Amfilohije: I am merely patriarch's assistant

BELGRADE -- A metropolitan appointed to assist the ailing Serbian patriarch has spoken to the media.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Seaside Amfilohije said, following a visit to His Holiness Patriarch Pavle, who is treated at the military clinic (VMA) in Belgrade, that the patriarch was "struggling against his infirmities."

"At the age of 93, he told me, his legs were failing him, but his eyes are crystal clear, shining," Amfilohije said for the Thursday edition of Blic newspaper.

Amfilohije stressed that he was an "assistant helping the patriarch", that the Holy Synod took a decision in May to appoint him to this position, and that he was not aspiring to become the next patriarch.

His statement came a day after the Serbian media speculated that Amfilohije may become the next leader of the Orthodox Serbian Christians.

But the SPC canons do not allow for the possibility of replacement of a patriarch while he is alive, irrelevant of his condition, and the Church Wednesday reacted angrily to some newspaper headlines dubbing Amfilohije "Pavle's replacement."

Amfilohije also commented on the Kosovo crisis. Asked what he expected after December 10, when ethnic Albanians plan to declare independence, Amfilohije said that "the Serbian people and the shrines will persevere."

"But, first and foremost, we hope that will not happen, because such folly will plunge not only our people, but also the Albanians and the whole of Europe into a new, terrible crucifixion," Amfilohije said.

He voiced hope a declaration of the province's independence "will not be accepted by factors that are temporarily holding the fate of the world in their hands."