HomeProductsThe Macedonian TimesBookOn-lineContact usE-mail

The Macedonian Church
There is no data available whether representatives from Macedonia attended the First Ecumenical Synod of Nicea in 325. However, the Second Synod at Serdica in 343 was attended by Parigorius, the first Metropolitan of Skopje, and his suffragan the Bishop of Ulpiana (present-day Liplyan); both supported Orthodoxy. The presence of Parigorius proves that there were organized bishoprics in Macedonia headed by metropolitans and bishops since the first decades of the 4th century. In the 5th century the church in Macedonia was well-organized. Of the two metropolitan's dioceses in Thessaloniki and Skopje, the diocese in Thessaloniki was more influential due to its foundation by the Apostle Paul.
The settlement of Slavs in the Balkans, their Christianization and the development of Slavic liturgy and literacy gave a completely new quality to the development of the church in Macedonia. Prince Boris, after the establishment of the Bulgarian state incorporating a part of Macedonia, ordained Clement as Bishop of Dremvica and Velika (893) with a residence in Ohrid, wherein Clement became the first Macedonian-Slavic bishop. The religious service in his bishopric was, of course, held in the language of the Macedonian Slavs, and Ohrid became an educational, literary and a church center. Branko Panov is of the opinion that, nevertheless, the center of Clement's bishopric was located at some distance from Ohrid, because in his Extensive Hagiography Theophylact of Ohrid writes "Clement used to return from Velika to Ohrid to see for himself whether the inhabitants on earth are strong in spirit and whether they resist the fear of God... being at peace in his communication with God in the monastery, the beauty of which he loved and longed for when he was away from it." With the establishment of Samuil's state, the necessity for an independent Macedonian church became imperative. Until the time of Samuil, the church in Macedonia had been under the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Patriarchate founded by Tsar Symeon without the approval of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. At that time eparchies are recorded as existing in the Macedonian towns of Voden, Meglen, Serres, Ohrid and Skopje. The success of the komitopulis' uprising and the wresting of Macedonia away from Byzantine rule (the Bulgarian Empire had fallen in the meantime) demanded that ecclesiastical authority be independent of Byzantine authority and lie close to the secular authority of Samuil, both geographically and ideologically. The center of the church moved to Prespa on the island of Achilles, where Samuil built a magnificent church to house it. The relics of St. Achilles were brought from Larissa, which Samuil conquered in 985.
There is no concrete data as to when Samuil created an autonomous Macedonian archbishopric. Logically, it is most likely that he would begin such immediately after proclaiming himself tsar, which suggests the late 10th century. When he transferred his capital from Prespa to Ohrid, he likewise moved the residence of the archbishopric, known hereafter as the Archbishopric of Ohrid.
Durnovo, in his study Do the Bulgarians have Historical Rights over Macedonian Thrace and Old Serbia? writes that it should be recognized that Ohrid was the capital of Samuil's Slavic-Macedonian empire, and although the empire was labeled as Bulgarian it had nothing in common with the former Bulgarian Empire on the other side of the Danube River. The Macedonian Empire was established "... after the Bulgarians were expelled from Macedonia and it possessed its own separate dynasty and bishops". As Samuil's empire expanded, the jurisdiction of his church was extended as well. The first archbishop of the Archbishopric of Ohrid was Philip, who retained this position from its foundation until the murder of Gavril Radomir in 1015. When Ivan Vladislav took the throne, Philip was dismissed from his post.
Samuil's church did not differ from other eastern churches-it enjoyed all the typical feudal privileges, with estates at its disposal, pareikos (serfs) to cultivate its land and exemption from various dues and taxes. Samuil favored the high clergy to a greater and more pronounced degree than other secular feudal lords. "The independent Macedonian Orthodox Church in Samuil's Macedonian state had the final say in the whole of spiritual and educational life, it regulated legal and family relations and united the people under the symbol of its name, in the spirit of the widely-accepted medieval principle of unity between church and state, in accordance with the apostolic theory that there is no power other than that of God", emphasizes Lidija Slaveska. Secular rights, courts and legislation were the three basic functions of the state, but these were effected by the church as well, as it was organized as an independent social community.
In the history of the Macedonian people, Samuil's state and the Archbishopric of Ohrid played another crucial role. Samuil introduced the language of the Macedonian Slavs to state administration, while the church acknowledged Macedonian as well-not surprising, considering it was the language of Cyril and Methodius and their disciples Clement and Naum. The raising of Macedonian to the level of an administrative and ecclesiastic language encouraged the standardization of dialectal forms.
As Samuil's state shrank in later years, the eparchies in areas now outside its borders broke their ties to Ohrid. Consequently, towards the end of Samuil's empire the Archbishopric of Ohrid exercised its power only in Macedonia, where both the clergy and the people belonged to the same ethnos-the Macedonian. The formation of the Macedonian Slavs as a nation was accelerated by the fact that Macedonia was the basic core of Samuil's state and the Macedonian Slavs its core population. Therefore, Archbishop of Ohrid and Skopje and Metropolitan of Macedonia, his Holiness Dositey, was correct in stating that "There is no need to put a particular emphasis on the fact that the Archbishopric of Ohrid, and later the memory of it, was the only source of Macedonian national awareness."
It is significant that Basil II, after the destruction of Samuil's state, allowed Samuil's church to remain autocephalous-separating the archbishopric from the authority of the Bulgarians. In 1142, on the subject of the five eastern patriarchal thrones Nil Doxopatria wrote that the Bulgarian church, like the one in Cyprus, was autocephalous and had never been subordinated to any of the patriarchies. It was an independent church administered by its own archbishops. He also added: "In the distant past this church was not Bulgarian, but it became so later on, when it was taken over by the Bulgarians and when it was named Bulgarian." But Basil II did not subjugate the archbishopric to the Constantinople Patriarchate. Byzantine sources prove that an instrument was thereby created for cultural and ideological influence on the Slavic population in the conquered areas while at the same time the emperor avoided increasing the power of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Branko Panov holds a similar view. Panov, in studying the life of Archbishop Theophylact, the most passionate of the preachers of Graecism on Macedonian territory, arrives at the conclusion that the role of the Archbishopric of Ohrid under Byzantine rule-from the 12th century to the 15th-states that "The essence of the autocephaly of the Archbishopric of Ohrid lay in the fact that the Archbishop of Ohrid was entitled to govern the subordinated eparchies himself [at the time of Samuil there were 32, later 25, with a continual reduction in the number], where he implemented Byzantine ecclesiastic and state policy. All this proves that the Archbishop of Ohrid was independent in respect the governance of subordinated churches of the Ohrid archbishopric; but this did not imply in respect to Byzantine state and church authorities."
Panov's thesis is part of a more comprehensive and accepted scholarly school arguing that, in addition to Theophylact, many of his Greek predecessors and successors linked the independence of the Archbishopric of Ohrid to the independence of the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, established in 535. Emperor Justinian I (527-565) was born in the village of Taurision near Scupi. At his birthplace he built the town of Justiniana Prima, and by a law enacted April 14, 535, divided the region of Eastern Illyricum into two ecclesiastic regions: he left the southern part to the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, while establishing the northern region as an independent archbishopric and raising the Metropolitan of Scupi to the level of an autocephalous archbishop. The Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima included the provinces of Dacia Prima (present-day Serbia) including the town of Vidin; Mediterranean Dacia including the town of Serdica (Sofia); Dardania and Praevalitana including the town of Skadar (Skutari); the northern part of Macedonia Secundus including the town of Vilazar (Titov Veles) and part of Pannonia Prima including Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) and Taurunum (Zemun). In 545, Justinian I subjugated Justiniana Prima to the Pope of Rome and from that time forward its archbishops were subordinate to Rome, as noted by Slavko Dimevski. The Greeks archbishops defended the autocephaly of the Archbishopric of Ohrid not because they wished to preserve it as a Slavic church, but to have a free hand in their broadly conceived program of Hellenizing its Slavic congregation.
In the beginning, the relationship between the Ohrid archbishopric and Patriarchate of Constantinople were cordial enough Archbishop of Ohrid Paisius even conducted the Synod in Constantinople in 1565, when Patriarch Joasaph was accused of immonia. One sign of mutual respect was the act passed at the Edirne Council of May 1697, whereby the leading officials of the Archbishopric of Orhid, the Patriarchate of Pech and the Bishopric of Cyprus were proclaimed "the respected three", equal by law to "God's proclaimed four patriarchates." However, the weaker the Archbishopric of Ohrid grew, the more intense the ambition of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to subjugate it and the territory of its diocese. The intrigues of the patriarchate in time became part of its relations towards its sister church, and during periods of cool Austro-Ottoman or Russo-Ottoman relations this was manifested by constant suggestions to the sultan that the archbishopric was a tool of Rome, Vienna or Moscow. Disagreements within the archbishopric itself were to the advantage of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The break between the two came with the appointment of Ananias, protosingel of Patriarch Ioannikios III the Karatzas, as Archbishop of Ohrid. This was an organized and unprecedented move made with the sultan's blessing: the patriarchate, despite the independence of the Ohrid archbishopric, granted the right of appointment of the Archbishop of Ohrid to a group of six to seven archpriests who, at the time, were in the Archbishopric of Constantinople and inclined towards Greek domination of the church. The action of appointing a new archbishop to the vacant position was, in fact, initiated by Graecophile colonists from the Ohrid diocese in the Turkish capital. While formal appointment was effected, Ananias was not accepted by the people of Ohrid and the archbishopric did not recognize the new appointment. Expelling Ananias from Ohrid was the last success achieved by church autonomists in Ohird-by bribing Turkish officials and supporters of the Greek cause among the high clergy of the archbishopric, the patriarchate detached diocese after diocese from it. Finally, on January 16, 1767, Archbishop Arsenius resigned "voluntarily," saying that "...owing to an inability to put in order and satisfy the needs of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, which arose before us one after the other..." he would resign. Dismissed from his post as archbishop, Arsenius was appointed as Metropolitan of the Eparchy of Pelagonia, but on June 24, 1767, he was driven from there as well, "voluntarily"resigning again.
Immediately after deposing Arsenius as archbishop, Patriarch Samoil Chanjeri obtained from Sultan Mustafa III an irade (decree) whereby the Archbishopric of Ohrid was abolished and the eparchies included within the patriarchate. The irade furthermore left the inhabitants of these eparchies with no right of complaint against such a decision. In order to obliterate the archbishopric totally, Constantinople abolished the Eparchy of Ohrid itself, transferring the regional seat of ecclesiastical power to Durres and renaming the eparchy the Eparchy of Durres. The name of Ohrid itself was changed to Lychnidos, with the aim of wiping out anything reminiscent of the Archbishopric of Ohrid. After 800 years Ohrid was abolished both as center of an autocephalous church and as residence of an archbishop, despite the fact that it had occupied that position since the first decades after Christianity had come to the Balkans. Expressing its gratitude to the sultan, on May 15, 1767, the Patriarchal Synod passed an act where it "explained" the reasons for abolishing the Archbishopric. As with the Patriarchate of Pech, abolished a year earlier, it was alleged that the Archbishopric of Ohrid had been illegally established and non-canonically separated from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hence, the sultan's edict, whereby the archbishopric was eliminated, was both canonical and "just." Slavko Dimevski notes that even the edict to abolish the archbishopric by the Ottoman Sultan, a sworn enemy of Christianity, was not as cruel as the decision made by the patriarchate to obliterate the existence of the Archbishopric of Ohrid.
After achieving its main objective in the abolishment of the Ohrid archbishopric, the Patriarchate of Constantinople took steps to destroy Slavic spiritual and ecclesiastic life in Macedonia and to impose the laws and customs of the Greek church. The first target of course was the Slavonic religious service; clergy were generally replaced by Greeks and graecomans despite the resistance of congregations soon emerged in Bitola, Ohrid, Skopje, Kukush, Lerin and Tetovo. Although the clergy was dominated by Greeks, the lowest orders remained Slavic-the Greeks eschewed these posts as they brought negligible incomes. During the time of the darkest spiritual slavery under the Pharaniots these Slavic clergy, semiliterate and half-educated, succeeded in preserving the traditions of Clement's church and the Archbishopric of Ohrid.

This site is hosted by Unet