Serbian church strips ex-Kosovo bishop of his title

Belgrade, Serbia - The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) stripped a former Kosovo bishop of his title after he occupied a Kosovo monastery and performed a service in defiance of the church's orders, local media reported Saturday.

In February, the SPC forced Bishop Artemije into retirement, stripping him of authority over the Kosovo eparchy because of his questionable business dealings and also banned him from holding services.

Artemije rejected the church's ruling and demanded the SPC assembly to give him back his post. Earlier this week, the SPC assembly ignored his demand and appointed another bishop, Teodosije, to replace him.

Accompanied by a group of radical monks who support him, Artemije on Friday entered the Zubin Potok monastery in northern Kosovo and performed liturgy, directly challenging the SPC.

Late Friday, the SPC stripped him of his ranks and degraded him to the status of monk, while also saying it would raise criminal charges against him over "usurpation" of SPC properties.

The dispute between Artemije and SPC reflects divisions between the moderates and the hardliners in the church. The current Patriarch Irinej is considered a moderate while Artemije is anti-Western and conservative.