The Serbian Orthodox Church decided on Saturday not to replace the leadership at its largest monastery at the centre of
a controversy over their more moderate line towards newly independent Kosovo.
The Serbian church regards Kosovo as the cradle of its faith and Serbian nationhood, and is deeply unhappy about the February
declaration of independence in the region where 90 percent of the population is Albanian of Muslim origin.
In August, Bishop Artemije, who oversees the church in Kosovo, ordered the dismissal of the head of the Visoki Decani Monastery
Father Teodosije and his deputy Father Sava, known as the "Cyber Monk" because of his Internet outreach efforts.
The church's leadership delayed a final decision on what Bishop Artemije saw as disobedience against his order barring
contacts with European Union and Kosovo Albanian officials. After days of meetings this week, church elders on Saturday issued
a statement permitting the monastery leadership to stay.
"The church, responsibly and analytically, looked at the difficult situation in Kosovo and Metohija," said the statement.
"The fathers of the holy synod have confirmed the previous decisions of the holy synod which are related to the management
and brotherhood of the Monastery Visoki Decani, taking into consideration the canonic authority of Bishop Artemije."
The dispute over the monastery leadership embodies a larger discussion within the Serbian Orthodox Church over its strong
past nationalist tone. The church has often played an important role in national life and it never raised its voice against
the killings of non-Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Some church officials are hoping for a more moderate nationalist line after its ailing Patriach Pavle, 94, dies, but church
leaders this week unexpectedly declined his request to resign, thus putting off the decision on the church's future.
The 14th-century Decani monastery is one of the best-known historic church properties in Kosovo. Italian troops protect
the monastery from attack, although one Albanian fired a grenade at the walls last year without causing injury.
With 32 monks and novices living at the monastery, Decani is the largest brotherhood of monks in the Serbian Orthodox Church.
They do not go to Albanian areas or villages around the monastery unescorted and buy practically everything they need on trips
outside of Kosovo.
Many see church work as vital to maintaining a Serbian presence as Belgrade continues to challenge the legitimacy of Kosovo's
A visit to the monastery for a special weekly prayer service on Thursday night found about 100 people in attendance, including
elderly Serbs from nearby villages and a few soldiers from international forces stationed in Kosovo. Just a handful of elderly
women attended service on Friday morning.
The Orthodox leadership hopes that its churches will be a factor in encouraging Serbs driven from their homes in Kosovo
amid fighting a decade ago to return.