BELGRADE, Serbia - The Serbian Orthodox Church stripped a former Kosovo bishop of his ranks on Friday after he tried to regain control over monasteries and openly challenged the church leadership.Source.
The church said in a statement that it made "this very hard and painful decision" because its former bishop, Artemije, openly broke the church laws.
The dispute between ex-Bishop Artemije and the church leaders is the most serious clash within the Serbian church in years. It reflects the divisions between the moderates and the hardliners in this Balkan nation.
Artemije is staunchly anti-Western and conservative. The church removed him from the post in February amid allegations that millions of dollars in church and state funds had been embezzled under his leadership.
Artemije has denied any wrongdoing and has refused the church's orders to retire. He has gathered his followers and demanded that he be given back his post in Kosovo.
On Friday, Artemije defied the church by breaking into a monastery in northern Kosovo and holding a liturgy there with his followers.
Serbian media reported later Friday that Artemije and his followers also tried to take control of other monasteries in Kosovo.
The church statement said police have detained at least two of Artemije's supporters outside the Crna Reka monastery in southern Serbia, close to Kosovo.
There was no immediate comment from the police.
While serving as the spiritual leader of Serbs in Kosovo, Artemije had ordered his clergy to cease contact with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian authorities and the EU mission there after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The decision to demote Artemije to the position of a monk was brought during the ongoing gathering of the church elders Friday. The church also said it would file criminal charges against Artemije over the attempted takeover of the church property.
The current Serbian Patriarch, Irinej, is considered to be a moderate. He took over the church's helm after the death last year of his predecessor, Patriarch Pavle.