7 March 2013
In Ohrid, Macedonia, a priest takes to the streets, blessing the faithful with holy water. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2004, writer Sean Sprague visited a corner of Macedonia to report on the thriving faith of the Orthodox:
Although Macedonia became a republic within the newly created Yugoslav federation, which also included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, the Communist government of Josip Broz Tito encouraged Macedonian nationalists and the independence of the Church of Ohrid — if only to irritate Greek ambitions in the area.
The Archdiocese of Ohrid was restored in 1958. Nine years later on the 200th anniversary of its dissolution and despite opposition from the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church proclaimed itself autocephalous.
“We are now a free church and a free people,” exclaimed Father Eftim Betinski, a parish priest from St. George Church. “Now that we have independence, people feel free to visit churches, participate in public ceremonies and make old traditions a part of their lives again.”
When Macedonia was a part of Yugoslavia, people were free to worship, but the Communist government discouraged public religious activities.
“We have an annual tradition where the bishop throws a cross into the lake on 19 January, symbolizing the baptism of Christ. Men dive into the frigid water to retrieve the cross and the one who finds it keeps it for 40 days and receives small donations from people,” Father Betinski said. “The practice used to be forbidden, but now it is allowed.”
The Macedonian Orthodox Church — now under the leadership of Stefan, Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia — is clearly growing.
Read more about the Macedonian Orthodox in Answering the Macedonian Question from the July 2004 issue of ONE.
Tags: Cultural Identity Eastern Europe Communism/Communist Macedonia Macedonian Orthodox Church