This spring, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) sealed significant and important deals, which has solidified and strengthened the SOC’s position. The first “deal” in May turned the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC), formally the Ohrid Archbishopric, into a canonical church, which ended around 50 years of estrangement between the SOC and MOC. The second one in July was between the SOC and the Montenegrin government, which granted the SOC privileges in Montenegro and closed almost twenty years of uncertainty between the two parties. These deals are not just a sign of the new diplomatic strength of the recently elected (2021) patriarch Porfirije (Perić, 1961-) and a different composition of the SOC synod but of the impact the Ukrainian war has on other global Orthodox conflicts. In the following, I will discuss how and why the SOC has taken these steps and what they mean in the long run.
The end of stalemate in Montenegro
As I passed through the central Montenegrin town of Kolasin this summer, a massive mural of the recently deceased metropolitan of Montenegro, Amfilohije (1938-2020), appeared on a multi-storage apartment building. The massive painting depicted him with a traditional Orthodox halo, underlining that he is already on the way to sainthood so shortly after his death. This was not a singular picture, but I noticed similar ones in the Montenegrin towns and cities. The reason for this rapid promotion of the Metropolitan Amfilohije is his role in the protest movement back in 2020, which led to the recent change of regimes in Montenegro. These changes in government in 2020 paved the way for the new advantageous agreement that the SOC reached with the current government this summer. The new deal between the government and the SOC is a complete reversal of the conditions of a prior law on religion in Montenegro passed through parliament in late 2019. The former law could have been used to confiscate SOC property and heritage in Montenegro and put severe roadblocks to the links for SOC between Montenegro and Belgrade. The law was put in place by the prior Montenegrin nationalist government, who argued that the SOC in Montenegro was an alien and threatening power to the Montenegrin nation.Continue reading