The Macedonian [sic] Orthodox Church broke away from the Serbian Church in the 1960s but its ecclesiastical independence has never been recognised by the rest of the Orthodox world.
“We demand to be free ecclesiastically within the borders of our country and for our hierarchs to serve alongside the hierarchs of all the Orthodox churches in the world,” Zaev told Bartholomew.
The letter says the Orthodox people in North Macedonia [sic] deserve independence for their Church after dreaming about it for a century, and expect to see its status recognised “with the blessing and a written decision” of the so-called Ecumenical Patriarch.
Just two days ago [September 21], North Macedonia’s [sic] President, Stevo Pendarovski, also sent a letter with similar content to Bartholomew.
The letters represent a continuation of efforts by Zaev to close this sensitive issue. Both Zaev and the Macedonian [sic] Church sent an earlier letter with the same request to Bartholomew in 2018.
They drew encouragement from that year’s decision by the Ecumenical Patriarch to recognise the independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in express defiance of the wishes of the Russian Church and political authorities.
Bartholomew indirectly rebuffed the Macedonian [sic] plea in 2018, however, insisting that the situations in North Macedonia [sic] and Ukraine were different, and advising the Macedonian [sic] Church to seek a resolution to its problems over its status through renewed talks with the Church in Serbia.
The Serbian Orthodox Church gained autocephaly back in the 13th century and has strong standing among Orthodox Churches in the world.
It has used this to block recognition of the Macedonian [sic] Church since it unilaterally declared ecclesiastical independence in 1967.
The Serbian Church insists that the Macedonian [sic] Church can get only a kind of autonomous status within the Serbian Church. The past decades have seen many failed attempts to resolve the dispute.
Scholars in North Macedonia [sic] say the latest letters sent by North Macedonia’s [sic] leaders reveal more about the way they now hope the dispute could be resolved.
Both letters remind Bartholomew of his canonical right to hear appeals and settle long-standing disputes between Churches.
A senior theologian at the theology faculty in Skopje told BIRN under the condition of anonymity that canons from the Fourth Council of the Church “identify the Patriarch of Constantinople as the ultimate authority when it comes to disputes between local churches”.
Serbian politicians, as expected, have criticised the letters sent by North Macedonia’s [sic] leaders. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic on Monday [September 21] warned North Macedonia [sic] not to seek “shortcuts” in solving the delicate issue and to respect the known rules of the Church.
“We want to see a deal reached, but we surely must respect the rules of the Orthodox Church, and we also expect the Ecumenical Patriarch to be on the same side, just as he was when he pleaded against the formation of a so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” he said, referencing similar demands for autocephaly in Montenegro.
The Serbian Church is adamantly opposed to granting such status to either the Church in Montenegro or in North Macedonia [sic]. The difference, however, is that the Serbian Church remains in control on the ground in Montenegro, while in North Macedonia [sic] the Macedonian [sic] Orthodox Church is by far the largest religious community and enjoys the absolute backing of the political establishment.
Source: Balkan Insight