Assessing Metropolitan Amfilohije, Whose Religious Freedom Fight Brought Down a Dynasty

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An evangelical reflection on the legacy of Montenegro’s Orthodox leader, the highest-ranking clergy worldwide to die of COVID-19.

This past year, Montenegro witnessed a phenomenon unprecedented in its history. Nationwide nonviolent street processions rallied against a new Law on Religious Freedoms, drafted—many believe—to divest the Serbian Orthodox Church of its historic churches and monasteries.

There is no unified view on these events. Some say the marches defended human rights; some say they were a form of clerical fascism.

Personally, as an evangelical pastor in Montenegro, I prefer to call the protests a revival in the making.

Their informal leader, Metropolitan Amfilohije, passed away October 30 at the age of 82. He is the highest-ranking Christian cleric worldwide to have died from COVID-19 complications.

The metropolitan was an iconic figure. He was a man of great internal strength, remarkable intellect, iron-like determination, and fascinating zeal. But he was also accused of political agitation, hate speech against Muslims and ethnic Montenegrins, and—as the former Yugoslavia dissolved into bloody conflict in the 1990s—uncritical support to the “Serbian cause.”

He was called “Dedo” (“Grandpa” in Serbian) by the Orthodox faithful, and was compared to Moses, leading the people from Egypt. He may well be canonized the next Serbian Orthodox saint.

Controversial in life, Metropolitan Amfilohije remains controversial also in death.

His funeral rallied thousands of people to the capital, Podgorica, in the midst of a pandemic, when Montenegro was one of the most infected countries (per capita) in the world. With emotions at their peak, people neglected social distancing and face masks. His dead body was displayed in an open casket, as throngs of people touched and kissed it in veneration. Following …

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