The assembly of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church took place May 9-18, 2019, at Žiča monastery, then in Belgrade. We publish here our translation of the official press release.

Communiqué of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
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“This year, the Ordinary Session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church started on May 9 at Žiča Monastery. This monastery was the first headquarters of the Serbian autocephalous Church, and this year, we celebrate the 800th anniversary of this autocephaly, the full ecclesial independence, a great gift from God and a great work of St. Sava.

his year’s regular meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church began on May 9, 2019 in Monastery Zica, the first headquarters of the autocephalous Serbian Church, while the 800th anniversary of autocephaly, full Church independence, that great gift from God and great achievement of Saint Sava, we celebrate this year. After the Holy conciliar Hierarchical Liturgy and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit at the monastery church of Zica Monastery, the first sessions, under the presidency of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej, were held at the monastery, May 9-10, 2019, while beginning May 11th the Assembly continued its work at the Patriarchate in Belgrade. Participating in the Assembly were all diocesan hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church with the exception of Bishop Luka of Western Europe.

Per the established practice, at the beginning of the first Assembly session the Patriarch addressed the hierarchs in attendance with introductory remarks in which he pointed to the essential issues in the life and mission of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the contemporary world filled with, on the one hand, many spiritual challenges and temptations while on the other hand it is open with possibilities for work for the spiritual renewal of our people.

At the very beginning of the work of the Assembly special attention was dedicated to the liturgical celebration and spiritual-cultural commemoration of the great jubilee, the 800th anniversary since our Church received its autocephalous status (1219-2019), both the main celebrations for the entire Church to be commemorated at Monastery Zica and in Belgrade in October, as well on diocesan levels throughout. On the occasion of the great jubilee, the 800th anniversary of the autocephaly of our Church, in conciliar discussions regarding the manner in which the same was received a unanimous position of all hierarchs in attendance was pronounced of the absolute canonical character of St. Sava’s autocephaly. It should be noted that the celebration will continue throughout the following year, 2020, and it was decided that another significant jubilee be prayerfully commemorated that year – the 100th anniversary of the unification of the regional Churches into one, single Serbian Orthodox Church and establishing its status as an autocephalous Patriarchate.

Upon invitation of the Assembly, President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and representative of the Presidency of Bosna and Hercegovina Milorad Dodik, visited the Patriarchate. After the meeting, in the formal reception hall, the Assembly listened with due attention as the two Serbian leaders presented the state and problems of our people in Serbia and the Republic Srpska, and beyond, as well as the efforts and the unequal battle with the ruling powers in preserving Kosovo and Metohija within the makeup of Serbia as well as the support and the all-inclusive help from Serbia to our people that they might survive on the most holiest Serbian land, Kosovo and Metohija, and, in parallel, of the brotherly cooperation from the government organs, institutions of education and culture and all other public bearers of responsibility in Serbia and Republic of Srpska, for the good of our people on both sides of the Drina and for their general good, wherever they might live.

During the course of the Assembly a meeting was held with the Central board for the construction of the St. Sava Memorial Church in Vracar, Belgrade, with reports of all completed work thus far, accomplished through the great help from the state as well as donations from the faithful, especially regarding the mosaics added by the Russian artists, and the announcement of the consecration of the Church next year.

As in previous years, the Assembly dealt with issues regarding religious education as well as creating the conditions needed for a normal functioning of the Patriarchate Library and Museum as well as an Archive premises for the Serbian Orthodox Church. Protopresbyter Jovan Milanovic was elected new acting rector of the St. Arsenije of Srem Seminary in Sremski Karlovci. There was discussion regarding the Church’s cooperation with the appropriate Serbian authorities regarding the process of revitalization of Sremski Karlovci and creating the conditions needed for its new – actually, old – role of an important spiritual, cultural and educational workplace of the Serbian people.

The date for commemorating St. Pajsije, Patriarch of Pec, was changed: instead of 2/15 October, his commemoration will be on 3/16 October, based on newly revealed documents on his holy relics.

The actions of various schismatic and sectarian groups were noted with sorrow.

Reports from the Holy Synod of Bishops and diocesan bishops were heard and analyzed as well as the charitable organization “Philanthropy” and other foundations and services of the Serbian Orthodox Church during the previous year.

A re-structuring of a few dioceses was completed so that the Diocese of Banja Luka gave up a number of its church school congregations, parishes, to the Diocese of Bihac and Petrovac, and the Diocese of Zvornik-Tuzla to the Diocese of Dabar-Bosna.

The Assembly unanimously awarded the Order of St. Sava of the First Degree to Dr. Demetrios (Trakatellis), the former Archbishop of the American jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, for his love and charitable works towards the dioceses of our Church in America.

Taken into consideration was the state of our Churches in the so-called region – that is, in the states created on the ruins of the former Yugoslavia – and it was concluded that there exist animosity and discrimination in regard to the presence of our Church, in more or less everywhere – in Croatia, Bosna and Hercegovina, North Macedonia and particularly in Montenegro, where recently an anti-European and anti-civilized motion for law was confirmed regarding Churches and religious communities. This draft of law specifically and deliberately discriminates against the Dioceses of Montenegro-Coastlands and of Budimlje and Niksic, and even the seizure of sacred churches and their proclamation for state ownership is foreseen (!). Such resolutions abolish the inalienable right of the citizens to freedom of religion and conscience and represent a direct interference in internal Church affairs. There are also attempts to violently take away our holy sites in favor of the canonically and realistically non-existent “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” and threated to destroy certain churches (the church on the mountain Rumija and the baptistery on Prevlaka). Of course, everywhere – both in Montenegro, in Croatia and elsewhere – there are not a few honorable individuals and entire communities and organizations advocating for the justice and freedom of all. The state of our autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid in North Macedonia is also difficult, where currently there is no direct persecution of Archbishop Jovan, hierarchs, clergy, monastics and faithful, but the Sword of Damocles of new judicial persecutions is constantly hanging over their heads. In spite of this, our Church – as before – continues to support dialogue in solving the problems on an authentically canonical basis with the Church there which for decades has been in schism.

Regarding public attitudes towards or against the mandatory vaccination of children, the Assembly considers that the reasons for scientific medicine should be respected as well as the parents’ fear of receiving it.

The biggest problem of the Orthodox Church today is the Church schism in Ukraine and the failed attempt by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in resolving the problem “knee jerk”, on its own initiative, without a dialogue with the canonical Church in Ukraine and with the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole and without pan-Slavic counseling. In this regard, the Assembly’s present position remains: our Church does not recognize the newly established false-church structure in Ukraine, led by the citizens of Denysenko and Dumenko, and is only and exclusively in liturgical and canonical communion with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, and with all the other canonical Orthodox Churches.
For the umpteenth time the Assembly expresses its astonishment and indignation after the uncanonical intrusions of bishops and clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Eastern Serbia.

Relations with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Churches of the Reformation in Serbia, as well as with the Islamic communities in Serbia, are traditionally good and correct, which, unfortunately, cannot be said for relations with certain circles of the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia and Islamic communities in Bosna and Hercegovina.

The newly elected members of the Holy Synod of Bishops are Metropolitan Hrizostom of Dabar-Bosna and Bishops Irinej of Backa, Jovan of Sumadija and David of Krusevac.

Submitted by Bishop Irinej of Backa, 
Spokesman for the Serbian Orthodox Church

After the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the bishops of the Assembly, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the church of Žiča monastery, the first sessions of the Assembly took place at the monastery, on May 9-10. Then the Assembly continued its work at the Patriarchal Palace in Belgrade from May 11 until the closing of this year’s session. All the diocesan bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church took part in the work, with the exception of bishop Luka of Western Europe.

At the beginning of the first session of the Assembly, His Beatitude the Patriarch addressed the Bishops present, according to established practice. In this opening address, he highlighted the essential elements of the life and mission of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the contemporary world, a world full of great spiritual challenges and tests, but also of open opportunities for the spiritual renewal of our people.

From the beginning of its work, the Assembly devoted special attention to the liturgical celebration and the commemoration of a great jubilee, namely the eight hundredth anniversary of obtaining the autocephalous status of our Church (1219-2019) , both in the whole Church at Žiča Monastery and in Belgrade in October, as well as in all its dioceses. It is worth mentioning that the commemoration will be continued throughout the year 2020. It is also decided, that same year, to liturgically and solemnly commemorate another important jubilee, the centennial of the unification of the churches of the region in a single Serbian Orthodox Church, and the reestablishment of its autocephalous patriarchate status.

At the invitation of the Assembly, the Patriarchate received the visit of Aleksandar Vučić, the President of the Republic of Serbia and Milorad Dodik, the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the meeting, in the solemn hall of the Patriarchate, the Assembly listened with due attention to the presentations by the two Serb leaders on the situation and problems of our people in Serbia and in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, and more broadly, on the efforts and unequal struggle with the potentates for the preservation of Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia, and on the support ad the overall assistance of the Serbian State to our people, so that they can survive on the holiest Serb land, Kosovo and Metohija. At the same time, there has been talk of fraternal cooperation between State bodies, educational and cultural institutions, and all other holders of public responsibility in Serbia and in the Republic of Serbia, for the good of our people on both sides of the Drina, and for their prosperity in general, wherever they live.

During the Assembly was also held the session of the central institution in charge of the completion of the Saint Sava Memorial Church in Belgrade. The group presented a report on all the work accomplished so far, with the important help of the State and the gifts of pious people, including the laying of mosaics by Russian artists, and the announcement of the great solemn consecration of the church next year.

As is the case every year, the Assembly focused on ecclesiastical education, as well as on the creation of good conditions for the normal functioning of the Patriarchal Library, the Museum, and the Archives of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Archpriest Jovan Milanović is elected as the new rector ad interim of the Saint Arsenius Seminary in Sremski Karlovci. The cooperation of the Church with the competent bodies in Serbia was also discussed, in view of the revitalization of Sremski Karlovci and the creation of conditions conducive to its new role (actually ancient) as an important spiritual, cultural, and educational “hive” for the Serbian people.

The date of the feast of St. Paisius, the Patriarch of Peć is changed: instead of October 2/15, his commemoration is set for October 3/16, on the basis of the annotation recently found on his holy relics.

The activity of various schismatics and cult members was sadly noted.

The reports on the work of the Holy Synod and of the diocesan bishops were heard and analyzed, as well as on the Čovekoljublje charitable foundation, and other foundations for the service of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

A change in the boundaries of some dioceses has been made. Thus, a number of parishes in the diocese of Banja Luka are now part of the diocese of Bihać-Petrovac, and parishes in the diocese of Zvornik-Tuzla are now in the diocese of Dabar-Bosna.

The Assembly unanimously conferred the order of Saint Sava of the first degree on Dr. Demetrios (Trakatellis), until recently Archbishop of America in the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate, for his charitable actions in favor of the dioceses of our Church in America.

The situation of our Church in the region was also examined, namely in the States that emerged from the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. It has been found that animosity and discrimination against our Church are present almost everywhere, to a greater or lesser extent: in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and particularly in Montenegro, where the anti-European and anti-civ aw bill on churches and religious communities was recently confirmed. By this bill, the dioceses of Montenegro and of the Littoral, and Budimlja-Nikšić are particularly and intentionally discriminated. They even intend to seize the holy churches and proclaim them as state property (!).

Such decisions suppress the inalienable right of citizens to religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and constitute a direct interference in the internal affairs of the Church.

There are violent attempts to seize holy places in favor of the “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” [a schismatic group], which is non-existent both in the canons and in reality. They also threaten to destroy some religious buildings (the church on Mount Rumija and the Baptistery of Prevlaka). Fortunately everywhere, in Montenegro, Croatia and elsewhere, there are individuals, communities, and organizations that fight for justice and freedom for all.

The situation of our autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid in North Macedonia is difficult. If there is no direct persecution against Archbishop Jovan, the bishops, clerics, monks and faithful of this Church for now, they have the sword of Damocles for further legal proceedings permanently hanging over their heads. In spite of this, our Church has been going on encouraging the dialogue with the Church of this country which has been in schism for decades already, and the resolution of the problem on an authentically canonical basis.

Bishop Maxim of Western America expressed regret for his rash and inappropriate statements in an interview, that St Sava obtained autocephaly from the Serbian Church in an uncanonical way. These remarks scandalized many people. Bishop Maxim declared before the Assembly that he accepted that St Sava acted in an irreproachable way, according to the holy canons, on the occasion of obtaining the autocephaly. The bishop asked for and obtained forgiveness from the Assembly.

With regard to the attitude of the public concerning the compulsory vaccination of children, the Assembly considers that it is necessary to respect the scientific motives of medicine, but also the fears of the parents.

The biggest problem of the Orthodox Church today is the ecclesial schism in Ukraine, and the Constantinople Patriarchate’s failure in their attempt to resolve this problem hastily, in their own way, without dialogue with the canonical Church in Ukraine and with the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole, and without any pan-Orthodox consultation. Thus, the Assembly maintains its current position: our Church does not recognize the newly established para-ecclesial structure in Ukraine, led by the citizens Denisenko and Dumenko, but it is solely and exclusively in liturgical and canonical communion with the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, as well as with all other canonical Orthodox Churches.

Again and again, the Assembly expresses its consternation and bitterness about the anti-canonical intrusions of bishops and priests of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Eastern Serbia.

The relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Reform Churches in Serbia, as well as with the Islamic Community of Serbia, are traditionally good and correct, which unfortunately cannot be said of relationships with certain circles of the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia, and with the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Holy Synod, in its new composition, is made up of Metropolitan Hrizostom of Dabar-Bosna, and Bishops Irinej of Bačka, Jovan of Šumadija, and David of Kruševac.

Communiqué issued by the spokesperson of the Serbian Orthodox Church: Bishop Irinej of Bačka”.

Source in Serbian

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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