The state of the Serbian Orthodox Church in
Australia, that “back end” of the world, is spiralling into a vortex that will return it to post World War 2 conditions
– when the members of the congregation of the church outside of Communist Yugoslavia considered that they did not want
to be dictated to by an atheist regime focussed on downplaying the significance of religion in the country in the 1950s and
into the 1960s.
The resulting schism was the bane of most
church members’ lives for many decades until finally, in 1992 Patriarch Pavle achieved the unachievable, uniting the
two factions under one banner again. Although we all breathed a sigh of relief
it was with some trepidation that we looked to the future here in Australia, as the same undertones and
rumblings that had existed during the time of schism continued to bubble and boil, and many issues were not being addressed
by the church hierarchy.
Throughout the decades of turmoil and separation,
and then into the period of “unity”, Australia
has had numerous “leaders”. One of the earlier Free Serbian Orthodox
Church of Australia bishops was the late Peter, who in partnership with Father Tom Kazich was able to develop plans for the
progress of the church, including children’s camps, the Saint Sava Festival in Canberra,
and other projects that aimed at bringing people together and spreading our faith. Those
early years were full of activity and growth, signalling a positive future in terms of at least maintaining numbers. Following his death, no bishop stayed in office long enough to instil any characteristic
change. Turnover was high – Bishop Vasilije was “in charge”
from 1988 – 93 with the then Archimandrite Sava caretaking for him, then as Bishop, Sava led from 1993 – 1999
on the Free side, with Longin (1986 – 92) and Luka (1993 – 99) on
the Yugoslav side, followed by Nikanor (2000-03) and Milutin (2003 – 06) after reconciliation. The period since reconciliation is now seeing the third Hierarch in office – Irinej (Dobrijevic),
American educated and very well spoken, seemingly a leader of people. Not.
The first sign of alienation from the people
he was sent here to lead was to choose Sydney as his base. This may seem a bit of a paradox at first. This
highest proportion of Serbs in Australia probably resides in Sydney, with the possible exception of Melbourne. However, the seats of Serbian Orthodoxy in Australia had been in Canberra (Free) and
Elaine in Victoria (Yugoslav), where there are two monasteries without a hierarch because he chooses to reside in Sydney,
in relatively luxurious lodgings, and continue his bicycle training whilst keeping tabs on what he considers to be the more
relevant population in the Australian Serb congregation. I make no apologies
for sounding cynical here because yes, I AM!
Secondly, for the first time in the history
of the church in Australia, expulsions
are occurring. People who are opposing actions that are being taken by the church
hierarchy are being advised they are barred from membership of any Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and possibly the world. They
are not to be allowed to have communion at their churches. No consultation is
being entered into. No attempts at ameliorating the situation have been made. The hierarch has made no approaches to members before extreme actions are taken in
order to reconcile these members with their church. Identified members have not
been invited to meetings, including Annual General Meetings, so although money is taken for membership and certainly not refunded,
those members are not advised of church activities.
Now, although a few of the previous leaders
were stirrers and others were not leaders by any stretch of the imagination, this particular hierarch is something different
again. He is not only the best example of what a leader should not do, he seems
to be deliberately sabotaging the fragile unity of this traumatised church at a time when it needs strong and deliberate leadership
of a conciliatory nature. The suspicions of past years are still too raw for
the approach this hierarch has chosen, and the result is a leaderless church which is veering out of control and heading into
very stormy waters.
The church has always had its problems, and
the hierarchs sent here have not always helped – but this one has either been sent here with an agenda to destroy what
is left, or to ensure it does not progress. So who do those members (or ex members
as is more likely the case) go to for some sense in this fiasco? Decisions that
are being made by the hierarch are being overruled by the authorities here in Australia,
but he chooses to ignore these and instead continues to push his own “barrow”, ripping the church asunder as he
pushbikes through the rubble of his inappropriate activity or lack of appropriate activity.
The church in Serbia,
or at least the representative of the Diaspora in Belgrade,
needs to become involved at some stage. A more objective investigation of activities
here is required, one that can delve into the decisions being made and provide reasons why.
The illogicality of what is occurring is becoming very distressing to many, including those who are elderly and needing
peace of mind about where they will be buried and by whom when the time comes, as well as those who are struggling to come
to terms with why they are now being barred from membership of communities they have been a part of and toiled to progress
for the whole of their lives.
There have always been problems. The numerous factions amongst the Serbian communities across Australia
and globally have meant that trauma and disruption are part of the life of each community.
Apathy has played a major part in distorting the atmosphere in many communities too.
But the communities have overcome these hiccoughs and have managed to continue their work in maintaining activity with
involvement by all who are interested. Now we have come to the state of affairs
when lifelong members are being advised their membership is rescinded, and they are not to attempt to become members elsewhere. And we thought the Dark Ages were behind us!
Some people simply never learn. Others are gullible. And still others have ulterior motives that are not spelled out as a matter of public knowledge.
We Serbs are a sad and sorry lot.
Nedaj Boze da se Srbi sloze!