Serbian Church accepts Macedonian Church as canonical body with broad autonomy

Sremski Karlovci, Serbia, May 16, 2022
Updated 5/16, 5:40 PM

Pascha at the Macedonian Church's Bigorski Monastery. Photo: Pascha at the Macedonian Church's Bigorski Monastery. Photo:     

The hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, gathered in the Bishops’ Council in Sremski Karlovci, resolved to receive the previously schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric back into communion today.

According to the Serbian Council’s statement, the hierarchs of the Macedonian Church were willing to accept their previously canonical status as an autonomous body within the Serbian Patriarchate, and thus are granted the “full internal independence” originally granted them in 1959.

This joyous decision comes just a week after the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople resolved to enter into communion with the Macedonian Church. A few days before that, it was revealed that a Serbian Church delegation had held a very fruitful talk with a Macedonian Church delegation.

Thus, the interruption of liturgical and canonical communion caused by the Macedonian Church’s 1967 schism is ended, and “full liturgical and canonical communion is established.” The Macedonian Church has an estimated 2 million members.

The Serbian Church will continue the dialogue to fully determine the “future and eventual final status” of dioceses within North Macedonia, “guided only and exclusively by ecclesiological-canonical and Church-pastoral principles, criteria and norms, not caring about ‘realpolitikal,’ ‘geopolitical,’ or ‘Church-political,’” norms.

And while the Synod of Constantinople stipulated that the Macedonian Church must be known as the Ohrid Archbishopric, the Serbian Council of Bishops state that the official name will be resolved in “direct fraternal dialogue with the Greek and other Local Churches.”

Additionally, while the Synod of Constantinople stipulates that the Macedonian Church only has jurisdiction within the state of North Macedonia, the Serbian hierarchs state that they have no intention of limiting its jurisdiction in the diaspora. The Macedonian Church already has established dioceses in North America, Europe, and Australia.

In its earlier letter to the Serbian hierarchs, the Macedonian Synod expressed hope that the other Local Churches would recognize its return to the Serbian Church. Representatives of the Bulgarian, Russian, and Ukrainian Churches expressed reservations about the resolution of the Constantinople Synod, saying it remained to be seen how the Serbian Church would respond. However, following today’s decision from the Serbian hierarchs, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, the Deputy Head of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, told the press that the Russian Church welcomes the Serbian-Macedonian reconciliation.

Updated to include the reaction of Fr. Balashov as a representative of the Russian Church.

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Randy Dandy5/17/2022 6:11 am
PJ, The restoration of the Macedonian church into liturgical communion was (thanks be to God) not done unilaterally with just the stroke of a pen as was the case with the EP and the Ukrainian scenario. This ending of the schism was the culmination of a long series of negotiations that have been going on between the Serbs and the MOC for several months now, and thus this was not a stroke of the pen situation. The negotiations were conducted directly between the Macedonians and the Serbian church, the SOC having exclusive competence in this issue, given that Macedonia is their canonical territory. In these negotiations the Macedonians seem to have offered repentance for their schism and finally agreed to rescind their claim of autocephaly as proclaimed in 1967, accepting the status of broad autonomy within their Mother church- Serbia. Repentance of the sin of schism is the single most important prerequisite for schismatic groups re-entering the church, as well as mutual reconciliation between the schismatics and the local church that they schismed from. The Macedonians seem to have offered both repentance and reconciled with the SOC, showing a great amount of humility in repenting of their schismatic actions (i.e. the proclaiming of autocephaly). Thus, they were restored to communion only after meeting those fundamental prerequisites, not just by the stroke of a pen as was the case with Ukraine. As for the validity of their ordinations, since the MOC retained apostolic succession during their time in schism, it is ultimately up to the discernment of the Serbian church whether or not re-ordination is necessary. Although given the situation I don't expect it to be, as there was never any anathematization of the Macedonian orders by the Serbian church, just a formal break in liturgical communion. Similar situations have happened in the past, where groups in schism from the church who had retained their apostolic succession were received into the church in their existing orders, only after offering public repentance beforehand and reconciled with their mother church of course. The most notable example of this was the 1839 Union of Polotsk, when a great number of Belarusian uniates were received into the church in their orders after they had offered public repentance and reconciled with the Russian church. The struggles and persecution of Archbishop Jovan will definitely have to be reckoned with by the MOC though, and as time goes on it remains to be seen how they will deal with that unfortunate chapter in their history. After all this is a very sudden development, and as time goes on we will have to see how relations between the now reunited churches of Macedonia and Serbia develop.
Rdr Daniel5/17/2022 2:01 am
Glory to God! I hope this is genuine and long term. PJ yes they were but remember that they were in schism only from the Patriarchate, both the Archbishop and Holy Synod all proclaimed restoration of autochepholy. ( Later the Archbishop reconciled with Serbia and the Synod did not and mistreated him this was very wrong and I hope they have repented of it) There was no problem with validity of ordinations as they have Apostolic succession unlike Ukraine and Montenegro. I would say in terms of the sacraments as they were not in communion with the universal church no they were not proper sacraments but now communion with the Church is restored what was lacking is fufilled.
PJ5/16/2022 5:54 pm
So can someone explain this to me? For over 50 years the Macedonians were universally recognized as being schismatics. So are all of the sacraments which took place during that time, especially priestly ordinations and episcopal consecrations, now considered valid with the stroke of a pen? And what about poor Abp. Jovan and everything he and the canonical Church in Ohrid suffered? What was the point?
Panagiotis5/16/2022 5:19 pm
This is great news for Orthodox Unity and Orthodox People. Both the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople are now in Communion with our Orthodox Brothers in North Macedonia. Let us hope that the other divisions within our Church are resolved, so we can ALL be Unified again. How many times I have said, when we are divided this only pleases those who hate us....Just my humble opinion.
Menas 5/16/2022 5:10 pm
Thanks be to God I wonder if the Serbian Church has stipulated that the Macedonians cannot recognize the schismatic OCU.
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