SKOPJE, North Macedonia — The head of Serbia’s Orthodox Church said on Tuesday he would recognize the church’s full independence in neighboring North Macedonia, signaling the end of a decades-old religious conflict.
The Macedonian Church unilaterally announced its independence, or autocephaly, from the Serbian Church in 1967, when the two predominantly Orthodox republics were still part of Yugoslavia.
Serbian religious leaders at the time condemned the move as schismatic and the separatist church was not recognized by other Orthodox churches.
On Tuesday, Patriarch Porfirije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, announced the decision during a joint liturgy with the head of the Church of North Macedonia, Archbishop Stefan, held at St. Clement’s Cathedral in Ohrid in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
“Brothers and sisters, we are here to bring you joy,” Porfirije said, adding that the synod of Serbia’s leading bishops had unanimously accepted the change. A formal proclamation of church independence was being prepared, he said, followed by an invitation of acceptance to be sent to other Orthodox churches.
“God is one, his church is one and our faith is one. That is why we rejoice today. A miracle is happening before us. We are part of this miracle,” Porfirije said. His announcement was met with applause from hundreds of people at the service.
The news that the church was no longer in schism with the rest of the Orthodox world was widely seen in North Macedonia as a historic event.
The official recognition of the autocephaly of the church – fully named the Macedonian Orthodox Church – the Archbishopric of Ohrid – is expected to be officially announced by the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians .
“We have been waiting for this news for a long time. It is the day,” Bishop Stefan said, thanking Bartholomew and Porfirije for their support.
On May 9, the Ecumenical Patriarchate officially resumed communion with the Archdiocese of Ohrid, in reference to the Macedonian Orthodox Church.