Controversial bishop — head of his church in Canada — sent packing
The curious case of Bishop Georgije Djokic of the Serbian Orthodox Church has its fair share of controversy and scandal, starring frustrated parishioners and one very angry nun.
His Grace fell, well, from grace this week when the church’s holy assembly in Belgrade relieved him of his duties under mysterious circumstances, after more than 30 years at the helm of the church’s Canadian diocese.
The decision came after the gathering listened to accusations for three days, and one day for Djokic’s defence, said Rev. Ljubomir Rajic of All Saints Serbian Orthodox Church in Mississauga.
The allegations against Djokic, head of the church in Canada, have not been made public. Allusions have been made to “indecent behaviour” in Serbian media, which also reported that Djokic denied the allegations.
“The bishop is about 67 years old. He had promised to retire when he reached 65, so probably the best thing he could do is to accept this (decision) and bring peace to the Serbian community by retiring,” said Rajic.
“There’s nothing wrong with retiring at the age of 65. Myself, I can’t wait for that.”
Djokic is reportedly still in Belgrade until the weekend and could not be reached for comment. He retains his title of bishop, according to church officials.
“We are not going to comment until the bishop comes back,” said a man who declined to be named at the Serbian Orthodox monastery in Milton, where the diocese’s headquarters is located.
Born in Eastern Europe in 1949, Djokic was elevated to bishop in 1984, taking the reins of the newly-formed diocese of Canada. (Prior to that, Canadian churches fell under various American dioceses.)
His biography on the diocese’s website says that “numerous” churches have been consecrated under his leadership. Just over 56,000 Canadians identified as Serbian in the 2011 census, with almost 42,000 living in Ontario.
Djokic has weathered bad publicity — and some notable physical altercations — in the past. Shortly after his appointment, he squared off against the president of an east-end Toronto church’s executive board, Dragomir Radojkovic, over financial issues.
Things came to a head on Feb. 9, 1986, when Djokic and his court arrived at a church-owned centre in Mississauga amid police presence for Radojkovic’s excommunication trial, the Star reported.
Radojkovic had earlier resigned as vice-president of the diocesan council, saying he would no longer conduct “monkey business” with the bishop, according to a decision by Justice Richard Holland overturning the excommunication.
“Two cars arrived containing Bishop Georgije and the other members of his court,” according to the ruling, quoted in the Star. “They were greeted with abuse. Bishop Georgije said that when he opened the window of his car, a woman hit him in the face.”
Holland wrote that the court then went to the bishop’s house in Toronto, and excommunicated Radojkovic and three others without the accused present.
And then there’s Mother Angelina.
In 1997, Djokic was accosted by the angry nun on the steps of a church he was visiting in Windsor, reported The Windsor Star. She accused him of living with a woman in Milton, when he was supposed to be celibate.
“When he got near the door, she grabbed him by the chain and cassock, and she wouldn’t let go,” Bogdan Chuk, president of the congregation, was quoted as saying at the time in The Windsor Star.
Mother Angelina and another nun then proceeded to interrupt his service, shouting from the pews and accusing him of having sex, the newspaper reported. Djokic dismissed her accusations as “fantasy.”
“When the head of your church is accused of something, it’s not very pleasant,” Branko Vinic, then-president of the Canadian Serbian Council, told the Hamilton Spectator at the time regarding the accusations.
Djokic also got into a tussle with a Niagara Falls church in 2006, when he banned all sacraments and services in a dispute over that church’s benefits for clergy and their families, the Niagara Falls Review reported. The church ultimately left the diocese and is now part of the diocese of Eastern America.
“Our church does not belong to him,” said a man at St. George’s church who did not give his name. “We belong to the other bishop.”
But there’s no looking backward, only forward, say members of the church who spoke to the Star on Thursday.
“I think that Serbs in Canada, they’re excited about the arrival of a new bishop. They see it as the dawn of a new era,” said Zoran Samac, 53, who is hoping for a bishop from Canada or the United States who can better relate to the younger generation.
“I think (Djokic) did great work in terms of building the monastery in Milton. Ultimately there were differences, but that’s bound to happen after almost 30 years. You know, most people would agree, it’s time for change.”