Interview with Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica
1. You have arrived from
We must all realize that we are susceptible to and live the closed space effect, which is an excellent base for the Serbian propaganda machine to spread uncontrolled the kind of information it wants to through our media. Yet another thing fits this—those are the frustrations in some of our people who are not aware of them and upon whom it is incumbent to control these pieces of information, still they unreservedly accept everything served by Belgrade here in our midst. Thus for instance, the thesis that Vraniškovski was sentenced for a verbal misdemeanor passed easily, while the overall picture of the developments does not say so at all. I do not know how things will develop further on, but while I was in Brussels the officials I met with heard about the developments here from me for the first time, whereas our Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not sent official information as yet to the foreign embassies in R.
2. You came out with the thesis that Vraniškovski does not actually want to make a new Church in the Republic of Macedonia, but his aim is destruction of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Have You any particular information?
Yes, the attack against these three components—the clergy and laity, the name of the Church and the title of its Head, and also the Church property—of which consists and through which is marked and recognized every religious community, irrefutably speaks that the chief goal of Vraniškovski is annihilation of the MOC, not formation of a new religious community. The following pieces of evidence speak of this:
The encroachment upon the property that the MOC sustained from Vraniškovski and his followers is the first indisputable evidence. Among the other, let us mention only the well known event of trespass on his part in the Bitola church of Saint Demetrius with the attempt to perform a religious rite and the physical clash he provoked inside it. For this offence, along with the done detention, he was sentenced to one year imprisonment or two years on probation. A part of the totaling two years and six months imprisonment he is serving at the moment is the one year he was given for his trespass into the church in
The second indisputable evidence is the impermissible way in which he is trying to register his religious community, that is, the registration application in which he appropriates the original, historical and essential ecclesiastical name of the MOC, and this is the name ‘Ohrid Archdiocese’. Of this further on speaks also the fact that Vraniškovski is falsely representing himself in the public with the title ‘Archbishop of Ohrid’, a title borne by the Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. This is the sole and legitimate reason due to which he was not granted the permission to register his religious community; there is no other. In conformity with the historical facts and the Constitution of our Church, at the Clergy and Laity Assembly of the year 1958, in Ohrid, the Archdiocese of Ohrid was restored as the MOC, and the Head of the MOC was given the title Archbishop of Ohrid and
And the final indisputable evidence is the media attack he carried out against the personal and clerical integrity of the Episcopes of the Macedonian Orthodox Church—and this in a very undignified and vulgar way—as well as the attack against the integrity of the Church with the denial of its Holy Sacraments along with the affront to the religious and national feelings of the people in the Republic of Macedonia. Apart from his personal media appearance, this attack was also made through the religious calendars, church periodicals, and the official website of the Serbian exarchate, which is an additional aggravating circumstance. All this has been recorded and documented. The goal of this psychological terror is all the greater breakaway of laity and clergy from the MOC and their integration into the new parallel religious community.
An irrefutable and obvious fact to everyone is that he is doing all this for the purposes and with the assistance of a foreign state and Church, i.e. with the help of the nationalistic forces of reaction, advocates of the idea for Great Serbia, which act through certain structures of the Serbian state and—with the help of the same forces present in the Assembly of the SOC. All this has become clear to everyone, particularly after official representatives of the Serbian Government had pressed the Macedonian Government to acquit Vraniškovski, who is a citizen of R.
3. Why had the Synod for years tolerated the willfulness of the deposed Jovan, there were no measures taken even when a cleric of the MOC indicted him for his evident criminal deeds, nor had you reacted while he had persistently violated the MOC Constitution. Do You not think that the blame for the parallel church happening to us in the present may be put on the inactivity of the Synod, too?
The Holy Synod of the MOC tolerates a great deal of it, starting from itself and then further on. I will not explain this in details, still the following is essential: not a single evil thought a man has accepted in his heart, not a single evil word a man has spoken, not a single evil deed a man is doing will escape punishment unless he repents for this. This is a spiritual law. That is, if a man does not repent for the evil he has done, this will inevitably appear as an obstacle in his life in one way or another: either as illness, or as some other misfortune, or as any kind of a failure which follows him in his life. It is incumbent upon every Orthodox Christian not to respond with evil to evil, but—with good, with prayer, with love. Only in this manner do we give the one who sinned a time for repentance and salvation, while we guard our soul from the consequences of the evil. Christ is the sole judge. No one can escape His judgment; nor will anyone’s doing evil be endlessly tolerated. To this judgment, from the moment of sinning, are liable all those whom a human tribunal has not yet sentenced. The Synod’s decisions are passed within the frames of the above said. Sometimes sanctions are also applied against certain impermissible conduct as provided in the Canons, yet again in the spirit of love, with a pedagogical objective.
4. For years You have been a member of the team for negotiations with the SOC, You were even a signatory to the working document in Niš. Immediately after the signing, the three episcopes among whom were You, claimed that the document in question was the most favorable agreement reached until then with ecclesiastical Belgrade. Do You have the same opinion in the present as well, and finally, would it happen to You to sign again the Niš or some other act?
Again a question about the working document of Niš?! Alright, I will set out again to answer and explain, although I have said this many times so far.
On the subject “MOC – SOC” I have published until now over 170 pages of written text: some of them in my book A School of Hesychasm, some in our daily press, and some on the website of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. And I wonder seeing that some journalists of ours who from time to time write about the Church, “advocates” of research journalism, have not read them yet. At an occasion earlier I have explained that all who in the future will claim that this breakaway happening today in the Macedonian Orthodox Church is a consequence of the “Niš agreement”, should know that consciously or not they will be a cat’s paw of the Serbian propaganda in the Republic of Macedonia. This is also one of the theses spread from Belgrade and from the team of Vraniškovski that were accepted here in our midst without examination. I will explain this quite simply: to cut the story short, it is a fact that neither did Patriarch Paul invoke certain ‘Niš agreement’ in his letter of the year 2002 by which he calls the Episcopacy, clergy, and the laity in the Republic of Macedonia into canonical and liturgical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church, nor did the former Metropolitan of Povardarie accepting this call explain that he was doing it on the basis of the agreed in Niš. The documents exist; everyone can check this. And second: in the official correspondence between the Serbian exarchists and the Serbian Patriarchate nowhere is the name ‘Macedonian Orthodox Church’ mentioned as a recipient or a sender of the letter, although this was agreed in ‘article 14’ of the working document in Niš. And how could it be mentioned, when they all together—both the Belgrade Patriarchate and the grotesque exarchate—have an unseen pastoral failure: they do not recognize the existence of the Macedonian nation?
By the way, the Niš working document is just a guise for the breakaway that occurred afterwards in the MOC, and the genuine reason, which is the general impression on all of us who know the things well, is that Vraniškovski made this affiliation with the SOC with the aim to maintain his high church position, since this happened in the moments when the internal control of the Holy Synod of Hierarchs of the MOC had already started revealing his illegal financial work.
What is important about the working document of Niš— let no-one here play the fool—is the fact that any final agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church is adopted or rejected only by the Holy Synod of Hierarchs of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, just as the Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church confirms or rejects the agreements of its commission. Otherwise, why was it necessary the Assembly of the SOC to be convoked in order to declare for or against the Niš working document if we decided on this at the level of commissions; or, why was it necessary to convoke a session for the Holy Synod of Hierarchs of the MOC to give its judgement on the working document of Niš.
In Niš we signed mainly because of the concordance of the ecclesiological, liturgical, and canonical matters between us. It was the fifth working document between the two delegations, although the first that was signed. Ourselves we were aware that we could not defend this document before the Holy Synod, nor did we want to, since after we had nearly finalized the church content of our agreement, we knew we could not explain the Serbian side not accepting the pastorally and ecclesiastically well-founded term ‘independence’ instead of the politically burdened terms ‘autonomy’ and ‘autocephaly’, and we knew that we could not explain the pastoral absurd, i.e. the name ‘Macedonian Orthodox Church’ not existing in the whole agreement, nor did we want to. We told this to the Serbian delegation in Niš and this is recorded in the minutes, both theirs and ours. Therefore right at the first session of our Synod after Niš, the working document was unanimously rejected as pastorally not completely formed, with the hope for a pastorally better solution after the continuation of the talks. What matters is that with the non-acceptance of our constitutional name—Macedonian Orthodox Church—and with the non-acceptance of the independent status in the Niš working document on the part of the SOC and after the ‘Vraniškovski’ scenario which they organized in despair, clearly to everyone was displayed the purely political dimension of the problem between our Churches.
5. How do You, personally, assess the letters of the two most influential patriarchs, His Holiness Bartholomew and His Holiness Aleksey the Second, to the highest state officials of Macedonia. Do You see in them a sincere desire to help or a pure protocol?
The letters of the two Patriarchs are in essence rather positive and in them one can recognize the clear message that the further solving of the existing problem between the MOC and SOC will have to be carried out by means of dialogue. In certain parts of their letters a bit more shows itself their desire to ingratiate themselves with the SOC or some strategy towards the SOC for the sake of maintenance of the good relations; however, this must never be to the detriment of truth. They must also recognize that the goal of Vraniškovski was not formation of a new religious community as much as it was annihilation of the MOC and that he is not sentenced merely for a verbal misdemeanor. As I already mentioned, truth is always an unshakeable foundation of repentance, which, for its part, is the sole key to resolve the interchurch disagreements. By the way, if someone’s rights and freedom in this case for years already have been flagrantly violated, let neither the East nor the West think much about this, those are certainly the religious and national rights and freedom of the Macedonian—naturally, Christ’s people. I have no reason to suspect their sincere wishes.
6. What are the next moves our Church is to take for a way out of the greatest crisis it has fallen in, in view of the fact that in this moment, objectively, negotiations with the SOC do not suit us?
We will continue as before celebrating Liturgy, on the altar of the material temple as well as on the altar of our hearts and will cry out the Name of the Lord. As a Church we shall not return evil for evil. If we do not receive such response from the other side as well, then the Lord will certainly find some solution, only most probably it will not be favorable for anyone. History has shown us that only under the yoke of slavery imposed by people of other faith do we recognize each other as brothers. This is a solution for fools, though.
7. And finally, this question is unavoidable: do You not think that for the inappropriate moves of the church leadership of the MOC, for the passivity and bad personnel policy, much easily You continuously shift the blame on the journalists?
You see, it takes much carefulness and knowledge when writing about the Church. It is said: when you speak about a church person or about church affairs—careful! Either what you claim will be true, i.e. the coal will be cooled down and you will dirty your hands—that is your soul, or you will carry unconfirmed information and thus catch live coals in your hand and burn yourselves a lot—that is, harm your soul. In both cases, you must admit, it is rather inconvenient. It is the best to carry information from a reliable source without much commenting, and this if it is a matter of information that builds up, not such that destroys. Whereas it is much evil to criticize at a bad time, particularly when you have no idea about the essence of the matter. In any case, journalists are the least responsible for what has happened. The responsibility lies only in the two Synods of the Churches, especially in the one in Belgrade, that stretches out its predatory arms (its pervert nonsense) beyond its borders.
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica