July 16, 2010

Drama In The Serbian Church

There has been much drama going on in the Serbian Church regarding the case of fugitive archimandrite Simeon Vilovski (who is hiding in Greece) and events in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren. The Holy Synod of the Church in Serbia issued the following statement on 8 March 2010 that explains the situation:

Archimandrite Simeon Vilovski (born January 11, 1963) has found himself in the focus of a serious church and financial scandal related to the embezzlement of cash funds intended for assistance to the poor and the restoration of churches in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren (Kosovo). This cleric is also accused of canonical offenses(1). As hegumen of the monastery of St. Stefan (Banjska) and the secretary to His Grace Bishop Artemije of Raška and Prizren, Fr. Simeon is accused by the Church and police authorities for the misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of euros, which he used for his personal benefit, for the rental of office space in Serbia and an apartment in Thessaloniki, as well as for other illegal and anti-canonical activities.

On May 19, 2006 the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church kindly requested His Grace Bishop Artemije of Raška and Prizren to undertake canonical measures in the diocesan ecclesiastical court against protosyngel Simeon and to dismiss him from all administrative church duties in his Diocese. This decision was made on the basis of a detailed investigation conducted by a Special Commission of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, which was appointed by Patriarch Pavle of blessed repose to investigate financial irregularities in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren.

Bishop Artemije also refused to carry out a decision by the Holy Assembly of Bishops to accept and to put into liturgical use churches and parish homes that were destroyed in previous years by Albanians, and that had been renewed and rebuilt in accordance with the decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops and the Synod by the International Expert Commission with the participation of Vicar Bishop Teodosije of Raška and Prizren, who was appointed by the Holy Assembly of Bishops. Bishop Artemije also refused to return to his see in Prizren and to serve Liturgy in the Orthodox Cathedral in Prizren and other churches, despite repeated requests to do so by the faithful.

Despite the Holy Assembly of Bishops, His Grace Bishop Artemije failed to carry out this decision and firmly protected his secretary Simeon (still claiming that all the testimony against him was libelous). The Holy Assembly of Bishops repeated this same decision in November 2008 and May 2009, again kindly requesting His Grace Bishop Artemije to undertake measures against Fr. Simeon Vilovski and his associates. The Holy Synod tried again to implement this decision by the Holy Assembly of Bishops by the next annual convocation of the Assembly in 2010. Despite many efforts His Grace Bishop Artemije failed to resolve and clear up the questionable financial activities in his Diocese; furthermore, in the media he openly challenged the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops regarding the reconstruction of destroyed churches in Kosovo and other decisions. Instead of bringing his cleric before the diocesan ecclesiastical court, Bishop Artemije elevated him to the office of archimandrite and made him his deputy, officially making him the most powerful person in his Diocese. In the meantime, Fr. Simeon severely abused that position.

After the election of the new Serbian Patriarch, His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej, in January 2010, the Holy Synod of Bishops again dealt with this issue, having previously received several complaints from monks and nuns of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren in connection with the situation in the Diocese. After His Grace Bishop Artemije’s decision not to appear at the session of the Holy Synod of Bishops on February 4, 2010, although he had previously been invited to it by the Patriarch himself, the Holy Synod of Bishops sent two of its members, His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands and His Grace Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, to visit Bishop Artemije in Gračanica Monastery, together with the Financial Commission of the Holy Synod of Bishops, which was scheduled to continue the task it began in 2006. Bishop Artemije resolutely refused to cooperate with the representatives of the Synod and issued a public statement in which he accused none other than the Patriarch and Synod of working under political pressure from foreign embassies.

Finally, Bishop Artemije was invited again to appear before His Beatitude the Patriarch and the Holy Synod of Bishops on February 11, 2010 in Belgrade in order to discuss a solution to the resulting situation. Bishop Artemije came to the session while a group of his followers and supporters protested in front of the Patriarchate. Since His Grace Bishop Artemije continued to maintain that he did not want to carry out the decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops and no agreement was reached, he was placed on temporary leave from administering his Diocese, until the conclusion of canonical proceedings initiated by the Holy Synod of Bishops. The Holy Synod of Bishops has appointed His Grace Bishop Atanasije (Jevtić), the former Bishop of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, temporary administrator of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren.(2)

Meanwhile, archimandrite Simeon, who fled from Kosovo “like a thief in the night”, according to police and customs authorities crossed into FYR Macedonia in a vehicle with FYROM license plates, and then entered Greece in a vehicle with Belgrade license plates. In Greece he has bank accounts since in recent years he paid more than 600,000 U.S. dollars through the National Bank of Greece to a U.S. citizen of Greek origin, Mr. James Jatras. Jatras was supposed to “lobby” for the Serbs, although his activities have not brought any benefits.

An even bigger surprise came when the administrator of the Diocese, Bishop Atanasije, discovered documents according to which archimandrite Simeon at the beginning of January 2010 was accepted into the clerical union of Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus. Neither the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church nor the Synod of the Church of Greece was informed about this event. However, it is indicative that archimandrite Simeon CONTINUED TO PERFORM all church duties in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren after his canonical discharge for the Metropolitanate Piraeus, which represents a serious violation of church canons. There is written evidence that Fr. Simeon used the official seal of the Diocese and organized official meetings with the clergy of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren although he was, in fact, a cleric of the Church of Greece. From this we can deduce that during one period he belonged to both the Serbian and the Greek Church. This whole case remains extremely unclear.

The Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs has already issued a warrant for Simeon Vilovski based on the official report of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is not known where the fugitive Vilovski is presently hiding but it is not unreasonable to wonder why, if he is innocent, he would not return to Serbia and vindicate himself. In any case, his present location remains unknown. It seems that he has joined the Life-Giving Spring Monastery in the village of P. Kokkinia, which belongs to the Metropolitanate of Piraeus, but he could just as well be located in Thessaloniki.

Based on all that has been said, His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus is also a victim of deception because he certainly could not have known that archimandrite Simeon, whom he accepted as a cleric in his Metropolitanate, has been twice condemned by the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church and that there is presently an international warrant out for his arrest. Fr. Simeon's closest associate, Predrag Subotički, who was responsible for financial matters in the Diocese and served as the head of the Diocesan Building Commission, has already been arrested by Serbian police in Belgrade and is in custody, since together with Simeon he inflicted huge material and financial damage to the Diocese, as well as to Orthodox Christians in Kosovo and Metohija.

Events in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren have attracted great attention from Serbian media because Kosovo and Metohija is the most painful wound of the Serbian people. If it is proven, and there is already much evidence and testimony to that effect, that archimandrite Simeon with Subotički committed serious crimes, this can have serious consequences for His Grace Bishop Artemije, who persistently refused to carry out the decisions of the Assembly and correct financial matters in his Diocese. The decisive measures undertaken by the new Patriarch and the Holy Synod of Bishops, which is comprised of Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands, Bishop Irinej of Bačka, Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, and Bishop Fotije of Dalmatia are considered to be a highly accountable process whose aim is the preservation of the moral and spiritual authority of the Church instead of sweeping the problem “under the carpet”.

A few days ago on Serbian state television, Bishop Irinej of Bačka explained the above-mentioned efforts of the Holy Synod of Bishops to help Bishop Artemije to alleviate his problems and to send Simeon Vilovski before the ecclesiastical court. He also said that many people in Serbia and abroad, who feel solidarity with the suffering Orthodox Christians in Kosovo, should know that the Church is acting openly and responsibly against abuses in the use of financial contributions by a group of irresponsible clerics and their accomplices.

The final resolution of this problem is expected at the annual convocation of the Holy Assembly of Bishops at the end of April, when the situation in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren and the case of His Grace Bishop Artemije will be discussed. Many expect that a dignified withdrawal from the position of Bishop of Raška and Prizren would be the most responsible action of His Grace Bishop Artemije. Meanwhile, the police of Serbia and Greece are searching for Vilovski, who is expected to be brought to justice soon.

From the office of the Information Service of the
Holy Synod of Bishops

In Belgrade, March 8, 2010


(1) One of the canonical violations of hieromonk Simeon is that as a student at the Theological Faculty of Thessaloniki in 1992 he served in the chapel of St. Sava on the Chilandar metohion-chapel in Thessaloniki and during the Liturgy mentioned the name of Bishop Artemije instead of mentioning the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Protosyngel of the Metropolitanate of Thessaloniki arrived and removed the Antimension (Fr. Simeon used the Antimension of Bishop Artemije on the canonical territory of another Orthodox Bishop /Transl.) and brought the Antimension of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Bishop Artemije did not punish Fr. Simeon for this canonical violation! The second canonical violation occurred on the feast of St. Nicholas in 2009 in the monastery of Gračanica. Fr. Simeon had donned his vestments but when he saw Bishop Artemije and Auxilliary Bishop Teodosije taking the time to serve together the Liturgy, he told Bishop Artemije he did not want to concelebrate with Bishop Teodosije. He then removed his vestments and left the church, and Bishop Artemije did not sanction this act of “brotherly love”, even though according to Apostolic Canons 8 and 9 he should have been defrocked!

(2) According to His Grace Bishop Irinej of Bačka, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has decided to initiate preliminary proceedings to determine the canonical responsibility of His Grace Bishop Atanasije of Raška and Prizren (SOC Constitution, article 70, paragraphs 20 and 36) with the obligation that he cooperate during the court process and that he be placed on temporary leave from administering the Diocese of Raška and Prizren until the conclusion of the proceedings and judgment, i.e. until the next annual meeting of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The dramatic events leading up to the happenings in this statement and following this statement can be read here, here and here.

More can be read in the following articles leading up to these events:

Serbian Police Investigate Bishop's Associates (16 February 2010)

Serbia: Orthodox Church Shocked By Corruption Claims (5 March 2010)

A few days after the statement of March 8th, Simeon Vilovski was arrested in Thessaloniki, Greece on March 11. More can be read here.

To read about the struggle for Church unity in Kosovo as a result of this scandal, see this article titled "Kosovo: A Battle For Souls".

With the dismissal of Bishop Artemije, two monasteries who supported him began a rebellion and threatened to abandon their monasteries in June. Read more here.

The office of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren and Kosovo and Prizren-Gracanica, issued the following statement on 3 June 2010 regarding the return to status of layman of Simeon Vilovski. It also outlines his many violations against canonical order.

On 15 June 2010 Bishop Atanasije Jevtic gave an interview for Romfea.gr regarding the various issues involving the Serbian Church, including that of Bishop Artemije and Simeon Vilovski. It can be read here. Vilovski responded and a debate ensued between them until 14 July 2010. The debate can read here, here, here, here, and here.

On 13 July 2010, Greece's Supreme Court rejected Serbia's request for the extradition of Simeon Vilovski. Read more here. Vilovski's lawyer, Branislav Tapuskovic, said on Tuesday (July 13th) that his client has been released. Upon his release, Simeon made the following statement here.