Serbian Orthodox Church

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Serbian Orthodox Church
Српска православна црква
Srpska pravoslavna crkva
Coat of arms of Serbian Orthodox Church.png
Primate Irinej, Serbian Patriarch
Language Serbian and Church Slavonic
Headquarters Belgrade; traditionally Patriarchal Monastery of Peć
Territory Southeastern Europe (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Kosovo [1]
Possessions Northern, Eastern and Western Europe, Americas, Australia
Founder Saint Sava
Recognition1219 (Autocephaly)
1346 (Patriarchate)
1557 (Patriarchate)
1920 (Patriarchate)
Members8 [2] to 12 million [3]
Official website

The Serbian Orthodox Church (Serbian : Српска православна црква, romanized: Srpska pravoslavna crkva) is one of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches. It is the second-oldest Slavic Orthodox Church in the world (after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church).

Serbian language South Slavic language

Serbian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language mainly used by Serbs. It is the official language of Serbia, co-official in the territory of Kosovo, and one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, it is a recognized minority language in Montenegro, where it is spoken by the relative majority of the population, as well as in Croatia, North Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Romanization of Serbian

The romanization of Serbian or latinization of Serbian is the representation of the Serbian language using Latin letters. Serbian is written in two alphabets, the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, a variation of Cyrillic and the Serbian Latin alphabet, a variation of the Latin alphabet. The Serbian language is an example of Digraphia.

Autocephaly Christian hierarchical practice

Autocephaly is the status of a hierarchical Christian Church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. The term is primarily used in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The status has been compared with that of the churches (provinces) within the Anglican Communion.

The Serbian Orthodox Church comprises the majority of the population in Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is organized into metropolises and eparchies located primarily in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia, but also all over the world where Serb diaspora lives.

Montenegro Republic in Southeastern Europe

Montenegro is a country in Southeast Europe on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest; Serbia and Kosovo to the east, Albania to the south and Croatia to the west. Montenegro has an area of 13,812 square kilometres and a population of 620,079. Its capital Podgorica is one of the twenty-three municipalities in the country. Cetinje is designated as the Old Royal Capital.

Republika Srpska Political entity of the sovereign country of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Republika Srpska is one of the two political entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Situated in the northern and eastern parts of the country, it is defined by its rich natural heritage, encompassing dense forests, mountains, and rivers. Its largest city and administrative centre, on the river Vrbas, is Banja Luka.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic in Southeast Europe

Bosnia and Herzegovina, abbreviated BiH or B&H, sometimes called Bosnia–Herzegovina and often known informally as Bosnia, is a country in Southeastern Europe, located within the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Eastern Orthodox communion. Serbian Patriarch serves as first among equals in his church; the current patriarch is Irinej. The Church achieved autocephalous status in 1219 under the leadership of St. Sava, becoming independent Archbishopric of Žiča. Its status was elevated to that of a Patriarchate in 1346 and was known afterward as the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć. This patriarchate was abolished by the Ottoman Turks in 1766, though the Serbian Church continued to exist with its exarchs in Serbian territories in the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice and the First French Empire. Finally, the modern Serbian Orthodox Church was re-established in 1920 after the unification of the Patriarchate of Karlovci, the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro.

Patriarchate is an ecclesiological term in Christianity, designating the office and jurisdiction of an ecclesiastical patriarch.

Serbian Patriarchate of Peć

The Serbian Patriarchate of Peć or just Patriarchate of Peć, was an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate that existed from 1346 to 1766 with its seat in the Patriarchal Monastery of Peć. It had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Eastern Orthodox Christians in Serbian Lands and other western regions of Southeastern Europe. Primates of the Patriarchate were styled Archbishop of Peć and Serbian Patriarch.

The Ottoman Turks were the Turkish-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire. Reliable information about the early history of Ottoman Turks is scarce, but they take their Turkish name, Osmanlı, from the house of Osman I, the founder of the dynasty that ruled the Ottoman Empire for its entire 624 years. After the expansion from its home in Bithynia, the Ottoman principality began incorporating other Turkish-speaking Muslims and non-Turkish Christians. The Ottoman Turks blocked all land routes to Europe by conquering the city of Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, and Europeans had to find other ways to trade with Eastern countries.

Historical background

Early Christianity

Christianity spread to the Balkans beginning in the 1st century. Florus and Laurus are venerated as Christian martyrs of the 2nd century; they were murdered along with 300 Christians in Lipljan. Constantine the Great (306–337), born in Niš, was the first Christian Roman Emperor. Several bishops seated in what is today Serbia participated in the First Council of Nicaea (325), such as Ursacius of Singidunum. In 380, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius decreed that his subjects would be Christians according to the Council of Nicea formula. Greek was used in the Byzantine church, while the Roman church used Latin. With the definite split in 395, the line in Europe ran south along the Drina river. Among old Christian heritage is the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, established in 535, which had jurisdiction over the whole of present-day Serbia. However, the Archbishopric did not last, as the Slavs and Avars destroyed the region sometime after 602 when the last mention is made of it. In 731 [4] Leo III attached Illyricum and Southern Italy (Sicily and Calabria) to Patriarch Anastasius of Constantinople, transferring the papal authority to the Eastern Church. [5]

Balkans Geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe

The BalkansBAWL-kənz, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in southeastern Europe with various definitions and meanings, including geopolitical and historical. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria from the Serbian-Bulgarian border to the Black Sea coast. The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The northern border of the peninsula is variously defined. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala, 2,925 metres (9,596 ft), in the Rila mountain range, Bulgaria.

Florus and Laurus Christian martyrs

Saints Florus and Laurus are venerated as Christian martyrs of the 2nd century. According to a Greek tale, they were twin brothers who worked as stonemasons. They were originally from Constantinople, Byzantium but settled in Ulpiani, Dardania, south of Pristina, Kosovo in the district of Illyricum. They were educated in the art of masonry by two men named Maximus and Proculus, who were Christians.

Lipljan Town and municipality in District of Pristina, Kosovo

Lipljan or Lipjan is a town and municipality located in the Pristina District of Kosovo. According to the 2011 census, the town of Lipljan has 6,870 inhabitants, while the municipality has 57,605 inhabitants.

Christianization of Serbs

Seal of the prince Strojimir of Serbia, from the late 9th century - the oldest artifact on the Christianization of the Serbs Seal of Strojimir.gif
Seal of the prince Strojimir of Serbia, from the late 9th century - the oldest artifact on the Christianization of the Serbs

The history of the early medieval Serbian Principality is recorded in the work De Administrando Imperio (DAI), compiled by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r.  913–959). The DAI drew information on the Serbs from, among others, a Serbian source. [6] The Serbs were said to have received the protection of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641), and Porphyrogenitus stressed that the Serbs had always been under Imperial rule. [7] His account on the first Christianization of the Serbs can be dated to 632–638; this might have been Porphyrogenitus' construction, or may have really taken place, encompassing a limited group of chiefs and then very poorly received by the wider layers of the tribe. [8] The establishment of Christianity as state religion dates to the time of Prince Mutimir (r. 851–891) and Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886); [9] Porphyrogenitus attests that Croats and Serbs sent delegates asking for baptism, thus Basil "baptized all of them that were unbaptized of the aforesaid nations". [10] The Christianization was due partly to Byzantine and subsequent Bulgarian influence. [9] At least during the rule of Kocel (861–874) in Pannonia, communications between Serbia and Great Moravia, where Methodius was active, must have been possible. [9] This fact, the pope was presumably aware of, when planning Methodius' diocese as well as that of the Dalmatian coast, which was in Byzantine hands as far north as Split. [9] There is a possibility that some Cyrillomethodian pupils reached Serbia in the 870s, perhaps even sent by Methodius himself. [9] Serbia was accounted Christian as of about 870. [9]

<i>De Administrando Imperio</i> literary work

De Administrando Imperio is the Latin title of a Greek-language work written by the 10th-century Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII. The Greek title of the work is Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ρωμανόν. It is a domestic and foreign policy manual for the use of Constantine's son and successor, the Emperor Romanos II.

Constantine VII Byzantine emperor

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959. He was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, and the nephew of his predecessor, the emperor Alexander.

Heraclius Byzantine Emperor 610–641

Heraclius was the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.

The first Serbian bishopric was founded at Ras, near modern Novi Pazar on the Ibar river. [9] According to Vlasto, the initial affiliation is uncertain; it may have been under the subordination of either Split or Durazzo, both then Byzantine. [9] The early Ras church can be dated to the 9th–10th century, with the rotunda plan characteristic of first court chapels. [9] The bishopric was established shortly after 871, during the rule of Mutimir, and was part of the general plan of establishing bishoprics in the Slav lands of the empire, confirmed by the Council of Constantinople in 879–880. [9] The names of Serbian rulers through Mutimir (r. 851–891) are Slavic dithematic names, per the Old Slavic tradition. With Christianization in the 9th century, Christian names appear. [11] The next generations of Serbian royalty had Christian names (Petar, Stefan, Pavle, Zaharije, etc.), evident of strong Byzantine missions in the 870s. [9] Petar Gojniković (r. 892–917) was evidently a Christian prince, [9] and Christianity presumably was spreading in his time; [12] also since Serbia bordered Bulgaria, Christian influences and perhaps missionaries came from there, increasing during the twenty-year peace. [13] The Bulgarian annexation of Serbia in 924 was important for the future direction of the Serbian church, and by then, at latest, Serbia must have received the Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic religious text, already familiar but perhaps not yet preferred to Greek. [14]

Stari Ras archaeological site in Serbia

Ras, known in modern Serbian historiography as Stari Ras, is a medieval fortress located in the vicinity of former market-place of Staro Trgovište, some 11 km west of modern day city of Novi Pazar in Serbia.

Novi Pazar City in Šumadija and Western Serbia, Serbia

Novi Pazar is a city located in the Sandžak District of southwestern Serbia and Montenegro. As of the 2011 census, the urban area has 66,527 inhabitants, while the city administrative area has 100,410 inhabitants. The city is the cultural center of the Bosniaks in Serbia and the historical region of Sandžak. A multicultural area of Muslims and Orthodox Christians, many monuments of both religions, like the Altun-Alem Mosque and the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, are found in the region.

Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ras church building in Novi Pazar, Serbia

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, commonly known as Church of St Peter or simply Peter's Church is a Serbian Orthodox church, the oldest intact church in Serbia and one of the oldest ones in the region, situated on a hill of Ras, the medieval capital of the Serbian Grand Principality (Rascia), in Novi Pazar, Serbia. It is part of the Stari Ras complex, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archbishopric of Ohrid (1018–1219)

Archbishopric of Ohrid and its episcopal sees around 1019, including sees in Serbian lands Ohrid archbishopric 1020 01.png
Archbishopric of Ohrid and its episcopal sees around 1019, including sees in Serbian lands

In 1018–19, the Archbishopric of Ohrid was established after the Byzantines conquered Bulgaria. Gradually, Greek replaced Bulgarian Slavic as the liturgical language. Serbia was ecclesiastically administered into several bishoprics: the bishopric of Ras, [15] mentioned in the first charter of Basil II (r. 976–1025), became part of the Ohrid archbishopric and encompassed the central areas of Serbia, by the rivers Raška, Ibar and Lim, evident in the second charter of Basil II. In the chrysobulls of Basil II dated to 1020, the Ras bishopric is mentioned as serving the whole of Serbia, with the seat at the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ras. Among the first bishops were Leontius (fl. 1123-1126), Cyril (fl. 1141–1143), Euthemius (fl. 1170) and Kalinik (fl. 1196). It later joined the autocephalous Archbishopric of Žiča in 1219, at the time of Saint Sava.

The 10th- or 11th-century Gospel Book Codex Marianus , written in Old Church Slavonic in the Glagolithic script, is one of the oldest known Slavic manuscripts and was partly written in the Serbian redaction of Old Church Slavonic. [16] Other early manuscripts include 11th-century Grškovićev odlomak Apostola and Mihanovićev odlomak .


Saint Sava, first Serbian archbishop Sveti Sava Kraljeva Crkva.jpg
Saint Sava, first Serbian archbishop
the White Angel fresco, from the Monastery of Mileseva Beli andjeo2.jpg
the White Angel fresco, from the Monastery of Mileševa

Autocephalous Archbishopric (1219–1346)

Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Gracanica, from the beginning of the 14th century (World Heritage Site) Gracanica Monastery, Kosovo - 2017-05 02.jpg
Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Gračanica, from the beginning of the 14th century (World Heritage Site)
Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Decani, from the first half of the 14th century (World Heritage Site) Manastir Visoki Decani (Manastir Visoki Dechani) - by Pudelek..jpg
Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Dečani, from the first half of the 14th century (World Heritage Site)

Serbian prince Rastko Nemanjić, the son of Stefan Nemanja, took monastic vows at Mount Athos as Sava (Sabbas) in 1192. [17] [18] Three years later, his father joined him, taking monastic vows as Simeon. Father and son asked of the Holy Community that the Serbian religious centre be founded at the abandoned site of Hilandar, which they renovated, marking the beginning of a renaissance (in arts, literature and religion). Sava's father died at Hilandar in 1199, and was canonised as St. Simeon. [18] Sava stayed for some years, rising in rank, then returned to Serbia in 1207, taking with him the remains of his father, which he interred at the Studenica monastery, after reconciling his two quarreling brothers Stefan Nemanjić and Vukan. [19] Stefan asked him to remain in Serbia with his clerics, which he did, providing widespread pastoral care and education to the people of Serbia. He founded several churches and monasteries, among them the Žiča monastery. In 1217, Stefan was proclaimed King of Serbia, and various questions of the church reorganization were opened. [20]

Sava returned to the Holy Mountain in 1217/18, preparing for the formation of an autocephalous Serbian Church. He was consecrated in 1219 as the first Archbishop of the Serbian Church, and was given autocephaly by Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople, who was then in exile at Nicaea. In the same year Sava published Zakonopravilo (St. Sava's Nomocanon). Thus the Serbs acquired both forms of independence: political and religious. [21] After this, in Serbia, he stayed in Studenica and continued to educate the Serbian people in their faith, and later he called for a council outlawing the Bogomils, who were regarded heretics. Sava appointed several bishops, sending them over all of Serbia to organize their dioceses. [22] To maintain his standing as the religious and social leader, he continued to travel among the monasteries and lands to educate the people. In 1221 a synod was held in the Žiča monastery, condemning Bogomilism. [23]

The following seats were newly created in the time of Saint Sava:

Older eparchies under the jurisdiction of Serbian Archbishop were:

In 1229/1233, Saint Sava went on a pilgrimage to Palestine and in Jerusalem he met with Patriarch Athanasios II. Sava saw Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the Jordan River where Christ was baptised, and the Great Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (Mar Saba monastery). Sava asked Athanasios II, his host, and the Great Lavra fraternity, led by hegoumenos Nicolas, if he could purchase two monasteries in the Holy Land. His request was accepted and he was offered the monasteries of Saint John the Theologian on Mount Sion and St. George's Monastery on Akona, both to be inhabited by Serbian monks. The icon Trojerucica (Three-handed Theotokos), a gift to the Great Lavra from St. John Damascene, was given to Sava and he, in turn, bequeathed it to Hilandar.

Sava died in Trnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, during the reign of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. According to his Biography, he fell ill following the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Epiphany, 12 January 1235. Sava was visiting Trnovo on his way back from the Holy Land, where he had founded a hospice for Syrian pilgrims in Jerusalem and arranged for Serbian monks to be welcomed in the established monasteries there. He died of pneumonia in the night between Saturday and Sunday, January 14, 1235, and was buried at the Cathedral of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Trnovo where his body remained until May 6, 1237, when his sacred bones were moved to the monastery Mileševa in southern Serbia.

In 1253 the see was transferred to the Monastery of Peć by archbishop Arsenije. [24] The Serbian primates had since moved between the two. [25] Sometime between 1276-1292 the Cumans burned the Žiča monastery, and King Stefan Milutin (1282-1321) renovated it in 1292-1309, during the office of Jevstatije II. [26] In 1289-1290, the chief treasures of the ruined monastery, including the remains of Saint Jevstatije I, were transferred to Peć. [27] During the rule of the same king, the Monastery of Gračanica was also renewed, [28] and during the reign of King Stefan Uroš III (1321-3331), the Monastery of Dečani was built, [29] under the supervision of Archbishop Danilo II. [30]

Medieval Patriarchate (1346–1463)

Patriarchal Monastery of Pec, near the city of Pec in Kosovo and Metohija, the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the 14th century when its status was upgraded into a patriarchate Pecka apside.jpg
Patriarchal Monastery of Peć, near the city of Peć in Kosovo and Metohija, the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the 14th century when its status was upgraded into a patriarchate

The status of the Serbian Orthodox Church grew along with the expansion and heightened prestige of the Serbian kingdom. After King Stefan Dušan assumed the imperial title of tsar, the Serbian Archbishopric was correspondingly raised to the rank of Patriarchate in 1346. In the century that followed, the Serbian Church achieved its greatest power and prestige. In the 14th century Serbian Orthodox clergy had the title of Protos at Mount Athos.

On April 16, 1346 (Easter), Stefan Dušan convoked a grand assembly at Skopje, attended by the Serbian Archbishop Joanikije II, Archbishop Nicholas I of Ohrid, Patriarch Simeon of Bulgaria and various religious leaders of Mount Athos. The assembly and clergy agreed on, and then ceremonially performed the raising of the autocephalous Serbian Archbishopric to the status of Patriarchate. The Archbishop was from now on titled Serbian Patriarch, although some documents called him Patriarch of Serbs and Greeks, with the seat at Patriarchal Monastery of Peć. The new Patriarch Joanikije II now solemnly crowned Stefan Dušan as "Emperor and autocrat of Serbs and Romans" (see Emperor of Serbs). The Patriarchal status resulted in raising bishoprics to metropolitanates, as for example the Metropolitanate of Skopje. The Patriarchate took over sovereignty on Mt. Athos and the Greek archbishoprics under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (the Archbishopric of Ohrid remained autocephalous), which resulted in Dušan's excommunication by Patriarch Callistus I of Constantinople in 1350. [31]

Renewed Patriarchate (1557–1766)

Serbian Patriarchate of Pec (16th-17th century) Patriarchate of Pec in the 16th and 17th century.png
Serbian Patriarchate of Peć (16th-17th century)
Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III, leader of the Great Serbian Migration of 1690 Arsenije III.jpg
Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III, leader of the Great Serbian Migration of 1690

The Ottoman Empire finally conquered the Serbian Despotate in 1459, the Bosnian Kingdom in 1463, Herzegovina in 1482 and Montenegro in 1499. All of the conquered lands were divided into sanjaks. Although some Serbs converted to Islam, most continued their adherence to the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Church itself continued to exist throughout the Ottoman period, though not without some disruption. After the death of Serbian Patriarch Arsenije II in 1463, a successor was not elected. The Patriarchate was thus de facto abolished, and the Serbian Church passed under the jurisdiction of Archbishopric of Ohrid and ultimately the Ecumenical Patriarchate which exercised jurisdiction over all Orthodox of the Ottoman Empire under the millet system.

After several failed attempts, made from c. 1530 up to 1541 by metropolitan Pavle of Smederevo to regain the autocephaly by seizing the throne of Peć and proclaiming himself not only Archbishop of Peć, but also Serbian Patriarch, the Serbian Patriarchate was finally restored in 1557 under the Sultan Suleiman II, thanks to the mediation of pasha Mehmed Sokolović who was Serbian by birth. His cousin, one of the Serbian Orthodox bishops Makarije Sokolović was elected Patriarch in Peć. The restoration of the Patriarchate was of great importance for the Serbs because it helped the spiritual unification of all Serbs in the Ottoman Empire. The Patriarchate of Peć also included some dioceses in western Bulgaria. [32] In the time of Serbian Patriarch Jovan Kantul (1592-1614), the Ottoman Turks took the remains of Saint Sava from monastery Mileševa to the Vračar hill in Belgrade where they were burned by Sinan Pasha on a stake to intimidate the Serb people in case of revolts (see Banat Uprising) (1594). The Temple of Saint Sava was built on the place where his remains were burned.

After consequent Serbian uprisings against the Turkish occupiers in which the Church had a leading role, the Ottomans abolished the Patriarchate once again in 1766. The Church returned once more under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This period of rule by the so-called "Phanariots" was a period of great spiritual decline[ citation needed ] because the Greek bishops had very little understanding of their Serbian flock.

Church in the Habsburg Monarchy

Serbian Patriarch Arsenije IV, leader of the Great Serbian Migration of 1737 Arsenije IV Jovanovic Sakabenta.jpg
Serbian Patriarch Arsenije IV, leader of the Great Serbian Migration of 1737

During this period, many Christians across the Balkans converted to Islam to avoid severe taxes imposed by the Turks in retaliation for uprisings and continued resistance. Many Serbs migrated with their hierarchs to the Habsburg Monarchy where they had been granted autonomy. In 1708, an autonomous Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Karlovci was created, that would later become a patriarchate (1848-1920).

Modern history

The church's close association with Serbian resistance to Ottoman rule led to Eastern Orthodoxy becoming inextricably linked with Serbian national identity and the new Serbian monarchy that emerged from 1815 onwards. The Serbian Orthodox Church in the Principality of Serbia gained its autonomy in 1831, and was organized as the Metropolitanate of Belgrade, remaining under the supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. [33] Principality of Serbia gained full political independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, and soon after that negotiations were initiated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, resulting in canonical recognition of full ecclesiastical independence (autocephaly) for the Metropolitanate of Belgrade in 1879. [34] At the same time, the Serbian Orthodox eparchies in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained under supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but gained internal autonomy. [35] In the southern eparchies, that remained under the Ottoman rule, Serbian metropolitans were appointed by the end of the 19th century. [36] Thus by the beginning of the 20th century several distinctive Serbian ecclesiastical provinces existed, including the Patriarchate of Karlovci in the Habsburg Monarchy, the Metropolitanate of Belgrade in the Kingdom of Serbia, and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro in the Principality of Montenegro.

During the World War I (1914-1918), Serbian Orthodox Church suffered massive casualties. [37] After the war all the Orthodox Serbs were united under one ecclesiastical authority, and two Serbian churches were united into the single Serbian Orthodox Church in 1920 with the election of Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije. It gained great political and social influence in the inter-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, during which time it successfully campaigned against the Yugoslav government's intentions of signing a concordat with the Holy See.

The united Serbian Orthodox Church kept under its jurisdiction the Eparchy of Buda in Hungary. In 1921, the Serbian Orthodox Church created a new eparchy for the Czech lands, headed by bishop Gorazd Pavlik. At the same time, the Serbian Church among the diaspora was reorganized, and the eparchy (diocese) for the United States and Canada was created. [38] In 1931 another diocese was created, called the Eparchy of Mukačevo and Prešov, for the Eastern Orthodox Christians in Slovakia and Carpathian Rusynia.

During the Second World War the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered severely from persecutions by the occupying powers and the rabidly anti-Serbian Ustaše regime of Independent State of Croatia, which sought to create a "Croatian Orthodox Church" which Orthodox Serbs were forced to join. Many Serbs were killed, expelled or forced to convert to Catholicism during the Serbian Genocide; bishops and priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church were singled out for persecution, and many Orthodox churches were damaged or destroyed. [39]

After the war the Church was suppressed by the communist government of Josip Broz Tito, which viewed it with suspicion due to the Church's links with the exiled Serbian monarchy and the nationalist Chetnik movement. Along with other ecclesiastical institutions of all denominations, the Church was subject to strict controls by the Yugoslav state, which prohibited the teaching of religion in schools, confiscated Church property and discouraged religious activity among the population.

In 1963, the Serbian Church among the diaspora was reorganized, and the eparchy for the United States and Canada was divided into three separate eparchies. At the same time, some internal divisions sparked in the Serbian diaspora, leading to the creation of the separate "Free Serbian Orthodox Church". Division was healed in 1991, and Metropolitanate of New Gračanica was created, within the united Serbian Orthodox Church.

The gradual demise of Yugoslav communism and the rise of rival nationalist movements during the 1980s also led to a marked religious revival throughout Yugoslavia, not least in Serbia. The Serbian Patriarch Pavle supported the opposition to Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church was created in 1967, effectively as an offshoot of the Serbian Orthodox Church in what was then the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as part of the Yugoslav drive to build up a Macedonian national identity.[ citation needed ] This was strongly resisted by the Serbian Church, which does not recognize the independence of its Macedonian counterpart. Campaigns for an independent Montenegrin Orthodox Church have also gained ground in recent years.[ citation needed ]

Cathedral of Saint Sava, one of the largest Orthodox buildings in the world, being built continuously since the end of the 1980s on the site where the relics of Saint Sava were desecrated by the Ottomans Temple Saint Sava.jpg
Cathedral of Saint Sava, one of the largest Orthodox buildings in the world, being built continuously since the end of the 1980s on the site where the relics of Saint Sava were desecrated by the Ottomans

The Yugoslav wars gravely impacted several branches of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Many Serbian Orthodox Church clergy supported the war, while others were against it.[ citation needed ]

Many churches in Croatia were damaged or destroyed during the Croatian War (1991–95). The bishops and priests and most faithful of the eparchies of Zagreb, of Karlovac, of Slavonia and of Dalmatia became refugees. The latter three were almost completely abandoned after the exodus of the Serbs from Croatia in 1995 (Operation Storm). The eparchy of Dalmatia also had its see temporarily moved to Knin after the Republic of Serbian Krajina was established. The eparchy of Slavonia had its see moved from Pakrac to Daruvar. After Operation Storm, two monasteries were particularly damaged, the Krupa monastery built in 1317, and the Krka monastery built in 1345.

The eparchies of Bihać and Petrovac, Dabar-Bosnia and Zvornik and Tuzla were also dislocated due to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The eparchy see of Dabar-Bosnia was temporarily moved to Sokolac, and the see of Zvornik-Tuzla to Bijeljina. Over a hundred Church-owned objects in the Zvornik-Tuzla eparchy were destroyed or damaged during the war[ citation needed ]. Many monasteries and churches in the Zahumlje eparchy were also destroyed[ citation needed ]. Numerous faithful from these eparchies also became refugees.[ citation needed ]

Left: Destroyed Serbian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in Petrić village
Right: Devič monastery after it was burned down in 2004 unrest in Kosovo.

By 1998 the situation had stabilized in both countries. Most of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church was returned to normal use, the bishops and priests returned, and that which was destroyed, damaged or vandalized was restored. The process of rebuilding several churches is still under way, notably the cathedral of the Eparchy of Upper Karlovac in Karlovac. The return of the Serbian Orthodox Church faithful also started, but they are not nearly close to their pre-war numbers, as of 2004.

Due to the Kosovo War, after 1999 numerous Serbian Orthodox holy sites in the province were left occupied only by clergy. Since the arrival of NATO troops in June 1999, 156 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries have been damaged or destroyed and several priests have been killed[ citation needed ]. During the few days of the 2004 unrest in Kosovo, 35 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were damaged and some destroyed by Albanian mobs[ citation needed ]. Thousands of Serbs were forced to move from Kosovo due to the numerous attacks of Kosovo Albanians on Serbian churches and Serbs.[ citation needed ]

The process of church reorganization among the diaspora and full reintegration of the Metropolitanate of New Gračanica was completed from 2009 to 2011. By that, full structural unity of Serbian church institutions in the diaspora was achieved.


Based on the official census results in countries which encompass territorial canonic jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Serb autochthonous region of Western Balkans), there are more than 8 million adherents of the church. Orthodoxy is the largest single religious faith in Serbia with 6,079,296 adherents (84.5% of the population belonging to it) according to the 2011 census, [40] and in Montenegro with 460,383 (74%). It is the second largest faith in Bosnia and Herzegovina with 31.2% of adherents, and in Croatia with 4.4% of adherents. Figures for eparchies abroad (Western Europe, North America, and Australia) is unknown although some estimates can be reached based on the size of Serb diaspora, which numbers over 2 million people.


The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the patriarch, also serves as the head (metropolitan) of the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and Karlovci. Irinej became patriarch on 22 January 2010. Serbian Orthodox patriarchs use the style His Holiness the Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci, Serbian Patriarch.

The highest body of the Church is the Bishops' Council (Serbian : Sveti arhijerejski sabor, Свети архијерејски сабор). It consists of the Patriarch, the Metropolitans, Bishops, Archbishop of Ohrid and Vicar Bishops. It meets annually – in spring. The Holy assembly of Bishops makes important decisions for the church and elects the patriarch.

The executive body of the Serbian Orthodox Church is the Holy Synod (Serbian : Sveti arhijerejski sinod, Свети архијерејски синод). It has five members: four bishops and the patriarch. [41] The Holy Synod takes care of the everyday operation of the Church, holding meetings on regular basis.

Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbian autochthonous region of Western Balkans Map of Eparchies of Serbian Orthodox Church (including Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric)-en.svg
Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbian autochthonous region of Western Balkans

Territorial organisation

The territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church is divided into: [42] [43]

Dioceses are further divided into episcopal deaneries, each consisting of several church congregations or parishes. Church congregations consist of one or more parishes. A parish is the smallest Church unit - a communion of Orthodox faithful congregating at the Holy Eucharist with the parish priest at their head.

Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid

The Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid or Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric is an autonomous archbishopric in the Republic of Macedonia under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was formed in 2002 in opposition to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which had had a similar relationship with the Serbian Orthodox Church prior to 1967, when it unilaterally declared itself autocephalous. This archbishopric is divided into one metropolitanate, Skopje, and the six eparchies of Bregalnica, Debar and Kičevo, Polog and Kumanovo, Prespa and Pelagonija, Strumica and Veles and Povardarje.

Worship, liturgy and doctrine

Services cannot properly be conducted by a single person, but must have at least one other person present. Usually, all of the services are conducted on a daily basis only in monasteries and cathedrals, while parish churches might only do the services on the weekend and major feast days. The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays during the preparatory season of Great Lent. Communion is consecrated on Sundays and distributed during the week at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, can only be performed once a day on any particular altar.[ citation needed ]

The Serbian Orthodox Church is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, a belief in the Incarnation of the Logos (Son of God), a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by Sacred Tradition, a concrete ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a therapeutic soteriology.[ citation needed ]

A key part of the Serbian Orthodox religion is the Slava, a celebration of the Clan Patron Saint, placed into Serb Orthodox religious canon by the first Serb archbishop Saint Sava.

Inter-Christian relations

The Serbian Orthodox Church is in full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (which holds a special place of honour within Orthodoxy and serves as the seat for the Ecumenical Patriarch, who enjoys the status of first-among-equals ) and all of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox church bodies. It has been a member of the World Council of Churches since 1965, [44] and of the Conference of European Churches. However, the church is currently in conflict with the non-canonical Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church.[ citation needed ]


An example of the Serbo-Byzantine style in the Gracanica monastery (World Heritage Site). Gracanica Monastery, Kosovo.JPG
An example of the Serbo-Byzantine style in the Gračanica monastery (World Heritage Site).
"A Portrait of the Evangelist", a miniature from the Radoslav Gospel (1429). Radoslav gospel - Saint John (fragment).jpg
"A Portrait of the Evangelist", a miniature from the Radoslav Gospel (1429).


Serbian medieval churches were built in the Byzantine spirit. The Raška style refers to the Serbian architecture from the 12th to the end of the 14th century (Studenica, Hilandar, Žiča). The Vardal style, which is the typical one, was developed in the late 13th century combining Byzantine and Serbian influences to form a new architectural style (Gračanica, Patriarchal Monastery of Peć). By the time of the Serbian Empire, the Serbian state had enlarged itself over Macedonia, Epirus and Thessaly all the way to the Aegean Sea, which resulted in stronger influences from Byzantine art tradition. The Morava style refers to the period of the fall of Serbia under the Ottoman Empire, from 1371 to 1459 (Ravanica, Ljubostinja, Kalenić, Resava).

During the 17th century many of the Serbian Orthodox churches that were built in Belgrade took all the characteristics of baroque churches built in the Habsburg-occupied regions where Serbs lived. The churches usually had a bell tower, and a single nave building with the iconostasis inside the church covered with Renaissance-style paintings. These churches can be found in Belgrade and Vojvodina, which were occupied by the Austrian Empire from 1717 to 1739, and on the border with Austrian (later Austria-Hungary) across the Sava and Danube rivers from 1804 when Serbian statehood was re-established.


Icons are replete with symbolism meant to convey far more meaning than simply the identity of the person depicted, and it is for this reason that Orthodox iconography has become an exacting science of copying older icons rather than an opportunity for artistic expression. The personal, idiosyncratic and creative traditions of Western European religious art are largely lacking in Orthodox iconography before the 17th century, when Russian and Serbian icon painting was influenced by religious paintings and engravings from Europe.

Large icons can be found adorning the walls of churches and often cover the inside structure completely. Orthodox homes often likewise have icons hanging on the wall, usually together on an eastern facing wall, and in a central location where the family can pray together.


Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church.svg
Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church

The Serbian tricolour with a Serbian cross is used as the official[ year needed ] flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church. [45]

A number of other unofficial variant flags, some with variations of the cross, coat of arms, or both, exist.[ clarification needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

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The Archbishopric of Ohrid, also known as the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid, originally called Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima and all Bulgaria, was an autonomous Orthodox Church under the tutelage of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople between 1019 and 1767. It was established following the Byzantine conquest of the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018 by lowering the rank of the autocephalous Bulgarian Patriarchate due to its subjugation to Constantinople.

Eparchy of Zahumlje and Herzegovina

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Patriarchate of Peć (monastery) cultural heritage monument of Kosovo

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Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral

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Makarije Sokolović Serbian patriarch

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Eparchy of Banat

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Eparchy of Budimlja and Nikšić

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Kalinik II was Archbishop of Peć and Serbian Patriarch from 1765 to 1766. He was the last holder of that office before the Ottoman Empire abolished the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć in 1766. As an ethnic Greek, he was seen as a foreigner among Serbs, who favored the deposed patriarch Vasilije I. Since his tenure was marked by various internal conflicts, Kalinik decided to resign his post, and even went a step further: he sent a pre-agreed petition to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople asking for the abolition of the Srbian Patriarchate of Peć, citing accumulated debts as the main reason for this motion, signed by him and 5 other bishops. On 11 September 1766, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople convinced the Sultan to abolish the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć and place its dioceses under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. That decision affected only Serbian dioceses under Ottoman rule, since Serbian Autonomous Metropolitanate of Karlovci in Habsburg Monarchy remained out of reach of Constantinopolitan Phanariotes.

Eparchy of Žiča

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Eparchy of Raška and Prizren eparchy

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Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Braničevo

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Archbishopric of Belgrade and Karlovci

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Eparchy of Lipljan

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Gavrilo IV was Archbishop of Peć and Serbian Patriarch for a short time during the turbulent year of 1758. He was an ethnic Greek.

Eparchy of Niš

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Metropolitanate of Skopje

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Antonije I

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  1. Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has been recognized as an independent state by 112 out of 193 United Nations member states, while 11 states have recognized Kosovo only to later withdraw their recognition.)
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  34. Kiminas 2009, p. 20-21.
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  40. Branka Pantic; Arsic Aleksandar; Miroslav Ivkovic; Milojkovic Jelena. "Republicki zavod za statistiku Srbije" . Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  41. Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church
  42. See: List of Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church
  43. Official SPC site: Eparchies Links (in Serbian)
  44. Николић 2011, p. 50.
  45. Пржић 1939, p. 21.