Journey Through Time


Translated by Vesna Stevkovska

The spiritual successor to the first and oldest Macedonian orthodox church in the Diaspora was destroyed in a fire. The new building was most probably set on fire as a consequence of confrontations between the faithful believers and the authorized archbishop.


           The spiritual successor to the first and oldest Macedonian orthodox church outside of the fatherland, St. George and the Holy Virgin Mary was destroyed in a fire in Epping, a Melbourne suburb, on 21 October, this year. As was announced by the local police, the iconostasis and frescoes of the interior of the church, as well as the upper cupola, were damaged in the fire that was most probably set on purpose. The police are still searching for the arsonists. The cause of the fire is closely linked to confrontations between the Macedonian emigrants in Australia relating to the supremacy of the archbishop, and the possession of church premises in the Australian and New Zealand eparchy of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

            The recent visit to Australia by the metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand, g. Petar, and the President of the Commission for Relations with the Religious Communities, Gorgi Naumov, was followed by an escalation of the conflict with a large number of Macedonian believers in Australia, which was transferred to Macedonia. For this reason the fire coincides with the accusations by bishop Petar and the president of the commission, Gorgi Naumov, that the orthodox communities which, allegedly, refuse the jurisdiction of the MOC, have become “profit and business centres of their management.”

            The Australian - Macedonian Weekly (Avstralisko-makedonski nedelnik) states that the newly built church, St. George and the Holy Virgin Mary, is one of the communities whose management, elected by the people, requested that bishop Petar and Gorgi Naumov be released from their positions and substituted.

            Otherwise, this is the biggest and most beautiful Macedonian orthodox church in Australia. It was dedicated on 27 May, 1997, after two years of construction, and its fresco painting was completed only about ten days ago. This church is the spiritual successor to the old St. George church, located in the central part of Melbourne, whose foundation stone was placed in August, 1959 and it was devoted on the great Macedonian holiday of Ilinden in 1960. In recent years, the management of St. George and the Holy Virgin Mary and the majority of Macedonian orthodox communities in Australia have been in conflict with the Australian and New Zealand archbishop.

            According to the police report, the fire was set in three locations of the church interior, most probably by pouring petrol. Residents of the surrounding area heard a large detonation prior to the bursting of flames. The fire brigade arrived very quickly and managed to extinguish the fire, which had already caused terrible damage. It is estimated that material damage to the building, which cost approximately DEM 2,500,000 reaches up to DEM 600,000.

Following the fire, a large number of infuriated Macedonian believers gathered before the church expressing their determination to restore the church as soon as possible. The management of the church announced that, until the church is adapted for normal functioning, services will be held at the Macedonian cultural centre which is part of the church community.

            On the occasion of this unpleasant event, the president of the Macedonian Orthodox Church St. George and The Holy Virgin Mary, Kocho Kalinchev, gave the following statement from Melbourne for the Australian - Macedonian Weekly: “The Police will have a difficult task in finding the executors, but it is even more important to me to discover the instructors. I do not wish to accuse too early, but I am convinced that this action was planned by people from across the ocean. I am convinced that the mysterious instructor of this satanic crime is the cause of these church problems. We will never be frightened by any threat. We have endured greater hardships and suffering and will not submit now.”

            As regards the infuriated emotions and burning of the church St. George and the Holy Virgin Mary, the authorized archbishop of the Australian eparchy exclaimed the following: “God is witness that the honest believers of the MOC would never harm their church. The company church districts in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Perth, Adelaide, and Rockdale, have neither the power nor the right to request my substitution or the release of Gorgi Naumov. Until the criminals are discovered, every accusation will be punished by God, the people, and the Australian courts.”

            On the other hand, the President of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Australia, Igor Avramovski, claimed the following for the Skopje daily newspaper Dnevnik: “We  do not wish to accuse anyone directly, but it is a fact that the atmosphere has been worsened through our satanization. Bishop Petar and Gorgi Naumov, through their statements, have motivated fanaticism among their followers. So far they have occupied five churches and attacked two of our priests. Aggression has become their basic method. We will try to prevent revenge. However, in order to reach any kind of solution, it is necessary to release bishop Petar and Gorgi Naumov first. We will request that they be forbidden entrance to Australia. We believe that the political elements of the government are involved here. We are just not certain whether it comes from the top itself, or from a specific lobby-group,” Avramovski claims, adding that there is a notable change of attitude of the head of the MOC, too.

            According to Igor Avramovski, the essential problem regarding the possession of premises of the orthodox church districts can be found by acknowledging the specifics which apply to Australia. Therefore, amongst other things, he says: “We cannot allow the priests to manage church revenues alone. People’s money should be managed and used by the people, and they will of course be used for the good of the church. The problem is not with the jurisdiction, but in the fact that the church people want to take possession of the power without having to report to anyone for the revenues.” He adds that the new MOC for Australia emerged as the result of the disapproval of their opinions.

            These unpleasant events and the burning of the St. George and Holy Virgin Mary church in Melbourne, were experienced by the head of the MOC g.g. Stefan as personal grief and pain for the St. Clement’s Church on this occasion exclaiming: “In spite of every misunderstanding existing among the Macedonian churches in the Australian Macedonian eparchy, and in spite of all the differences, I believe that we will overcome this, things will be calmed down, and there will be Macedonian unity in the region. Let what has happened be just an accident in the life of our church. I believe that even under more difficult conditions the Macedonians have always managed and emerged from similar situations, from many enflamed churches. What has just happened to the church in Melbourne will soon be restored, and once again, together with the Macedonian Eparchy in Australia, we will have the first and most beautiful church in Australia. I now appeal to every Macedonian, in Melbourne and in Australia, to gather around the MOC. Whilst it is not good that it is at times like this that we begin to consider what we should do, nevertheless, let this enflamed church be reason for us to gather around it and make it even more beautiful than ever,” the head of the MOC, g.g. Stefan exclaimed.