Podgorica, June 26, 2020
The Montenegrin National Coordinating Committee for the Fight Against the Coronavirus has reinstituted a ban on any mass events in the country, beginning today, due to the increase of cases of coronavirus infection.
“Due to the increase in the number of active cases of COVID-19 imported from abroad and distributed within the country, the Committee decided: all political meetings in public places in the open air are prohibited, the presence of spectators at sports events is prohibited, meetings of believers in public places in the open air are prohibited, except for the territory of religious sites, funerals are held only with a small circle of relatives,” the government website reports.
Thus, while the Orthodox faithful in Montenegro can continue to gather at churches and monasteries, the regular cross processions of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro are effectively banned again.
The Committee also placed additional measures upon the town of Bijelo Polje in northeastern Montenegro, including that, “Religious communities are obliged to adapt their activities to the current epidemiological situation and to celebrate religious rites in religious buildings exclusively without the presence of citizens.”
In mid-March, Montenegrin authorities had declared that there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Montenegro. The restrictions and measures previously introduced proved to be a justified and responsible approach, and thus the state decided to expand the measures, explained Deputy Prime Minister Milutin Simović.
The nationwide quarantine introduced at that time required that the Church’s bi-weekly cross processions be put on hold, and His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro announced that the Church would comply with the safety measures. Until that time, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful had been regularly processing in protest of the “Law on Religious Freedom” adopted in December that grants the state the authority to seize Serbian Orthodox Church properties.
The Church then launched the Every House Is a Church program, “to preserve the spirit of protest during the quarantine,” calling on the faithful to increase their prayer lives at home.
With the easing of quarantine measures, the Church announced that the processions would resume beginning June 14. The holy marches held throughout the country drew thousands of Orthodox faithful, while authorities continued to harass clergy and laity alike.
Both Met. Amfilohije and His Grace Bishop Joanikije of Budimlja and Nikšić, together with a number of priests, face legal repercussions for holding processions, although the Church has publicly stated that all processions throughout the country were properly organized with the authorities.
Commenting on the new measures, Fr. Gojko Perović, the rector of the Cetinje Seminary, stated: “The Church will not be the one that violates the law and regulations. We pray against evil and disease and do everything we can to get past them. We deeply believe that God hears our prayers. We remain gathered with our people around our holy sites. We despise the political abuse of health care, which can be seen from all sides in Montenegro.”