Skopje, September 23, 2020
On September 16, North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski wrote to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on behalf of the “Macedonian Orthodox Church” (MOC), which is seeking autocephalous status.
The MOC has been unrecognized by the Orthodox world since it broke from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967.
And in his own letter, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev also called upon Pat. Bartholomew and the Patriarchate of Constantinople to intervene and grant autocephaly to the MOC, the official site of the North Macedonian government reported yesterday.
“We respect everything that is determined by international agreements and conditions. But we demand to be free and ecclesiastical within the borders of our country and for our hierarchs to serve with the hierarchs of all Orthodox Churches in the world,” the PM writes.
The letter further states that the people of North Macedonia deserve the Church independence they have been dreaming of for a century.
In 1959, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church granted the MOC the status of an autonomous Church within the Serbian Church. In 1967, the MOC Synod unilaterally announced its autocephaly and independence from the Serbian Church. The move was condemned by the Serbian Church and the MOC has been out of communion with the Orthodox world since then. In 2002, MOC bishops agreed to return to the Serbian Church with broad rights of autonomy, though the bishops later rejected the agreement under pressure from the state.
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.
President Pendarovski’s letter indicates that Constantinople has already begun the process of resolving the MOC’s status, and the MOC’s “Metropolitan” Peter of Prespa-Pelagoniski stated in June that the structure is already in preliminary discussions with Constantinople to be officially recognized as a canonical, autocephalous Orthodox Church.
“The Patriarchate of Constantinople is the only Church that historically can give autocephaly to other Churches. Therefore, the path to recognition leads to the Mother Church,” Met. Peter said.
PM Zaev and PM Oliver Spasovski, who briefly replaced him, 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.