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News 10 May 13

Royal Poet's Sainthood Splits Montenegrin Churches

Montenegro's rival Orthodox Churches are fiercely at odd over whether to declare the princely poet Njegos a saint.

Milena Milosevic

Metropolitan Mihailo, head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, on Thursday criticised calls to declare the poet commonly called Njegos a saint as a Serbian plot to claim owenership of his legacy.

The 19th-century prince and poet Petar Petrovic Njegos did not meet all the conditions to be declared an Orthodox saint because he didn’t lead ascetic life nor was he responsible for any miracles following his death, he said.

“Njegos was a Montenegrin statesman, a widely known and respected writer and a philosopher. As a Montenegrin statesman, the Serbian Orthodox Church is not fit to canonize him,” he added.

On Wednesday, the Belgrade-based daily Politika reported that Bishop Amfilohije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Montenegro, said he would make the suggestion at the May session of the Serbian Church's Holy Synod.

“Earlier metropolitans and people throughout history have spoken about him with awe as a holy man,” Radovic was quoted as saying.

Metropolitan Mihailo recalled that Njegos was both prince of Montenegro and metropolitan of the autocephalous Montenegrin Church until his death in 1851.

“Hence, the attempt to canonise Njegos is exclusively political act and another unsuccessful attempt at an imperial conquest of Montenegro and its conversion into Serbian colony,” he said.

Montenegro is marking the 200th anniversary since the birth of Njegos this year.

His poem, "The Mountain Wreath" is renowned all over the Balkans and much prized.

At the same time, an approving description in the poem of an alleged mass execution of Muslims has caused controversy in recent years.

Some Muslims in Montenegro and Bosnia say it feeds a negative perception of their community as religious renegades - and that its ideology may even have encouraged the "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims in the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Serbs and Montenegrins, on the other hand, prefer to see Njegos’s literary heritage as affirming their national and cultural identity.

The latest spat over Njegos feeds is just the latest disagreement between the two rival Orthodox Churches, which profess the same faith but have different political outlooks.

The Montenegrin Church was suppressed in 1920 following the former Kingdom's enforced incorporation into the new Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

It was not re-established until 1993, and remains closely associated with the idea of Montenegro's own reborn independence.

The Serbian Church, for its part, continues to champion the idea of the closest possible links between Montenegro and Serbia. Both sides have unresolved claims to property.

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