The head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, has written to the President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, to express his “consternation” for the premier’s support for the creation of a separate Orthodox Church in the Balkan state.

Driving the news

The Montenegrin Parliament is currently preparing a bill to bring under State ownership properties acquired by the Serbian Orthodox Church after 1918, the year in which Montenegro lost its independence. Both the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Government have protested the move, but the Council of Europe has dismissed their concerns, saying that the draft law “clearly provides that the registration of religious communities is not mandatory and is not a condition for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion”.

See also:

Serbia threatens Montenegro over “hostile”, “criminal” church takeover bid

Update: Council of Europe dismisses freedom of religion concerns in Montenegro

Between the lines

Patriarch Bartholomew is not at all of the same mind as the Council of Europe, however, in downplaying the threat posed by the Montenegrin law to the Orthodox Church.

In a letter obtained by Novena and dated June 21, the Patriarch accuses Đukanović of orchestrating the “nationalization” or “expropriation” of both the Montenegrin and Serbian Orthodox Churches.

Another concern of Bartholomew’s is that Đukanović has thrown his support behind a non-official Orthodox Church in Montenegro under the care of Miraš Dedeić, a self-proclaimed archbishop of the non-canonical Montenegrin Orthodox Church but defrocked by Constantinople.

Bartholomew takes care in his letter to remind the president that “the sole canonical Hierarch [in Montenegro] is our brother Metropolitan Amfilohije, who belongs to the Patriarchate of Serbia that is recognized on a Pan-Orthodox level”.

Why it matters

Patriarch Bartholomew’s letter to President Đukanović adds another layer to the complex questions of Church-State relations in Montenegro.

Pro-Russian Serbian Minister Nenad Popović had accused Đukanović of obeying “his Western mentors” with the new church “expropriation” bill. However, the letter of Bartholomew – still emerged in a battle with the Russian Orthodox Church over the independence of the Church in the Ukraine – shows that the issue is more complicated than just a battle between Russia and the West.