The regular meeting of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church took place at the Serbian Patriarchate took place at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade from May 14 – 29, 2015 under the presidency of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej. Participating in the Assembly were all diocesan hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the exception of Metropolitan Nikolaj of Dabra Bosna. Also present at the Assembly for the first time since the 2011 meeting was His Beatitude Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan, released a few months prior from the Skoplje Idrizovo prison in large part through the efforts of His Holiness Russian Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church, in cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church to the measure possible.
The Assembly began its work with the joint serving of the hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Archangel Michael Cathedral in Belgrade. Serbian Patriarch Irinej served and delivered a homily at the liturgy, with the concelebration of seventeen hierarchs and also the prayerful presence of the same number. In the sequence of eucharistic rites the traditional rite of the Invocation of the Holy Spirit was also served for a successful course and outcome of the Assembly. Afterward, at the beginning of the first meeting of the Assembly, in his introductory remarks to the gathered hierarchs, the Patriarch indicated the most essential issues in the life and mission of the Serbian Orthodox Church at this moment in history, in the days of great temptation and challenges both with us and in the world, but also of great possibilities for spiritual renewal and rebirth.
The most God-pleasing and therefore most important decision is the decision of establishing new feast days in the calendar of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Namely, to the assembly of Saints unanimously were numbered, which is to say they were canonized and glorified, the holy martyrs of Prebilovac (their memory will be celebrated 24 July/6 August); also, St. Mardarije (Uskokovic), bishop of America-Canada (his feast will be each 29 November/ 12 December) and the Venerable Sebastian of Jackson (Dabovic, celebrated 17/30 November).
The Assembly decided that the great jubilee – the 1,000th year anniversary of the martyrdom of St. John Vladimir, the greatest Serbian ruler from the pre-Nemanjic period (1016-2016), be celebrated with dignity by the Serbian Orthodox Church, and not only on a local or regional level. Various different spiritual and cultural manifestations will begin already this year, and the final celebration will be next year, God grant.
The Assembly accepted the reports from the Serbian Orthodox Church delegation who participated in the work of the pan-orthodox, pre-conciliar conferences and pan-orthodox committee for revision of the texts prepared for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, planned for next year, and finally accepted a position on the key issues which will be decided at that pan-orthodox Council. The final formulation of that position was entrusted to a special committee, which include members of the aforementioned delegation.
The report on work on the interior of the St. Sava Church on Vracar was accepted and final decisions were rendered for further course of this work, particularly the plans for the mosaics and frescoes in close collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian authorities.
Since conditions were met for renewing dialogue with representatives of the „Macedonian Orthodox Church“, – the condition was that the wrongly enprisoned Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid be released – the Assembly decided to reply positively to the suggestion of Archbishop Stefan regarding the continuation of dialogue in the aim of avoiding a church schism and establishing canonical order in the Republic of Macedonia. Representing the Serbian Orthodox Church in this dialogue will be Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands and Bishop Irinej of Backa and Bishop Grigorije of Zahum and Hercegovina, and together with them and representing the Ohrid Archbishopric, will be Bishop David of Stobi.
The Assembly decided to accept one more dialogue – dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, rather the Croation conference of bishops, on the occasion of the intentions of the Roman Catholic Church to canonize the contraversial Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, archbishop of Zagreb during World War II and supreme military vicar in the so-called Independent State of Croatia. To this aim the Holy Synod will, by order of the Assembly, educate the suitable committee. Stepinac’s role in that tragic period will be discussed, in context of Serbian-Croation relations in the 20th century.
Metropolitan Porfirije of Zagred-Ljubljana was named president of the standing Assembly Committee for dialogue with the Croatian conference of bishops, Bishop Jovan of Slavonia was named president of the Committee for Jasenovac, while Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka, will remain on the committee for issues investigating the deaths in the concentration camp in Gradina, on the Bosnian side.
Special attention was dedicated this year as in previous ones, to the tribulations of our Church and people in Kosovo and Metohija and decisions were made regarding the ways and manner in which to lessen these troubles, if they cannot be removed, with special appeals mades for the, God knows, how many times repeated – enabling the refugees and displaced persons to return and their survival on the hearth of their great grandfathers. With that same concern and responsibility, the difficulties and tempations which meet the Church and the Serbian people in Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and elsewhere were reviewed, due to pressures, injustices and discriminations, as well as in Serbia itself due to the occasional non-canonical intrusion of clerics from neighboring local churches, on the territory of our dioceses in Eastern Serbia.
As in previous years, just as much attention was given to the issue of Christian schooling and enlightenment, religious education, scientific-educational institutions such as the Library, Archives and the Serbian Orthodox Church Musuem, educational activities, information services and similar.
The Assembly expressed its gratitute to the Serbian government and all state authorities in Serbia, first of all to the Committee for cooperation with church and religious institutions in the Ministry of Justice, for their full understanding and support, particularly for those in Kosovo and Metohija. The same appreciation belongs to the Srpska Republika – its government and people.
Special attention was dedicated to the crisis of marriage and family, which is highlighted by the growing number of abortions, which is a euphemism for infanticide, divorce, domestic violence and other phenomena that destroy marriage and family. Great concern was expressed regarding emigration, the “draining of minds”, the general lack of care for young people, for the village, for the socially disadvantaged, and so on.
The issue of religious services in the Army of Serbia was discussed and measures were proposed for its improvement. The Holy Synod submitted its reports, which were heard and accepted, reports from diocesan bishops, diocesan boards, charitable foundations of “Philanthropy”, the pilgrimage agency “Dobrocinstvo” and other institutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
A decision was made to consider the possibility of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church taking part in Brussels for the sake of having a contact and promoting its interests before the institutions of the European Union, in cooperation with the offices of other Orthodox Churches, and if necessary, with a representative of the Vatican as a state.
The current Diocese of Central Europe has been renamed to the Diocese of Frankfurt and all Germany, with its see in Frankfurt.
The monk Artemije, leader of the well known schismatic group, is returned to the order of a layman under his baptismal name of Marko and is permanently excluded from the church community, with the invitation extended to both him and Negoslav Nikolic, his false “chorepiscopus Nikolaj”, to repent and return to the Mother Church who, if they do, will receive them joyously in her embrace.
Bishops Georgije of Canada and Filaret of Milesevo have been released from the dioceses entrusted to them and are at the disposal of the Assembly.
The Supreme Court on New South Wales in Australia handed down its judgement in favor of the Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand of the Serbian Orthodox Church, against the self-proclaimed schismatic “Free Serbian Church”, which the Assembly greeted joyously.
The members of the Holy Synod of Bishops was determined. Besides Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands and Bishop Lavrentije of Sabac, whose mandates are still in effect, the mandate of Bishop Teodosije of Ras and Prizren was extended and Bishop Irinej of Backa was elected as a new member of the Synod.
Bishop of Backa Irinej,
Spokesman of the Holy Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church