Visitors from afar
Last week we had some visitors from elsewhere: a bishop and priest from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and a priest from the USA.
Every year a Serbian bishop comes to South Africa for the patronal festival of the Church of St Thomas the Apostle in Sunninghill (which falls on 6/19 October), and this year it was the turn of Bishop David of Stobi, who was accompanied by Deacon Marko. They arrived on Wednesday, and several people gathered to meet them at the church for a Doxology, followed by lunch. Fr Milovan has kindly published a translation of Bishop David’s address here.
On Saturday at Vespers there were several clergy from our Archdiocese present, and afterwards Bishop David told us something about the difficulties of the church in FYROM.The Archbishopric of Ohrid became the centre of the Orthodox mission to the Slavs started by SS Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century, but was subject to the changing political fortunes of the region. The Archbishopric was abolished by the Ottoman Turkish rulers in 1767, and annexed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, presumably because the Turks wanted Chrisdtin leaders where they could see them, in the capital of their empire. Ohrid became part of Yugoslavia after the First World War, and under the pastoral care of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and in 1967 the Archbishopric of Ohrid was restored, but the communist government of Yugoslavia encouraged its leaders to seek complete independentce. Unlike the Turks, their policy of controlling the church was “divide and rule”. The self-proclaimed Macedonian Orthodox Church thus went into schism, and was not recognised by any other Orthodox Church.
In the 1990s Yugoslavia broke up into the constituent republics of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and in negotiations to heal the schism in 2002 it was agreed that the Orthodox Church in FYROM would become the autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid. There was an objection to calling it the “Macedonian Orthodox Church”, since the greater part of Macedonia lies in Greece, and it would imply that the bishopsw in FYROM would control part of the church in Greence as well. At the last minute, however, the Macedonian bishops reneged on the asgreement, encouraged by state officials, and only one bishop, Jovan, ended the schism, and became Archbishop of Ohrid, and part of the canonical Orthodox Church, recognised by other Orthodox Churches throughout the world.
As an autonomous church, it goverrns itself through its own synod, and makes its own decisions. The only difference from an autocephalous church is that the election of the Archbishop must be formally ratified by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. But the Autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid has been persecuted by FYROM political officials, with police raids on its monasteries, and arrests and imprisonment of its clergy, including the Archbishop, on trumped up charges, More information about this can be found on the web site of the Archdiocese.
The other visitor was Fr Jonathan Proctor, who played a significant role in our joining the Orthodox Church in 1985-87. In 1968, as an Anglican theological student, I had discovered the writings of Fr Alexander Schmemann, which made most sense to me. For some years I rather naively hoped that the ecumenical movement would bring Anglicans and Orthodox closer together, but when it became clear that the gap was not narrowing but widening rapidly I went to see the local Orthodox priest, who, however, spoke only Greek. I wrote to Fr Alexander Schmemann to ask for his advice, only to discover that he had died two years previously. My letter was passed on to a South African student at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York, Jonathan Proctor, who wrote back to me and told me about an English-speaking Orthodox parish in Melrose, Johannesburg. A couple of years later Jonathan and his wife Vera came and spent a couple of years in Johannesburg, where we got to know them.
After ordination Fr Jonathan became a parish priest in St Paul, Minnesota in the USA, but he occasionally visits his family in South Africa, and so it was a great joy to see him again after nearly 20 years.