Skopje, North Macedonia, September 22, 2020
Following the Ukrainian example, North Macedonian authorities have appealed to Patriarch Bartholomew and the Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly status to the “Macedonian Orthodox Church” (MOC), which is presently unrecognized by the Orthodox world.
In his public statements, Pat. Bartholomew has wavered on whether or not he will intervene in the Macedonian situation since the issue of its autocephaly was raised again in 2017, though he has taken a more active role recently.
In a letter dated September 16, published by Religija.mk, President Stevo Pendarovski congratulates Pat. Bartholomew with the ecclesiastical new year and asks him to continue the process begun earlier and to use the Patriarchate’s right of appeal for the recognition of the autocephaly of the MOC.
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is an example of how to remain in harmony with values and at the same time be dynamic in solving current problems,” the President writes.
As the President of my country, I want to personally inform you that ... we have decided to put historical differences behind us. I address you on behalf of many of my fellow citizens who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians and whose only desire and need is to make peace with their neighbors and move towards a common future, a common life, and true freedom. In this regard, I ask Your Holiness to accept the call of our pious people and our Church to exercise your right of appeal, so that our Orthodox citizens will finally be able to be equal with all other Orthodox Christians in the world.
The territory of North Macedonia canonically belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the MOC has been recognized as schismatic by the Orthodox world since it broke from the Serbian Church in 1967. In May of last year, the Council of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced that it would reopen dialogue with the MOC, though there does not seem to have been any progress in this regard since then, leaving room for Constantinople to step in.
Presidents of Macedonia have asked Pat. Bartholomew to support the cause of the MOC many times before, writes Religija.mk, but Pendarovski’s letter comes at a time when the Patriarchate has already taken up the cause, following the letter of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in 2018.
Zaev, who has said that he is ready to pay for autocephaly, and his successor Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski met with Pat. Bartholomew in Istanbul in January of this year at the politicians’ initiative. Both sides agreed at that time that the Patriarchate will invite representatives of the Serbian Church and of the unrecognized MOC to the Patriarchal residence in Istanbul for consultations and an attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution.
Hierarchs of the MOC have repeatedly expressed their hope and belief that Constantinople will grant them autocephaly, just as it did in Ukraine. Soon after the January meeting in Turkey, “Archbishop” Stefan Veljanovski of Ohrid and Macedonia, the primate of the MOC, stated that they are filled with hope of obtaining autocephaly and Eucharistic unity with the Orthodox Church.
The MOC also has the support of the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the head of the MOC in October last year, after which the “Archbishop” declared that the U.S. is committed to protecting the MOC.
Update 9/23: The article originally stated that former North Macedonian Prime Minster Oliver Spasovski stated that he is ready to pay for autocephaly. It has been corrected to say that it was PM Zoran Zaev who said this.