The Serbian Orthodox Church Assembly at a May 29 meeting appointed Joanikije Micovic, closest aide to the late metropolitan Amfilohije as the new Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral. Many perceived Joanikije’s appointment as the head of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral as a guarantee that the legacy of his predecessor Amfilohije will be preserved.
The appointment of Joanikije, previously the bishop of Budimlja and Niksic, was celebrated in Podgorica by a gathering outside the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, with fireworks and so-called car processions. After the Church Assembly meeting, Joanikije called for “unity and harmony,” which he said he were “as necessary as the air, bread and breath.” Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic congratulated Joanikije on his appointment, saying that he believed Joanikije would be a worthy successor of Metropolitan Amfilohije and that he would “bravely walk his path of justice and truth.”
Joanikije played a prominent role in the mass religious processions the Serbian Orthodox Church organized in most Montenegrin cities and towns throughout 2020, protesting the adopting of the Law on religious freedom. The Church strongly opposed the law because it envisaged that the property the Church could not prove ownership of would be taken over by the state. The law was amended in the Church’s favor after the change of government in Montenegro in the August 2020 general election. That change was certainly helped by the processions as a form of resistance to the long-time rule of Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists.
After one of the many processions, last May, Joanikije and seven other Metropolitanate priests were arrested for having organized a mass gathering at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. The arrest sparked mass demonstrations, which the police often responded to by throwing tear gas. Joanikije and the other priests were released from custody three days later.
Joanikije’s predecessor Amfilohije, who had been at the helm of the Metropolitanate for 30 years, openly opposed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, mainly because of his policy on Kosovo. Those in the know say that it was none other than Joanikije who did not allow Vucic to speak at Amfilohije’s funeral on Nov. 4, 2020.
It is known that the authorities in Belgrade did not want Joanikije to lead the Metropolitanate in Montenegro and that he belongs to a group contrary to the dominant one in the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is spearheaded by Patriarch Porfirije and Bishop of Backa Irinej Bulovic. Nevertheless, Joanikije was elected by acclamation, without a vote, at the proposal of Patriarch Porfirije. Several of the Church bishops complained during the election that it was wrong to blackmail the Assembly, thereby alluding to the demands put forth by Prime Minister Krivokapic, who had suddenly come to the meeting. Krivokapic told the Assembly participants that he had come to “convey the greetings and will of the faithful people” for Joanikije to be elected as the new metropolitan and for a Fundamental Agreement between the state of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church to be signed in the Montenegrin city of Cetinje on Oct. 30, on the anniversary of Amfilohije’s death. Despite the objections, none of the bishops asked for a vote on Joanikije’s election. If there had been at least one such request, the voting procedure would have had to be initiated.
Joanikije is close to the politicians of the ruling majority in Montenegro, but it is not yet completely clear which faction in the pro-Serbian bloc he is closer to – the right-wing Democratic Front, which is very close to Vucic, or to the group around PM Krivokapic and Parliament Speaker Aleksa Becic. Krivokapic got involved in politics thanks to Amfilohije and relied heavily on the Metropolitanate. It was precisely Amfilohije who helped Krivokapic end up at the helm of the For the Future of Montenegro election alliance, rather than someone from the Democratic Front, the strongest group in the coalition. The Krivokapic-led alliance is one of the three coalitions that removed the Democratic Party of Socialists from power after 30 years, with the Serbian Orthodox Church’s crucial role and support.
Ahead of the local elections in Niksic, this past March, Joanikije openly supported the coalition of Krivokapic and Parliament Speaker Aleksa Becic, which the Democratic Front protested and because of which it openly criticized Joanikije for the first time. In those elections, the Democratic Front had Vucic’s considerable backing.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the most influential institutions in Montenegro and has become even more powerful with the arrival of forces close to the clergy in power. PM Krivokapic regularly consults with Church dignitaries regarding political issues, while the Church also has an influence on relations within the parliamentary majority. Joanikije and the Serbian Orthodox Church will be an unavoidable factor in future political processes, with politicians in both Belgrade and Podgorica working to either win its favor or bring about its weakening. Joanikije’s first move after having been appointed as Metropolitan was to gather at a dinner the quarreling leaders of the ruling majority, who are fighting for influence and dominance in the cabinet. The Democratic Front is on one side, and Krivokapic and Becic on the other.
For the majority Orthodox Montenegro, as 72 percent of the population declares, the church issue is open, because ethnic Montenegrins largely do not see the Serbian Orthodox Church as their own. The Orthodox believers are divided into two factions, the Serbian Orthodox Church based in Belgrade and the canonically unrecognized Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The government has predominantly resolved the matter of relations between those two churches through the Law on religious freedom, guaranteeing the Serbian Orthodox Church property in the territory of Montenegro, and additionally through the Fundamental Agreement, the content of which has not been made public yet.
Joanikije has attracted public attention with his statements on several occasions. Ahead of the adoption of the Law on religious freedom, Joanikije warned those who were enacting it that “the curse of Saint Basil of Ostrog will fall upon all who strike at the temples.” “We warn them not to do that evil, not to bring a curse to their homes, families and their descendants,” Joanikije said outside the Cathedral Church of St. Basil of Ostrog in Niksic, in December 2019.
Like Amfilohije, Joanikije is also a fierce opponent of Montenegro’s accession to NATO. He would often say that “an invitation to NATO is like five centuries of slavery under the Turks.”
In late November 2020, he said that by having expelled Serbian Ambassador to Montenegro Vladimir Bozovic the previous government had had “the ill intent of elevating tensions and deepening divisions in the Montenegrin society, especially among brothers of the Orthodox faith, to cause reciprocal measures of Serbia, so that with media noise as much poison and brotherly hate as possible is sown in the region.” The outgoing cabinet led by the Democratic Party of Socialists had asked Bozovic to leave Montenegro, accusing him of “long, continued interference in the internal affairs” of the state.
Joanikije has handed an accolade to Montenegrin Justice Minister Vladimir Leposavic, who has relativized the Srebrenica genocide in parliament, for “tireless work and the honest and courageous struggle for the defense of shrines and protection and affirmation of universal rights.” The occasion for the accolade was Leposavic’s work on harmonizing the content of the Fundamental Agreement between the Montenegrin government and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Joanikije was born as Jovan Micovic in Velimlje, near Niksic, in 1959. On his mother’s side, he is a distant descendant of Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanovic Sakabenta. He graduated from the classical high school in Niksic, and graduated from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Belgrade, majoring in philosophy.
He became a monk in 1990, and after he was ordained as a hieromonk he became the abbot of the Savina Monastery. In September 1992, he was appointed as the abbot of the Cetinje Monastery, while in 1995 he was named acting rector of the Cetinje Faculty of Theology. He was elected as the vicar bishop of Budimlja in 1999. After the Serbian Orthodox Church Assembly founded the Eparchy of Budimlja and Niksic, based in Djurdjevi Stupovi, in 2001, Joanikije was its first administrator and as of May 2002 the bishop of Budimlja and Niksic. After he was elected as bishop, Joanikije launched the reconstruction of demolished and construction of new churches and monasteries in the eparchy. After the death of Metropolitan Amfilohije, he was the administrator of the Metropolitanate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. He was a member of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church from 2005 to 2007, and from 2012 to 2014.
In 2019, to mark two decades of his service as bishop, Joanikije published a book titled Svetlost svetli u tami (A Light Shines in the Darkness).