Macedonian Orthodox Church
History of the Macedonian Orthodox Church
Background to the Orthodox Church in Southeast Europe
According to the sources in the Acts, Saint Paul, Christ's disciple, began spreading Christianity in Macedonia and elsewhere on the Balkan Peninsula towards the mid 1st century AD. He visited this region on two occasions during his journeys through Europe and Asia. He was followed by Timothy and Silas, who remained in Macedonia after his departure. At that time, as a Roman province Macedonia often changed its borders and its ethnic composition. As a result of the Christianization in the first three centuries, the Christians in Macedonia at the beginning of the 4th century already had an organised Church with an established ecclesiastical hierarchy, whose bishops regularly participated at the ecumenical councils.
In the 5th century the Church had several metropolises and dioceses. The metropolises of Thessalonica and Skopje were the most distinguished among them. Several Christian basilicas originate from this period, including the one near the village of Bardovci, in the western outskirts of Skopje.
During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565), who came from the village of Tauresium in the Skopje region, a new town was built near the emperor's birthplace, named Justiniana Prima after him. The Metropolitan of Skopje was appointed an autocephalous Archbishop. Cathellian was the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese Justiniana Prima. The other archbishops were: Benenat, Paul, John I, Leon and the last one John IX, who in 680-81 took part at the Trullo Council in Constantinople.
Conversion of the Slavs
The Slav colonisation of Macedonia began in the 7th century, when the Slavs were assimilated with the native inhabitants. Their Christianization began in the 9th century with the life and work of the holy brothers, Saints Methodius and Cyril, who came from Thessalonica. They created the Cyrillic alphabet and translated the Holy Bible from the Greek as well as several other scriptures so that the church services could be held in the vernacular. Their mission was continued by Saints Clement and Nahum of Ohrid at the end of 9th and in the beginning of the 10th century. Saint Clement founded the first University of the Slavs in this region, and Saint Nahum founded the first Slavic monastery on the shore of Lake Ohrid. In the second half of the 10th century, within the borders of Samuel's state, the autocephalous Ohrid Archdiocese was established with the rank of patriarchate. After the fall of Samuel's state, the Ohrid Archdiocese was reduced to a lower rank of church hierarchy (archbishopric) and it existed as such for eight centuries, until its abolishment in 1767 by the Turkish sultan Mustapha III, and its dioceses were annexed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. From this moment on the Macedonian people made all possible efforts to restore the Archdiocese. Its dioceses were under several jurisdictions of the neighbouring Orthodox Churches and this struggle became particularly fierce in the second part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century. Convenient conditions for restoration of the independence were created not earlier than during World War II (1941-1945).
Foundation of the MOC
Right before the end of the war, in 1944, in the village of Gorno Vranovci, an Initiative Board for Organisation of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was formed. In March, 1945, in Skopje, a Resolution to restore the Archdiocese of Ohrid as Macedonian Orthodox Church was made at the First Clergy and Laity Assembly. This decision was submitted to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, since before World War II several dioceses in Macedonia were under the United Orthodox Church of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, known later as Serbian Orthodox Church. The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church did not accept this decision, which resulted in the following actions of the Initiative Board: instead of as an autocephalous, the Board insisted on the Church being recognised as autonomous. This request was also rejected. In 1958, the Second Clergy and Laity Assembly was held in Ohrid and the proposal for restoration of the Ohrid Archdiocese of Saint Clement as a Macedonian Orthodox Church was accepted and Dositheus was appointed the first archbishop.
The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church agreed with the decisions of the Macedonian Clergy and Laity Assembly in the resolution AS. No 47/1959 and 6/1959, minutes 57 of June 17/4, 1959.
As a sign of agreement, a Liturgy was concelebrated with the Serbian Patriarch German, on July 19, 1959, in Skopje, in the church of Saint Menas. At the same time, Clement was ordained the bishop of Prespa and Bitola. This meant that the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church gave autonomy to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which remained in canonical unity with the Serbian Church under their Patriarch. Few days later, in the church of St. Nicholas in Štip, H.E. Nahum was ordained the bishop of the diocese of Zletovo and Strumica. The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was established together with other administrative bodies in the Archdiocese and the dioceses in conformity with the Constitution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. In May, 1962, accompanied by Patriarch German and other representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow visited the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Among them were Metropolitan Nicodemus, Bishop Pimen and other dignitaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. On the feast of Saints Methodius and Cyril, in the church of the Holy Mother of God Kamenska, in Ohrid, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, Patriarch German and the Macedonian Metropolitan Dositheus concelebrated Holy Liturgy. It was the first Holy Liturgy to be concelebrated by the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church with heads of other autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
In 1966 the relations with the Serbian Church got worse again. Due to the conflicts and misunderstandings, the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church summoned the Third Clergy and Laity Assembly on July 17, 1967, in Ohrid. At the formal session in the Ohrid church of St. Clement, the Holy Synod proclaimed the Macedonian Orthodox Church as AUTOCEPHALOUS. The act of proclamation was made by the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church during the Holy Liturgy celebrated in the church of St. Clement of Ohrid on July 19, 1967, or exactly on the second centennial after it had been banned by the Ottoman authorities.
The jurisdiction of the Macedonian Orthodox Church spreads not only throughout Macedonia, but also in the church communities abroad.
According to Article 17 from the Proclamation of Autocephaly, the Macedonian Orthodox Church as an administrative part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is to observe the Holy Scriptures and the Holy tradition, the Canons of the Apostles and the decrees of the ecumenical councils and is to follow them and the Constitution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Praying humbly for the other ones, the Macedonian Orthodox Church will always rely on the prayers, blessings and assistance of the elder sibling holy local Orthodox Churches.
Relations with other Orthodox Churches
Some mainstream Orthodox jurisdictions have isolated MOC and completely cut off all relations with it. Some mainstream Orthodox metropolitans this century, especially in the region of the New Territories, have incited rioting against MOC, and earlier successfully demanded the sealing of the borders and other economic sanctions against the FY Republic of Macedonia.
The Serbian Orthodox Church, the mother Church of MOC, has declared all MOC bishops schismatic and invalid, and has set up a parallel hierarchy within the FY Republic of Macedonia. The world's strongest Orthodox Church, the Church of Russia, laments this unfortunate escalation of tensions.
Other mainstream Orthodox jurisdictions recognise the full validity of the sacraments in MOC, and admit MOC faithful to the sacraments within their own jurisdictions under the usual conditions applying to all Orthodox faithful.
Some mainstream Orthodox jurisdictions recognise the autonomy of MOC, but none recognise MOC as autocephalous.
The generally accepted doctrine within mainstream Orthodoxy is all existing autocephalous churches have to agree that a particular Church should become autocephalous, before it can be generally recognised as autocephalous. Conversely the generally accepted doctrine concerning autonomy is that it is a matter for the mother Church to decide if a Church within its jurisdiction is autonomous, and the other autocephalous Churches should generally accept it without demur.
MOC suffers from the very poor economic circumstances of its homeland, and from the massive after effects of the communist repression. It is only just climbing out of the pit and distancing itself from its close ties with the previous ruling civil regime.
Until matters settle down further in the Balkans, it is unlikely that any mainstream Orthodox bishop will serve liturgically with any MOC bishop.