Orthodox Church leads protest against Montenegro pride

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered Friday for a protest prayer led by the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro against the holding of an LGBTQ pride march this weekend.

The influential church has called its followers in Montenegro to join the prayer for “the sanctity of marriage and preservation of family” after organizing a similar gathering in neighboring Serbia ahead of a pan-European pride event there last month.

The Pride Montenegro march is set to take place Saturday in this highly conservative nation of 620,000 people. Montenegro approved same-sex partnerships in 2020 and pride marches have been held here since 2013 as the country seeks entry into the 27-nation European Union.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, which has the biggest religious following in Montenegro, has staunchly criticized pride marches. The church head, Patriarch Porfirije, has blasted what he described as LGBTQ ideology imposed from the West.

In Montenegro, the local branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church said of the march: "Their actions directly demolish God-blessed marriage and family and traditional values.”

Several pro-Serb politicians in Montenegro and local members of the Night Wolves, the Russian biker group that is considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, attended the church-called gathering outside the main Orthodox temple in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital. Some participants held religious images as priests performed the prayer ceremony on a stage.

Montenegrins remain divided among those favoring pro-EU reforms and those seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia. Montenegro's pro-Western leaders have accused the church of being an instrument of Serb nationalist policies and of Russia in Montenegro.

The Serbian church in Montenegro also led weeks of protest ahead of the 2020 election that toppled long-ruling pro-Western authorities and paved the way for the formation of a pro-Serb government. A former Slavic ally of Russia in the Balkans, Montenegro in 2017 defied Moscow to join NATO.