Address at the Gala Academy on the occasion of the “1000 years of the Ohrid Archbishopric”
Sunday, 27 May 2018 23:34   

OA1Distinguished attendees,

This year we mark a millennium of the novel by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II dedicated to the glorious Ohrid Archbishopric. But, celebrating this great jubilee, we need to be aware of one thing. And that is that Basil's decision is a confirmation of the reality that in Macedonia there was already an organized church with church hierarchy. A church that originated from Christian believers. A church that originated from the people and existed for the sake of the people.

The Ohrid Archbishopric in the 11th century was not a new seedling on the Macedonian soil, but only one branch of the older people's Church of Samoil's state. And that people's church was composed of the students of the first Slavic bishop, St. Clement of Ohrid. This greatest student of the saints Cyril and Methodius finished the centuries-old spread of Christianity in the Macedonian Sclaveni.

And yet this was not the beginning of the Church in Macedonia. It is just one branch of the branched Christian tree.

In 535, here, in Macedonia, Emperor Justinian I established the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, and ranked it on the third place among the churches in the world, immediately after Rome and Constantinople.

Justiniana Prima was not, however, the trunk that held the Ohrid Archbishopric. Because Justiniana Prima was also created for the needs of the Christians in Macedonia. Christians who were part of the Macedonian episcopes whose bishops participated in the Ecumenical Councils and defended Christianity from various heresies.

But even those episcopes that existed at the time of symphony between the church and the empire were not the trunk from which the Ohrid Archbishopric sprouted. Because they were preceded by the persecuted Church, the one before the Milan Edict of 313. A church secretly gathered in the catacombs and the caves.

And at that time of the fiercest persecution by the Roman Empire, here, in Ohrid, in Macedonia, St. Erasmus of Lichnid, who came from Antioch, spread his deeds. At a time when being a Christian was equal to a death sentence, he preached the repentance based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and received 20,000 Christian believers into the church. The descendants of these Christians were baptized in the baptistery and joined in the monumental basilica of Plaoshnik.

But the martyrdom generation of St. Erasmus is just one branch of the branched Christian tree.

Because history very clearly testifies to the following. And that is that Christianity in Macedonia was not brought by Basil or Samuel, or Clement and Naum of Ohrid, or Cyril and Methodius, or Justinian, or Erasmus of Ohrid ... Christianity in Macedonia was brought by Paul the Apostle.

And it all goes back to the trunk that holds all the branches, from the apostles in the first century to us in the 21st century. And that trunk, that true lineage is Jesus Christ.

Exactly the connection and dependence of the branches explains the endurance, resilience and perseverance of the Church of Christ in Macedonia to this day.

OA2

Over the centuries, the Church in Macedonia faced both persecution and prosperity. It was given different names. Its status was promoted and diminished. The dioceses were attached to it but also taken away. Its diocese was extended and narrowed. Various rulers approved or banned it. It persevered in the time of emperors-pagans, kings-Christians, and sultans-Muslims. But, regardless of all that, it was and remained a fruitful branch of the true lineage of Jesus Christ. A branch that for centuries carried the hope of eternity with God.

And precisely because of that hope, people, not considering their ethnic, social, linguistic affiliation, were so attached to their church. So attached that even the most powerful man of the most powerful empire of the 11th century, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, did not dare to abolish it. He approved it, expanded it and protected it. And that is the act we are celebrating today. Today we celebrate the confirmation of the existence of the Church in Macedonia in the image of the people's Ohrid Archbishopric.

That church was a shelter for faithful, but also a replacement for the lost Samoil's state. In its dioceses, there were kitchens, orphanages, nursing homes, hospitals for the body and the soul, or what we today call social and health care. Its monasteries were also educational centers.

Many of its archbishops took care of the spiritual as well as of the secular needs of the people. John of Debar carefully guarded the national character of the Church. As one of the greatest thinkers of his time, Theophilact of Ohrid contributed to the archbishopric to be widely respected. Demetrius Homatian, one of the most famous church and secular lawyers, brought justice to people from all Orthodox ecumenes. Constantine Cavasila was a great advocate of peace in times of war. Despite the pressures of Romeization, Prohor boldly encouraged Slavic literature. In the time of Nicholas II, the church reached its top architectural and artistic achievements. Atanasij I was a great diplomat and freedom fighter, who cruised all over Europe, from Spain to Russia, from Naples to Prague. He met with European kings and sought support for the liberation of the Balkans from the Ottoman Empire.

At a time when the virus of ethnophyletism slowly began to spread in the Orthodox world and occupy the local churches, the Ohrid Archbishopric withstood and remained faithful to its role as a people's church. A Church of all its believers, regardless of their ethnic and linguistic affiliation. It remained faithful to the mandate to help people get to know God in the most authentic way - and that is through their mother tongue.

And precisely that was its sin - by allowing the service in an understandable for the people language, i.e. Macedonian, it did not allow the believers to alienate. With every decade passed, the pressure on the archbishopric increased, until 1767, when that living branch of the Christian church in Macedonia was undermined. It was the time when "Greek bishops came, with faces like saints, but hearts like wolves", as Grigor Prlichev would describe them.

Perhaps, this was the start of the darkest period of the history of the Macedonian people. Period of assimilation, forced alienation and renaming. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Orthodox millets became devlets, the dioceses of the local Balkan churches became the borders of the new Balkan states. The cross, instead of a symbol of unconditional love and sacrifice, became a symbol of superiority and power.

Hundreds of Slavic inscriptions were erased, thousands of Slavic manuscripts were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of believers were forcefully renamed and their identities violently changed. What survived was taken to foreign archives, libraries and museums. But even in those dark times, the living church spawned numerous spiritualists and revivalists such as Kiril Pejcinovic, Joakim Krchovski, Theodosius of Sinai, Partenij Zografski ...

And all that changed with the establishment of the modern Macedonian state. From the battered branch of the Ohrid Archbishopric, a new sapling sprouted, giving a rich fruit.

Last year, in 2017, we celebrated 50 years of the renewal of the Ohrid Archbishopric in the image of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. This marked the beginning of a new epoch. We finally got the first Bible in modern Macedonian language. The old ones were restored and many new temples were built. The Macedonian churches were filled with believers and the Macedonian monasteries with monks and nuns.

But, along with this new flourishing, the church faced challenges. In the former common state, the government restricted the church only as a religious community.

From the day of independence, the Macedonian Orthodox Church went through everything that the Republic of Macedonia was going and still goes through. These were years filled with blockades, isolation and non-recognition that create crises. These crises cause divisions instead of unity, cynicism instead of benevolence, voyeurism instead of solidarity and hatred instead of love. Temperance, patience, honesty, goodness, humanity were lost.

In such complex conditions, the Macedonian Orthodox Church faces a double challenge.

The first is to remain faithful to Christ's message. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the bitter fruits of ethnophyletism in the neighborhood. Therefore, the Church in Macedonia needs to take care of something incomparably more important and more permanent than the ethnic and national identity, and that is the spiritual identity that originates from the faith in Jesus Christ. Because only spiritually altered people can change the spirit of our society.

The second challenge is for the church to be socially relevant. We live at a time when some say that the church is an anachronistic institution that does not correspond with the spirit of the time in which we live. Time of secularization, globalization, digital transformation, fluidity of identities.

The Republic of Macedonia is a secular state. And, as a secular state, we guarantee the fundamental human freedom of thought, conscience and faith. But there is a worrying trend. Increasingly the secular states in Europe and the world are becoming secularized states that try to squeeze the faith out of the public space and limit it to the smallest possible space. And that is the space between our two ears, holding our mouths closed.

The fundamental human rights and freedoms and the inherent human dignity are increasingly devalued.

The marriage as a union of a biological man and a biological woman and the family as a community of parents and their children are disintegrated.

In the deep moral crisis, the boundary between truth and falsehood, between the right and the wrong, between the beautiful and the ugly, disappears.

The new relativism expects us to accept as absolute truth the claim that there is no absolute truth. And without the truth there is neither trust nor responsibility on which every free society is based.

In such conditions, the church is facing a huge task. It should be the loud conscience of society and the constructive critic of the state. To be the promoter of social justice, quality health care and education which are the measures of the success of a country.

The church should be the foundation of the good habits of the heart, it should defend the sanctity of marriage and the uniqueness of the family.

In an era of post-truth, the Church should be the pillar and fortress of the gospel truth.

In a time of moral relativism, the Church should uncompromisingly endure on the moral and ethical absolutes.

In a period when human beings are devalued, the Church should protect the immeasurable value and inalienable dignity of every person.

But the church will be socially relevant only if it is socially counter-cultural. That counter-culture is not just about preserving the good old church traditions. The church should be counter-cultural, just as all its martyrs, saints and educators were who were not afraid to stand up against the dominant destructive currents of their time.

To accomplish this great task, the Macedonian Orthodox Church should draw from the rich tradition of the Ohrid Archbishopric, be inspired from the great priests, dedicated monks, martyrs, church fathers, holy apostles, and above all, from the true lineage - Jesus Christ.

Because only this way, whether it is recognized or not, the Macedonian Orthodox Church - the Ohrid Archbishopric will continue to be part of the holy, cathedral and apostolic Church.

Thank you.

OA3

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