Orthodox Church of Serbia

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The Serbs belong to the Southern Slavs. They have a common language with the Croats, from whom they were distinguished and separated even before both settled in the 7th century in the Balkan Peninsula. The territory settled by the Serbs belonged to various provinces of the Roman Empire.

Religious influences from the Western Church entered during the reign of Emperor Heracleus (610641) through Dalmatia and Albania, but reached only the Slavs that were close to the cities along the coast. The Serbs in the center of the Balkan Peninsula, isolated by almost impassable mountains, were only sporadically affected. The dominance of the Byzantine culture, radiating from Salonika and Ohrid, had a more enduring effect, especially after the Slavic dialect was elevated by SS. Cyril and Methodius to a literary language. The sending out of missionaries by the Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (867886) and the return of the disciples of the apostles of the Slavs to Macedonia and Bulgaria following their expulsion from Moravia (886), must have had consequences also among the Serbs, although information concerning the ecclesiastical situation before the time of St. Sava is scant. In a document of Stevan Nemanja, Sava's father, "his bishop" is mentioned, with the title of Rasa. According to a chrysobull of the Byzantine Emperor michael viii Palaeologus this sole bishopric was erected in 950 as a suffragan of the autocephalous archiepiscopate of Ohrid.

The Serbian Archiepiscopate. The movements of the Crusades and the struggle for Constantinople brought the Balkan region into prominence. In the second half of the 12th century political independence from the Byzantine emperor was achieved (1183), and a strong Serbian state was formed by the Grand Župan Stevan Nemanja (115995). His youngest son, Rastko, as a monk named Sava, received his education in the monasteries of Mount Athos, where he had gone against the wishes of the father. The latter followed him, erected the monastery of Chilandar and took the habit under the name of Simeon (1196). Sava's elder brother, Stevan II Prvovenčani (First-Crowned), received in 1217 from Pope Honorius III the crown and recognition as king, which he had been unable to secure from Innocent III because of the opposition of the Hungarian King Emmerich. But the orientation toward the West was of short duration. Sava received from both the Byzantine Emperor and the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople permission for the erection of an archiepiscopate, with the right to administer independently all internal affairs of the Serbian Church, especially the appointment of the archbishop and the bishops (1219). Sava was consecrated their first archbishop.

The nine dioceses established during St. Sava's government were situated in what today is the Macedonian Republic and the Autonomous Region of Kosovo-Metohija, and the southernmost part of Serbia proper. After having erected several monasteries with schools, and having established the Serbian Church on a solid hierarchical foundation, St. Sava resigned (1233), and went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On his return trip he died in Trnovo (Bulgaria) in 1236. While the political organization of the Serbs throughout history collapsed several times, his work, the Serbian Orthodox Church, survived the most adverse vicissitudes, and is still in existence.

The Serbian Patriarchate. The zenith in the development of Serbia was reached under Stevan Dušan (133155). Taking advantage of the civil wars within the Byzantine Empire, he added to his domains Macedonia, Albania, Epirus, and Thessaly; his predecessors had already extended their rule toward the north, up to the Danube and Sava. In 1346 Dušan was crowned "Emperor of the Serbs and the Greeks" in Skopjei, and, in imitation of the Byzantine model, the archbishop was elevated to the dignity of patriarch. The erection of the patriarchate, in the presence of the Bulgarian patriarch and the archbishop of Ohrid, was necessitated by other considerations too. Only a hierarch with this highest dignity could incorporate into the church of Dušan's empire the autocephalous Church of Ohrid and the dioceses of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Macedonia, Epirus and Thessaly. The patriarch's residence was at Peć since Arsenije I, the successor of St. Sava. The dioceses were now distributed into metropolitan districts. The ecumenical patriarch protested and then excommunicated the new patriarchate, as well as the entire Serbian State and people (1352). However, the increased danger from the Turks after their victory at the Maritza (1371) forced Constantinople as well as the Serbs to seek friends, and the excommunication was retracted and the patriarchate recognized (1376).

Domination of the Turks. The arrival of the Turks had a far reaching influence on the destiny of the Serbian Church. The Orthodox patriarchs were recognized as supreme heads of their people even in civil matters, and the Turks ruled their Christian subjects not directly, but mediately through their religious superiors, the patriarchs and bishops.

As for the Serbian patriarch, it seems that the Turks did not recognize him as head of his nation, probably because they had no effective contacts with him, but regarded the autocephalous archbishop of Ohrid as responsible for the Serbs. No Serbian patriarch is mentioned after 1500 until the Serbian Patriarchate was reestablished in 1557 by the Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokolović, a Serb who had embraced Islam when as a child he was forcibly drafted into the Janizaries. A relative of the Grand Vizier, the monk Makarije, became the first patriarch. The Serbian Church, now an administrative part of the Turkish political organization, was expected to unite all the Slavs up to the Carpathian Mountains, bring them under Turkish control, and lure them away from the Christians in western Europe. The patriach was spiritual and temporal head of all the Serbs and other Orthodox under his jurisdiction from the Adriatic to Rumania, and from the Carpathian Mountains to Macedonia, governing them through 22 bishops.

The ceaseless unrest caused by the wars of the Turks in the 17th and 18th centuries led to continued migrations of the Serbs toward the north and west. Their original region was settled by Albanians. The Serbs migrated in large numbers toward areas north of the Danube, into Syrmium, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Dalmatia, and into Croatia-Slavonia. The Hungarian King Mathias Corvinus (145890) conferred upon the Serbian leader Vuk Branković the title of despot, which was taken from the Byzantine administrative hierarchy, and acknowledged him as commander of the Serbs, whom Hungary needed for the protection of the southern boundaries against the advancing Turks. Whenever the Turks ceded a territory to the Austrian emperor, all citizens of the Islamic faith, although of Croatian or Serbian nationality and language, were obliged according to the tenets of Islam to leave the country of the Christian ruler. The vase void spaces were accordingly settled by the Serbs, who had thus over the centuries almost completely evacuated their original seats, and transferred their center to the Danube, Sava, and Drina Rivers. Especially memorable were the great treks of 1690 under Patriarch Arsenije III Crnojević, of 30,000 families, in response to the proclamation of Emperor Leopold I, by which he promised to grant them national and religious liberty under his scepter; and that of 1739 under Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanović-šakabent, in flight from the vengeance of the Turks who had been angered by their support of Austria.

The chief bishop of the migrants established their final residence in Karlovci, a small town on the Danube, close to the numerous monasteries previously erected in the Fruška Gora, an isolated mountain range in Syrmium. The patriarchs continued to reside in Peć until the abolition of the patriarchate (1766). The archbishops of Karlovci were considered exarchs of the patriarchal throne of Peć. The jurisdiction of the migrating Serbian patriarchs was not affected by the move to the new regions, since they had, as true ethnarchs, considered and styled themselves as patriarchs of the people, "the Serbs," and not as of a certain city or country.

The Third Serbian Patriarchate. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (1918) led to the establishment of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later called Yugoslavia. The Serbs were again politically united for the first time since the Middle Ages. The sectional Churches were dissolved and the Serbian Patriarchate was reestablished (1920). In Yugoslavia between the two world wars, the Serbian Orthodox Church enjoyed a privileged position for several reasons: the Serbs, although not constituting a majority, were the numerically largest nationality in the state, and the chief beneficiary from the advantages accruing from a larger political unit. The reigning family was Serbian, and to be successful in the civil or military service it was advantageous to be of the Orthodox faith. Although so close a relationship between politics and Church had its corruptive effect upon a spiritual organization, the Serbian Orthodox Church made every effort to repair the wounds caused by the centuries of Islamic oppression and the continuous wars. This evolution was interrupted by World War II, which was fought in the Balkans by the various nationalities, split among themselves.

The coming of the Communist regime under Josip Broz Tito severed the bonds between the Serbian Church and the State, gravely damaged the Church by confiscations and curtailment of liberty, but involuntarily enhanced the prestige of the patriarch and the meaning of the Church for the Serbian nation. The collapse of communism in the Eastern European bloc paved the way for a renaissance of the Serbian Orthodox Church in public life.

Monastic Life. Monasteries, under Greek direction, existed in the territory of the Serbian Church before the time of St. Sava, some probably going back to that of the disciples of SS. Cyrillus and Methodius. They received a great increase under Sava's government. He reestablished in 1196 the former Greek monastery of Chilandar on the Holy Mount Athos, which remained the spiritual center of Serbian monasticism for centuries, along with the new convents of Žiča, Studenica, Visoki Dečani, Mileševo, Sopočani, and numerous others.

The medieval Serbian Church was one of monasteries, and the importance of the monks and nuns can be compared with that in the early Church of Scotland and Ireland. In the absence of cities as cultural centers, the monasteries were the residences of all the bishops, the only schools, centers of art, depositories of public and private documents, etc. The copying of books for the needs of the Serbian Church as well as that of other Slavic nations prospered in such close proximity to Greek sources. Monasteries sometimes contained up to 200 subjects. They were divided into classes: imperial lavras, subject solely to the monarch; archiepiscopal, and later stauropegial convents, under the direct authority of the patriarch; and eparchial monasteries, under the supervision of the diocesan bishops. The bishop's own residence was always a monastery of which he was the superior.

The Serbs established in the 15th century in the Fruška Gora in Syrmium a new, Serbian Holy Mountain, with several monasteries: Krušedol, Hopovo, Šišatovac, Vrdnik (Ravanica), Kuveždin, Beoćin, Bešenovo, Grgetek, and Fenek. From the 17th century these convents performed a valuable service to the Serbian Church when the nation migrated to the north.

Church Art. Over the many centuries, the Serbian Orthodox Church developed a mixed architectural style, being at the point at which Italian influences from across the Adriatic meet the Byzantine influences from the South.

In respect to painting, particularly fresco, Serbia holds its own even if compared with the abundance of Italian monuments of art. Matejić, Nagoričino, Chilander, Gračanica, Dečani (with more than 1,000 compositions), and numerous other convents and churches, dispersed all over the country, usually away from the main routes of communication, are a testimony that painting was nurtured in the Serbia of the kings and czars at a degree of excellence somewhat higher than that existing at the same time in western Europe. The loss of political independence under the Turks brought to a nearly complete and abrupt stop the further development of artistic manifestations.

The Serbian Orthodox Church Today. The Serbian Orthodox Church is headed by His Holiness, the Archbishop of Peé, Metropolitan of Beograd-Karlovci, and Serbian Patriarch. The patriarch is elected from the number of those Serbian bishops who have administered a diocese at least five years. The Council of the Bishops presents three candidates to the electoral assembly composed of all bishops, certain other secular and regular clergy, and lay representatives from the various eparchies.

The patriarch enjoys the privilege of performing the consecration of all bishops, either in person or through a delegate, of consecrating the Holy Myro (Chrism) for the entire Serbian Church, of wearing the white panakamilavka, a white veil that covers the cylindrical headgear and falls down upon the shoulders.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is administered by the patriarch with the assistance of two synods. The Holy Council of the Bishops, Sveti Arhijerejski Sabor, is composed of all diocesan bishops. It is the legislator and supreme authority of the Church, to be called together whenever the patriarch with the Holy Synod of Bishops decides, especially for the election of bishops. The Holy Synod of Bishops, Sveti Arhijejski Sinod, is the executive organ of the Council of Bishops. It is composed of the patriarch and four bishops. For all decisions of the patriarch the assent of a majority of the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops is required.

The High Tribunal of the Church is a court of appeal from diocesan tribunals, although the Synod and the Council of Bishops also have judicial power in major causes, especially those concerning transgressions of bishops and of the patriarch himself. The Patriarchal Council is entrusted with legislation and supervision in the sphere of temporal administration, and has a number of laymen among its members. Its executive organ is the Patriarchal Administrative Board, composed of the patriarch and six clerical and seven lay members.

The diocesan bishop is assisted by a vicar-general, arhijerejski zamenik, of his choice. The Eparchial Church Tribunal has a twofold competence: it is the diocesan administrative office (chancery), and also a court of first instance under the presidency of the bishop or his deputy, assisted by two other priests, secretaries-reporters, and other personnel. The Eparchial Council is in charge of the temporal management of the diocesan property, and supervises the same activity in the parishes. Its executive organ is the Eparchial Administrative Board.

The diocese, eparhija, is divided into districts, composed of a number of parishes, each headed by the episcopal vicar, arhijerejski namesnik. His official duty is to represent the bishop in his district, and to decide matters of lesser importance. Every parish has but one priest for 300 to 500 families, but several parishes can be centered in the same church. The Congregational Meeting is charged with the management of the temporal affairs of the parish or parishes. All the parishes of municipalities with up to 50,000 faithful are united in one Congregational Meeting. Its executive organ is the Congregational Committee. Membership in these bodies belongs to all priests of the parish or parishes and to lay members, elected by all parishioners. Their number varies with the number of the parishioners, varying from 24 to 60 in the Congregational Meeting, and six to twelve in the Congregational Committee.

Bishops are taken only from monks or from among widowed priests who have taken monastic vows. In addition, they are required to be graduates of a higher school of theology. Sometimes laymen with a higher education, e.g., lawyers, college teachers, join the rank of the regular clergy, having become widowers, and are, after theological preparation, advanced to the hierarchy.

Liturgical Worship. The liturgical rite of the Serbian Orthodox Church is that of Constantinople, called also byzantine liturgy. With the acceptance of the liturgical books from the Ukraine and Russia, where Patriarch nikon (165267) had them reformed according to the usage of the Greeks, uniformity was established with the Common Byzantine Liturgy. The liturgical language of the Serbian Church is the Church Slavonic, originally the Slavic dialect from the surroundings of Saloniki, adapted to the use of the Church under the influence of the Serbian language. Liturgical books were printed in Srbulj, a form of the Church-Slavonic, as early as 1494, and in 1495 the Psaltir of Cetinje appeared. Under the Turks, and later because of the opposition of popes and Catholic bishops, it became increasingly difficult to continue the printing of liturgical books, whereas good editions, prepared in Kiev and Moscow, became available at the end of the 17th century. The acceptance of these books displaced the Serbian versions and introduced the Ukrainized form of the Church-Slavonic. Voices were raised repeatedly, advocating the return to the Srbulj, while others suggested the introduction of the modern Serbian language. English is now employed extensively in the U.S. and in Canada in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and other services.

A peculiarity of the Serbians is the krsna slava of pre-Christian origin, a memorial rite to honor ancestors. Each family has a certain patron saint, or a certain feast of the liturgical calendar, on the day of which the krsna slava is to be celebrated. It is assumed that this day is identical either with the day when the ancestor accepted Christianity by baptism, or with the day of the patron saint adopted by the ancestor. The krsna slava is inherited in the male line. It is celebrated by an elaborate religious rite, often with the intervention of the priest, who visits the home to bless and cut the slavski kolač or cake.

Bibliography: d. slijepČeviĆ, Istorija Srpske Pravoslavne crkve, v.1: Od pokrštavanja srba do kraja XVII veka (Munich 1962), contains a systematic survey and bibliog. of all previous histories of the Serbian Church. a. hudal, Die serbisch-orthodoxe Nationalkirche (Graz 1922). c. s. draŠkoviĆ, "Die Lage der Orthodoxen Kirche in Jugoslavien," in f. popan and Č. s. draŠkoviĆ, Orthodoxie heute in Rumänien und Jugoslawien, ed. k. rudolf (Vienna 1960) 137176. a. prinetto, L'organizazzione della Chiesa Serba Ortodossa in base alla nuova costituzione del 1931 e legge statale del 1929 (Dissertation unpublished. Pontificia U. Gregoriana, no. 913; Rome 1941). v. j. pospishil, Der Patriarch im Rechte der Serbisch-Pravoslavischen Kirche (Diss. unpub. Pontificia U. Gregoriana; Rome 1949). "The Sixth Centenary of the Serbian Patriarch," (in Serbian) Glasnik, Srpske' Pravoslavne Crkve no. 9 (Belgrade, Sept. 1, 1946) 129207. Oriente Cattolico: Cenni storici e statistiche (Vatican City 1962) 235245. r. roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, 6th ed (Rome 1999).

[v. j. pospishil/eds.]