Serbian Orthodox Church

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Serbian Orthodox Church
妊把扭扼抗忘 扭把忘志抉扼抖忘志扶忘 扯把抗志忘
Srpska pravoslavna crkva
Coat of arms of Serbian Orthodox Church.png
ClassificationEastern Orthodox
ScriptureSeptuagint, New Testament
TheologyEastern Orthodox theology
LanguageSerbian and Church Slavonic
HeadquartersBuilding of the Patriarchate, Belgrade; traditionally Patriarchate of Pe?
TerritorySoutheastern Europe (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, North Macedonia, Kosovo[a], Slovenia)
PossessionsOrthodox Ohrid Archbishopric
FounderSaint Sava
Recognition1219 (Autocephaly)
1346 (Patriarchate)
1557 (Patriarchate)
1879 (Autocephaly)
1920 (Patriarchate)
SeparationsMacedonian Orthodox Church
Montenegrin Orthodox Church
Serbian True Orthodox Church
Members8[1] to 12 million[2]

The Serbian Orthodox Church (Serbian: 妊把扭扼抗忘 扭把忘志抉扼抖忘志扶忘 扯把抗志忘, 妊妤孛 / Srpska pravoslavna crkva, SPC) is one of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. It is the second-oldest Slavic Orthodox Church in the world.

The majority of the population in Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is organized into metropolises and eparchies located primarily in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia. Other congregations[citation needed] are located in the Serb diaspora.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Eastern Orthodox communion. The Serbian Patriarch serves as first among equals in his church. The current patriarch is Porfirije, enthroned on February 19, 2021. The previous patriarch was Irinej, who died in November 2020.[3] The Church achieved autocephalous status in 1219 under the leadership of St. Sava, becoming the independent Archbishopric of ?i?a. Its status was elevated to that of a patriarchate in 1346 and was known afterwards as the Serbian Patriarchate of Pe?.

This patriarchate was abolished by the Ottoman Turks in 1766,[citation needed] though the Serbian Church continued to exist with its exarchs in Serb-populated territories in the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice and the First French Empire. The modern Serbian Orthodox Church was re-established in 1920 after the unification[citation needed] of the Patriarchate of Karlovci, the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro.

Historical background[edit]

Early Christianity[edit]

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每337), born in Ni?, was the first Christian Roman emperor. Several bishops seated in present-day Serbia participated in the First Council of Nicaea (325), such as Ursacius of Singidunum. In 380, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius I 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 was 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]

Christianization of Serbs[edit]

Seal of the prince Strojimir of Serbia, from the late 9th century 每 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每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每641), and Porphyrogenitus stressed that the Serbs had always been under Imperial rule.[7] According to De Administrando Imperio the center from which the Serbs received their baptism was marked as Rome.[8] His account on the first Christianization of the Serbs can be dated to 632每638; this might have been Porphyrogenitus' construction, or may have. It likely encompassed a limited group of chiefs, with lesser reception by the wider layers of the tribe.[9]

The establishment of Christianity as the state religion dates to the time of Prince Mutimir (r. 851每891) and Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867每886).[10] The Christianization was partly due to Byzantine and subsequent Bulgarian influence.[10] At least during the rule of Kocel (861每874) in Pannonia, communications between Serbia and Great Moravia, where Methodius was active, must have been possible.[10] The pope must have been aware of this when planning Methodius' diocese and that of the Dalmatian coast, which was in Byzantine hands as far north as Split.[10] Some Cyrillomethodian pupils may have reached Serbia in the 870s, perhaps sent by Methodius himself.[10] Serbia was accounted Christian as of about 870.[10]

The first Serbian bishopric was founded at Ras, near modern Novi Pazar on the Ibar river.[10] According to Vlasto, the initial affiliation is uncertain; it may have been under the subordination of either Split or Durazzo, both then Byzantine.[10] The early Ras church can be dated to the 9th每10th century, with the rotunda plan characteristic of first court chapels.[10] 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每880.[10] The names of Serbian rulers through Mutimir (r. 851每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.[10] Petar Gojnikovi? (r. 892每917) was evidently a Christian prince,[10] and Christianity presumably was spreading in his time.[12] 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. 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]

Archbishopric of Ohrid (1018每1219)[edit]

Map depicting the Archbishopric of Ohrid in ca. 1020

After the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in 1018, emperor Basil II ordered an autonomous Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid to be established in 1019, lowering the rank of the autocephalous Bulgarian Patriarchate because of its subjugation to Constantinople, and placing it under the supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Gradually, Greek replaced Old Church Slavonic 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每1025), became part of the Ohrid archbishopric and encompassed the central areas of Serbia, by the rivers Ra?ka, Ibar and Lim, evident in the second charter of Basil II. In the chrysobulls of Basil II, dated 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每1126), Cyril (fl. 1141每1143), Euthemius (fl. 1170) and Kalinik (fl. 1196). It later joined the autocephalous Archbishopric of ?i?a 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. It was partly written in the Serbian redaction of Old Church Slavonic.[16] Other early manuscripts include the 11th-century Gr?kovi?ev odlomak Apostola and Mihanovi?ev odlomak.


Saint Sava, first Serbian archbishop
the White Angel fresco, from the Monastery of Mile?eva

Autocephalous Archbishopric (1219每1346)[edit]

Serbian Orthodox Monastery of De?ani, from the first half of the 14th century (World Heritage Site)

Serbian prince Rastko Nemanji?, 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 the Holy Community to found a Serbian religious centre at the abandoned site of Hilandar, which they renovated. This marked 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 Nemanji? 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. Sava founded several churches and monasteries, among them the ?i?a 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, 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, Sava stayed in Studenica and continued to educate the Serbian people in their faith. Later he called for a council outlawing the Bogomils, whom he considered heretics. Sava appointed several bishops, sending them around 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 ?i?a 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:

Trojeru?ica meaning "Three-handed Theotokos" is the most important icon of the Serbian Orthodox Church and main icon of Mount Athos.

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 Veliko Tarnovo, 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 Veliko Tarnovo 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 Veliko Tarnovo where his body remained until May 6, 1237, when his sacred bones were moved to the monastery Mile?eva in southern Serbia.

In 1253 the see was transferred to the Monastery of Pe? by archbishop Arsenije.[24] The Serbian primates had since moved between the two.[25] Sometime between 1276 and 1292 the Cumans burned the ?i?a monastery, and King Stefan Milutin (1282每1321) renovated it in 1292每1309, during the office of Jevstatije II.[26] In 1289每1290, the chief treasures of the ruined monastery, including the remains of Saint Jevstatije I, were transferred to Pe?.[27] During the rule of the same king, the Monastery of Gra?anica was also renewed,[28] and during the reign of King Stefan Uro? III (1321每1331), the Monastery of De?ani was built,[29] under the supervision of Archbishop Danilo II.[30]

Medieval Patriarchate (1346每1463)[edit]

The status of the Serbian Orthodox Church grew along with the expansion and heightened prestige of the Serbian kingdom. After King Stefan Du?an 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 Du?an 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 Pe?. The new Patriarch Joanikije II now solemnly crowned Stefan Du?an 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 Du?an's excommunication by Patriarch Callistus I of Constantinople in 1350.[31]

Renewed Patriarchate (1557每1766)[edit]

Serbian Patriarchate of Pe? (16th每17th century)
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 Pe? and proclaiming himself not only Archbishop of Pe?, but also Serbian Patriarch, the Serbian Patriarchate was finally restored in 1557 under the Sultan Suleiman I, thanks to the mediation of pasha Mehmed Sokolovi? who was Serbian by birth. His cousin, one of the Serbian Orthodox bishops Makarije Sokolovi? was elected Patriarch in Pe?. 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 Pe? also included some dioceses in western Bulgaria.[32] In the time of Serbian Patriarch Jovan Kantul (1592每1614), the Ottoman Turks took the remains of Saint Sava from monastery Mile?eva to the Vra?ar 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.[2]

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[edit]

Serbian Patriarch Arsenije IV, leader of the Great Serbian Migration of 1737

During this period, Christians across the Balkans were under pressure to convert to Islam to avoid severe taxes imposed by the Turks in retaliation for uprisings and continued resistance. However, the success of Islamization was only limited to certain areas, with majority of Serbian population keeping its Christian faith despite the negative consequences. To avoid them, numerous Serbs migrated with their hierarchs to the Habsburg Monarchy where their authonomy had been granted. In 1708, an autonomous Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Karlovci was created, that would later become a patriarchate (1848每1920).

Modern history[edit]

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每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 Muka?evo and Pre?ov, 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 Usta?e regime of Independent State of Croatia (NDH), 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] Out of the 577 Serbian Orthodox priests, monks and other religious dignitaries in the NDH, between 214 and 217 were killed and 334 were exiled to German-occupied Serbia.[40] In the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 71 Orthodox priests were killed by the Usta?e, 10 by the Partisans, 5 by the Germans, and 45 died in the first decade after the end of WWII.[41]

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 leadership from the period of Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the nationalist Chetnik movement. According to Denis Be?irovi?, aside from the League of Communists of Yugoslavia's ideological differences with the Church, this negative attitude was also influenced by the fact that some priests during the war supported the Chetnik movement which are mentioned in Documents of the Commission for Religious Affairs where is stated that among other things, that the majority of priests during the war supported and cooperated with the movement of Dra?a Mihailovi?, and that the church spread "hostile propaganda" against the Yugoslav Partisans and appointed persons in the administration of church institutions who were convicted of collaborating with the occupier.[41] 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" under Bishop Dionisije. Division was healed in 1991, and Metropolitanate of New Gra?anica was created, within the united Serbian Orthodox Church.[42]

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 Milo?evi? 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

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每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 Biha? 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 Petri? village
Right: Devi? 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.[43] In the aftermath of the 2004 unrest in Kosovo, 35 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were burned or destroyed by Albanian mobs.[44] 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 Gra?anica was completed from 2009 to 2011. By that, full structural unity of Serbian church institutions in the diaspora was achieved.

A court in London ruled out in 2020 that Serbian Orthodox Church was not guilty for six reported cases of alleged pedophilia. The plaintiff was required to pay ?160,000 to the Church.[45]


Based on the official census results in countries which encompass the territorial canonical jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church (the 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) according to the 2011 census,[46] and in Montenegro with around 320,000 (51% of the population). It is the second largest faith in Bosnia and Herzegovina with 31.2% of the population, and in Croatia with 4.4% of of the population. Figures for eparchies abroad (Western Europe, North America, and Australia) is unknown although some estimates can be reached based on the size of the Serb diaspora, which numbers over two million people.


The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the patriarch, also serves as the head (metropolitan) of the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and Karlovci. The current patriarch, Porfirije, was inaugurated on 22 January 2010. Serbian Orthodox patriarchs use the style His Holiness the Archbishop of Pe?, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci, Serbian Patriarch.

The highest body of the church is the Bishops' Council (Serbian: Sveti arhijerejski sabor, 妊志快找我 忘把抒我?快把快?扼抗我 扼忘忌抉把). It consists of the Patriarch, the Metropolitans, Bishops, Archbishop of Ohrid and Vicar Bishops. It meets annually 每 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, 妊志快找我 忘把抒我?快把快?扼抗我 扼我扶抉忱). It has five members: four bishops and the patriarch.[47] 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

Territorial organisation[edit]

The territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church is divided into:[48][49]

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 每 a communion of Orthodox faithful congregating at the Holy Eucharist with the parish priest at their head.

Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid[edit]

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 Ki?evo, Polog and Kumanovo, Prespa and Pelagonija, Strumica and Veles and Povardarje.

Worship, liturgy and doctrine[edit]

Ostrog Monastery is a well-known place of pilgrimage in Montenegro.[50]

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[edit]

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,[51] and of the Conference of European Churches.


"A Portrait of the Evangelist", a miniature from the Radoslav Gospel (1429)


Serbian medieval churches were built in the Byzantine spirit. The Ra?ka style refers to the Serbian architecture from the 12th to the end of the 14th century (Studenica, Hilandar, ?i?a). 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 (Gra?anica, Patriarchal Monastery of Pe?). 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, Kaleni?, 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

The Serbian tricolour with a Serbian cross is used as the official flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church since 2010.[52]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ World Council of Churches: Serbian Orthodox Church
  2. ^ Johnston & Sampson 1995, p. 330.
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  48. ^ See: List of Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church
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a.   ^ 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. 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 is currently recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 113 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • List of Serbian Orthodox shrines abroad
  • (in Serbian)
  • Srpsko Blago | Serbian Treasure site 每 photos, QTVR and movies of Serbian monasteries and Serbian Orthodox art
  • Article on the Serbian Orthodox Church by Ronald Roberson on the CNEWA website
  • Article on the medieval history of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the repository of the Institute for Byzantine Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (in German)
  • Serbian Orthodox holy sites in Kosovo