Istanbul, June 28, 2019
Inspired by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s collaboration with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in creating a new “autocephalous” church, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović has been speaking for several months about his desire to achieve recognition of the schismatic church operating in his country.
The schismatic “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” represents only a very small minority of the country, while the predominant Serbian Orthodox Church is actively persecuted by the government in Montenegro, which has been driving out clergy and monastics, attempting to destroy holy sites, and preparing to seize Serbian Church properties for the government via a newly-passed law.
Against this background, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople recently sent a letter to President Đukanović, urging him to give up his dream of achieving a recognized autocephaly for the Montenegrin church, saying, “no single Church … will recognize or support the anti-canonical fabrication of Dedeić,” referring to the current head of the schismatic structure.
Facebook “In recent days, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we were informed with consternation that you expressed support for the creation of an Orthodox Church in Montenegro and that the Government of your land has ratified a draft legislation regarding freedom of religion, which envisions the nationalization of all Orthodox Churches constructed prior to 1918, as well as of ecclesiastical property,” Pat. Bartholomew writes, adding that the churches and property in question rightfully belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The Patriarch continues that the entire Orthodox world recognizes only the jurisdiction of His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro of the Serbian Church and that Montenegro has never been autocephalous and that the “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” is, in fact, not part of the Orthodox Church.
The schismatic structure was created in 1993 by a defrocked cleric of the Serbian Church and is currently headed by the aforementioned Dedeić, who is not a canonical bishop “but a person defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Pat. Bartholomew writes. He was excommunicated by the Holy Synod of Constantinople in 1997.
The Montenegrin situation has obvious parallels to that in Ukraine. “Patriarch” Philaret Denisenko was himself defrocked, excommunicated, and anathematized by the Russian Orthodox Church for his own schismatic activity, and these canonical sanctions were explicitly recognized and accepted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople until last October, when the Synod there unilaterally lifted them.
As the Patriarchate reserves the right for itself to lift sanctions imposed by other Local Churches, it of course would be free to lift the sanctions against Dedeić that it itself imposed, should there come a time when the hierarchs decide to do so.
The lone canonical bishop in Montenegro is “our brother” Met. Amfilohije, Pat. Bartholomew writes.
Met. Amfilohije stands firmly against Constantinople’s actions in the parallel Ukrainian situation. Patriarch Bartholomew’s “love of power has led to great sorrow in Ukraine, to discord that is catastrophic for the future not only of Ukraine and all the Slavic peoples, but at the same time for all of Orthodoxy,” His Eminence said in December.
The Serbian Church as a whole has taken the strongest stand against Constantinople’s interference in Ukraine apart from the Russian Church itself. In addition to the schismatic “Montenegrin Church,” the “Macedonian Orthodox Church” is another schism from the Serbian Church that is also seeking pan-Orthodox recognition of its autocephaly.
Pat. Bartholomew initially announced that he would handle the Macedonian situation, though as it became clearer that his interference in Ukraine was not welcome in the Orthodox world, he decided to back off and leave the issue to the Serbian Church, given that Macedonia is its canonical jurisdiction.
Likewise, in this present letter Pat. Bartholomew recognizes only the jurisdiction of the Serbian Church in Montenegro, although he and other Constantinople representatives have spoken many times of Constantinople’s right to intervene in any situation at any time, perhaps in an effort to regain favor with the Serbian Church.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople also once openly recognized only His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine as the canonical primate in Ukraine, though it changed its mind last year and announced that Ukraine was its territory and later enthroned “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, a man ordained and consecrated by the anathematized Denisenko, in Met. Onuphry’s stead.
“We are addressing this letter to you because we do not want our beloved people of Montenegro to reach the point of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion of Orthodox Churches,” the Patriarch’s letter also reads.
“We entreat you not to consider the above as interference into the internal affairs of your nation, but as a desire on the part of our Mother Church in Constantinople to assist your pious people at a critical crossroads of its history,” Pat. Bartholomew concludes.
Interestingly, Philaret Denisenko’s recently-reinvigorated “Kiev Patriarchate” now declares that the agreement signed between Pat. Bartholomew and Poroshenko in November, in which the President promised to hand over a number of Church properties to Constantinople in exchange for a tomos of autocephaly, was a case of improper church-state relations.
While, Pat. Bartholomew has discouraged Dedeić’s plans for an autocephalous Church, he continues to support and defend Poroshenko’s church, publicly stating that it is only a matter of time until the other Local Churches recognize the OCU.
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