Communique of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the regular meeting held in the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade from 14 to 20 May 2023.
This year’s regular meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church began with the Holy Conciliar Hierarchical Liturgy and the invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Memorial Church of Saint Sava on Vračar, on Sunday 14 May 2023. His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije presided over the Holy Liturgy, with the concelebration of all the present Hierarchs of the Serbian Church from the homeland and the diaspora. The Hierarchs of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid and all Vicar Hierarchs also attended the Assembly.
The next day, on 15 May, in the Saint Lazar Crypt of the Church of Saint Sava on Vračar, the Holy Assembly of Bishops, under the presidency of His Holiness and with the participation of Their Eminences and Their Graces Diocesan Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, began its working part of the meeting. At the beginning of the first working session, following established practice, His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije addressed the attending Bishops with a welcoming speech, emphasizing the essence of the Church’s service through active preaching of the Gospel to the contemporary world and her mission of witnessing God’s love and presence in this time of great spiritual challenges and trials.
At this year’s meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, particular attention was paid to the topic of the final resolution of the canonical status of the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid in light of last year’s decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops to return to canonical status and establish liturgical unity with the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Archdiocese of Ohrid, and the subsequent decision to grant a Tomos of autocephaly to this Church. To this end, the Assembly rendered a decision of granting a canonical release to the Hierarchy of this autonomous Church by the Serbian Orthodox Church and its integration into the Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, in accordance with the sacred canons and Constitutions of our two local Churches, as well as the previously reached agreement of the Synods of all three ecclesial structures.
During the Assembly sessions, reports on the work of the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Diocesan Hierarchs, as well as reports on the work of the Patriarchal Library, the Museum and Archive of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the charity foundation “Philanthropy” and other foundations, institutions and services of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the past period were heard and analyzed.
The Assembly carefully and attentively considered possibilities for improving the spiritual life and organization of our Church abroad. In that spirit, special attention was given to reports on the archpastoral work of Hierarchs in the diaspora, as well as the situation in the Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and the completion of the process of incorporating local diocesan and monastery corporations.
The Assembly analyzed the current state and problems of ecclesial education with special attention, considering the position of religious education and the introduction of state graduation exams into the educational system of Serbia. Reports on the work of all educational institutions of the Serbian Church were heard during this discussion, and the Commission of the Holy Assembly of Bishops for the Advancement of Ecclesial Education was entrusted with implementing the conclusions of this discussion. During this session, a report on the activities related to improving the teaching process and acquiring academic accreditation for the Saint Sava Orthodox School of Theology in Libertyville, USA, was attentively heard.
This year’s meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops took place in an atmosphere of common sadness and shock in our society due to the homicides of children and young people in Belgrade and Mladenovac. On this occasion, the Assembly extends condolences to the parents of the deceased children, as well as their relatives and friends. Horrified by the eruption of evil in the space we considered the safest, and, on the other hand, inspired by the examples of martirial heroism of our children and their guard, as well as the Christian dignity of their parents and teachers, we pray to God of peace and purity to rest the souls of the victims, but also for the promotion of debauchery and violence – transforming the souls of our children into fertile ground for the development of every evil – to cease in our society.
During its meeting, the Holy Assembly of Bishops listened in detail to the report on the state of the Church on Kosovo and Metohija, and, on that occasion, issued a special statement. The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on this occasion as well, emphasizes that Kosovo and Metohija is a sacred Serbian land and an inalienable integral part of Serbia, and that the self-proclaimed independence of that province has no basis in law, ethics, or history (not to mention divine and human justice). If it were not so, unprecedented pressure from known centers of power would not have been exerted on Serbia to recognize the illegal and violent secession of this integral part of its territory and thus voluntarily renounce it forever. Therefore, the Assembly appeals to the competent international institutions for the protection of the holy places, people and property of the Orthodox Serbs on their centuries-old hearths; and also calls on Kosovo Albanians for coexistence in peace and mutual respect, following the Gospel calling of the Church to seek peace and to witness it to everyone, regardless on faith and nationality.
At the Assembly sessions, the consequences of the uncanonical activities of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the canonical territories of the Dioceses of Timok and Braničevo were discussed, as well as the state of our Church in the region and the world. The Assembly dedicated part of its attention to the issue of shaken interreligious relations within Bosnian-Herzegovinian society, the increasingly frequent expressions of religious and national hatred voiced by both religious representatives and prominent individuals of public and political life, and in that context, also to the work of the Inter-Religious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Assembly also devoted attention to the spiritual and geopolitical consequences of the war conflict in Ukraine. The suffering of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church caused by the current authorities in Kyiv, including the confiscation of her property, churches and monasteries, the displacement of monastics, the persecution of certain Hierarchs, and the deprivation of basic human rights and freedoms guaranteed by international conventions were particularly discussed. On this occasion, the Assembly once again raises its voice in defense of the disenfranchised and persecuted brethren of the same faith, appealing to relevant international institutions to prevent this injustice.
During the Assembly, a meeting of the Central Body for the Completion of the Memorial Church of Saint Sava on Vračar was held. On this occasion, the report of this body was received, detailing all the previous work carried out through the contributions of devout people and with the assistance of the state, as well as the remaining work that needs to be completed in the near future as part of the preparations for the consecration of the Church.
The Assembly made two visits during its meeting: to the President of the Republic of Serbia Mr. Aleksandar Vučić, and to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević, at the invitation of these esteemed individuals. The Assembly Fathers listened with due attention to the presentations of their hosts on several issues important to our people, particularly regarding ongoing and forthcoming pressures related to the dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija. In the conversation with the President, it was emphasized that unity of the people, especially in times of great trials, is the pillar of preserving the state and national interests, and that the Church has an exceptional role in preserving that unity.
Furthermore, at the invitation of the Acting Director of the Office for Cooperation with the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region Mr. Arnaud Gouillon, a meeting was arranged, attended also by the Director of the Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities Mr. Vladimir Roganović. Responding to this invitation, the Hierarchs of Dioceses from the diaspora gathered for discussions on possibilities for closer cooperation with state authorities, educational and cultural institutions in Serbia, for the common good of our people living scattered throughout the world.
The Holy Assembly also addressed the phenomenon of Orthodox Church being perceived as having a derogatory attitude towards women. Rejecting this accusation as unfounded and meaningless, the Assembly emphasizes the equality and equal God-given dignity of women as beings created in the image of God, alongside men. The Holy Assembly of Bishops calls upon the relevant circles not to impose upon women a complex of inferiority. Whether as a mother, an unmarried woman in the world, or a nun, a woman performs a service of invaluable ecclesiastical, spiritual, social, and civilizational significance. This year, we are celebrating the 120th anniversary of the existence of the Circle of Serbian Sisters, an organization that shines a beautiful light on such service of Christian women. The zeal and selflessness of the members of the Circle of Serbian Sisters are widely known and recognized by our people, especially in the diaspora, as an authentic testimony of Orthodox Christian values in a society where God is placed first. On this occasion, the Assembly extends congratulations to the Circle of Serbian Sisters, all its affiliations, branches, and committees worldwide, as well as to all women, on this significant jubilee.
His Grace Bishop of Buenos Aires and South–Central America kyr Kirilo has been elected Administrator of the vacant Diocese of Zagreb and Ljubljana, instead of the current Administrator – His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije, while the current Vicar Bishop of His Holiness, Bishop of Marča kyr Sava, has been elected as the Vicar Bishop of His Grace Bishop of Banja Luka kyr Jefrem, retaining the current title.
The mandate in the Holy Synod of Bishops has ended for His Grace Bishop of Srem kyr Vasilije and His Grace Bishop of Zvornik–Tuzla kyr Fotije, which made them deputy members of this body in the next one-year period. His Eminence Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral kyr Joanikije and His Grace Bishop of Bačka kyr Irinej remain as members of the Synod for the remaining one-year term, while His Grace Bishop of Braničevo kyr Ignjatije and His Grace Bishop of Gornji Karlovac kyr Gerasim have been elected as new members for the upcoming two-year term.