Obituary: Archbishop Mihail

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The Independent Culture
ARCHBISHOP MIHAIL of Ohrid and Macedonia was a powerful advocate of the re-establishment of an independent Orthodox Church in Macedonia, suffering imprisonment by the Communists before seeing his dream become a reality in 1967. He eventually headed the autonomous Church - which remains unrecognised by the rest of the Orthodox world - for the last five and a half years of his life when his native land had also achieved political independence.

The unilateral declaration of autocephaly by the Macedonian Holy Synod in July 1967 was highly controversial. The break with the Serbian Orthodox Church had the backing of the Yugoslav authorities, but failed to gain the support of other Orthodox.

Mihail was at that time in the Australian city of Melbourne, ministering to exiles in the first specifically Macedonian parish abroad. He returned to his homeland in 1970 to take charge of the seminary in the Macedonian capital Skopje, a post he held until 1973. For most of the 1970s he was secretary to the Archdiocese of Ohrid, a key appointment at the heart of the Macedonian Church as it grappled with the aftermath of independence.

In 1977 he returned to teaching, becoming professor of English, homiletics and a range of other subjects at the theological faculty in Skopje, where he remained until 1993.

Mihail's wife Blagorodna died in 1985, making him eligible for episcopal office (Orthodox parish clergy may be married, but bishops are chosen from among celibate priests). In December 1988 he was consecrated Metropolitan of Vardar, but retained his teaching post.

In December 1993 he was elected to the see of Ohrid and Macedonia, becoming head of the Church, presiding over six other bishops within Macedonia and two serving the emigre communities (one in Europe and one in Australia).

Born Metodi Gogov in a village near the Macedonian town of Stip (then part of the Kingdom of Serbia), he was encouraged by his mother in the practice of the Orthodox faith. He joined the seminary in the town of Bitola at the age of 15.

In 1932, after five years in Bitola, he began further studies at the theological faculty in Belgrade, graduating with honours in June 1936. During his studies he edited a student paper. Soon after completing his two-year military service in 1938 he was ordained deacon and taught religion in the grammar school in Stip.

After the parliamentary elections of 1938 life became more difficult for Macedonian priests and he was transferred to a parish in Uzice in Serbia. He was ordained a married priest in September 1941.

For the next four years during the Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia, back in Stip as a parish priest, Mihail promoted the idea of reviving the ancient archdiocese of Ohrid free of control from Belgrade and the use of Macedonian rather than Serbian in the liturgy. Politically he was active in the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Macedonia.

He was one of the organisers of the First National Church Council which drew 300 clerical and lay delegates to Skopje in March 1945. The Council unanimously proclaimed the restoration of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Holy Synod in Belgrade flatly rejected the Council's decision.

However, Mihail came under growing suspicion from the Communist authorities for his nationalist views and he was arrested later that year. He was freed in 1946, only to serve another term in prison from 1948. Between these spells in prison he served in a Skopje parish, returning to this work on his release in 1953.

Throughout the 1950s those, like Mihail, who advocated an independent Macedonian Church had to bide their time, but with the tacit support of the Yugoslav regime the clergy in Macedonia were in a position to declare independence in 1967.

It was not until 1991 that the former Yugoslav republic became an independent state. As head of the traditional faith of the Macedonian Slav majority, Mihail held an important role in supporting Macedonia's new-found freedom.

However, he failed in his attempts to bring about reconciliation with the Serbian Church or acceptance of his Church's independence by the Orthodox world.

Throughout his ministry Mihail combined educational and pastoral work. A charismatic teacher and preacher, he worked hard as head of the Church to bring ordinary Macedonians back to a real practice of their faith after decades of state-sponsored atheism, although his ministry was hampered by illness in the last two years of his life.

Metodi Gogov, priest: born Novo Selo, Serbia 20 March 1912; ordained priest 1941, taking the name Mihail; consecrated Metropolitan of Vardar 1988; Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia 1993-99; married (one daughter); died Skopje 6 July 1999.