Bloggers say that mixing churches and states may lead to a positive outcome.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 27/10/12
The Macedonian Orthodox Church has not formally addressed President Tomislav Nikolic's proposal, but some of its bishops said they are hopeful. [Reuters]
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic recently proposed that Macedonian authorities free convicted felon Zoran Vraniskovski in return for Belgrade obtaining recognition for the Macedonian Orthodox Church's autocephaly.
Nikolic said the state involvement will help solve the four decade-long dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian orthodox churches, which has affected relations between the two countries.
"I have sufficient respect for the Serbian Orthodox Church and people there have sufficient respect for me to solve this problem," Nikolic said.
The Macedonian church declared autocephaly in 1967, and since then has been considered an outlaw church by the Serbian church.
Relations were further strained after the Macedonian church defrocked Vraniskovski, who was at the time a bishop, while a Veles court sentenced him in 2009 to two-and-a-half years in prison for embezzling 320,000 euros from three eparchies.
Vraniskovski fled to Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, but eventually returned to Macedonia and demanded a retrial. He was tried again and given the same sentence last May.
Meanwhile, Vraniskovski established his own church in Macedonia and claimed the Serbian Orthodox Church is its mother church; and the church considers Vraniskovski a Serbian exarch in Macedonia.
"[The proposal] is acceptable to me. But I am not the one who can free anyone," Bishop Timotej, Macedonian Orthodox Church spokesperson, told SETimes.
Macedonia President Georgi Ivanov has repeatedly said churches should solve ecclesiastical issues themselves, but he said he welcomed discussing the proposal with Nikolic.
The Macedonian church should be given autocephaly to end the dispute without state help, argued Serbian Bishop Lavrentije, signaling a new posture among some church circles in Serbia.
"I believe the initiative will be taken up with both hands in Macedonia. All churches are autocephalous, why should the Macedonian church not be?" Lavrentije said.
Nikolic's proposal showed the dispute is political in nature, Cane Mojanovski, former president of Macedonia's Commission for Religious Relations, said.
"Now we have to see what the proposal contains, what is under the surface," Mojanovski said.
Bloggers agree. "If Nikolic talks on behalf of the Serbian church, that is an excellent signal. But sometimes it is unclear whether the radicals are leading the church or the church leads them," Predrag Simic said.
Zhivica Tucic said the proposal can not be realised mainly because of the opposition from the Greek orthodox churches in Constantinople, Athens, Cyprus, Tirana, Alexandria and Jerusalem.
"Half of the orthodox world is in this Hellenic bloc and will not allow the church in Macedonia to be called Macedonian Orthodox Church. If [the Serbian Orthodox Church] allows autocephaly, none of the most important Greek churches would recognise [it]. They will maintain their stance and Belgrade will be in trouble," Tucic said.
Another obstacle is the secular nature of both states, making Nikolic's engagement legally impossible, according to Milan Radulovic. "According to the Serbian constitution and the law on churches and religious communities, the state authorities can not manage inter-church relations," he said.
Branko Gjorgjevski argued Nikolic's is an "indecent proposal" because it offers the Macedonian church autonomy, not autocephaly. "There is not a hint of autocephaly. There is just an announcement for talks during which we will be put in the same situation as thus far."
"The church problems are also problems of the state and of its citizens. That is why the president should be included to help solve these problems as quickly and as well as possible," Mia from Serbia said.