Communique of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Published On: 20/05/2024

Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Communique from the regular meeting held at the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade from 14 to 18 May 2024

The regular meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2024, initially announced to open ceremoniously at the Great Lavra of the Patriarchate of Peć – the historical, eight-century-old See of Serbian Archbishops and Patriarchs  commenced instead with a conciliar hierarchical Liturgy and invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Memorial Church of Saint Sava on Vračar, on Tuesday, 14 May 2024, due to the humiliating and disgraceful decision by the authorities in Priština to forbid and prevent His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije and the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church from entering the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. The liturgical gathering was presided by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije, with the concelebration of present Hierarchs of the Serbian Church from the homeland and the diaspora, as well as all Vicar Bishops.

On the same day, in the crypt of the Memorial Church of Saint Sava, under the vaults of the chapel dedicated to the Kosovo martyr Prince Lazar, under the presidency of His Holiness and with the participation of Diocesan Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, except for Bishop of Canada kyr Mitrofan who was absent due to health reasons, the Assembly began its work. At the start of the first working session, His Holiness the Patriarch addressed the present Bishops with a welcoming speech, filled with joy of the Resurrection but also in the context of the unpleasant events of the previous day. On this occasion, from its very first session, the Assembly issued a statement, appealing to all international factors on Kosovo and Metohija to do everything within their power to stop the flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Serbian People. The Assembly considers the issue of Kosovo and Metohija to be the most important matter discussed, as our Church, along with her people on much-suffering Kosovo and Metohija, has been for years subjected to great pressures, attacks, and still faces the uncertain future. Therefore, on this occasion, we give our support to the Diocese of Raška and Prizren, which, along with the Stavropegial Patriarchal monastery in Peć, represents a firm support to our people and their survival.

We note with the utmost concern that today the Kosovar authorities are undoubtedly moving towards denying the fundamental rights of our People and Church, all aimed at building an ethnically Albanian society. Due to this situation, the Assembly remains steadfast in its unanimous position that the problems on Kosovo and Metohija must be resolved exclusively through dialogue, based on the respect of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and international charters that guarantee the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia in this area. Although our Church is not directly involved in the political dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, we cannot remain indifferent to the increasingly difficult developments and rightly expect that our positions and concerns for our faithful people and holy sites will be respected in this process. In this context, alongside the establishment of a functional Community of Serbian Municipalities, there should be a particular enhancement of institutional and security protection for our holy sites in the form of a special protection mechanism in accordance with some existing models in Europe, and based on previous provisions, which, unfortunately, are increasingly being disregarded and not implemented by Priština. Such protection should preserve the legal status, property rights of our Church, and freedom of religion.

In the same spirit, the work of the Assembly continued the next day, with special attention being dedicated to the matter of the suffering of our People and their struggle to preserve their spiritual, cultural, and national identity, as well as their mere existence, both today and in other historical moments. The non-healing wound of the Serbian people – Kosovo and Metohija, but also Jasenovac and other places of suffering in the so-called Independent State of Croatia and elsewhere, and in our days Srebrenica – are a constant “thorn in the flesh” of our Church. For this reason, the Church continues to raise its voice today, pointing out once again the falsehoods, both in local and global public spaces, whose goal is historical revisionism that would legitimize an unprecedented historical inversion. According to it, Orthodox Serbians, victims of multiple genocides and ethnical cleansings, should be declared not only criminals but also perpetrators of genocide.

The Assembly listened to and analyzed reports on the work of the Holy Synod of Bishops, Diocesan Hierarchs, the Great Ecclesiastical Court, the Patriarchal Administrative Board, the Patriarchal Library, the Museum and Archive of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Charitable Foundation “Philanthropy,” and other foundations, institutions, and services of the Serbian Orthodox Church over the past year.

With paternal attention and care, the Assembly considered ways to improve the spiritual life and organization of our Church abroad. In this spirit, four new Dioceses were formed in Europe. By dividing the Diocese of Britain and Scandinavia, the Scandinavian Diocese was formed with its See in Stockholm, whose Diocesan Hierarch will be the prior Bishop of Britain and Scandinavia kyr Dositej; and the Diocese of Britain and Ireland with its See in London, with former Vicar Bishop of His Holiness, Bishop of Jegar kyr Nektarije, being elected as its Bishop. By dividing the former Diocese of Austria and Switzerland, the Diocese of Austria was formed with its See in Vienna, which will be until further notice administered by Bishop of Bačka kyr Irinej; and the Diocese of Switzerland with its See in Zurich, for whose Bishop the former Bishop of Austria and Switzerland kyr Andrej was elected. Additionally, the Assembly approved new statutes for our Dioceses in the USA. The Assembly also approved a new statute for the Diocese of Düsseldorf and Germany.

Furthermore, the Assembly analyzed the pastoral and missionary needs and reviewed proposals from a number of Bishops for the election and appointment of vicar bishops to their Dioceses. After the consideration, the Assembly elected four new Bishops:  Archimandrite Tihon (Rakićević) – Hegumen of the Monastery of Studenica, with the title of Bishop of Moravica, and Hieromonk Nikon (Cvjetićanin), brother of the Monastery of Kovilj (Diocese of Bačka), with the title of Bishop of Jenopolje, as Vicar Bishops of His Holiness; Protosyncellus Pajsije (Đerković) – Hegumen of the Monastery of Cetinje, with the title of Bishop of Dioclea as Vicar Bishop of the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral; and finally, Archimandrite Serafim (Baltić), cleric of the Diocese New Gračanica–Midwestern America, with the title of Bishop of Kostajnica, as Vicar of the Bishop of this Diocese.

The Assembly also dealt with the organization of our local Church, as well as amendments and additions to the provisions of the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church concerning the titles of diocesan Hierarchs.

Special attention was given by the Assembly to analyzing the state and issues of ecclesiastical education, reviewing the status of Serbian Orthodox theological seminaries, their plans and programs, and ways and possibilities for their improvement. For this purpose, a special commission of the Assembly was formed. Additionally, the acting rectors of the theological seminaries of Saints Cyril and Methodius, temporarily in Niš, and of Saint Peter of Cetinje in Cetinje were elected as the permanent rectors: Protopresbyter Dejan Krstić as rector of the Theological Seminary in Niš and Protopresbyter Blagoje Rajković as rector of the Theological Seminary in Cetinje.

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The Assembly also paid attention to the spiritual and geopolitical consequences of the armed conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine. On this occasion, the Assembly once again raises its voice in defense of the disenfranchised, famished, and displaced innocent victims, appealing to relevant international institutions to move from words of justice to concrete acts of justice, mercy, and peacemaking.

Emphasizing the immense significance of theology, virtuous life, and literary work in the service of witnessing the faith of Saint Justin of Ćelije (Popović) for the spiritual growth of the Serbian people and Orthodox nations in general, the Assembly prayerfully marked three significant jubilees dedicated to him on Sunday, 19 May: the 130th anniversary of his birth, the 45th anniversary of his repose, and the 15th anniversary of the inclusion of this great teacher of piety in the Diptychs of Saints of the Orthodox Church. The remembrance of Saint Justin was accompanied by the remembrance of two other significant figures from the recent past of our local Church – Serbian Patriarch Pavle, marking the fifteenth anniversary of his repose, and Metropolitan Irinej of New Gračanica, who fell asleep in the Lord 25 years ago. Both were great laborers in the work of national and ecclesiastical reconciliation and unity.

During the Assembly, a meeting of the Central Body for the Completion of the Construction of the Memorial Church of Saint Sava on Vračar was held. On this occasion, the report of this body on all the works carried out in the past year and on the contributions received from the devout people and our state, as well as on the remaining necessary works, was received.

At the invitation of the President of Serbia Mr. Aleksandar Vučić and Crown Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević, members of the Assembly paid visits to these esteemed individuals.

In the Holy Synod, the mandates of Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral kyr Joanikije and Bishop of Bačka kyr Irinej have ended, making them deputy members of this body for the next one-year period. Members of the Synod for the remaining one-year mandate are Bishop of Braničevo kyr Ignjatije and Bishop of Upper Karlovac kyr Gerasim, while new members elected for the upcoming two-year mandate are Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla kyr Fotije and Bishop of Raška and Prizren kyr Teodosije.