Response to the letter of His Eminence Stefan, Archbishop of Ohrid in schism

Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
Nr. 1120 - September 9, 2014, Belgrade

To His Eminence Stefan, Archbishop of Ohrid in schism

Subject: Your letter and Our reaction to it

Your Eminence,

We received Your letter SAS nr. 18 from July 25, 2014, through which You are informing us of the criminal activities – as You name them – of the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Dr. Jovan.

This letter was very saddening for us. We had expected that You inform us whether you had done something, and what exactly, for the release of His Beatitude, the imprisoned and suffering Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje. Instead, You are sending us “information” on some fictional criminal activities of this respectable Hierarch, and we also heard that You have sent such letters to other Prelates of the Orthodox Churches, and even personally to many Bishops around the world.

Although this defamatory campaign of Yours does not deserve an answer, for the sake of the truth in the face of history, as a response to the false accusations that you uttered, in Your style, take into knowledge the following facts:

Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid passed from the schism into unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church on June 22, 2002, upon the call of our predecessor, Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory, which was sent to the Hierarchs, priests, monastics and the faithful people in the Republic of Macedonia. It was only Jovan, then Metropolitan of Veles and Povardarie, who responded to this call, while You could have, and should have done the same, alongside with the other Hierarchs that were in schism with the Orthodox Church. It is known to everyone, and even You are confirming that in Your letter, admitting that all ecclesiastical and civil court processes against Metropolitan Jovan began only after his passing into unity with the Church. You are stating that Your Synod had deprived him of his office(!) no sooner than July 10, 2003, and the civil courts began to prosecute him no sooner than 2004. These facts make it clear that the ecclesiastical and the civil court prosecutions are initiated only after he was accepted in unity by the Serbian Orthodox Church and appointed an Exarch of the Serbian Patriarch for the Church in the Republic of Macedonia.

Already in the first paragraph, as you begin to list the “criminal activities” of Archbishop Jovan, you write of a sum of 375.540,00 Denars, that had been collected as tax for the Archbishopric, but he had “used it for other purposes”. You write the same, or something very similar to that, in the rest of the letter, regarding the remainder of the money that he has been accused for: that he either spent it inappropriately, or transferred it to different accounts of church companies. You accuse him of fully appropriating only a smaller amount of money. If that is so, do You have an answer to the question: how was it possible for him to perform a new crime of “money laundering” of the whole amount of 4.940.790,00 Denars that he was obliged with a court verdict to return to You? Because it is clear to everybody, and even You admit it clearly, that the largest part of that sum was already spent in the period between 1998 and 2002, when he was with You.

It is understandable why You are not mentioning that criminal act – since You know that it was fully rigged by the authorities of the Republic of Macedonia, but with Your knowledge of that, and most likely, upon Your initiative. Hence, You are not leaving any room for anyone to believe that any of the criminal activities You attribute to Archbishop Jovan are indeed a criminal activities according to the law and not revenge of Your Church and Your authorities to the man who sacrifices himself for the unity of the Church and the well-being of his nation.

We are very well aware with the means by which the funds for the purchase of a place for worship in Skopje were raised. We know who helped for that purpose. The raised funds were deposited on the account of the “Association for improving civil and religious freedoms Anastasia” solely because You are doing everything to hinder the registration of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric as a religious community before the courts in Your country, and therefore it cannot be a legal entity and have its own bank-account. And now, upon Your initiative, the court has convicted Archbishop Jovan, two other Bishops, two priests, four nuns and ten believers – including the mother and the sister or Archbishop Jovan – for “laundering” the funds that had already been spent, money that you speak of as “appropriated from the MOC”.

In the Serbian Orthodox Church the origin of the money that was subject of the latest verdict is very well known. We are sure that You too know well that that money is not the same money You accused Archbishop Jovan of “appropriating from the MOC”. We are sure that this fact is well known also to the prosecution and the courts in Your country. Because, everyone clearly understands that Archbishop Jovan could not have appropriated the sum of 4.940.790,00 Denars, since that is the sum of four annual budgets. When the court in Veles sentenced him, the same court in the verdict taxatively listed in what way was the sum of 4.940.790,00 Denars spent. How is it possible to launder money that had already been spent? Instead of being ashamed that the courts in the Republic of Macedonia reach political verdicts upon Your initiative, You are sending letters not only to us, but also to the Bishops of other Orthodox Churches, in order to justify the crimes.

You are also mentioning another criminal act for which Archbishop Jovan was sentenced and imprisoned. Allow us to remind You that Archbishop Jovan has been sentenced to imprisonment for five times by Your courts. Why are You not mentioning that he was sentenced a year of imprisonment for the criminal act of “autocracy”? Archbishop Jovan in the last ten years was seven times either imprisoned or in custody, thus spending about five years in prison, and that is due to Your contribution, let us not forget. Therefore, it is not appropriate for You to stain his confession with humiliations and lies.

When we say lies, we are having in mind what You are writing about the 57.180,00 Euros (not German Marks, as you incorrectly write in Your letter), donation of Mr. Trifun Kostovski, that has – according to your incorrect statement – ended up “in the hands of Jovan, i.e. on his personal bank account in Bulgaria”. It is not a secret, and the public both here and in Your country has already been informed that immediately after the arrest of the person in office at the Diocese of Veles and Povardarie that you mention, Archbishop Jovan deposited the whole amount of 57.180,00 Euros in the court, together with the bank interest for the two months the money had been deposited in the bank. When the court process ended, that money was given to You, and You took it.

Hence, there is no bank account in Bulgaria, but there is something else. For the mentioned criminal act of “evasion”, Archbishop Jovan had been acquitted two times, and the third time, upon the pressure of the authorities in Your country, he was sentenced. The first time the charges were dismissed by the court because there was no written initiative upon which Archbishop Jovan was to be prosecuted. Then, a forgery has been made, and You took part in it: an initiative was written with an earlier date, although adjusting the date is forbidden by the law. But in order to have Archbishop Jovan sentenced, You personally, as well as the authorities of Your country, are breaking the laws. Exactly the same thing happened with the second verdict for “evasion” for which Archbishop Jovan was sentenced to thirty months of imprisonment, and he is serving that sentence now. In that case also the court acquitted him twice, to finally sentence him the third time, upon the pressure of Yourself and the Government of Your country.

But, are you asking Yourself why Bulgaria did not extradite him to Your authorities when he was arrested upon a warrant? Because the case was then examined by an unbiased court which determined that “the verdict of the competent Macedonian authorities is a consequence of difficult and conflictive religious intolerance regarding the different views of the official representatives of the MOC and of Vraniskoski, and it is motivated by his decision to accept the liturgical and canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2002”. And that is the truth, Stefan! That is the truth that You and Yours in the Synod know very well, but You are deliberately overlooking it and You are using defamations against Archbishop Jovan.

Speaking of the Hierarchs in Your Synod, there are more and more of them that do not agree with You that the merciless and inappropriate persecution of Archbishop Jovan should continue.  You are aware that they speak of that publicly. We are hearing the news that it were only You who were against releasing him from prison, and that is probably due to two reasons: first, because You do not have the courage to look into the eyes of Archbishop Jovan, after all the injustice You have caused to him, and second, because You are aware that Your ascension to the throne as Archbishop has not been confirmed not only by the Serbian Patriarch, but also not by any Prelate of any Orthodox Church.

For that reason You had delivered to us, through the authorities of Your country, the utterly inappropriate suggestion in which the release of Archbishop Jovan is conditioned with his permanent leave of the Republic of Macedonia. His Beatitude Archbishop Jovan does not agree with that, even if that means not being released from prison earlier, but not only he, we too consider that such kind of pressure upon our Church is unacceptable.

You have many times heard that until Archbishop Jovan is released from prison, no negotiations for the overcoming of the uncanonical status of Your Church can be made. But, since we are convinced that You, Your Grace, are doing the most for Your Church to remain in schism, we have the uncomfortable duty to inform You that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on the basis of the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, ASbr. 50/zap.7 from September 15, 1967 and ASbr. 41/125 p.2 from May 21, 2003, on its meeting on August 26, 2014, made the decision nr. 1191/zap. 857 to initiate an ecclesiastical court process against You, as the one who is most responsible for the persistent remaining in schism of Your Church.

Greeting You fraternally, with hope that You will change Your unacceptable approach to the question of the canonical status of Your Church.

President of the Holy Synod of Bishops
AEM and Patriarch of Serbia