Statement by the Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations and the Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
On February 2, 2015, in compliance with the ruling of the Skopje Court, Archbishop Jovan (Vraniskovsky) of Ohrid, a hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was released from the Idrizovo prison.
His situation and physical condition were considered at the fraternal meeting between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and His Holiness Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia on November 15, 2014, in Belgrade.
On December 20, 2014, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and His Holiness Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, visited Skopje and met with Archbishop Jovan.
On the same day, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk met in Skopje with the Republic of Macedonia’s state leaders – President G Ivanov and Prime Minister N. Gruevski. Metropolitan Hilarion also met with Archbishop Stephan, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, who is outside of communion with the world Orthodoxy at present.
On January 28, 2015, Archbishop Jovan was visited in the prison by Bishop Irinej of Backa, with the blessing of the Primates of the Russian and Serbian Churches. Bishop Irinej was accompanied by Archimandrite Philip (Vasiltsev).
It is expected that within the next few days Archbishop Jovan, in accordance with the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia, will come to Russia for medical treatment.
The release of Archbishop Jovan is hailed in the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches with gratitude to God.
The Greek Church news agency Romfea has published exclusive news: Archbishop Jovan (Vraniskovski) of Ohrid, who is currently serving the prison sentence in FYR Macedonia, will be released on January 19, 2015.
According to the agency’s information, the judicial authorities have resolved to release Archbishop Jovan after the hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church served three years and two months in prisons of FYR Macedonia.
In the agency’s view, the recent visit of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk to Skopje played a decisive role in making this decision. The Metropolitan insisted in arranging a meeting with the Archbishop of Ohrid. For this purpose Archbishop Jovan was taken from the prison to the “Mother Teresa” clinic, reports Sedmitza.
On the basis of a Memorandum that was signed by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Belgrade on 15 November 2014, and with the blessing of both, Russian and Serbian Patriarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, paid a working visit to R. Macedonia from 19 – 20 December 2014.
His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion visited Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan, who for the sake of this meeting, was temporary transferred from the prison of Idrizovo to the Skopje hospital “Mother Theresa” on 20 December. After these talks, Archbishop Jovan was returned back to the prison.
On December 19 and 20, 2014, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk had an official visit to FYR Macedonia. Late in the evening of December 19, at the border with R. Bulgaria, he was welcomed by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in FYR Macedonia, Mr. Oleg Scherbak.
On December 20, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk met Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid in the “Mother Theresa” clinic in Skopje.
Afterwards, Metropolitan Hilarion had meetings with the President of FYR Macedonia, Mr. Gorge Ivanov, and with the Prime-Minster of FYR Macedonia, Mr. Nikola Gruevski. Metropolitan Hilarion also met Archbishop Stefan of the “Macedonian Orthodox Church”, who is outside the community of the Orthodox Churches, with the purpose of regulating the canonical status of this ecclesiastical structure.
This information is published on the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate of Moscow and on the site of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
On December 12, 2011, Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje, voluntarily entered his homeland, at the border-crossing near Bitola, where he was arrested. Since that day, the state apparatus executes torture incomprehensible for the contemporary democratic societies upon him.
In the course of these three years, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric were allowed to visit him only once, in August 2013.
At the same time, although Archbishop Jovan fulfills all conditions required by the law to be granted a two-day leave from prison, the prison authorities are violating all legal provisions and persistently deny him the leave that the law grants him.
Archbishop Jovan, who is currently imprisoned for the eighth time in the last twelve years, has diabetes. He is placed in a cell together with other thirty-three prisoners. The prison conditions are substandard, the cell has one toilet, and the overall conditions are altogether further deteriorating his health.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights declared Archbishop Jovan a political prisoner.
Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
Nr. 1120 - September 9, 2014, Belgrade
To His Eminence Stefan, Archbishop of Ohrid in schism
Subject: Your letter and Our reaction to it
We received Your letter SAS nr. 18 from July 25, 2014, through which You are informing us of the criminal activities – as You name them – of the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Dr. Jovan.
This letter was very saddening for us. We had expected that You inform us whether you had done something, and what exactly, for the release of His Beatitude, the imprisoned and suffering Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje. Instead, You are sending us “information” on some fictional criminal activities of this respectable Hierarch, and we also heard that You have sent such letters to other Prelates of the Orthodox Churches, and even personally to many Bishops around the world. (more…)
Founded in 1989, Human Rights Without Frontiers International is a non-governmental organisation that focuses on research, analysis and monitoring of a wide range of human rights concerns in many countries throughout the world. The organisation is also dedicated to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. Located in the heart of European policy-making in Brussels, it aims to the shape policy agenda of the EU and of other regional and global institutions in a way that protects human rights in and outside of Europe. The organisation also tries to influence opinions through almost daily communications in electronic newsletters sent to more than 8000 subscribers.
Recently in one of its information newsletters, Human Rights Without Frontiers published a text about the persecution of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, and especially its prelate Archbishop Jovan who is imprisoned for nearly three years. The text has the title “Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric – a hate crime victim” and it gives an overview of the state persecution on religious ground that our Church has been suffering in the last 12 years, with the denial of registration of the Church, imprisonment sentences for its Prelate, Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, and latest – with confiscation of property and sentences against other bishops, priests, monastics and faithful people of the only canonical Orthodox Church in R. Macedonia – the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.
Source: Human Rights Without Frontiers
On July 17, 2014, the domestic media published the news that the Court of Appeals in Skopje had confirmed the verdict of the Court of First Instance Skopje 1, by which His Beatitude Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje is sentenced to three years of imprisonment, and the rest of the convicted Bishops, priests, monastics and faithful people of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric are sentenced to conditional two years of imprisonment, if they repeat the deed for which they are accused of by the Court in the next five years. At the same time, the Court is confiscating property of the members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, which it decided to give to the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Until this moment, neither Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, who is currently imprisoned for already two years and eight months in the Idrizovo prison, nor any of the other convicted members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, have received the verdict of the Court of Appeals.
As the media reported, through the confirmation of the verdict by the Court of Appeals, the verdict for three years of imprisonment for the Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje becomes effective.
The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held its regular meeting from 14th to 24th May 2014. The Assembly published an Announcement for its ten-day work, in one part of which it also speaks of the canonical Church in R. Macedonia, the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.
In the mentioned part of the final Announcement, the Assembly stresses that: “the authorities in R. Macedonia, on basis of a judicial farce, continue to keep Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid in prison, in unhuman conditions, and are at the same time imposing pressure with threats and verdicts of a similar kind, also upon the other Bishops, priests, monks, nuns and believers of the autonomous Ohrid Archbishopric.
The Assembly once again appeals to all the responsible, to do everything for the liberation of the political prisoner number one in contemporary Europe, Archbishop Jovan, and calls for ceasing of the last religious persecution in Europe, the persecution of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.
The Assembly is grateful to the topical Orthodox Churches, to the World Council of Churches, to the Conference of European Churches, to the organisations for protection of the human rights and to many renowned persons for their intercession in regards to this painful issue.“
The Assembly also addressed many other important issues from the life of the Church.
Dean Mr Michael Tritos: the imprisonment of Archbishop Jovan is a stain and disgrace for the 21st century civilization!
The Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the state University of Aristotle in Thessaloniki, Professor Michael Tritos, whose field of expertise is the history of the Slavic Churches, on the occasion of the passed two years of imprisonment of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, for Romfea, expressed his personal stance in regard to this subject:
“The case of the imprisonment of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid represents a stain, and disgrace for the 21st century civilization and for the international human rights and religious freedoms organizations. This hierarch-martyr is being continuously convicted by the criminal courts in Skopje, because he had the courage to proclaim that the ‘macedonian’ church of Skopje is schismatic, since it violates the basic principles of orthodox ecclesiology and prefers ethnophiletistic goals.
Unfortunately, a country that claims it respects the human rights and which tends to join NATO and the European Union, is actually supporting an authoritarian regime, with the silent inaction and indifference of the European Union and the United States of America!
We believe that the solution for the problem of the church in Skopje, in the present conditions, shows great difficulties, due to the stifling embrace of the state upon this church, and its utilization as a public service for purposes foreign to its spiritual mission.
In order to have positive development of this issue, the following preconditions should be met:
- Immediate release of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, who already passed two years in imprisonment, in the Idrizovo prison, in Skopje.
- The authorities should leave freedom to the Church, so that she fulfills its spiritual goals.
- The Schismatic church should ask for forgiveness from the mother – church of Serbia, for the coup by which it had separated, and to acknowledge as anti-canonical its actions since 1967 until today.
- To accept the name of the luminous Archbishopric of Ohrid, and not of Macedonia.
Under these preconditions, it is possible that initially autonomy is granted, following the example of Finland and Estonia, and later – why not – autocephaly as well.
In that way, an open wound in the body of the Orthodox Church would be closed, and the one-and-a-half million Orthodox that live in Skopje would cease to be victims of every kind of proselytism.”
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, for Christmas, sent an appeal to the authorities of R. Macedonia and to the international community, for releasing of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid
His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, in his most recent epistle for Christmas, which he delivered to the public on January 3, 2014, addressed the state persecution on religious basis that is performed against Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.
In the epistle, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia sent an appeal to the authorities of R. Macedonia and to the international community:
“We wish a virtuous and blessed Christmas to our imprisoned brother and concelebrant, Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan, and all his persecuted and suffering Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia. The government there holds him imprisoned unjustly, and they prohibit freedom of faith and conscience to his faithful flock because they have decided for the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That ethno-phyletistic schism is the biggest tragedy of our Church in the Republic of Macedonia. Unfortunately, schismatics have placed politics and ethno-phyletism above the unity of the Church.
We appeal to the government of the Republic of Macedonia to immediately and without delay release our father, brother and concelebrant the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skople Jovan, and to afford full rights and freedom as guaranteed by law to God’s Church, the Archdiocese of Ohrid.
We also appeal to the international community, who before their very eyes see how basic human and religious rights are being violated in the Republic of Macedonia, that they take the measures necessary to prevent further discrimination against the Church and her people.”
Prof. Mirjana Najcevska, Ph.D.: imprisoning Archbishop Jovan in the detention prison was torture by the authorities
R. Macedonia’s Parliamentary Committee on Political System and Inter-Ethnic Relations, on December 12 and 13, 2013, organized a public hearing on the subject: “Analysis of the respect of the constitutionally guaranteed right to presumption of innocence, the findings regarding the abuse of the measure detention, violation of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the media, as well as the right for public protest in R. Macedonia”.
Politicians, officials, professors, journalists and citizens of R. Macedonia took part as witnesses in the hearing.
Taking part in the hearing was also the expert on human rights, university professor Mirjana Najcevska Ph.D., who in her exposition, amongst other issues, spoke of the treatment of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid by the authorities, undoubtedly naming his imprisonment in the detention prison as – method of torture by the authorities! Namely, despite the fact that he was already in prison, as soon as the new staged court process against him began, Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid was transferred to detention prison, where he spent one whole year in severe and substandard conditions!
What was loudly spoken by prof. Mirjana Najcevska Ph.D, in the Assembly of R. Macedonia is certainly known to everybody, starting from the fact that what is happening to Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid had not happened to anyone in our recent history! It is a disgraceful school example of state torture on religious basis, taking into account that in the last eleven years Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid is imprisoned for the seventh time, and by a new verdict, he is being sentenced to an additional three years of imprisonment! This is known to everyone, but only few are not afraid to speak of it publicly!
We are addressing an appeal to the domestic and the international public, for ceasing the mentioned torture on religious basis, for taking in account the calls of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, of the World Council of the Churches, of the Conference of European Churches, for looking into the international reports that speak of the violation of the religious freedoms in R. Macedonia, and for finding the strength for immediate release from prison of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, and for respecting the religious beliefs of the Church whose prelate he is, the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, with the purpose of reaching the high standards of the advanced democracies, and for a better future of all citizens of our homeland.
The first President of the pluralistic Assembly of R. Macedonia, who on three terms presided the Assembly, the renowned politician Stojan Andov, in his article in the weekly magazine “Fokus” (nr. 942, from 25.10.2013) once again spoke of the court verdicts against Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje.
The Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric has already indicated that the intervention of the state through the interference of the judiciary, for providing the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) a religious monopoly, makes our country a factor of instability in the region!
We are witnesses that the court which persistently denies the registration of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric is the same court which sentenced Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid to three years of imprisonment, and the other Bishops, monastics and faithful people of the Archbishopric to a conditional prison sentence. In that way, the court has turned into an instrument of persecution of the religious freedoms in our homeland, causing destruction of the civilization values!
In his article, Stojan Andov writes that not a small number of court processes are received as purges of stalinistic character of the elements that are considered inappropriate by the authorities, and that is exactly what leads our homeland towards a dangerous state. He also highlights that: “the verdicts against Bishop Jovan Vraniskovski, for the civilized world, are of incomprehensible reasons, and are regarded as an outcome of the government’s insisting to court sentences motivated by religious intolerance!”
In the direction of respecting the human rights and religious freedom, it is necessary for the government to fully liberate itself from the communist heritage of persecution of the Church, the politicians and the publicity to liberate themselves from the memory of conflicts, in order to be able to pass from a state of conflict to a state of conciliation. The normalization of the state of the respecting of religious freedoms is one of the basic conditions without which it is not possible to continue on the path towards the advanced democratic polities!