Macedonian Orthodox Church

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The Macedonian Orthodox Church ( Macedonian Македонска Православна Црква / Makedonska Pravoslavna Crkva ) is an Orthodox church in the area of North Macedonia . About two thirds of the Macedonian population profess it. The church has eight eparchies in North Macedonia and four more abroad to care for the Macedonian diaspora.

St. Pantaleimon Monastery in Ohrid

Macedonian Orthodoxy is based on the medieval tradition of the Archdiocese of Ohrid , which perished in the 18th century. In 1967, the church has against the will of the Serbian Patriarchate for autocephalous explained. The independent Macedonian Church has not yet been recognized by the other Orthodox churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople . The Serbian Orthodox Church established an autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid, which is recognized as canonical by the other Orthodox Churches.

Teaching and worship

A clergyman worshiping a relic of St. Kliment

In theology and worship practice, the Macedonian Church is completely in line with the rest of the Orthodox Churches. The basis of their profession are the seven ecumenical councils and the Nicene Creed . The services are celebrated according to the Byzantine rite in Church Slavonic or in the modern Macedonian language . The church festivals are celebrated according to the Julian calendar .

In addition to the Blessed Mother, the main focus of the veneration of saints is on the Slav apostles Cyril and Method, who come from Thessaloniki , as well as their students Kliment and Naum . The latter are also at the beginning of the monastic tradition in what is now North Macedonia.


Like all other Orthodox churches, the Macedonian is episcopal . At the top of the hierarchy is the Archbishop of Ohrid and All Macedonia . Currently (2009) Stefan (bourgeois Stojan Veljanovski ) holds this office. He is the fifth archbishop since the reestablishment of the Archdiocese of Ohrid in 1958. His residence is in Skopje .

The Macedonian Church has 7 eparchies in the country: Skopje, Prespa and Bitola, Debar and Kičevo, Bregalnica, Polog and Kumanovo, Povardarie ( Vardartal ) and Strumica; In addition, there are the American, Australian and (West) European eparchies abroad, the latter based in Malmö, Sweden . Together the bishops form the holy synod , the highest governing body of the church. Traditionally, the laity have a large say in the administration of church affairs. This goes back to the emergence of the church, which would probably not have achieved its independence without the commitment of the laity. Representatives of the laity also take part in the election of the archbishop.

In North Macedonia around a third of the population, around 650,000 people, belong to the Orthodox Church. Almost all church members speak Macedonian. Small linguistic minorities among the faithful are Aromanians and Roma. There is no reliable information about the number of Macedonian Orthodox Christians abroad. The church has around 500 priests and over 100 monks who serve in 2000 churches and monasteries.

The St. Kliment Seminary, founded in 1967, is located in Dračevo near Skopje. Since 1977 there has been an Orthodox theological faculty in the capital that cooperates with the local university . The Macedonian Church also has a grammar school.


The Sophia Church in Ohrid was the cathedral of the archbishopric in the 11th century


Macedonian Orthodoxy refers to the medieval tradition of the autonomous archbishopric of Ohrid . Even under the rule of the Second Bulgarian Empire over Ohrid (13th century) and under the scepter of the Serbian Empire (14th century), the Ohrid Archdiocese continued to exist alongside the respective imperial churches. The Ottomans later even subordinated large parts of the Orthodox Christians in Serbia to him until they dissolved the Archdiocese of Ohrid in agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1767.

After the Ohrid Archbishopric was abolished, the metropolises and eparchies in what is now North Macedonia were mostly administered by Greek Phanariotes . These took little account of the traditions of the native Slavs and were therefore reluctant to suffer from the people and the lower clergy. Around the middle of the 19th century, therefore, a movement emerged that worked towards the rebuilding of the autocephalous church of Ohrid. These efforts were unsuccessful; instead, Macedonia was again subordinated to the Bulgarian Church or the Bulgarian Exarchate established in 1870 . It stayed that way until the end of the First World War. Nevertheless, there were further attempts to restore the Ohrid Archdiocese in the final phase of Ottoman rule.

In March 1920, the dioceses in Vardar-Macedonia were handed over to the Serbian Church by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Up until the 1940s, only Serbs were called to be bishops.

Steps to Church Independence

For the Macedonians , the establishment of their own autocephalous church was an important step in the process of emancipation towards becoming an independent nation that could be distinguished from Serbs and Bulgarians .

The Macedonian nation only consolidated during and after World War II . During the second session of the AVNOJ (Antifascist Council of the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia) on November 29, 1943, Macedonia was declared a federal unit of the future Yugoslav state. The predominantly Orthodox Macedonians thus rose to become a state people, but in comparison to the Serbs or Bulgarians they lacked a regional church. The Macedonians' ecclesiastical efforts to achieve autonomy, which began again after the Second World War, were actively supported by the Tito government and used to promote the establishment of a Yugoslav Orthodox church with member churches in each republic. The new church was intended to weaken not only Serbian Orthodoxy but also the Catholic Church, both of which were critical of communist rule.

The call for an independent Macedonian church was officially made for the first time by a national council made up of clergy and lay people in March 1945. This was followed by a negative decision from the Serbian Church in October. An assembly of over 200 Macedonian priests responded to this in May 1946 with a resolution that was clearly influenced by the ideas of the communist government. They not only demanded autonomy for the Macedonian national church and the election of bishops by the clergy and the people, but also the formation of an all-Yugoslav synod in which the churches from every republic should be represented. For the Serbian Church this would also have resulted in the loss of its metropolises and eparchies in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro.

During the second Macedonian National Council in October 1958, Bishop Dositej was elected Archbishop of Ohrid. This also meant the rebuilding of this metropolis, which fell in the 18th century. At the same time as Dositej, two more bishops of Macedonian nationality were elected and a synod of the now autonomous Macedonian Church was formed. Patriarch German and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Church described the elections as uncanonical. In 1959, however, German came to Macedonia, where he consecrated another bishop together with Archbishop Dositej. In doing so, he accepted - probably under pressure from the communist government - the previous developments, but without officially announcing this in the Church’s official gazette. At that time the Macedonians recognized German as head of both churches and referred to him in correspondence as the Patriarch of Serbia and Macedonia .

North Macedonian flag and Orthodox church flag in the Sveti Jovan Bigorski monastery

Unilateral explanation of autocephaly

In autumn 1966 the Macedonian bishops asked the Serbian patriarchate for autocephaly, which they refused. Nevertheless, at a meeting of bishops, priests and lay people in Ohrid on July 19, 1967, the Macedonians decided to break away from the Belgrade Patriarchate and the newly formed Holy Synod of the Church of Macedonia proclaimed autocephaly.

The Patriarch of Constantinople and the other Orthodox churches also consider the Macedonian Church to be contrary to canon law, since according to Orthodox canon law a regional church cannot unilaterally detach itself from its "mother church", although this was also the case when the Serbian and Bulgarian churches were founded in the Middle Ages Case was and still occurred in the 20th century when the Albanian Church was established, which was subsequently sanctioned by the ecumenical patriarch. Doctrine and worship practice of the Macedonians coincide with those of the other Orthodox churches. Many therefore see the reason for exclusion from orthodox ecumenism as purely political.

Younger development

Church of St. Kliment in Skopje, consecrated in 1972

The dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodoxy has not yet been resolved, but has even escalated in recent years when the Macedonian Bishop Jovan von Veles and Povardarie subordinated his eparchy to the Serbian Orthodox Church and from the Belgrade Patriarchate to exarch of the Archdiocese of Ohrid was appointed. For this, Metropolitan Jovan was excommunicated from the Macedonian Church in 2003. Jovan was followed by four more monasteries with 30 monks in 2004.

An offer was made by the Serbian side to grant the Macedonian Church autonomy within the Belgrade Patriarchate. This proposal had divided the Macedonian bishops into two camps: Petar of Australia and New Zealand, Timotej of Kičevo, Naum of Strumica and Jovan of Povardarie were in favor; Kiril von Polog and Kumanovo, Agatangel von Bregalnica and Gorazd, Metropolitan for Western Europe, were against it. The Macedonian head of the church, Archbishop Stefan von Ohrid, was neutral. The majority of Macedonian believers are in favor of autocephaly.

In May 2003 the Serbian Bishops' Conference suspended Metropolitan Kiril von Kumanovo-Polog and gave other bishops an ultimatum to rejoin the Belgrade Patriarchate by September 1st. The Serbian Patriarch Pavle described the autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church as the "creation of communism". A hastily convened synod of the Macedonian church condemned the Serbian threat to consecrate two more bishops after Jovan and thus to found a parallel synod of the Ohrid archdiocese under the Belgrade patriarchate. The Macedonian synod suspected a Serbian-Greek intrigue, in which the aim was to negate the existence of the Macedonian nation and its state. At first the Macedonian government did not interfere in the church disputes, with the arrest of Bishop Jovan in Bitola on January 11, 2004 (on suspicion of violating the property rights of churches and monasteries), the canonical conflict almost took on a political dimension.

In December 2009, Archpriest Nikolaj Balaschow, as envoy of the Russian Patriarch Kyrill I , visited the Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov . During this visit the unexplained status of the Macedonian Church in Orthodox ecumenism was also raised. It was agreed that the dialogue with the Serbian Church should be resumed and Balashov also offered Russian mediation for this.

In addition to the Serbian-Macedonian disputes, there is also the question of whether the autocephalous Church of Macedonia would be willing to call itself the “autocephalous Archdiocese of Ohrid” in order to avoid the stimulus word Macedonian against the Greek Church .


  • Aleksandar Trajanovski: Vozobnovuvanje na Ohridskata arhiepiskopija kako Makedonska pravoslavna crkva i nejziniot ṧematizam. Skopje 2008, ISBN 978-9989-159-22-0 .
  • Cane Mojanoski: Avtokefalnosta na Makedonskata pravoslavna crkva. Skopje 2004, ISBN 9989-157-14-6 (document collection).
  • Johannes Pahlitzsch: The controversial independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in a historical perspective. In: From the South East European Research, Vol. 10, ed. by W. Althammer. Munich 1999, pp. 31-43.
  • Mihail (Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia): Našeto sveto pravoslavie. Kratka istorija na makedonskata pravoslavna crkva. Skopje 1996.
  • Jovan Belscovski: Istoriskite osnovi za avtokefalnosta na Makedonskata pravoslavna crkva. Skopje 1990.
  • Done Ilievski: The Macedonian Orthodox Church. The road to independence. Skopje 1973.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Macedonia. 44 (2009) ISSN  0490-8821 .
    Church authorities put the number of believers in the country at around 1.3 million. More or less all Macedonian-speaking citizens are regarded as church members and the high number of those without a religion in North Macedonia is not taken into account.
  2. ^ Lexicon of the Middle Ages, p. 1378
  3. Hans-Dieter Döpmann : Church in Bulgaria from the beginnings to the present , Munich, Biblion Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-932331-90-7
  4. Заместитель председателя ОВЦС встретился с Президентом Республики Македонии. News on the pages of the Moscow Patriarchate.

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