Valaam, July 10, 2019
Meeting at Valaam Monastery yesterday, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement concerning the present persecution and legal threat against the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of Montenegro, reports Patriarchia.ru.
In May, the Montenegrin Cabinet approved a draft law according to which, “All religious buildings that were property of the State of Montenegro before the loss of its independence and merging into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, and which subsequently did not become the property of a religious community in the proper legal way, will be recognised as state property.”
The hierarchs and faithful of the Serbian Church see in the bill a thinly-veiled attempt to seize their rightful property to be given to the schismatic “Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” which President Đukanović hopes to turn into an autocephalous Church, and have collected more than 50,000 signatures in protest of the bill.
The authorities have also attempted to demolish Serbian Orthodox holy sites and have expelled a number of clergy and monastics who were already living and serving in Montenegro.
Having heard a report on the matter from His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Department for External Church Relations, and understanding well the pain of schism and persecution, the hierarchs of the Russian Synod issued the following statement:
Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on the situation in Montenegro
The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church expresses its deep concern at the deterioration of the situation with the dioceses of the Serbian Patriarchate on the territory of Montenegro, where the unity of Orthodoxy has suffered for many years from the schismatic activity of the so-called “Montenegrin Orthodox Church.”
In Montenegro, an alarming trend of increased pressure from the authorities on the canonical clergy and faithful has appeared. Held on May 9-18, 2019, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church stated that in modern Montenegro there are “attempts to violently take away our holy sites in favor of the canonically and realistically non-existent ‘Montenegrin Orthodox Church’ and threats to destroy certain churches.” At a party meeting in Nikšić on June 8, 2019, Montenegrin President M. Đukanović expressed his intention to carry out the “restoration of the Montenegrin autocephalous Church.”
Of special concern is the draft law on the freedom of religion and belief and the legal status of religious organizations, published by the government of Montenegro in May 2019 and containing a number of discriminatory measures, among which is the confiscation of part of the property of the Serbian Patriarchate into ownership by the state, including church and monastery buildings. The Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church characterizes the draft law as “anti-European and anti-civilizational,” aimed at discrimination against the dioceses of the Serbian Patriarchate on the territory of Montenegro, representing a “direct interference in the Church’s internal affairs.”
The European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission) made serious comments on certain provisions of the bill.
With concern about these recent initiatives of the Montenegrin authorities, we call upon them to stop discriminating and undermining the unity of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we raise our voice in its defense, seeing in the spiritual tradition that traces back to St. Sava, the centuries-old historical foundation upon which the Montenegrin Orthodox culture and state were built.
The Holy Synod the Russian Orthodox Church expresses fraternal support for the hierarchs, clergy, and all the children of the Serbian Patriarchate in Montenegro, who, following the precepts of the great holy hierarchs St. Sava the Serbian, Basil of Ostrog, and Peter of Cetinje and the hieromartyr Joanikije of Montenegro and Littoral who shone forth on this land, despite the difficult conditions of oppression, preserve fidelity to the truth of holy Orthodoxy.
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