The greatest political controversy surrounding the Macedonian Church (MPC) is actually the Constitution. The Constitution was amended to mention the other major religious groups besides the MPC.
Le posizioni controverse della Chiesa ortodossa macedone e la difficile coabitazione di più professioni religiose, nell'attuale processo di assestamento del paese. Un approfondimento di Dejan Georgievski da Skopje. (testo in inglese).
...1:6 And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Macedonians
"Thank God, we are all atheists!" says an old joke. Of course, we know for a fact that we are not all atheists, but we are not all believers either.
Consider the case of Macedonia. In spite of the fact that a good proportion of Macedonians will look you in the eye and tell you that they are Orthodox Christians, less then 20% of them will claim that they are religious. Church attendance is estimated at less then five percent (there is no genuine statistical data), which rises dramatically for masses during the greatest holidays, like Christmas or Easter. And yet, every once in a while, we are reminded by journalists, politicians, and artists, that Macedonian is biblical land mentioned in the New Testament.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church doesn't do much to promote its cause. There is an increasing tendency to see its priests driving around in wild expensive cars; they generally have homes bigger than the St. Clement of Ohrid's Cathedral in Skopje; and last, but not least, their overall image of being extremely well off does not combine well with the population that gets poorer and hungrier with every passing day.
They are also inclined to put themselves behind a wall of big strong men known as bodyguards (we used to think of them as thugs and criminals) at all great religious holiday celebrations. Quite naturally, the people don't like it.
...1:7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
St. Paul's First Epistle to the Macedonians
In all fairness, the Church does try to be socially active. However, it does it in such a clumsy and naive manner that it usually provokes nothing but laughter or, in the majority of cases, anger.
For instance, the Bishop of Bitola Jovan Dremvicki, received at first as the new great hope of the Church for his social activism, care for the needy and disadvantaged, came up with a solution to the problem of the falling birth-rate among the Macedonians. His humble proposal had it that every family that gives a birth to a third child should receive free housing from a foundation that he intended to establish. One could easily read between the lines of that proposal, directed primarily at compensating for the extremely high birth rate with the Macedonian Albanians. Little was he interested in the fact that the overall economic environment in the country hardly allows the potential parents to provide sustenance for themselves, let alone a family of five.
Then we have the dubious tolerance of the Macedonian Orthodox Church leadership, the Holy Synod, for any new faith that tries to penetrate Macedonia. The Adventists, the Methodists, the Pentecostalists, and the dreaded persistent Jehovah's Witnesses have all felt the verbal wrath and righteous anger of the Synod. They all had to suffer through being called, in no particular order: Satan worshipers, Sectarians (probably true), sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah, and other names worthy of a position somewhere between Purgatory and Hell.
We consider ourselves lucky that so far, neither the Orthodox Church, nor the Islamic Community have submitted initiatives for religious education in the schools. Halleluiah!
Politically, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has historically lagged behind. Since 1762, when the Ohrid Archbishopric was abolished by the Constantinople Patriarch, there was no organized church to speak of or to be active in the ways the other Orthodox churches in the Balkans were. Its importance was mostly symbolic, a sort of a distant spiritual beacon that led the Macedonians through the hard times of the Ottoman Empire. After WWII, it fell into a similar, and yet radically different, situation as its sisters all over the Communist world. The situation was similar in terms of great loss of believers, primarily to atheism, and different since all one's faith could bring upon the practicing, churchgoing believers was the inability to enter the Communist Party. That, you will agree, is not such a bad thing when looked upon from today's perspective. In 1967, when it was reestablished, this time under the name Macedonian Orthodox Church - Ohrid Archbishopric, it adopted a position towards the Communist rulers that may be best explained with the old saying "live and let live."
After independence, the Church had to steadily fight to get back to its former (if any) position in the society. It got a privileged position in the new Constitution, which cited its merits in the process of establishing the Macedonian state and Macedonian identity. It tried, as slyly as possible, to raise the issue of its nationalized possessions. It tried to influence the Presidential Elections, using the new confidence it gained with the ascent to power of VMRO-DPMNE (in theory Demo-Christian party of the center-right) falling into a strange situation. It tried to work against the "enemy," embodied in Tito Petkovski, presidential candidate of the SDSM, the party of the reformed communists, and to promote Boris Trajkovski, the candidate of the VMRO-DPMNE. The irony is that Petkovski is, at least nominally, an Orthodox Christian, while Boris Trajkovski is a Methodist Preacher. The Church quickly learned its lesson and kept its mouth shut for the rest of the Electoral Campaign. That didn't stop the SDSM from trying to play the Orthodoxy card, which it eventually abandoned as useless and counterproductive.
The greatest political controversy surrounding the Macedonian Church (MPC) is actually the Constitution. The Constitution was amended to mention the other major religious groups besides the MPC. That worthy idea could not go without problems, either. Seemingly, President Boris Trajkovski used his Office and position to promote the Methodist congregation to Constitutional status (Sic!), in spite of the fact that there are several religious groups that are more numerous.
The saga continues.
Burn them all to the ground
Enter the security crisis (or was it war) that erupted in Macedonia in January, and the complexity of the situation increases dramatically.
First of all, there is another deity in the game. Alah has now joined the Almighty in creating havoc in Macedonia. The Albanian rebels are predominantly Muslim, which adds a new dimension to the overall ethnic conflict. The situation was made even more mind-boggling with news and reports that Islamic fundamentalists, mujahideen, from the Arab countries (Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda has been frequently mentioned) have joined the struggle of their Islamic brethren, the Albanians.
Then the wanton destruction started. Macedonian security forces destroyed several mosques on the pretext that they were used for sniper and machinegun firing points. In all truth, the construction work and the thick enforced concrete used in many of them looked more like a nuclear bomb shelter than a house of God. The Army didn't spare the 14th Century Christian monastery in the village of Matejce, near Kumanovo, which was also used as fortification point by the National Liberation Army (NLA).
Nevertheless, the worst was yet to come. Both the Albanians and the Macedonians learned the lesson taught in Bosnia, and used destruction of churches and mosques as an instrument for ethnic cleansing. First, during the riots in the southern city of Prilep, on the occasion of the death of ten reserve soldiers in an NLA ambush, the citizens of Prilep attacked and burned to the ground the old mosque built in the 15th Century. The mosque was defunct and was not used for religious purposes for quite some time, but was protected by the Law as part of the cultural inheritance of Macedonia.
After the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, and as a part of a campaign to "ethnically cleanse" the western parts of Macedonia from its Macedonian population, the Monastery dedicated to the Holy Madonna in the village of Leshok was destroyed, and several days ago the 14th Century Church of St. George in the village of Mala Rechica near Tetovo was burned to the ground. The case of the Leshok Monastery is especially illustrative. It was the home of Kiril Pejcinovic, one of the first Macedonian enlightenment activists in Macedonia, and the father of Macedonian literature, since he was the first man to use the Macedonian language in his short poems and sermons.
That is the problem in the Balkans. Religion and faith are primarily cultural characteristics, and are frequently used to convey the message that a certain community is not welcome in a certain place. This is especially strange keeping in mind that Albanian nationalism was always ethnic, and was never considered religious.
Luckily enough, the religious leaders on both sides have gotten the message and have called for respect of the other religions' temples and religious sites, but it is unclear if their message will get through. Only this morning the cab-driver that took me to work told me that the radio reported the arson of the central mosque in the southern city of Bitola. "That is what they need," he tells me in a voice that airs both despair and hardness of heart. "I say burn them all to the ground."
...1:8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone everywhere, so we need not say anything.St. Paul's First Epistle to the Macedonians
If only St. Paul knew a little better, he might have gone to Mesopotamia.