Friday, 29th August 2008. 11:44am
By: George Conger.
The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has stepped into the dispute within the church in Kosovo, ordering the battling bishops of the diocese of Ras-Prizren to cease their fighting. Belgrade newspapers have reported that the dispute between Bishop Artemije and his suffragan, Bishop Teodosije had led to fist fights between the bishops and rival bands of monks, and hinted at financial malfeasance in the reconstruction of church properties damaged during the war in Kosovo.
The split between the bishops of Kosovo mirrors the larger division within Serbian society over the country’s future in the wake of the secession of Kosovo, and factional fighting within the church over who will succeed its hospitalized head, the 93-year-old Patriarch Paul.
On Aug 26, the Holy Synod of Serbia, consisting of the bishops who head the church’s eparchies — administrative units akin to dioceses in the Serbian church — released a unanimous statement calling upon the bishops to cease their fighting as it "could jeopardize the Serbian Orthodox Church's mission in general, and especially in Kosovo and Metohija."
The fight between Artemije, a hard-line opponent of Kosovo independence, and his moderate deputy Teodosije, became public last week when Artemijie attempted to sack Teodosije and Sava Janjic, an outspoken monk in the Visoki Decani monastery.
However, the sacked Serbs refused to go quietly, and when Artemije’s secretary sought to serve notice of their suspensions upon the two clerics at the Visoki Decani monastery, monks loyal to Teodosije and Sava responded with vigour. A fist fight ensued between the rival bands of monks, and Artemijie’s secretary was tossed out the monastery door, injuring his foot.
Artemije accused Teodosije and Sava Janjic of "open, blatant mutiny," but the Synod refused to back him, saying his sacking of Teodosije was “hasty”. The two bishops were summoned to Belgrade and on Aug 26, the assembled bishops released a statement condemning the violence.
"The crucial decision on these and other top issues will be made by the Holy Synod of Bishops in due time," it was announced, but noted that “Bishop Artemije and his priests and monks and devotees enjoy the solidarity and support from the entire church in testifying to the love of Christ, truth, peace and justice, and all goodness."
The dispute between the two bishops mirrors the political divide within Serbia. Artemije has called for Serbia to blockade Kosovo in the wake of its unilateral declaration of independence in February. He has branded Serbia’s pro-EU President Boris Tadic a traitor and has sought the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, and by implication the Russian government, in his anti-independence campaign.
Teodosije has called for the church to work with the ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo, arguing the church and Serbian government can only safeguard Serbian religious and cultural sites with Kosovar co-operation. The pending appointment of a new patriarch also factors into the Kosovo church feud. In May the Holy Synod sought to remove Paul from office due to advanced age and ill health. Paul rallied from his sickbed and refused to step down, but power was shifted to an ecclesial regent to govern the church.
The patriarchal regent, Bishop Amfilohije is a rival to Artemije to succeed Paul, and has also been an ally of Teodosije. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported that last week Artemije accused his rival of "meddling for long time" in the Kosovo eparchy.
DPA also stated Artemije is engaged in a power struggle of the letting of contracts to rebuild damaged Serbian churches in Kosovo, as many of the contracts have been awarded to the Belgrade-based Rade Neimar construction firm under his control.
In 2006 the Synod queried the bishop about his business holdings, but Bishop Artemije told the Belgrade press the Synod had been satisfied by his answers.
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