Serbian Orthodox Church faces key decision

Sat Nov 8, 2008 9:16pm EST
 
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By Adam Tanner

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Four months after Serbia swore in a pro-Europe government in a move away from its nationalist past, the Serbian Orthodox Church is deciding whether to stick to its hardline course or become more moderate.

The new face of a church that has long defined Serbs' national identity will emerge after elders decide at a meeting on Tuesday whether to accept the resignation of ailing 94-year-old Patriarch Pavle and choose a successor.

If his resignation is accepted, a new patriarch will be chosen some time in the next three months.

"Now Serbia is after war, after bombing, now Serbia is a very normal democratic country and everything has changed in this country -- only not the church," said Zivica Tucic, the Belgrade-based editor of an independent publication on the church. "It was not possible with the old patriarch."

Patriarch Pavle was elected to the church's top position in 1990 during the dying days of Yugoslavia.

He presided as Serbs warred with neighbors during the 1990s in Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Kosovo, with his priests often blessing soldiers heading to battle those from other religions.

Patriarch Pavle was the one who gave late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic the green light to negotiate an end to the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict on behalf of all Serbs.

Serbs, Croats and Bosnia's Muslims are divided by their religion -- Croats are mainly Catholic and Serbs are predominantly Orthodox. With the Balkan nations still sorting out their place in the world, religion has a big influence.   Continued...

 
<p>Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle is seen in this November 28, 2002 file photo. Four months after Serbia swore in a pro-Europe government in a move away from its nationalist past, the Serbian Orthodox Church is deciding whether to stick to its hardline course or become more moderate. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/Files</p>