Attempt to create "schismatic church" and usurpation of monasteries in northern Kosovo ends as complete fiasco – Unity of the Serbian Orthodox Church preserved
Тhe following report contains information about the latest dramatic events in the Diocese of Raska-Prizren. On November 18, former Bishop Artemije and a group of his followers who proclaimed a schism with the Serbian Orthodox Church attempted to occupy some monasteries of the Diocese and establish a schismatic church on the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren. Thanks to the prompt reaction of the Holy Synod of Bishops which defrocked Bishop Artemije and demoted him to the level of an ordinary monk, and the decisiveness of the new Bishop of Raska-Prizren Diocese Teodosije, the renagade former Bishop and his followers were prevented in their attempts. Both occupied monasteries were freed and are now under the control of the Diocese. Monk Artemije and his followers left Kosovo territory in early hours of November 20. As Patriarch Irinej of SOC has officially pressed charges against Artemije Radosavljevic for a criminal attempt to usurp the Church property, Serbian police is expected to detain the former bishop. Monk Artemije also illegaly falsified the official stamp of the Diocese and began issuing official documents while he was trying to impose himself as a Bishop despite the Church law. The usurpers used force, harassed the diocesan clergy in the two usurped monasteries and disturbed public order. The schismatic group of the followers of Artemije Radosavljevic was not supported by the Serbian people and all the diocesan clergy and monks remained completely faithful to the new Bishop Teodosije.
In the early morning hours of 20 November around 5:30 a two-day drama ended in which a group of about forty rebel monks, followers of the former Bishop Artemije, with the help of a group of civilians who came with them, attempted to carry out a coup in the Diocese of Raska and Prizren and by forcible occupation of monasteries to place under the control of Bishop Artemije monasteries in the north of Kosovo and the Raska region. This was a unique event, unprecedented in the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church because it was not a proclamation of schism by an active diocesan bishop, but the forcible usurpation of a Diocese by a retired Bishop who additionally has been banned by the SOC Holy Synod from conducting religious services. Thanks to the rapid and conscientious response of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, which yesterday defrocked Bishop Artemije who is from now on to be referred only as monk Artemije, and on the other hand the presence of mind and determination of the newly elected Bishop Teodosije of Raska and Prizren, the priests, monks, and laity in the Diocese, a situation was forestalled that could very easily have had far-reaching negative consequences for the SOC.
FORCIBLE OCCUPATION OF DUBOKI POTOK MONASTERY
The attempted coup in the Diocese began on Thursday evening, 18 November at 20:30 when former Bishop Artemije with a group of his rebel monks, without the knowledge of the Holy Assembly of Bishops (which was in session), the Administrator of the Diocese Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Teodosije, forcibly occupied the monastery of Duboki Potok in north Kosovo and prevented the hegumen of that monastery protosyncellos Romilo from freely carrying out his canonical duties. Hegumen Romilo was for two days subjected to harassment, physical threats and verbal abuse by the followers of the renegade bishop for refusing to join the schismatics. In the criminal act of usurpation of the monastery, which is owned by SOC, in addition to rebel monks also participated four clerics from the Diocese of Srem (from the monastery of Šišatovac). These were the hegumen of Sisatovac, hieromonk Varsanufije, hierodeacons Damjan and Matej, and monk Paladije, who had left their monastery in North Serbia. During the violent break in into the monastery, together with the followers of the former Bishop Artemije, into this building of the SOC also burst in some thirty members of the so-called Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, headed by the "self-proclaimed Serbian leaders" Milan Ivanovic and Dragan Velic.
Over Anti-church web-sites and some non-professional media it was immediately broadcast that "Bishop Artemije personally as the canonical Bishop of Raska and Prizren, the next day would serve Holy Liturgy” in this monastery despite being under a ban from conducting religious services since 14 October of this year. Bishop Artemije immediately over anti-church media broadcast that he has ,,prepared a canonical letter informing the local priests and monks, as well as the general public and relevant institutions, that he rejects all previous decisions of the illegal and uncanonical administrators of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, who were appointed by decisions of the Synod (i.e. Bishop Atanasije Jevtic and Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic)". With this announcement the former Bishop openly announced that he was entering into schism from the SOC, which would also be publicly stated the next day by the Serbian Patriarch with the Assembly of Bishops.
LITURGY IN THE DINING HALL DESPITE BAN ON RELIGIOUS SERVICES
In the early morning hours of 19 November, former Bishop Artemije requested from hegumen Romilo to hand over the key to the the monastery church, which Fr. Romilo firmly refused, saying he owed obedience only to Metropolitan Amfilohije and the newly elected Bishop Teodosije. Father Romilo was then threatened by several fugitive monk-usurpers, and monk Kiprijan Keljevic seized his two cell phones, the key to his monastic cell and his car keys. Although Liturgy had been initially prepared in the churchyard, due to rain it was decided to serve it in the monastery dining hall, although with a delay of one hour, and Liturgy began around 8:00. The Bishop has served Holy Liturgy contrary to the church canons with eleven of his rebel clerics (who themselves have already been defrocked by the Ecclesiastical Court or are under multiple year bans from conducting religious services). Liturgy in the monastery dining hall was attended by about thirty rebel monks and nuns, and about fifty faithful (mostly followers of the Bishop, mostly from central Serbia, who have been visiting him regularly in the monastery of Šišatovac). After Liturgy the Bishop addressed those present with a homily in which he announced that he had "returned to the Diocese to take over the administration as the canonical Bishop to restore order, peace and unity". He compared the service he had just concluded with “early Christian services in the catacombs”. It was an openly schismatic act, whereby the usurpers of the canonical territory of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren and the property of the SOC attempted to create a schismatic nest, declaring to the public that it was in fact the SOC Holy Assembly headed by Patriarch Irinej that had supposedly fallen into schism. In the history of the Church since early centuries there are many similar examples of such schismatic acts, and in this case there is, furthermore, the usurpation of church property over which neither the former Bishop nor his fugitive monks had any ecclesiastical or legal authority. The seal of the Diocese was forged, as well as the title to which the now former Bishop had no right.
USURPATION OF THE MONASTERY OF DEVINE VODE
Immediately after the Liturgy, the uncanonical and illegal activities of the supporters of the renegade bishop continued. In the early morning hours with the blessing of the Local Administrator of the Diocese the newly elected Bishop Teodosije of Raska and Prizren arrived in Kosovo and Metohija to face the new situation on the ground and protect the established church order. Although most of the monasteries in the north was already under the protection of faithful monks, the people and the local clergy of the Diocese, at about 13:00, taking advantage of a time when only two persons – the hegumen hieromonk Fotije and one other monk – were in the nearby monastery of Devine Vode, a group of the rebel monks broke into the monastery of Devine Vode and forcibly took the keys to the premises and the vehicle from hieromonk Fotije, who was soon forced to leave the monastery. This group was led by defrocked monks Ksenofont Tomasevic and Irinej Ristic, as well as hieromonks under multiple year bans from conducting religious services: Benedikt Preradović and Varnava Vladisavljević with the apparent participation of aggressive monk Kiprijan (Vojislav Keljevic), who like the aforementioned Ristic was criminally convicted before becoming a monk. Like protosyncellos Romilo, Fr. Fotije had hidden the key to the church, so that the usurpers were not able to enter it. Immediately after the violent takeover of the monastery of Devine Vode, former Bishop Artemije, who had already begun to pass uncanonical decisions, signing them without authorization as "Bishop of Raska and Prizren," declared this monastery a female monastery and appointed as administrator the fugitive sister Sara Mosur, who immediately after the takeover of the monastery arrived in Devine Vode with a few of her rebel nuns. It should be noted that in addition to forcible breakins and attempted breakins into some monasteries, no less uncanonical was the behavior of the former Bishop himself, who with his illegal acts began “to constitute a schismatic church" on the the canonical territory of a Diocese that does not belong to him and to encourage acts of violence. Hence, former Bishop Artemije is personally and criminally responsible for the usurpation of the property of the SOC, endangering the safety of the canonical priests, monks and nuns of the Diocese, disturbing the public order and peace in this part of Kosovo, as well as falsification of the official seal and church documents.
At the same time, small groups of rebel monks, among whom hieromonk Benedikt Preradović and defrocked monk Ksenofont Tomasevic were specifically identified, moved in the direction of other monasteries in northern Kosovo near where they were seen. Realizing that the other monasteries in the region were under the protection of the monks and the faithful, and on the territory of central Serbia also by the Serbian Interior Ministry, they did not succeed in carrying out any new raids. In front of the monastery of Banjska near Zvecan a group of Artemije’s monks was blocked on its way by people who gathered to help hieromonk Danilo, the hegumen of the monastery, and his brotherhood. Faithful from Leposavic and Lesak also came with their parish priests to help the monasteries of Vracevo, Sočanica and Ulije, thus preventing the followers of Bishop Artemije from carrying out yet another raid.
UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO BREAK INTO CRNA REKA MONASTERY
In the late afternoon, around 18:30, a violent group of followers of the former Bishop Artemije continued its campaign with an attempt to break into the monastery of Crna Reka (Near Novi Pazar), where there was hegumen protosyncellos Jovan Jelenko with his brethren, and a police patrol of the Serbian Interior Ministry. While fugitive protosyncellos Nikolaj Nikolic (the former hegumen of this monastery) and a group of about ten rebel monks and novices were stopped by the police at the lower monastery dormitory, two particularly aggressive monks (aforementioned Kiprijan – Vojislav Keljevic and Martinijan Djurdjevic) broke into the old konak and demanded of hegumen Jovan that he hand over administration of the monastery to protosyncellos Nikolaj "because Bishop Artemije is now the competent bishop in the Diocese", they said. Father Jovan bravely refused to turn over administration of the monastery to unauthorized persons, and stated his canonical obedience to the canonical Bishop. After the police forced these two usurpers to leave the residence hall, two former novices broke into another residence hall from which they, too, were removed soon afterwards. After this incident police detained Keljevic and Djurdjevic, and the two other persons who broke in – Dejan Stojanovic and Marko Jovanovic – in the police station in Novi Pazar, where the first two were remanded in custody. Former hegumen Nikolaj left with his companions after the unsuccessful takeover attempt of the monastery.
BISHOP TEODOSIJE ENTERS THE MONASTERY OF DEVINE VODE
Seeing that the two monasteries of Duboki Potok and Devine Vode were controlled by groups of persons who had entered into open schism with the Church, which was officially confirmed during the day by the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the SOC, and that there might be attacks by the schismatics on other monasteries of the Diocese, the newly elected Bishop Teodosije of Raska and Prizren, together with the administrative deputy for Mitrovica area protopresbyter-stavrophor Milija Arsovic entered the monastery of Devine Vode at about 17:30 to establish canonical order. Together with the hegumen of the monastery, hieromonk Fotije, the clergy of the church administrative district, a group of faithful, and several Serb members of KPS, Bishop Teodosije entered the monastery of Devine Vode without resistance and ordered the group of schismatic nuns who had uncanonically settled in this monastery to leave the holy shrine immediately and allow the canonical administration to take over the monastery. The nuns left the monastery without resistance, though they verbally insulted Bishop Teodosije. They then went by car to the former Bishop Artemije in nearby Duboki Potok. It should be noted that nun Sara Mosura, who heads this group of these schismatic nuns afterwards said in a statement for some media that Bishop Teodosije allegedly physically assaulted the nuns. Bearing in mind the presence of the clergy and the police during the takeover of the monastery, it is pointless to comment on these open lies and slander. The aforementioned group of nuns, which in recent months has been wandering through Serbia, recently settled in the village of Ležimir in Srem where they formed some sort of private sectarian habitation. Although they had been offered with the highest mercy canonical release by Metropolitan Amfilohije in October despite their unmonastic behavior, and Metropolitan Nikolaj of Dabar-Bosnia canonical reception in his Metropolitanate, these 8 nuns refused to join in regular religious life, remaining loyal to former Bishop Artemije whom they, like the rebel monks (30 altoghether), consider their sole "canonical bishop".
By the evening hours of 19 November most of the rebel monks and nuns had gathered again at the monastery of Duboki Potok, where they received the news that he Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church that evening defrocked Bishop Artemije and reduced him to the rank of an ordinary monk. Seeing that their attempt to usurp the Diocese was going downhill, they firmly decided to retain at least this one conquered monastery and attempt to consolidate their positions. It is important to emphasize that the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the SOC headed by the Serbian Patriarch was of critical importance because as a result of a series of slanderous statements and false information being spread by the supporters of the renegade Bishop, a considerable amount of confusion had been created among the public. Thus, this was a crucial moment whereby the Church not only made it clear that the former Bishop had proclaimed himself the leader of an openly schismatic movement, but also immediately undertook concrete canonical measures to defrock him to the rank of monk, stripping him of his episcopal and priestly order.
BISHOP TEODOSIJE RETURNS MONASTERY OF DUBOKI POTOK UNDER SOC ADMINISTRATION
Around 19:20 in the monastery of Duboki Potok came Bishop Teodosije of Raska and Prizren with protopresbyter-stavrophor Milija Arsovic, a group of priests and faithful. The situation was calm as the rebels gathered in a part of monastery konak where they sang songs and praises to former Bishop Artemije, apparently deeply resigned and disappointed by the decision of Assembly. Bishop Teodosije immediately went to see protosyncellos Romilo, hegumen of the monastery, who during the course of the day, according to his own testimony, experienced numerous acts of harassment and threats especially from the monks Kiprijan and Jakov. Then in the reception room of the monastery he spontaneously addressed the civilians present, among them faithful who had come earlier to protect father Romilo. All were visibly confused by the course of events and did not understand what was actually happening. When Bishop Teodosije explained that he had was by the blessing of the Assembly the new Bishop of Raska and Prizren and that the behavior of former Bishop Artemije was against the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the SOC and the church order, some of them decided to leave the monastery and not to interfere. This significantly contributed to an easing of tensions, but also to the isolation of the group of rebel monks from the obviously deluded civilians present.
Bishop Teodosije asked to meet with Bishop Artemije and talk to him, but the former Bishop categorically refused. Since the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops to defrock him, former Bishop Artemije has refused to comply with this decision and with his supporters leave the monastery of Duboki Potok, Bishop Teodosije was forced to take measures to return the usurped monastery into the possession of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He insisted that international police forces (EULEX) do not interfere in this case because it is an internal Serbian affair of great sensitivity.
Followers of former Bishop, meanwhile, incited the public and constantly spread false information through the Facebook network and some media that the monastery is "under siege by the Albanian police” and that even "special unit Rosa" were engaged, as well as various other lies. At the request of Bishop Teodosije the local Serbian police commander B.D. first tried in a conversation with the former Bishop to persuade him to quietly leave the monastery, in order to avoid unpleasant developments, which Bishop Artemije firmly rejected. Then Bishop Teodosije, after consultation with the Bishops in Belgrade, and in agreement with the commander who pledged to rely solely on Serb members of the local KPS in northern Kosovo, decided that the police carry out eviction of the illegally settled persons. Police was also asked, and made this commitment, to carry everything out as much as much as possible calmly and without the use of force. It was agreed also that Bishop Teodosije, priests, the brotherhood of the monastery and several faithful remain in the reception room, so that the followers of the former Bishop would have no reason for provoking disorder.
The police acted professionally and with utmost caution. That is why the eviction of the schismatic group lasted three full hours, from 1:30 to 4:30 the morning of 20 November. The fugitive monks did not offer physical resisted, although they passively prevented and prolonged their exit by sitting on the floor of the residence hall and singing songs in an atmosphere of fanatical euphoria. First the civilians were taken out, and then the monks and nuns, who calmly exited except for one female novice, who was transferred by female police officers out of the building. A minor incident was made by the former Bishop himself, who locked himself in a room with his two monks, not wanting to leave despite multiple appeals by police that such conduct was not appropriate for his age. Only when the hegumen of the monastery, protosyncellos Romilo gave his blessing, the police officers cautiously broke the lock, after which the former Bishop come down by himself to the car parked in front of the monastery residence hall while his supporters fanatically sang praises to him.
It should be noted that EULEX's prosecutor for inciting public disorder in the monasteries of northern Kosovo was ready to file criminal charges against the former Bishop.
Bishop Teodosije decided not to press charges before an international EULEX court because criminal charges had already been filed during the day by the SOC with the court of the Republic of Serbia in Belgrae as the property of the SOC which has been usurped is in ownership of the Patriarchate in Belgrade. The international police was only asked to safely escort the former Bishop as far as the administrative crossing to Central Serbia.
WITHOUT SUPPORT OF THE SERBIAN PEOPLE OF KOSOVO-METOHIJA AND RASKA REGION
Contrary to all unrealistic expectations of the followers of the former Bishop, the schismatic group that yesterday at one moment held under control two monasteries of the SOC did not in its anti-church activities managed to win the support of the local population. Moreover, the people themselves came to help the diocesan monks and clergy to protect the holy shrines from attempted usurpation. The people of Kosovo and Metohija in particular with attention received the news of the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, which removed any possible dilemma regarding the possible intentions of the former Bishop Artemije and his violent followers he brought with him.
Commenting on the actions of former Bishop, Goran Arsic, president of the Kosovo district (Republic of Serbia administration), stated 19 November for KIM Radio: "Bishop Artemije since he has been relieved of the office of a diocesan bishop has done many things to the detriment of the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija. He created a lot of disunity among the Serbian people, and this is just more proof that he wants at any price is to divide what little is left of the Serbian people into camps or those who are for him and those who are against him." Support for the dismissed Bishop was withdrawn at the last moment by his supporters from the so-called Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, Milan Ivanovic and Dragan Velic. Although they and their his supporters gave direct support to the usurpation of the monastery on 18 November, during the next day and night they made no public statements and withdrew their supporters, realizing themselves that they could be held criminally accountable for the usurpation of SOC property and disturbing public order and peace.
After the removal of the followers of the former Bishop Artemije from the monastery of Duboki Potok, all monasteries of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren are again under the control of the canonical administration of the Diocese and in all of them continues the regular monastic and liturgical life. In the attempt to usurp the property of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, the perpetrators of violence failed to enter a single church thanks to the presence of mind and courage, particularly of protosyncellos Romilo and hieromonk Fotije, the hegumens of Duboki Potok and Devine Vode, respectively. The newly elected Bishop of Raska and Prizren Teodosije was especially assisted in establishin the canonical order in this part of the Diocese by the head priest in Mitrovica Fr. Milija Arsović, the local preasts and faithful.
The Diocese is especially grateful to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia and the police department in the area of Novi Pazar, which with its restrained action prevented the violent break in of "the followers of Artemije" into the monastery of Crna Reka, and to Serbs from the KPS who professionally and with dignity helped the Church to restore order in the monastery of Duboki Potok.
Perpetrators of these unfortunate events in the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in the period 18-20 November left the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, except for two perpertrators of the violent acts Benedikt (Branko Preradović) and Ksenofont (Nenad Tomašević), who are assumed to still be in the north of the Province. In the coming days it is expected that the Ministry of Justice of Serbia will file charges against the perpetrators of these unfortunate events and take necessary measures so that they will be prevented from repeating similar crimes.
Information Service of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija
Gracanica – Prizren, 21 November 2010