The Scandal in Prohor Pcinjski
by Rade Vukosav
On Ilinden, the Macedonian state holiday which our neighbours celebrated on 2 August 2003, clerics of the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) refused to allow the state delegations of SCG and Macedonia access to the monastery of Prohor Pćinjski, where the Antifascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), part of the anti-Hitler coalition, first met in 1944. As a result of SPC's refusal of hospitality and intense dislike of everything associated with the Macedonian name, the two state delegations were forced to commemorate the event at a nearby border post.
On Ilinden in 1903, the Macedonian people rose against Turkish rule, so that this was the hundredth anniversary of the Ilinden Revolt. The plaque marking the date of ASNOM's first session, which used to be displayed on one of the monastery's walls, has been removed with the clergy's blessings by the Chetnik vojvoda Vojislav Š ešelj and his Chetniks, and the clergy refuses to have it put back. The monks readily admitted Š ešelj's armed followers into the monastery, in the same way that Arkan and his armed escorts used to visit in broad daylight Orthodox churches in Montenegro, with the blessing of Archbishop Amfilohije (Risto Radović). None of this has enhanced the SPC's standing.
By resorting to this militant act - militant, indeed, since journalists saw in the monastery courtyard at the time groups of extremists carrying portraits of Radovan Karadžić - the SPC let it be known once again that it does not recognize either Macedonia or the Macedonians - and certainly not the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC). In 1912 the MPC was subjected to the SPC and Macedonians were declared Serbs. The SPC with its violent and stubborn stand infringes the right of a people, in this case the Macedonians, to decide who they are and denies them the right to have their own church. It wishes to subject them once again to the jurisdiction of the SPC. What gives the SPC this right? Since Macedonians are not Serbs, the SPC has no right to contest their church, their territory and their state. What about the Lord's commandments: 'Do not covet what is not yours!' and 'Love thy neighbour...!'? One does not wish to argue that the MPC itself is blameless, but Macedonians are our neighbours, while the SPC's unwillingness to offer them hospitality has nothing to do with Christian faith.
Given that the Orthodox churches are divided, let everyone pray in their own church without pressure, without seeking assimilation and without contesting the existence of other churches. Why deny to the Macedonians and the Montenegrins the right to their own churches? When the SPC leaders talk of church canons, they interpret them in their own way, as if they were still living in the middle ages, when the church wielded power sometimes greater than that of the state, when church anathemas were feared and people dreaded excommunication. But we live in the twenty-first century, when people have the right to belong to a church of their choice or none at all, when they are treated as followers not servants of the church. No one has the right to deny them the right to pray in their own church, or to impose on them a church they do not want.
The Turks ruled Macedonia for 523 years. They did not demand of the Macedonians (or of the Serbs or any one else) to call themselves Turks, to convert to Islam, to speak Turkish or to attend Turkish-language schools. In 1912, by contrast, the Karađorđević dynasty imposed on them the Serb name, Serb schools, the Serb language - and the Serb Orthodox church. To this day the SPC refuses to recognise the right of the Macedonians (and the Montenegrins too) to have their own church. In the New Testament, however, the church is not divided by nationality: in the eyes of all true Christians there is only one church, that of Christ. If Christ were to appear among the people and see how the churches that bear his name fight each other, he would condemn such things; and he would condemn most strongly those churches, in this case the SPC, which give themselves the right to assimilate other nations through the medium of 'their' church.
Our church is increasingly determined to fuse itself with the state, and interferes more and more in the secular business of the state. The politicians, fearing loss of votes, support it in this. Today, when we have around 950,000 unemployed and around 200,000 refugees lacking basic conditions of life, when industrial cities are dying and those with jobs receive a bare minimum, when farmers are not paid for delivered grain and fruit - in this state of general crisis - our church is erecting splendid temples. The state subsidizes it with tax-payers’ money, and obliges citizens to pay contributions to the church for which they have never voted. The church has become mightily arrogant and no one knows how this will end.
By denying the state delegations of Macedonia and SCG access to the monastery of Prohor Pćinjski, the SPC has for its own ignoble reasons humiliated its own state as well as its neighbour, and has created an international scandal that harms church and state alike.
Translated from Helsinška povelja, Belgrade, August 2003.