AIM: start

SAT, 19 JAN 2002 00:27:44 GMT

Christmas Messages

Along with the usual Christmas messages of the dignitaries of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, there were those that, in the general opinion, had more than ever before a political connotation.

AIM Skoplje, January 7, 2002

Despite the crisis, it seems that in the last fifteen days the political life in Macedonia has come to a total standstill: politicians have scattered every which way, and in the absence of their favourite political figures, the media are finding it increasingly hard to somehow fill the information space. True, heavy snow was of some help. However, the Orthodox Christmas improved things significantly. As if by prearrangement, the dailies have divided among themselves the dignitaries the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) to be interviewed. And, everyone was happy because there are more bishops than newspapers. Among the usual Christmas pastoral letters, the Bishops' messages with political connotation attracted the analysts' attention.

Among other things, the epistles of the Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, Kir Stefan and the Holy Synod stated: "As if all the sufferings in the past were not enough. Now they want our country, our Macedonian name, our honour and dignity. They are breaking up our Macedonian ethnos. Our fragile state is disintegrating and our Holy Church is being godlessly humiliated. They are claiming our souls and the spirit of our people, offering us mercy and false democracy". The Synod's impersonal way of address leaves enough room for speculations as to who is claiming the highest values of the Macedonian people and offering "false democracy". But, in some of the Bishop's thoughts there is a hint of possible answers. Patience!

Christmas epistles of the MPC dignitaries did not miss to mention the problem of the recognition of its autocephaly within the Orthodox world, which has long gone beyond the strictly canon framework. "We have expanded the relations with several churches and our own church has attended several important manifestations", mentioned the Superior of the MPC, Kir Stefan with pride in an interview for the pro-Government "New Macedonia". According to him all arguments in the dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church have been used up so that priority should be now given to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The opposition-controlled "Morning News" entitled its interview with the Metropolitan Bishop of Kumanovo-Polog eloquently: "Burying the Hatchet of Discord!". As it was to be expected, Bishop Kiril was most concerned with the state in his eparchy that includes the crisis areas - Tetovo and Kumanovo regions. According to him, "young people indoctrinated by Islamic fundamentalism" have set monasteries in the Tetovo villages Lesok and Mala Recica on fire. In the words of the Bishop of Kumanovo-Polog "the war for the destruction of everything Christian is on, and the Islamic-terrorist conquests have but one objective: to carry out the complete Islamisation and Albanisation of these parts".

Most of the messages of Petar, the Bishop of Australia-New Zealand and Administrator of Prespa-Bitolj, could be called "political". In his interview for the Christmas issue of the Skoplje "Daily" he said that "the war in Macedonia was staged by the international factor, members of the Protestant sects, as well as Western emissaries with the objective of harming the Orthodoxy in Macedonia and beyond". The Bishop was of the opinion that "the Albanians, who agreed to play this game, were used to this end. Macedonia would have been able to resolve the problem with Albanian terrorists on its own had not the international community forced itself upon Macedonia" underlined the Bishop. The Metropolitan Bishop had his interpretation of the burning down of Orthodox Churches and monasteries: "If there were no Kosovo Mujaheddins and Albanians in Macedonia, then it was done by Islamic fundamentalists from Macedonia, which is even worse and more appalling if we want to establish mutual confidence".

It seemed that Bishop Petar was equally worried about something else. In connection with the constitutional amendments and, more specifically, changes of Article 19 whereby the exclusivity of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was relativised by the mention being made of four other religious communities, Kir Petar reiterated that the official stand of the Church was unanimous: "amendments of this Article will create intolerance and religious hatred between the MPC and other religious communities" said the MPC dignitary prophetically. That was not the end of his warning. "In Bitolj and its surroundings, Orthodoxy is not threatened by Islam, nor is Islam in any danger from Orthodoxy".

Recently, that same MPC dignitary accused none other than President of the Republic Boris Trajkovski for supporting sects and sent him a message that he should be "the President of all citizens, and not a Methodist preacher(which the chief of state really is) invoking God". On that occasion Metropolitan Bishop Petar also said: "Macedonia is attacked not only by Albanian terrorists, but also by numerous sects which, with the President's blessing, have penetrated schools, mail-boxes and our homes, and even army ranks. If this is not stopped, we, the Macedonians (90 percent of us being Orthodox believers) will very soon be torn between our church and sects and thus forever lose our nation and culture. Islam is not so dangerous because it is fundamentally different. Christian sects are a greater danger to us." On that occasion, the Bishop called Trajkovski to prevent this because, if not, "The Macedonian Orthodox Church will raise its voice".

In his address, the Metropolitan Bishop corroborated his claims with material evidence - showing brochures of various sects who have already "penetrated the schools"; some five thousand leaflets were sent to homes of Bitolj denizens and the last week Macedonian Army Center organised lectures on sects. Thus, messages have been sent. It should be assumed that they have reached the ears and hearts of those they were intended for.