COMMUNIQUE From the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church Held in Belgrade May 14-22,2009

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and under the presidencyof His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands, who, in accordance with Article 62 of the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church is serving as substitute to the ailing Patriarch, the regular Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church was held at the Patriarchate in Belgrade from May 14 through 22, 2009. Participating in the work of the Assembly were all the diocesan hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, including His Beatitude Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan with the hierarchs of the Autonomous Archdiocese of Ochrid.

Conscious of the Church's responsibility for the life and salvation of people and of the great spiritual challenges of our day, the Holy Assembly of Bishops dedicated itself to solving the vital questions of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Firstly, the Assembly dedicated its attention to the state of the Church and people in our southern province after the illegal proclamation of the so-called independence of Kosovo and Metohija. The Assembly gave due recognition to the state of Serbia for all its efforts to cease and render impotent that clamorous lawlessness with all the unforeseeable consequences which can ensue from it in the near or distant future, as well as all the countries which, respecting international legal order and basic morality, have not recognized it, and especially to all those who in their actions showed their solidarity with the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, whose basic human, religious and political rights are being trampled upon with no regard and with cold and indifferent silence from the most powerful and loudest spokesmen of human rights. The Assembly is grateful to all international institutions and organizations, as well as to distinguished individuals from the world of science, the arts and culture, who have raised their voices in protest against this historical injustice and unprecedented challenge to the norms of international law. The Assembly is convinced that Serbia and the Serbian people will never accept the violent taking of Kosovo and Metohija.

Special attention was given to the process of renovation of the holy sites there, destroyed during the March 2004 pogrom. That renovation, as the first phase of the general renovation which should also include over one hundred churches, monasteries and church buildings destroyed or heavily damaged before the March pogrom, should make provision for the monastics, clergy and others exiled, and to encourage refugees to return to the hearths of their forefathers.

His Grace Bishop Artemije of Ras and Prizren was requested to immediately accept the already renovated church entities. For a more serious view of the problems associated with our southern province, a business meeting was held with Serbian Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Mr. Goran Bogdanovic, joined with the advisor to the Serbian President, Mr. Mladjan Djordjevic and Mr. Damjan Krnjevic.

After considering the conditions in the Serbian Orthodox Church generated by the long lasting illness of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch of Pavle and after analyzing the way in which the Church and its departments have been functioning under the present conditions, the Assembly decided to stand by its earlier decision that the Patriarch continues to remain as head of the Serbian Orthodox Chuch.

During the work of the Assembly the Assembly fathers held a meeting together with the Central committee for construction of the Memorial Church of St. Sava on Vracar. At that time the fathers were given information on the work which has thus far been completed as well as plans for future work.

Based on the reports presented, the Assembly analyzed the state of the Serbian Orthodox Church as a whole, spiritually and ethnically, in this region and in the Diaspora throughout the world, and made appropriate decisions. Special attention was given to the state of the Archdiocese of Ohrid and the Assembly welcomed the first indications of its improvement, as well as the readiness of all to engage in dialogue for a final overcoming of the irregular church conditions in the Republic of Macedonia.
Likewise, due interest was given to intensifying the process of restitution of unlawfully expropriated church property, needed by the Church in order to complete her pastoral, social-benevolent, missionary and cultural-educational mission, and not for anyone's personal wealth, as certain non-church "analysts" suspect.

Relations between the sister Orthodox Churches were considered and with satisfaction it was determined that they are in general regular, based on unity in faith and bound in peace and love in the Holy Spirit. However, the Assembly was impelled to state that the uncanonical and unfriendly activities of certain members of the Romanian Patriarchate in eastern Serbia, especially in the Diocese of Timok, are continuing. The Assembly is hopeful that this problem will be solved by way of official dialogue of the two Churches on the highest levels.

Having in mind the upcoming pan-Orthodox consultation on the state of the Orthodox Diaspora on all continents, the Assembly formed a general position on questions regarding the life, pan-Orthodox cooperation, organization and other difficulties in the Diaspora, but also the responsibility for witnessing to the authentic structure of the Orthodox Church in the specific conditions of life in the Diaspora, an environment made up for the most part of the heterodox or even heterotheists. The Assembly believes that, in the future, it would be good to foster a responsible and constructive dialogue with this environment. The most important decision of the Assembly in this context is the adoption and confirmation of the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the American continent and the final reinstatement of its full administrative unity, through the acceptance of the conciliar agreement of all active Serbian bishops in America regarding the restructuring of the dioceses and parishes.

The report of the Holy Synod of its activities since the last Assembly was heard and accepted, with particular emphasis on completing the decisions from last year's Assembly. Also, the reports from diocesan bishops were heard regarding the state of and problems in the dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as reports on the state of and problems in the church-educational institutions as well as in religious classes offered at public schools, seeking ways to improve the quality of the same, in cooperation with the authorized ministries and relevant professional services and individuals.

The work of Covekoljublje [Philanthropy], the benevolent-charitable institution of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was also considered as well as that of other important institutions such as, for instance, the pilgrimage-tourist agency Dobrocinstvo and the Information Service of the Holy Synod.

The Assembly learned with satisfaction that the Serbian government has supported the initiative of the Holy Hierarchical Synod that a Memorial-church and Memorial Center be built as a lasting prayerful remembrance of the victims of the NATO aggression of ten years ago, the pogrom on the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, the past tragic civil and multi-ethnic conflicts in the regions of the former Yugoslavia in the last decade of the last century, as well as the First and Second World Wars, and the wars of liberation in Serbia on the eve of the First World War and the victims in general of these conflicts, terrors and violence during the entire 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. This, of course, does not minimize the sacrifices of other people with whom the Serbian people have existed for centuries either together or as neighbors.

The Assembly established a special committee which will prepare for the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan of the Holy Emperor Constantine (313-2013), by which the Church, after three centuries of persecutions, received its freedom to work in the then Roman Empire. This celebration, God willing, will encompass the entire Christian world, but it will also be a special celebration for the Serbian Orthodox Church as Constantine was born in Naissus, modern day Nis.
The Assembly, among other things, also paid due attention to the renovation of the monastic dwellings of Monastery Hilandar on Mount Athos, destroyed during a fire, and takes this opportunity to appeal to the faithful of the Serbian Orthodox Church that they continue their moral and financial support to their brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija, Monastery Hilandar and everywhere where help is needed. The Assembly is aware of the depth of the world and domestic economic crisis, as well as of the deeper spiritual and moral crisis which was its cause, but also reminds all that with spiritual and moral recovery every crisis can be weathered and a new beginning can be made.

His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands will continue to serve as substitute to His Holiness the Patriarch in the Archdiocese of Belgrade-Karlovac and with the duties of chairmanship of the Holy Hierarchical Synod. As new members of the Holy Synod the Assembly chose Bishop Irinej of Nis, Bishop of Irinej of Backa, Bishop Fotije of Dalmatia and Bishop Grigorije of Zahum and Hercegovina, and as alternate members Bishop Hrizostom of Zica and Bishop Hrizostom of Bihac and Petrovac.

To the fullness of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to all Christians and all people of good will the Assembly sends a message of love and peace in the name of the Lord.

Bishop Irinej of Backa
Spokesman of the Holy Assembly of Bishops