INTERVIEW OF DALMATIAN BISHOP HIS GRACE FOTIJE ( the 4th of October 2002)
1. When did you become Bishop?
The Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church appointed me Bishop during
their annual session, in May 1999. Before the election, I was a hieromonk in
monastery Kovilj in the Diocese of Backa. I was also a teacher in the
Semminary St. Arsenije in Sremski Karlovci, where I taught The New
Testament. In that period, I was faced with the great deed of the Church;
and that is the education of young seminarists who were called by God to
become sheperds of the Orthodox Church. Well, it has happened that by the
Providence, I have become a rector of the Seminary The Holy Three Hierarchs.
Namely, it is the integral part of the monastery Krka - the spiritual centre
of this Eparchy. I also must say that this school is one of the oldest
educational institutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church, because it was
founded in 1615.
2. When exacalty did you come to Croatia?
I came to Croatia almost three years ago. Namely, my enthronement for the
Bishop of Dalmatia was on the 31st/18th of October 1999 on the day when our
Church celebrates St. Apostle Luke and St. Peter of Cetinje. In Dalmatia, I
happened to find, one might say, an apolcalyptic scene of destruction for
Orthodox people. When I claim this, I actually think of the great tragedy,
which occured in this area, during and after the wartime. This major
catastrophe brought multivious suffering to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Not
only were our sanctuaries devestated, but also Serbian people and their
homes were afflicted by this misfortune. I do not want to talk about the
reasons and consequences of this disasterous event, but that was the
situation I encountered here.
3. How many churches are active nowadays and how many of them were active
before the war?
There are seventy two churches and three monasteries in the Diocese of
Dalmatia. Concerning the monasteries, all of them are, more or less,
devastated during the tragic war which broke out in this region eleven years
ago. Fourteen churches, one may claim, are completely ruined, but in some of
them, it is possible to have services. We must point out that only temples
in urban areas have everything necessary for the services. However, some
churches are not ruined, but pillaged. There are no sacred utensils,
vestments, and service books needed for the Holy Liturgy. Icons from the
iconostasis, many valuable books, documents and archives, which were kept in
them, were taken away.
Adding to this, the situation in our monasteries from the 14the century
(monastery Krka, monastery Krupa, monastery Dragovic) does not differ much.
They were all plundered, but, thanks God, monasteries Krka and Krupa are
partially reconstructed mostly by the effort of the monks who, at the
moment, live in them. Monastery Dragovic is, however, still empty, and
unfortunately there are stll no conditions for the monastic life in it.
Before 1995, there were sixty parishes and forty nine priests in Dalmatia.
Subsequently, none of the priests stayed in the Eparchy of Dalmatia, but
they all fled together with majority of Serbian Orthodox people. Only just
by the end of 1996, the first priest Ilija Karajovic arrives from Osijek (a
town in Slavonia). In that way, the rebirth of church and spiritual life in
Dalmatia has begun. Thanks God, now we have twelve priests, three hieromonks
and five sisters novices. All of them, together with me, bear the cross of
4. How many monasteries are in your Eparchy and how the monks in them
I have already said that there are three monasteries: monastery Krupa from
1317, monastery Krka from 1345, and monastery Dragovic from 1395. These
monasteries were and stll are spiritual centres of our Eparchy. Throughout
the whole history, they contributed to preservation of Orthodox spirituality
and Serbian culture. The most renowned is, of course, monastery Krka. This
is perhaps, due to the fact that already in 1615 a Seminary was founded
there. A lot of seminarists and shepards of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as
well as many other Orthodox Serbs, important for the history and culture of
Orthodox people in Dalmatia, graduated from this school.
In monastery Krka, four monks and three novices live at the moment. And, two
years ago, the reconstructed Seminary The Holy Three Hierarchs, which has
about thirty pupils, began with its work.
In monastery Krupa there is one hieromonk, and, as I have already mentioned,
monastery Dragovic is empty. These monasteries (together with our Orthodox
people) went through great persecution, but now, thanks God, thay are
gradually reviving, and we hope that in the future they will be pillars and
protectors of the holy Orthodoxy.
5. How many Serbs were in Dalmatia before the war and how many of them
are here now?
It is difficult to answer this question. It is assumed that one hundred
thousand Serbs lived on the teritory of today’s Dalmatian Eparchy, which
consists of three counties (the county of Split, the county of Sibenik and
Knin, and the county of Zadar). According to the official census of Republic
of Croatia from 2001, there are twenty one thousand of Serbs. It is supposed
that there are Orthodox Serbs who didn’t declare themselves as Serbs,
because they believed that, in that way, it would be easier and safer to
live in Croatia. However, the numbers I mentioned, somehow, depict the
tragedy of the people in the Eparchy entrusted to us.
6. Well, even today seven years after the end of war, there are Serbs who
are afraid to declare freely their national identity?
Yes, that is true. It is my deepest experience gained through the
conversations with people, which I have been meeting on the church services,
as well as from personal spiritual conversations with them. Yet, the most
delicate problem in this sense is the pressure on our Orthodox children who
attend lessons of religious education. Namely, since there is not enough
pupils, it is not possible to organize Orthodox religious education.
Therefore, they are often, from this or that reason, following the line of
resistance, being directed to attend Catholic religious education.
7. Are there any other nationalities besides Serbs that belong to the
In Sibenik, we have regular services; and I have to admit, that, thanks God,
recently, members of other nationalities have started to attend them. There
are, for example, Russians, Bulgarians and Croats. It is, also, very
interesting that recently, I have anointed and thus received in the Orthodox
Church a Greek woman who lives here in Sibenik. The entrance of these people
in our Church, I see as the work of God, as well as their freedom to confess
the Faith. It is obvious that they, somehow, feel this grace of God, so they
have started to visit our services. On the other hand, they, perhaps,
believe that we are not ridden with our national identity, meaning that we
see Church as supra-historical community into which God calls everybody,
without exception - not only members of specific nations.
8. Describing the above mentioned situation, did you expect to encounter
this situation at the time of your enthronement?
Well, I had a vague notion about the life conditions here. Yet, only when I
came here, I was faced with the real situation and the real problems of the
Church and the Serbian Orthodox people. The information, that forty nine
priests were here, and after 1995, none of them left in Dalmatian Eparchy,
speaks for itself. Taking into account the condition of church buildings and
external spiritual atmosphere, one might understand the complexity of our
cross and the gravity of our deed in Dalmatia.
9. Regardless of what you expected or not, you, certainly, could imagine
where you were coming. Even if you did not know, you could ask and find out.
I assume that you knew that you were coming into a hostile and difficult
environment. Have you ever thought not to accept the position of a Bishop?
No, it have never occurred to me to reject this position. In my inaugural
speech, I said that, personally, as a man, I find myself unworthy of this
great legacy of the Church; meaning that as a Bishop I symbolize the icon of
Christ. Yet, I accepted it out of obedience to my spiritual father and with
the blessing of The Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox
Church, we know that the election for a Bishop is a mutual deed of Holy
Spirit and the Church of Christ. Although I was, in principle, aware of the
fact that I was sent to the region where our Church lives crucified and in
constant tribulations, I was not ready to reject this obedience.
10. After your arrival here, did you ever think to give up and return to
Well, as a man, I am liable to these kinds of thoughts, but I see them as a
temptation. I am here, and I will stay here together with my Church, and my
people, as long as the blessing of the Church is such. It is interesting to
point out that during these three years of my service as a bishop; I began
to feel as if I were born here. I also began to feel the predicaments of
this people, as well as the peculiarities of the nature of this region.
Dalmatia is oneness of stone and sea – blessed climate.
The effort of us, Orthodox shepards, is to transform people and nature by
the grace of the Holy Spirit for the reality of already coming Kingdom of
11. In the situations described, one needs help and solidarity. The first
source, naturally, must be mother Church in Belgrade. Did you in the past,
and do you now get this help, solidarity or any kind of support from the
In the Eparchy of Dalmatia, we are in the position of evangelical Lazarus,
who lies wretched and disdained in front of the threshold of a rich man.
Generally, that was not the case throughout the history, but now, actually,
we are in that kind of spiritual condition. First of all, we refer to our
Mother Church – the Patriarchate in Belgrade. And until now, we received
certain help from it, but this was not enough. God also helped us through
other people from different eparchies – from America to Australia – who
perceive the problem of this part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and are
willing to support us. We hope that, in the future, the Church and our
devout and Christ-loving Orthodox people will keep showing solidarity, so
that we might remain in this historical region, consecrated by the feet of
the Holy Apostle Paul and other Christ’s disciples.
12. Does the Croatian government support the reconstruction of churches,
monasteries and houses of Serb returnees?
Concerning the support of Croatian Government to our Eparchy, there is
nothing we can mention with pride. In the places where we turned for help to
reconstruct our church buildings, we mostly did not get any kind of
response. At the moment, unfortunately, the situation is such. Since the
Republic of Croatia has previously adopted the law on religious minorities,
which gives the legal frame for the mission of our Church, we hope that the
things will improve. As for the reconstruction of homes of Serb returnees,
the situation is a bit better. Namely, many European humanitarian
organizations repaired certain number of houses. But, regrettably, there are
not much of returnees. And while passing through some Serbian villages in
Croatia, you will see a wasteland – houses without roofs. Often those who
decide to come back, are forced to move into their own garage or some kind
of shed in their yard, and thus once again start to live on the age-long
hearths which they had to leave during the dreadful 1995.
13. Has the Croatian government returned all the confiscated property to
Unfortunately, they did not. In the Dalmatian Eparchy, they only returned
two apartments for priests – in Knin and Zadar. Although our Church
submitted a request for the reversion of the confiscated and usurped
property, from the Second World War till the present days, in the time
limited by the law (1997), nothing else has been given back to us. When we
turn to the competent authorities, they always tell us that the whole case
is being considered in Zagreb and that they are still waiting for the reply.
And, we are still waiting...
14. Have you made known to the Croatian government your needs and
Yes, I have, as much as it was possible. We submitted a request for the
reversion of the confiscated church property in the time limited by the law
(1997). Unfortunately, since then, in Dalmatia nothing has been returned to
us. Besides, we presented the situation concerning our ruined church
buildings to Croatian authorities. And many times we turned for help to the
Ministry of Culture. There we have found a bit more understanding.
15. How are your relations with the Catholic Church here in Dalmatia?
First of all, as the bishop of Dalmatia, I am trying to be a witness of the
truth of holy Orthodoxy; and I am also endeavouring to do a mission of our
Church in a God-pleasing way. Therefore, when it was necessary, I certainly
had contacts with the members of the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, I was
meeting with the bishop of Sibenik, Ante Ivas, as well as with the
Metropolitan of Zadar, Ivan Prendja. In these contacts, I attempted to be a
witness of the Orthodox traditions and to express the depth of Orthodox love
16. Has the Bishop of the Catholic Church in Dalmatia helped you in any
I can hardly claim that. We did not receive any kind of concrete help – if
that is what you think. Yet, being aware of the difficult situation our
Orthodox Church lives in, he only told me that I have to be strong.
17. Does any Serbian political movement exist in the Croatian political
Yes, it does. As far as I know, that is Serbian National Council which is
situated in Zagreb, and its president is Mr. Milorad Pupovac. There are also
several other Serbian political parties which, after the dreadful tragedy in
this region, act in a completely different manner trying to help our people
18. Do these Serbian politicians help you in any way?
Yes, they help us as much as it is possible. Many members of these political
parties are Orthodox Christians, and out of their fraternal love and care,
they simply feel the need to help us. For example, the SNC, as well as Mr.
Vojislav Stanimirovic, the president of SDIP (Serbian Democratic Independent
Party) form Vukovar supported our seminary The Holy Three Hierarchs several
19. Do any international organizations help you in any way, or somehow
protect your interests?
Many times, we turned to the organizations active in these regions, which
nominally have the mission to help suffering people after war.
Unfortunately, we had only negative experience. Yet, all of them gave us the
same answer - that their mission is not to support institutions (meaning The
Orthodox Church), but only persons in need. I was bewildered by this kind of
answer, because one can hardly perceive its meaning. Well, I tried to
explain that The Orthodox Church is far from being some kind of
supra-institution; telling them that in war as well as in peace it lives
together with its people witnessing the truth of Orthodoxy in all historical
circumstances. But, obviously all my endeavors were in vain.
20. Does the Yugoslav government help you in any way?
Up to now, we have received certain financial support from the Department of
Religion. I also want to mention the new ambassador of FRY in Zagreb, Mr.
Milan Simurdic, who made a donation to the monastery Krka. That was all the
help we received from the official institutions of FRY.
21. In Croatia there are four orthodox Bishops with, more or less, the
same problems. Does support and solidarity exist between the four of you due
to the fact that you all share the same aim and cause to keep alive the
Orthodox Church and support the Serbs?
Due to the fact that we are governed by the organic unity of our Orthodox
Church, it is not unusual that this solidarity and support exist between us.
For that reason, the four of us formed the Episcopal Council, and on our
assemblies, we discuss the major problems we are faced with.
22. Has any common initiative been taken by the four of you in order to
present a common position regarding your needs and demands to the Croatian
That is exactly what Episcopal Council does by presenting to the Croatian
government our needs and demands - each Bishop in the name of his eparchy.
This is, simply, the nature of our Church, because each eparchy with its
priesthood, people and a bishop at its head presents the full liturgical
community of Church.
23. Can you describe what exactly you would like the above mentioned
Church, politicians, international organizations, etc. to do for you?
If the Republic of Croatia would return us our church property, that would
be of much help to us. In that way, it would be much easier for our Church
to support itself. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, gets help from
the state budget. Regrettably, that is not the case with our Church. All in
all, the above mentioned would be most important. And as for the others, we
expect if nothing else, at least a bit of understanding for the difficult
situation in which the Serbian Orthodx Church in Croatia lives.
24. How the ordinary people (Croats) generally treat you?
Until now I have not had many opportunities to meet, as it is usually said,
ordinary people – Roman Catholic Croats. I believe that in Sibenik people
know that an Orthodox bishop lives in their city. I am not sure how I would
categorize those people who hurl insults at us when we, going to church,
pass the streets. Whether they are usual or unusual, I do not know. Anyway,
we pray for them on our Church services – that is what is most important.
25. Are you satisfied with your personal performance and achievements
since your arrival here?
We are still at the beginning, so one can hardly be satisfied. Our Church in
Dalmatia is faced with great problems, and there is still a lot of work to
be done. I think that at this moment, the immense effort is not only the
fact that we try to preserve our sanctuaries and a small number of people in
Orthodox faith, but also the evidence that we exist in this region.
Everything is still ahead of us.
26. Describe what you think you have achieved and also tell us where you
think you have failed (if you think that you have failures).
From the evangelical point of view, man is known through his deeds, so his
achievents can be seen only after a great period of time. However, the
reopening of our seminary is magnificent blessing and a cross for Dalmatian
eparchy. As for failures, they are certainly unavoidable in this poor state
of condition; but we are constantly giving our best to keep the integrity of
our eparchy and the Serbian Orthodox Church in its entirety.
27. How do you see the future of Orthodox Church in Croatia as well as
the future of Serbs here.
It is not easy to answer to this question, because as a lot of other things
this is also hidden in the framework of divine Providence. My service as a
Dalmatian bishop is to struggle for the preservation of the Orthodox Church
in the eparchy entrusted to me; including the preaching of the Orthodox
truth to all those who are ready to hear the Word of God. It would be also
righteous, before God and before people, that all persecuted Serbs might
return on their hearths which they had to leave because of the tragic event.
May God grant this.
28. I would like to finish this interview with a look at the future. At
the beginning of the interview you explained to me how you taught at the
Seminary of St. Arsenije in Sremski Karlovci while you were still a
hieromonk. Now as a Bishop you continue your legacy here.
It is great God’s blessing that our Seminary The Holy Three Hierarchs
started with its work again. Until 1995, there were one hundred fifty
students in the Seminary. Unfortunately, this school went through the worst
calamity as well as the Orthodox inhabitants in this area. So, the students
together with their teachers had to leave the Seminary. Two years ago, the
Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church brought a decision that this
time-honoured school should start with its work again. Namely, this was
really a difficult labour concerning our life conditions. We didn’t have
much time to repair the building for the students’ accommodation. The
building was in such a bad state – it only had the roof and the walls, no
doors, no windows, etc. But, thanks God, by the help of The Council of the
Serbian Orthodox Church, and some pious people from Banja Luka, we managed
to accommodate it. Thirty students now live there. The revival of The Holy
Three Hierarchs seminary is, certainly, a sign of hope for the Orthodox
people in Dalmatia. Yet, from the historic point of view, the returning to
life of this seminary was always bringing spiritual and cultural rebirth to
our people in Dalmatia. Unfortunately, not very many of them stayed here.
But, since the semminary is the only Orthodox school in the Republic of
Croatia, we will, by the help of God, give our best to preserve its
integrity and to carry on its tradition.
29. Would you like to send a message to the Serbian people through this
I can not say anything except the evangelical truth about our Lord Jesus
Christ, His Death and His magnificent Resurrection. The Personality of
Godman Jesus Christ is true stone-corner of our faith and history. St.
Lazarus of Kosovo covenant, our Orthodox ethics and our future rest on it.
We were, and we have to remain faithful to this ideal regardless of dreadful
temptations we are faced with.
30. Would you like to send a message to the international community
through this interview?
I think that the Orthodox evangelical annunciation is universal, because it
is a testimony of Truth at all times and before all peoples. We pray for
those to whom Orthodoxy was, perhaps, unknown, and hope they will recognize
the icon of true evangelical Christ in the Orthodox Church. There is nothing
more important than this, we can say to them.
31. Finally, I would kindly ask you to send a message to the Greek
readers, Greek Orthodox people both inside and outside the borders of
I am immensly grateful to the Greek Orthodox Church and to Greek people for
everything they have done, and they do for us, in the time of great
tribulations of Orthodoxy in Serbia, and the Serbian Orthodox Church in
general. However, it is obvious that through these last temptations of ours,
the organic oneness of Orthodox Church appeared; and it is, I sincerely
believe, the foundation of our survival and future preaching of the Truth of
One and Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the new millenium.
I want to thank you and express my gratitude both for giving me this
interview and for helping me to complete my reportage.