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ST. SAVA SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONTROVERSY

ST. SAVA SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONTROVERSY

The ST. SAVA SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONTROVERSY (1963-75) over control of church property and control by a hierarchical form of church government split Cleveland's Serbian community. An administrative dispute in 1963 between the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox church in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and the church's popular American bishop, Dionisije Milivojevish, resulted in the bishop's being deposed. As in other parts of the country, Serbs in Cleveland who were members of the St. Sava congregation were divided. When the deposed bishop called for an annual meeting, the congregation split over the issue of attending. Later, supporters of the deposed bishop objected to a church dues increase, and the matter landed in court. The controversy soon escalated and became a struggle to control property, including the recently constructed St. Sava's Serbian Orthodox Church on Broadview Rd. and Ridgewood Dr. in PARMA. Tensions mounted and lawsuits proliferated as all hopes for reconciliation dissipated. Control of St. Sava's changed hands several times. Police were called upon numerous times to quell disturbances between the factions inside as well as outside the church. For a time, the courts closed the church to all parties. In Cleveland, the breakaway faction was composed mainly of former members of the professional and upper classes of Serbian society who had emigrated because of the Communist takeover. They viewed the patriarch as a puppet of the Yugoslav government. The mother-church faction consisted of mainly native-born Americans of Serbian ancestry who did not share the concern for the politics of their ethnic homeland. The mother-church faction counted 400 members, the breakaway faction about 800. A court-negotiated settlement between the two groups on 23 March 1975 granted the mother church ownership of the church and parish house. The breakaway faction received the church's 38-acre picnic grounds and property on Ridgewood Dr. and on Wallings Rd. in Broadview Hts., on which they constructed the St. Sava Serbian Eastern Orthodox Religious Social & Cultural Center, and in 1982, a church, which was called St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church. The mother church was renamed St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral.

In Feb. of 1992, Metropolitan Ireney, who succeeded Bishop Dionisije after his death, ended the schism between the mother church and the church in America at a religious ceremony in Belgrade. Later that year, Patriarch Pavle of Belgrade made a tour of the U.S. and Canada to heal communities torn apart during the dispute. In Oct., the Patriarch visited Cleveland and conducted services in both churches, significantly reducing the hostility between them. In 1995, though the two churches retained their separate property and identities, animosity had virtually disappeared as each recognized the other as a legitimate church under the authority of the patriarchate in Belgrade.


See also EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES, RELIGION.