bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
Saying Amen
by Mirko Djordjevic, with accompanying quotation from Teofil Pancic

When Vojislav Kostunica arrived at Mount Athos on the Day of Initiation, accompanied by a retinue containing several government ministers including prime minister Zizic, it was immediately obvious that his visit was not of a private nature. There was indeed one moment when, to judge by the TV reports, the ancient monastery gate looked very much like the backdrop for a public rally designed to promote a definite policy. This has set off a heated public debate. Some have argued that the President was leading us away from Europe - as if the holy sites of Athos were not part of Europe’s cultural heritage. Others have contended that this was the only way to a ‘spiritual and national renewal’ that inevitably leads us back to Byzantium.

It is indisputable that religious piety is a virtue. Statesmen, burdened by the heavy responsibility of government, should indeed perhaps opt more often for seclusion and, in the ‘darkness of the chant’, seek certain answers. This occasion, albeit marked by a familiar and distasteful display, did also contain also a strong sense of pathos - a poignancy that is understandable, since a visit to the crucible of our ancient culture cannot but be a moving experience. So Kostunica’s ‘pilgrimage’ (the papers were full of such hackneyed phrases) is not in itself unusual. Yet one cannot fail to feel concern about the kind of policy his visit was intended to promote. This is because his retinue was shepherded by the Montenegrin metropolitan Amfilohije, a fact that brought back many disturbing memories, given that His Eminence has hailed and celebrated Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic and their warlords with the disastrous results we all know.

Bishop Amfilohije’s typically mediaeval understanding of the relationship between church and state, as well as his promotion of national-religious ‘assemblies’, have already been dealt with in the pages of Republika. He is strongly against any kind of pluralism. In his view decisions must be made exclusively by the ‘head of the whole nation’, since political parties ‘are of recent date and are Western imports’. Given that our President himself believes that the Byzantine model of symphonia - long ago rejected in the Christian world - should guide the relationship between church and state, Amfilohije’s presence at Athos should indeed worry us all.

It is not His Eminence Amfilohije alone who has sought to invest the visit to the holy places of our faith and culture with this meaning. The press has reported prominently and at great length (Politika and Danas, 5 December 2000) strange declarations that have disturbed religious and secular public opinion alike. Prime minister Zizic declared that ‘we must learn from how Patriarch Paul rules the Church, if we wish to create a democratic rather than a dictatorial government’. That our prime minister is unable to differentiate between such entities as state and church is not so surprising, but no one can be sure at present that the head of state does not hold similar views on what a ‘state based on law’ should look like. One minister - V. Jankovic whom the press describes as a university professor - talks of tolerance being ‘at the core of Orthodoxy’, as if the rest of us knew nothing about the levels of tolerance displayed in East and West alike for centuries, where this virtue has not always blazed forth with equal radiance. Mr Zizic, moreover, concluded the exposition of his political credo with neither more nor less than the word amen. We Orthodox Christians have adopted this ancient Semitic word in the sense of ‘Let it be so!’. But it is used only, for example, at the conclusion of the twelfth article of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed; or we pronounce it during the liturgy, with our hands raised signalling our acceptance of the truth of our faith and church. Zizic’s use is not simply blasphemy; the whole affair is more complex than that.

We are dealing here with a problem well expressed by Metropolitan Methodius, eminent bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, when he spoke of abominations that threaten the Orthodox Church in the ‘transitional’ countries of the East. The first abomination lies in the fact that the Church is ‘again rushing to place itself under the state’s mantle’ and refusing to separate itself from the state. The other lies in the desire of post-Communist states to turn the Church once again into a ‘main pillar of its ideology’. This, then, is the meaning of the event that took place under the roof of the ancient monastery of Holy Mount Athos.

We are talking about two quite different things: the relationship between church and state, and the place and role of the Church in contemporary society. Confusion in regard to the former, i.e. reliance on the model of symphonia, has led a good number of our bishops onto the pernicious path of clerical nationalism, from which we have not yet returned. As for the role of the Church in contemporary society, our Church for some strange reason still does not see this as an important issue. During the past few years we have quite forgotten the Amen of our faith’s testimony, while proving ready to say Amen to all manner of ideological and political beliefs. Our misfortunes do not derive from the former Amen, but from a blind readiness to approve what was being done.

Today we need not fear symphonia, since its time is gone forever. We are not faced with Orthodox Ayatollahs wishing to turn our country into an Orthodox Iran. There are good reasons to fear, however, that we could fall victim to another cycle of clerical nationalism, of the kind we had under Milosevic. Today Amen is being said to an understanding of legitimacy advocated by Mr Kostunica. The notion that legitimacy means defence of the rule of law rather than the defence of bad laws - laws which in a law-abiding state should be changed and removed - is once again being forgotten. Few people seem to be bothered by this, including the high state and church dignitaries who visited Mount Athos.

What is involved here is also crude political demagogy of a kind that has already reappeared only two months after 5 October, when some changes were initiated. Or maybe not.


Translated from Republika, Belgrade, no. 251,

16-31 December 2000.

accompanying quotation

Orthodox Rock Music

‘’While imprisoned in Dachau, [Serb Orthodox bishop] Nikolaj Velimirovic wrote the most disgusting anti-Semitic pamphlets centred on the well-known fundamentalist idiocy of "Christ’s murderers". He was the victim of a totalitarian system, yet his copiously expressed political views could be called anything but democratic. There was no obscurantist idea in his time which he, like a kind of Serbian Leo Naphta [character from Mann’s The Magic Mountain], did not endorse. This is why, though quite forgotten, he was dug out a decade ago and enthroned as the Great Ancestor of all those who are opposed equally to liberalism and to all forms of left politics. It is obvious that the devil is among us.’

Serbian writer and journalist Teofil Pancic, commenting on the appearance in Belgrade of a CD containing a rock-music rendering of the bishop’s sermons

Globus (Zagreb), 2 March 2001


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