Brief history of the church issue in the Republic of Macedonia

1) The Republic of Macedonia is located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, with an area of 25,713 sq km and a population of over 2 million. The Republic of Macedonia is a native country of the Macedonian nation and of several other minorities that live within it. Along with 1.6 million Macedonians who live in the Republic of Macedonia (who are Orthodox Christians), more than 1.5 million Macedonians live and work outside Macedonia (in the neighbouring countries and also in Europe, the USA , Canada and Australia …).

Map of the Balkan PeninsulaA few years following the disintegration of SFR Yugoslavia, on 8 April 1993, the Republic of Macedonia became the 181st member of the United Nations Organisation (UNO); still, due to the dispute over the name with the Republic of Greece, it is recognised as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Under its constitutional name “The Republic of Macedonia”, up to now it has been recognised by over 100 world countries, among which are Russia, the USA and China, and also Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania, etc.

Despite the clear decision of Canon 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which says that the organisation of ecclesiastical districts should follow the state and civil organising, the Church in the Republic of Macedonia out of well known political reasons even now is denied the right to independence.

2) Since the uncanonical abolition of the autocephalous Ohrid Archdiocese in the year 1767, executed with a decision by the Turkish Sultan, at the request of Patriarch Samuel I of Constantinople, and all up to World War I the dioceses of the present Republic of Macedonia had been under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate. After World War I these dioceses territorially fell under the occupation by the Serbian state and were therefore transferred under the government of the Serbian Orthodox Church. With the beginning of World War II, the Serbian Episcopes, along with their army and police, left these dioceses which they had administered for only 20 years and were replaced by the Episcopes of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. After World War II, the Republic of Macedonia existed as a separate federative state within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Following the end of World War II, the clergy and the Orthodox faithful of the Republic of Macedonia requested the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) to consecrate native episcopes to them, for greater pastoral stability and efficacy of the Church. On 5 October 1958, with the resolution of the Clergy and Laity Assembly in Ohrid, Episcope Dositheus, a Macedonian born, a Vicar of the Serbian Patriarch German, was enthroned the 83 rd Archbishop of the restored Ohrid Archdiocese, which owing to the country in which it is active was given the name Macedonian Orthodox Church, and he – the title Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia.

The Holy Assembly of Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church in June of 1959 passed a resolution (AH. No. 6/min. 57) which confirms that “the dioceses in the Republic of Macedonia have been separated into an INDEPENDENT Church which will be administered in accordance with the Constitution adopted at the Macedonian Clergy and Laity Assembly of the year 1958” and that “with this resolution cease to be valid the regulations of the Serbian Orthodox Church Constitution for the episcopes and hierarchs of the People's Republic of Macedonia”. Due to the need to form an independent Synod, the Serbian Patriarch German, Archbishop Dositheus of Ohrid and Macedonia, and also Episcope Nicanor of Bačka, on 19-07-1959 in Skopje consecrated the newly elected episcope Clement of Prespa and Bitola. With this there were conditions created for the formation of a Holy Synod of Hierarchs of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. About this all, Patriarch German of Serbia with his letter, registered under the synodal No. 515, of May 31, 1961, informed Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.

On July 16 of the year 1967, the Macedonian Orthodox Church—restored Ohrid Archdiocese, at a Clergy and Laity Assembly in Ohrid, in accordance with the by then established practice of other Churches, is proclaimed autocephalous local Orthodox Church, following which the Serbian Orthodox Church unilaterally cut off the eucharistic communion with it. Concelebration of Episcopes of the Macedonian Orthodox Church with Episcopes of other Orthodox Churches has been taking place to this very day, only unofficially and with no public announcement. The Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia always mentions at the Great Entrance the names of the Heads of the local Orthodox Churches.

3) In conformity with its Constitution and in its activity and teaching, the Macedonian Orthodox Church preserves the sacred Dogmas and sacred Canons of the Orthodox Faith established at the holy Ecumenical Councils, and also the entire Holy Tradition of the Church inherited from the holy Apostles and holy Fathers illumined by the Divine Spirit.

4) The Macedonian Orthodox Church has 13 dioceses, 7 of which are in the Republic of Macedonia while 6 are in the diaspora. The dioceses are administered at the moment by 10 episcopes assisted by over 500 active priests. The Macedonian Orthodox Church has around 500 parishes, with more than 2000 churches and monasteries. Ten years ago about twenty monasteries were renewed in which today live more than 100 monks and nuns. With the declaration of independence, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has founded a Theological High School and an Orthodox Faculty of Theology in Skopje.

5) The Macedonian Orthodox Church respects and never interferes into the canonical jurisdiction of the other local Orthodox Churches.

6) With the Niš draft agreement of the year 2002 between the Macedonian and the Serbian Churches, all the disputable canonical and liturgical mutual problems of the two Churches were satisfactorily resolved. The only disputable problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church remained the name of our holy Church and its status. Our Church due to pastoral reasons insisted on the name ‘Macedonian Orthodox Church' and on an independent status, whereas the Serbian Orthodox Church, out of political reasons (it does not recognise the existence of the Macedonian nation), insisted on the name Ohrid Archdiocese and on an autonomous status. All theological and historical facts suggest that the problem of the name of our Church does not have an ecclesiastical, but purely political foundation; whereas the term which is to formulate its organisational status, i.e. ‘autonomy' or ‘independence', does not have an essential but merely formal meaning, since the essence of the status itself was defined with the content of the Niš draft agreement. Following the rejection of this working document as well, and this mainly because of the disagreement around the name, and after the Serbian Orthodox Church had realised that it would not manage to change our name, it stopped unilaterally the talks with the Macedonian Orthodox Church and has ever since been trying to organise a parallel church in the Republic of Macedonia through the support it has been giving to the deposed by our Church former Metropolitan of Povardarie. We are grateful to God that until now every attempt of the Serbian Orthodox Church to divide our Orthodox people and form a parallel church has remained unsuccessful. Owing to the wrong pastoral approach, the Serbian Orthodox Church has never been given and will never be given the liturgical “amen” of the Orthodox people in the Republic of Macedonia, without which none of its decisions are valid and it can do nothing in our area.

7) Similar disputes in the Orthodox Church have existed so far, yet they were resolved both within a shorter term and by means of brotherly love. This is particularly important for the reason that we live in a time of subtle persecution against the Church and also because of the testimony to Christ which the world expects from us. With the autocephalous American Orthodox Church, which apart from the Russian no one else recognises, all concelebrate. The Albanian Orthodox Church, although unorganised, with the very appointment of Archbishop Anastasios was recognised as autocephalous. The Georgian Orthodox Church, soon after the declaration of independence of the Georgian state from the former Soviet Union, was granted a charter of autocephaly (tomos) by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, etc.

8) Given that all information gathered indirectly or by those who deny us suffer from one-sidedness and bias, we would be much pleased when an official or unofficial delegation or deputy of Your holy Church, publicly or without informing the public, visits the Macedonian Orthodox Church and is personally convinced in the above written, i.e. that we are a living, organised and active Orthodox Church. A Church which constantly lives the Mystery of Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, Your local sister–Church.