Serbian Orthodox Church lashes out at 'world power-mongers' over Kosovo

Belgrade, Serbia - The Serbian Orthodox Church used its Christmas message Monday to lash out at what it called world "power-mongers" seeking to take away Kosovo from Serbia.

The church said that world powers were "shamelessly violating all norms of God's and human justice" by backing independence for the separatist province.

The Christmas message was read out by hardline Bishop Amfilohije because of the illness of Serbian Patriarch Pavle, who has been hospitalized since November. The 93-year-old patriarch is suffering from heart and other health problems.

Christmas falls on Jan. 7 for Orthodox Christians in Russia, Serbia, the Holy Land, Egypt and other Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Serbian church said that Kosovo was "our holy land, the heart and soul of the Serbian people."

"Today, the power-mongers of this world are throwing dice for our ... land and shamelessly insulting our feelings and our dignity," the church said. "Today, for their own interests in the Balkans and Europe .... they want to take away from the Serb people their cradle, heart and soul that will forever remain in Kosovo."

Kosovo, which has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999, was the ancient seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose hundreds of monasteries and churches still remain there.

The region is now dominated by separatist ethnic Albanians, whose decades-long bid for independence from Serbia has won support from the United States and its allies.

Serbia, backed by its Orthodox Christian ally, Russia, refuses to cave in on Kosovo, insisting it should remain part of its territory with a high level of autonomy.