Public Communique from the regular meeting of the Serbian Orthodox Church`s Holy Assembly of Bishops held in Belgrade May 2006

The Serbian Orthodox Church's Holy Assembly of Bishops held its regular meeting from May 15 to May 27, 2006, in the Patriarch's residence in Belgrade with His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle presiding. All diocesan hierarchs (bishops) of the Serbian Orthodox Church participated in the work of the Assembly.

At the beginning of its work the Assembly gave thanks to the Lord and expressed the joy of all its members following the successful recovery of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and his release from the Military Medical Clinic in Belgrade where he underwent medical treatment.

The Assembly also expressed joy at the successful continuation of work on the interior appointment of St. Sava Memorial Cathedral in Vracar (Belgrade), praising the zeal of the philanthropists and donors of this holy endowment to date, and calling on the faithful of the Serbian Orthodox Church to continue building this holy shrine, which builds all of us, with their donations, with love and through sacrifice.

This year will be the 800-year anniversary of the building of Zica Monastery, our great holy shrine and the first seat of the autocephalous Serbian Church in the time of St. Sava. The Orthodox cathedral in the city of Nis has also been restored, and construction of the building of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary from Prizren, temporarily located in Nis, has been completed. Taking into consideration these facts, the Assembly has decided to hold its next regular meeting in autumn this year in Zica and Nis. The consecration of the Orthodox Cathedral and Seminary in Nis will also be performed on this occasion. The Assembly calls on all faithful of the Serbian Orthodox Church for their prayerful participation in these blessed events from which we derive indestructible spiritual joy, stronger than all of the misfortunes and trials to which we are exposed.

As always, the Assembly dedicated its primary concern to the holy unity of the Church and the preservation of its sacred canonical order both within our own Local Church as well as at the level of the Orthodox Church's mission of salvation throughout the ecumene. Towards this goal the Assembly has once again, as in previous years, expressed the readiness of the Serbian Orthodox Church to continue dialogue with the hierarchy in the [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] still in schism in order to establish regular canonical order and full, blessed unity in the entire Church. In order to create elementary conditions for this dialogue, i.e. in order to remove every possibility of the interference of extra-church factors in this painful inter-church dispute, His Holiness the Patriarch has sent a letter on behalf of the Assembly to Mr. Branko Crvenkovski, president of the [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] asking for full abolition for His Beatitude Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje, exposed to political motivated criminal proceedings, including prison sentences. As a good example of overcoming of schism the Assembly emphasized the example of the establishment of eucharistic community between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in which the Serbian Orthodox Church as much as she was able.

The clergy, monks and nuns, and faithful people in Montenegro are called upon now and in the future to witness their love, hope and love towards everyone without regard for political conditions, always and anew building the bridges of brotherly understanding and agreement.

For days the Assembly responsibly and analytically addressed the difficult situation in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as accumulated problems in the life of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren. The Assembly extended maximum support to this martyred Diocese in the difficulties it faces both within and without. With the goal of effectively contributing to the preservation of the freedom, rights and property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija, the Assembly sent a three-member delegation to participate within the Serbian negotiating team on May 23 in the present phase of negotiations on our southern province. As well, the members of the Assembly, headed by His Holiness Patriarch Pavle, visited the Pec Patriarchate on the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and St. Nikodim, Archbishop of Pec, and served Holy Liturgy there in order to once again demonstrate the concern of the church for its faithful and its holy shrines in Kosovo and Metohija.

On that occasion the Patriarch and bishops addressed words of fatherly love and encouragement to the people confronted with the terrible challenges of this historic moment, burdened with persecution and uncertainty; and a strong appeal to political factors to enable displaced Serbs to return to, and to live a safe and dignified life in their ancestral homes. They also expressed support once again for the begun process of rebuilding destroyed Serbian Orthodox holy shrines and expressed the hope that the restoration of churches and monasteries destroyed in the March 2004 pogrom will continue with the restoration of all other holy shrines destroyed since 1999 to the present day, as well as that this [process] will be accompanied by a comprehensive spiritual restoration and national rebirth. Finally, they called on the faithful to love not only those who love us but also those who do not love us, to forgive and to pray for forgiveness, and to aspire to peace and reconciliation.

Furthermore, very serious attention was devoted to church education and the educational system, school and parish catechesis of children and youth, the life of our Church abroad, the restoration of Chilandar Monastery on [Mt. Athos], inter-Christian and inter-religious relations from the perspective of developing sincere dialogue and cooperation for the general good, as well as the spiritual and moral situation in our society, encumbered with the horrors of crime, drugs, [low birthrates] and suicides.

The Assembly founded a Committee to study the suffering of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1991 to 1995. It also approved the text of the Framework Agreement between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the already approved existing initiative to bury the remains of Nikola Tesla on the St. Sava plateau in Vracar (Belgrade).

Furthermore, the Assembly warmly welcomed the adoption of the Law on churches and religious communities, and the Law on restitution of confiscated church property by the Serbian Assembly.

The Assembly formed a new Diocese, that of Valjevo, from a part of the Diocese of Sabac and Valjevo. The former Bishop Lavrentije of Sabac and Valjevo is henceforth the Bishop of Sabac, and former Bishop Milutin of Australia and New Zealand has been elected the first bishop of the newly founded Diocese of Valjevo. Hieromonk Irinej (Dobrijevic) has been elected to the now empty office of Bishop of Australia and New Zealand. Bishop Maksim of Hum has been elected the office of Bishop of Western America, which has been empty for some time. Finally, the administrator of the Podvorye of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Archmandrite Antonije (Pantelic), has been elected vicar to the Serbian Patriarch with the title of Bishop of Moravica. He will also continue to perform the duties of the administrator of the Podvorye in Moscow. The members of the new Holy Synod of Bishops will be Metropolitan Jovan of Zagreb and Ljubljana, Bishop Vasilije of Zvornik and Tuzla, Bishop Irinej of Backa, Bishop Justin of Timok, Bishop Hrizostom of Bihac and Petrovac, and Bishop Filaret of Milesevo