‘Persecution of Orthodox Christians’: Patriarch Kirill calls upon Montenegro authorities to stop crackdown on the Church

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The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill has urged Montenegro authorities to repeal a “discriminative” religious law and stop “large-scale and purposeful persecution” of the canonical denomination.

 “I call upon the civil authorities of Montenegro to repeal the discriminatory law that has brought division and schism into the Montenegrin society, to put an end to the persecution against the Orthodox Church, to stop the attempts to create in her place some other church structure,” the Patriarch said in his address to the Balkan country.

The ongoing tensions have been sparked by a controversial law, adopted by Montenegro late in 2019. Despite its name –  ‘On religious freedom and legal state of religious communities’ – the legislation was widely seen as targeting exclusively the Serb Orthodox Church, the only canonical church body in Montenegro. Many feared it would ultimately result in the Serb Church being deprived of its property and the creation of a schismatic ‘church’ entity.

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The fears proved to be true, as this May Montenegro’s President Milo Dukanovic announced a plan to create an “autocephalous” church of his own and to get rid of the ties with the Serb Church. Montenegro broke away from Serbia back in 2006 and it is apparently trying to sever its remaining ties with Belgrade.

Introduction of the religious law sparked mass protests across Montenegro, that have been going on despite the anti-coronavirus restrictions. The authorities responded to the unrest with arrests and even expelled several priests with the Serb Church accused of stirring up the protests.

“Hundreds of doctors and the military, teachers and lawyers speak out in support of the Church. Each of them is facing discrimination. But no one turns off the road of confession,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Trying to create a church in pursuit of political goals is a particularly slippery slope, the Patriarch stressed, warning against creating more schism in the Orthodox Christian world.

“The ruler of a secular state cannot create a Church. There is no and can be no consideration that would justify the encroachment of the state upon the national shrines safeguarded by the Church.”

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Ukraine is a shining example of what can come out of such policies, where creation of their own ‘church’ for the sake of “unity” – and drifting away from Moscow – caused only more turmoil in the country, the Patriarch warned.

“This adventure has only deepened the schism and brought suffering to millions of Orthodox Ukrainians,” he said, noting that the whole church affair “has put an end to the political career” of then-President Petro Poroshenko.

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