Orthodox church faces bitter split

 

SERBIA: Serb Orthodox leaders fear the breakaway Montenegrin Orthodox Church, writes Daniel McLaughlin.

Serbian Orthodox leaders have warned that Montenegro's independence will leave it liable to attack by a rebel branch of the church in the Adriatic republic.

Metropolitan Amfilohije, the senior Serbian Orthodox clergyman in Montenegro, urged the government to ensure the "church continues to live its life as it has done so far" when the 650,000-strong republic becomes a sovereign state.

His plea came after local media quoted the head of the breakaway Montenegrin Orthodox Church, the self-declared Metropolitan Mihailo, saying he would have government support to take over 750 churches and monasteries in the republic.

Serbian Orthodox leaders were also alarmed by the reported distribution before last Sunday's independence referendum in Montenegro of leaflets calling for the seizure of church buildings.

"We urge you to vote for independence on 21st May and, immediately after its declaration, to help us liberate our churches and monasteries, occupied by the Serb church headed by war-mongering [ Metropolitan] Amfilohije Radovic," the notes read.

They appeared amid accusations from Amfilohije that Montenegrin Orthodox followers had repeatedly forced their way into Serb Orthodox churches across the republic, and after fist fights between supporters of the rival clergy.

Two years after Montenegro was wrapped into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, King Alexander banned the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and placed Serbian clergy in charge of the republic's spiritual affairs.

Some Montenegrin priests re-established their church in 1993, as Yugoslavia collapsed, but the Serb church refused to recognise them and defrocked Mihailo.

Years of increasing support for independence in Montenegro boosted the popularity of the rebel clergy, however, to the fury of a Serb church that has been accused of promoting nationalism and helping war crimes suspects evade capture.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle sent an impassioned letter recently to the president of the doomed union of Serbia-Montenegro, saying independence for the smaller republic "cannot bring anything good" but only "far-reaching harmful results".

Pavle's last such public letter was to Montenegro's pro-independence prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, imploring him not to demolish a lightweight tin Serbian Orthodox church that the Serb military airlifted into place last year on a Montenegrin mountain top, laying spiritual claim to a historic place of pilgrimage for locals.