by the Skopje Church to achieve the goal of self-rule in a different way, taking advantage of the improvement of Skopje-Sofia relations after the recent signing a bilateral friendship and good neighbourly agreement.
Reservedness for the initiative
However, Georgievski is cautious about the effectiveness of this initiative, for two reasons:
First, because the standing position of all the Orthodox Churches is that the issue of the status of the Church of Skopje should be resolved in dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Secondly, because there is agreement among the fourteen Orthodox Churches that any decisions on self-identification will be taken unanimously – indeed, this is a principle that the Moscow Patriarchate strongly insists on, in order to prevent the recognition of the self-rule of the Church of Ukraine.
According to Georgievski, this means that if the Bulgarian Orthodox Church accepts to recognize the self-rule of the pseudo-Macedonian Church and become its Mother Church then it will come into conflict, both with the Belgrade Patriarchate, which will feel that it is bypassed, and the Patriarchate of Moscow.
According to the analyst, the most likely practical result of this initiative will be to strengthen the relations of the Skopje Church with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church through the accomplishment of common functions, etc., but not the recognition of its self-rule.
The history of secession
In October 1958, the three southern provinces of the Serbian Church, the metropolises of Skopje, Zletovo-Strumitsa and Ohrid-Vitoria, were seceded by the Patriarchate of Serbia and proclaimed their own Church.
Initially, they functioned in unison with the Serbian Patriarchate and its first bishop was ordained by the Serbian Patriarch.
In 1967, however, it proclaimed its self-rule, resulting in the extraordinary Synod of the Serbian Church Hierarchy, in September of that year, to declare the leadership of the Slav-Macedonian Church schismatic.
The so-called “Macedonian Orthodox Church” is not recognized by any other Orthodox Church.
In 2005, following a dialogue that failed to reach an agreement between the Patriarchate of Serbia and the so-called “Macedonian Orthodox Church”, the Patriarchate of Serbia proceeded to re-establish the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid in fYROMacedonia, headed by Archbishop Ioannis. However, the state of fYROMacedonia refused to recognize the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid as a Church, which led to multiyear litigations, with the most recent being the vindication of Archbishop Ioannis by the European Court of Human Rights./IBNA