The Belgrade daily “Glas Javnosti” (”The Public Voice”) published an interview today with Abbot David (Ninov) of the Ochrid Archdiocese. Given that this interview is an authentic testimony by one of the closest co-workers of the imprisoned Primate of the Autonomous Archdiocese of Ochrid, the Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Kyr Jovan, we present it in its entirety.
What preceded the imprisonment of Archbishop Jovan and what were the reasons for which he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison?
All of these events were preceded by a schism, which, according to Orthodox teachings, means existing outside of the salvific borders of the Church. It is a generally known fact that the father and mother of the schismatic bishops of the self-proclaimed Macedonian Orthodox Church - is the Communist government of the former Yugoslavia. Archbishop Jovan healed that schism by entering into canonical unity with the Patriarchate of Pec and with the remaining Orthodox Churches. This is the only reason for which he was sentenced, as that action of his does not fit into their concept of a Macedonian totalitarian-neo-communist matrix as their life style.
Do you have the support of the Serbian Government and which institutions are those that have up until now offered you their support?
We are not politicians, so we do not seek political help, which for us is not the most essential. For us it is of utmost importance to have the support of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the support of all of the remaining Orthodox Churches. The secular institutions which visibly offer their support are institutions that are concerned with religious freedom and the respecting of fundamental human rights.
What are your further plans, having in mind that Archbishop Jovan has already announced his complaint before the International Court?
On the foundations of the sufferings of Archbishop Jovan, the Church in Macedonia will be built for the Orthodox faith. In that context, therefore, the future holds for us building endeavors, for the Church builds, and does not destroy. Certainly, in contrast to the Macedonian court system, we will make use of all legal, lawful norms to secure the expedient release of Archbishop Jovan from prison.
What kind of treatment is Archbishop Jovan receiving in prison?
This is the best question. First, the have stripped him of his cassock, and the authorities have positioned him so that they can photograph him and thereafter publish those photographs on a daily basis. His cassock is his skin, meaning that they have skinned him. In the beginning they did not even allow him to take the Holy Bible with him. When he received a Holy Bible, which was written in Greek (Archbishop Jovan reads it in the original), they took it away with the explanation that they first must verify it. Thereafter, they did not allow him to receive a packet with food. . . It seems as though there is no end to these kinds of events.
How do you comment on the disposition of the people of Macedonia, given that they are quite bitter with the Serbian authorities calling for the immediate release of Archbishop Jovan?
Such an impression has been created by certain media and by the schismatic bishops. According to the words of one objective newspaper reporter, all of those politicians, party leaders, newspaper reporters, and even the schismatic bishops do nothing else with their words and deeds, except seriously enflame national and religious hatred. That which is conceived in lies has no future, and not a single good deed can exist without effort. Truthfully, the Macedonian people are deeply good and pious, although they lack religious education because of Communism and the schismatics. Politicians use the Church publicly to hide their own scandals. This will soon change, as we live in a dynamic period.
What will happen if the Archbishop is not freed soon, given that he is forbidden to serve and is barred from all Orthodox churches in Macedonia, and in the Macedonian media it can be heard that he will be expelled from the state?
I truthfully believe that Archbishop Jovan soon will be released from prison. Our country has aspirations for entering into the European Union, and it does not tolerate such religious discrimination as is now being enforced by the Macedonian authorities against the Archbishop. Archbishop Jovan is not alone. He is the head of a living Church against which not even the gates of Hell will prevail. Thereby it is logical that there is not even a chance for expulsion. Certain Macedonian intellectuals openly state that the Ochrid Archdiocese must be registered and institutionalized in Macedonia.
Is the background of this problem rightfully a religious or a political problem?
The problem of the schism is purely ecclesiastical, religious. The schismatic Macedonian Church in revolutionary manner self-proclaimed their autocephality which is not recognized by any of the other Churches. When not one other Church in the world will recognize the schismatics, how then can that problem be political! It is a completely different thing for politics to desire the accomplishment of certain aspirations through the Church. However, as Bishop Dr. Atanasije Jevtic writes, it is not as important what God accomplished for us in the past, rather what He will create in the future. The future is on our side, for even the history of the Orthodox Church is in its future.