Conflicts over the suspension of a popular bishop may be bringing the Serbian Orthodox Church close to the brink of schism, according to several reports.
The former Orthodox bishop of Kosovo, Artemije, who was deposed from his position last May, has been reduced to the status of a monk by a decision of the majority the Holy Synod in November (21 voted for, six against and seven abstained, according to German newspaper TAZ, Nov. 25).
But Artemije has refused to accept the decision and has attempted to take control of a monastery in Kosovo along with a group of monks supporting him. Before being expelled by police, he celebrated the liturgy (despite his suspension) and declared that his goal was to restore “order, peace and unity” in his (former) diocese, Serbian channel B92 reported (Nov. 20).
Artemije was suspended and deposed from his position earlier this year on the basis of accusations of financial mismanagement. He strongly rejects the accusations and claims political intrigues are the actual cause of his deposition. He describes the sanctions taken against him as devoid of any canonical basis. His opponents say that Artemije’s actions are breaking the unity of the church. The situation is a complex one, reports Jean-Arnault Dérens on Religioscope (Nov. 24).
In contrast with several other bishops, Artemije consistently opposed first the communist regime and then Milosevic. In Kosovo, where Serbs have become a minority, he was among the few who advocated cooperation with the provisional authorities and ethnic Albanians after the 1998– 1999 war. However, after the severe riots in March 2004, during which many churches and monasteries were damaged or destroyed in Kosovo, Artemije refused to cooperate with international organizations for rebuilding purposes, stating that rebuilding without guarantees of a return to a normal life for Serbs in Kosovo was meaningless.
This irritated the government in Belgrade, which was eager to strengthen relations with the international community. Artemije’s independent attitude toward political authorities earned him the respect of many of the faithful. His charisma also attracted many young intellectuals. Observers note that there may be a serious possibility of a schism, although the church apparatus is out of Artemije’s control. It is difficult at this point to assess the extent of support for Artemije: a group of 80 monks is said to be at the center of the pro-Artemije movement. Whatever the impact Artemije and his followers will have, it is quite interesting to see how support for him has developed: Serbian monks in Kosovo became Internet-savvy quite early, and websites and forums have over the past few months become a major tool for Artemije supporters to spread their views (B92, July 4).
(Religioscope, http://www.religion. info; B92, http://www.b92.net; TAZ, http://www.taz.de; Courrier des Balkans, for translations from Serbian media into French, http://balkans. courrier.info)