Belgrade, May 15, 2020
The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has strongly condemned recent events in Montenegro, including the arrest of His Grace Bishop Joanikije of Budimlja and Nikšić and seven clergymen of the Serbian Church in Montenegro on May 12, and is calling on the state authorities to stop the persecution against the Church.
“Under the false pretext of fighting the coronavirus,” Montenegrin authorities, “have been using the opportunity to confront the Serbian Orthodox Church and her faithful people,” the Synod writes in a statement published on the official site of the Serbian Church.
The same evening as the arrest, and the next day, protests were held in cities throughout the country. Police used tear gas and violence against the protestors, including minors.
Thus, the hierarchs call on the authorities to “finally start behaving in accordance with the norms of civilization, according to which free confession of faith is one of the most important rights of every individual.”
They also call upon the faithful to “act peacefully and not respond to provocations by the authorities that obviously want a conflict so as to accuse the Orthodox Church and her believers.”
The Episcopal Council of the Metropolis of Montenegro also called on the government to immediately release Bp. Joanikije.
The statement notes that His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bp. Joanikije and the clergy in fact decided not to hold a traditional procession on St. Basil’s day due to the coronavirus quarantine, but the people decided to gather in honor of the great saint of their own accord.
The clergy had no other option, the hierarchs write, but to remain with the faithful, fearing that otherwise they would be abused by the police, who use double standards in their treatment of the faithful of the Serbian Church and align themselves with their persecutors.
Protests continued throughout Montenegro last night and today, with the faithful declaring that they are willing to go to jail for their defense of their hierarchs and sacred treasures.
Authorities deployed military and police patrols today, the day of Bp. Joanikije’s trial, at the entrance to the city of Podgorica. Many protestors have gathered, demanding the clerics’ release, and the situation is heating up, reports the Union of Orthodox Journalists.