On Tuesday, the SPC Holy Synod announced its decision to bring ecclesiastical charges against Archbishop Stefan, the head of the canonically unrecognised Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC). The Synod issued a statement, “By its inveterate persistence in schism, the MPC participates in the un-Christian persecution of Archbishop Jovan Vraniškovski, the canonically recognised head of the autonomous Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid, its priests, monks, and believers”. At the Holy Assembly in May, the SPC emphasised that it’s ready to start a dialogue “on establishing canonical order, religious peace, and brotherly love with the church in the neighbouring and friendly Macedonia”, stressing that a condition for this is the release of the unjustly imprisoned Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid. The Assembly noted that the arrest of Archbishop Jovan was a result of demands from top MPC figures. The SPC considers the MPC as a schismatical body. It also noted that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Archontonis and Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow also sent the same message to the canonically unrecognised MPC.
In July this year, the Macedonian Appellate Court upheld the first instance ruling sentencing Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje to three years in prison for allegedly embezzling 250,000 Euros (12.4 million Roubles. 2 million Renminbi. 19.8 million INR. 324,000 USD. 356,000 CAD. 357,000 AUD. 200,000 UK Pounds). Archbishop Jovan received a three-year prison sentence on 2 July 2013 in Skopje. He appealed this judgment in November, but the second instance court dismissed the appeal as unfounded. In his submission to the Skopje Appellate Court, Vladyki Jovan stated, “In the 12 years since its establishment, the Macedonian authorities have subjected the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid to persecution, who deny its application for official registration to this day, which would make it a legal religious organisation”.
Since 2003, Macedonian authorities arrested Archbishop Jovan six times on different charges, including public disorder when he tried to conduct a baptism ceremony in a church the MPC claims as its own. They also charged him with “inciting ethnic and religious hatred” for having “slandered the MPC”, spending a total of almost 18 months in prison. His last arrest was on 12 December 2011, upon entering Macedonia from Greece, on charges of embezzling 250,000 Euros. According to his lawyers, he returned to the country to request a retrial, but they arrested him and threw him in Idrizovo Prison near Skopje, where they still hold him under difficult conditions.
The MPC is canonically unrecognised, and the SPC considered it a schismatical body ever since it declared autocephaly unilaterally in 1967. The MPC defrocked Bishop Jovan when the SPC appointed him as its exarch in Macedonia. The SPC believes Archbishop Jovan to be the victim of rigged political trials because of his opposition to the schism, whilst Amnesty International and Freedom House stated that he’s a prisoner of conscience. Two prominent Macedonian bishops, Timotej and Pimen, publicly requested Vladyki Jovan’s pardon. Unofficially, most MPC bishops would support a pardon, except for Archbishop Stefan and Bishops Petar and Agatangel.
27 August 2014