Save Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
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За српски језик бирајте овај линк http://chng.it/F62C6Cnp
To all of you, our dear Serbian brothers and sisters in the USA, Canada and South America, greetings in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
With this letter, we wish to both inform you of certain disturbing events unfolding in our church and to call upon each of you to assist us in upholding the unity and strength of our Serbian communities on the American Continent by signing this petition. We are deeply saddened and concerned by these new developments and wish to appeal to all of you to speak out with us by raising your voices and to help us sustain our church on this continent and not allow it to be dismembered. Through the prayers of our holy ancestors, for many years now we have been living and functioning as one body, the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, and it is now our sacred duty to continue in their footsteps and with their help to not betray their work, devotion, and sacrifice which we benefit from even to this very moment.
Today we appeal to all of you to ask the Episcopal Council for the immediate annulment of the unilateral and unconstitutional (and therefore illegal) decision to amend the constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. It is clear to us that the activities of the Legal Risk Committee, under the supervision of two of the bishops, Irinej (Dobrijevic) and Maxim (Vasiljevic), seeks to neutralize the role of the clergy, discourage the faithful, and hamper the mission of our church on this continent. The committee is going about this work through its endeavors to suppress the current four-year program at Libertyville Theological School; by promulgating a new Constitution, which abolishes the very name of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America with the use of a "new name" - Serbian Orthodox Dioceses of USA, it removes two large territories of our Church on the American continents, South America and Canada, by removing two exemplary bishops of these territories from the Episcopal Council; as well as scandalously announcing that the clergy would be explicitly required to report confessions of their faithful in certain cases, dismissing the laws of our church, which strictly forbids violation of this holy sacrament under the penalty of defrocking.
With the initiative of Bishop Irinej as the hierarch of Eastern American Diocese, the Legal Council or the Legal Risk Committee was established as an advisory body to the Episcopal and Central Councils. This committee consists of four attorneys, Nada Sizemore, Ljubisa Milicic, Luka Erceg and Leon Lysaght. On April 7, 2019, they wrote and sent a strictly confidential, ‘privileged’ letter to the Holy Council of Bishops requesting the closure of the four-year seminary program at the Theological College of Libertyville. The letterhead on this document said that it was from the Dioceses of the SOC in the USA (instead of the SOC in North and South America) and indicated that the document was strictly confidential and that these attorneys represented the Central Council, although members of the Central Council were neither informed of its contents nor participated in the request to send this memo. It is critical that the title of this memo contains the names of only three bishops as members of the Episcopal Council: Bishops Longin, Maxim and Irinej. The names of Bishop Mitrofan, also dean of the faculty at Libertyville, and Bishop Cyril are excluded. Under the SOC Constitution, no one has the right to exclude any bishop from the Episcopal Council.
Most tragically, these attorneys who are pushing to close the Serbian Theological School on this continent (set up to continue the work of our church) do so by a fabricated pretext that they want to improve the quality of the school.
This same committee was also utilized as the primary guide in drafting the newly introduced Constitution, though all of these lawyers seem to be essentially secular persons who have little or no knowledge of ecclesiastical canon law or of the spirit of the life in Christ as it is lived out in the Church and in Her sacraments. Recently, during the Church Assembly in New Gracanica Monastery near Chicago, held July 13-16, 2019, in the presence of only three out of five of our bishops from the American Continents (Longin, Maxim and Irenej), along with around 250 delegates including priests and lay representatives, the assembly was presented with the “New Constitution,” which according to Bishop Irinej, who chaired the assembly, was approved by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which later turned out to be false, as neither the Holy Synod nor the Holy Assembly were informed or deliberated on these changes. Furthermore, the delegates were not allowed to vote on this new document or to discuss it, but were told instead that it was already binding per the decision of the Holy Synod. According to Bishop Irinej (Dobrijevic), the changes to the Constitution included "non essential" edits, which were not to be subjected to any review by the assembly, but only the "hierarchy," and the delegates' task was not to adopt but simply "receive it.” In fact, the changes that have been made are both profound and serious as they 1) Abolish the very name of our Serbian Orthodox Church 2) exclude two of our church territories, South America and Canada, (which have always been part of our church on this continent), while 3) also excluding two of our bishops, Bishop Mitrophan and Bishop Cyril, from the Assembly, Episcopal Council and Central Church Council. In this way it eliminates almost half of the hierarchs, whose spirituality and examples make an important impact on our church in the Americas. 4) these changes give unlimited powers to these three bishops (Longin, Irinej and Maxim) contrary to canon-law and all relevant rules and regulations of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Finally, the constitutional changes have been made contrary to the precepts of the Constitution itself. According to these precepts, only the Church Assembly, ( aka Crkveno-Narodni Sabor) which represents the highest legislative body on this continent, can make any changes. Article 33 states the following: “The provisions of this Constitution may be amended only by a three-fourths (3/4) vote of all delegates present at a regular or special session of the Church Assembly (Parliament) and by the approval of the Episcopal Council. Changes and amendments to this Constitution are subject to the final ratification of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church.” If in fact these changes are “non essential” and immaterial, why allegedly go to the Holy Synod for unilateral approval and ratification instead of simply making the amendments as required and envisioned by the Constitution itself? If the Holy Synod did approve of these amendments, why haven’t any of the three Bishops produced a written document evidencing such approval?
Thus, we appeal to all of you who love our church and our people to support this plea, and by raising your voices, demand that the unconstitutional modifications be annulled, in order to continue to keep both South America and Canada in the fold of our Church Assembly and its Bishops as members of the Episcopal Council and Central Church Council. As well to insist that, per our Constitution, no changes be forced upon us which have not been subject to the lawful review by the Church Assembly before being presented to the Holy Assembly of Bishops for ratification.
Further, we appeal to all you to take a firm stand for the protection our religious rights, which are under attack by the above mentioned bishops, who want to relinquish the church and our mission to secular parameters and abolish its sanctity via the so-called “Legal Risk Committee.” On the first day of the assembly at New Gracanica, Michael Herzak, president of Insurance Systems Agency, was brought in to give a lecture on how parishes should be additionally insured against potential lawsuits by promoting the need for parishes to additionally insure themselves from potential molestation cases. In this context judge Nada Sizemore (a member of the Legal Risk Committee) added that the committee has been working on the guidelines concerning what could and could not be done in terms of church school or parish organizations, which would again "protect the churches" and that the plan was to be implemented this year. Within these new guidelines clergy, board members, and any new faithful members would be encouraged to undergo national background checks and psychological evaluations in order to protect the church from potential infiltration of offenders or criminals whose actions could be used in a lawsuit against the church. It was especially emphasized that the clergy would be explicitly required to report confessions of their faithful in case they dealt with abuse of minors, even though this is not the issue that our churches are faced with not there are cases that have been occurring in our communities. Further, a businessman and a member of the Legal Risk Committee, Luka Erceg, went on to say that under the new guidelines our clergy would have to break the sacred seal of confession and pass on any information about such confessions to the Bishop and the government authorities. In this way the committee pushes for the violation of this most sacred mystery of holy confession, which is considered to be another baptism, thus discouraging believers from confessing or approaching the church at all.
In the Western American Diocese, this same Luka Erceg, drafted a document, which was adopted by Bishop Maxim on November 1, 2017, asking the clergy to sign and adhere to a new policy which would require both clergy and parish council members to give up their email addresses and to begin using an official diocesan email address which could be accessed by the Bishop and diocesan authorities at any point in time. This new policy was to be signed and returned within a two-week period of time and with the threat that priests either comply or face the threat of “termination.” When the concerned clergy of the diocese rose and resisted this obvious threat to a basic human right by depriving believers of privacy, the diocese temporarily gave up this attempt. After this year's Assembly, Bishop Maxim restarted the initiative to create a system where the clergy would submit all their e-mails to the diocese's control, thereby depriving the faithful of private correspondence with their priests. Bishop Irinej has already sent a letter requesting the clergy and the church Boards to institute the official email addresses and passwords which will not be private any longer but accessible to the Bishop and the Diocese.
We have no choice but to stand up against this usurpation of our sacred sanctuary, beliefs and sacraments, and as honest citizens, we have the right to liberty, life and the free profession of our holy Faith. Therefore together we appeal to the Holy Synod to summon the above mentioned bishops and instruct them to stop pursuing these un-Christian measures and prevent the alienation of our faithful from our holy church. We desire and will ardently pursue this goal through the higher church authorities including the civil legal system in order to preserve the flock of Christ, which is being subjected to the subtle but serious crippling of their religious freedom and rights, which, no doubt, will only become sharper and more pernicious. We appeal to all of you, the faithful Serbian people, to raise your voices and not allow harm to the unity and prosperity of our Holy Church and its mission. Let us not betray and forego the sacrifices of our holy ancestors who, with their humble lives and modest earnings have given much to God and us, their posterity.
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