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The Macedonian Orthodox Church

Macedonia, an important geopolitical center of the Balkans since ancient times, has for centuries been a focal point of territorial rivalries involving Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece.

While Macedonia was under Ottoman administration, the Orthodox church there was part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. When Turkish rule was ended following the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, southern Macedonia became part of Greece. But northern Macedonia, inhabited by Slavs who called themselves Macedonians because of the name of the area in which they lived, was incorporated into the newly formed kingdom of Yugoslavia. By agreement with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Orthodox in this northern area were integrated into the Serbian Patriarchate and reorganized into three dioceses.

When the communists took power in Yugoslavia following World War II, they decided to reorganize Yugoslavia on a federal basis and provided for the creation of a separate Macedonian Republic. The communists supported the aspirations of some Macedonians who wished to assert their separate identity, in order to gain their backing for the new government.

During the same period, the government supported efforts by some Orthodox in the Macedonian Republic to establish a separate Macedonian Orthodox Church. In October 1958 an Ecclesiastical and National Council of 220 priests and laity was held in Ohrid that declared the restoration of the ancient Archbishopric of Ohrid and the autonomy of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. It also elected three new bishops for the three dioceses of the church. This was considered an irregular election, as only one bishop was present. But the new church declared itself in canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church in the person of the Serbian Patriarch. In June 1959 the Serbian Holy Synod accepted this fait accompli, and the next month the three bishops-elect were consecrated by Serbian Orthodox bishops.

In the autumn of 1966, the Macedonian Orthodox Church formally petitioned the Serbian Patriarchate for autocephalous status. But when it met in May 1967, the Serbian episcopate rejected this request.

Nevertheless, the Macedonians went forward and held a council in Ohrid from July 17 to 19, 1967. On July 19, acting on a resolution of the council, the Holy Synod of the Church of Macedonia proclaimed the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia. The Metropolitan was given the new title of “Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia.” All this was openly supported by the state authorities, who gave the new Metropolitan state honors and attended his installation ceremonies.

In September 1967 the Serbian Orthodox Synod declared the Macedonian Orthodox Church to be a schismatic religious organization and broke off all liturgical and canonical links with its hierarchy, although not with its faithful. This decision has been supported by other Orthodox churches, as none has recognized the legitimacy of the Macedonian church. More recently, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has stated that the autocephaly of the Macedonian Church cannot be recognized because of the clear political factors involved.



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