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Macedonia - Religion

The country’s two major religious groups are Orthodox Christianity and Islam.There is a correlation between ethnicity and religious affiliation; the majority of Orthodox believers are ethnic Macedonian, and the majority of Muslim believers are ethnic Albanian. Approximately 65 percent of the population is Macedonian Orthodox, and 32 percent is Muslim. Other religious groups include Roman Catholics, various Protestant denominations, and Jews.

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. An antidiscrimination law to protect against different forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on religious beliefs, was implemented on January 1. There is no official state religion, but a 2001 amendment to the constitution specifically lists five religious groups: the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA), the Islamic Community of Macedonia (ICM), the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish Community, and the Evangelical Methodist Church. Members of other religious groups asserted that the government favored the MOC-OA.

The law requires religious groups to register in order to acquire status as legal entities and states that all registered groups are separate from the state and equal before the law. The law details application materials for new registrants and a timeline in which the court must issue its rulings. The name and official insignia of new groups must be different from the names and insignia of previously registered groups, but the law allows multiple groups of a single faith to register. The courts have interpreted the law to require that the registered leaders of religious groups be Macedonian citizens.

At various times before World War I, the Eastern Orthodox diocese in Macedonia was under the jurisdiction of Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek Orthodox authorities. Between the world wars, the Serbian church was in control. Until 1958 the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek Orthodox hierarchies recognized no distinct Macedonian nation or independent Macedonian Orthodox Church. In 1958, however, the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy recognized the Macedonian dioceses by consecrating a Macedonian bishop. Shortly thereafter the Macedonian Orthodox Church came into official existence, but it remained under the authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

In 1967 Macedonian clergymen proclaimed their church independent, prompting the Serbian Orthodox Church to refuse all further relations with it. The Serbian Patriarchate responded by denouncing the move and labeling the Macedonian clergy as schismatic. Aware that a self-governing Macedonian church would enhance the sense of Macedonian nationhood within the Yugoslav federation, political authorities gave the church their full support. Without recognition from the Serbian hierarchy, however, the Macedonian church remained isolated from the world's other Orthodox churches. By the mid-1980s, the Macedonian Orthodox Church had six dioceses in Yugoslavia and two abroad, 225 parishes, 102 monasteries, about 250 priests and about 15 monks, and one school of theology.

Since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the Serbian Church has tried to restore its control in Macedonia. The breakaway Macedonian Church, which remains unrecognized by any Orthodox patriarchate, sees the efforts by the Serbian Church as being closely linked with the agenda of Serbia's government.

Funded by the Macedonian state, the breakaway Macedonian Church claims jurisdiction over eight dioceses and more than 1,000 churches across the country -- including the historic Archbishopric Of Ohrid established on Lake Ohrid in 1019, and hundreds of medieval Serb Orthodox shrines. The breakaway church also claims jurisdiction over hundreds of thousands of ethnic Macedonian emigrants and their descendants around the world who form the Macedonian diaspora.

Since being elected in 1999 as the head of the breakaway Macedonian Church, Archbishop Stefan has lobbied politicians for support in the feud with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, the Serbian Patriarchate has tried to regain its control over Macedonian diocese since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It considers a competing branch that falls under the umbrella of the Serbian Orthodox Church as the only legitimate Macedonian Church, and it recognizes a Serb Orthodox bishop, Jovan Vraniskovski, as the legitimate leader.

The Serbian Patriarchate in 2005 appointed Jovan as Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje. But Macedonia's state commission on religion recognizes Stefan's breakaway church and refuses to register Jovan's Serbian-backed Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric. Authorities in Skopje also have expelled Jovan and his supporters from his former Metropolitanate, jailing the Serbian Orthodox bishop several times on charges ranging from disturbing the peace, resisting police, instigating ethnic and religious hatred, and embezzlement.

The head of Serbia's Orthodox Church recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia, signaling an end to a religious dispute dating back more than 50 years. Patriarch Porfirije, the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, announced the decision to recognize the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia during a joint liturgy on 24 May 2022 in Skopje. “Brothers and sisters, we are here to bring you joy," Porfirije said. “God is one, his church is one, and our faith is one. That is why we are rejoicing today. A miracle is happening before us. We are part of that miracle.” Believers at the joint service and around St. Clement of Ohrid Cathedral greeted the announcement with joy and thunderous applause.

Porfirije said the synod of Serbia's senior bishops unanimously accepted the change, and an official proclamation of the church's independence is being prepared. The proclamation will be followed by an invitation of acceptance to be sent to other Orthodox churches. Porfirije expects that all local churches will accept the autocephaly status of the church, whose formal name is the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric. Formal recognition of the autocephaly of the church is expected to be officially announced by Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. Bartholomew earlier this month acknowledged the Macedonian Orthodox Church as the Church of Ohrid, and the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate followed suit.

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Page last modified: 03-06-2022 18:14:50 ZULU