Serbian Orthodox Church

(Српска Православна Црква)
The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, ecclesiastically independent member of the Orthodox communion, located primarily in Serbia and Montenegro and in the other republics of ex-Yugoslavia. Since many Serbs have migrated, there are numerous Serbian Orthodox communities in the USA, Australia, South Africa and Europe. Soon after their arrival in the Balkans the Serbian tribes were baptized by Christian missionaries and became Orthodox Christians. The consecration of St Sava as first archbishop of Serbia in 1219 strengthened various Serbian principalities even more in their ecclesiastical allegiance to Constantinople and the Christian East. When King Stefan Dusan of Serbia assumed the imperial title of tsar (1346), the archbishopric of Pec was correspondingly raised to the rank of a patriarchate.

The greatest flourishing of the Serbian Church occurred during the period before the arrival of the Turks. With the final Turkish conquest in 1459, the greater portion of Serbian lands became a Turkish pasalik (province). After the death of Patriarch Arsenije II in 1463 no successor was elected. The patriarchate was thus de facto abolished, and the Serbian Church passed under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, restored the Serbian patriarchate in 1557, which helped the spiritual unification of all Serbs in the Turkish empire. Because of the leading role of the church in several Serbian uprisings, the Turks abolished the patriarchate again in 1766. Once more the church came under the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. But this was also a period when numerous Christians converted to Islam to avoid severe taxes imposed by the Turks in retaliation for uprisings and continued resistance. Many Serbs with their hierarchs migrated to southern Hungary where the church was granted autonomy. The seat of the archbishops was moved from Pec to Karlovci.

The Serbian Orthodox Church finally regained its independence and became autocephalous in 1879, the year after the recognition of Serbia as an independent state by the great powers. After the First World War all Serbs were united under one ecclesiastical authority, the patriarchate was re-established in 1920 and the full patriarchal title became Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch. During the second world war the Serbian Orthodox Church passed through severe trials in which many bishops, priests and about 1.7 million Orthodox Christians were killed by German, Croatian and other fascists. Hundreds of churches were destroyed or desecrated. After World War II the church experienced new trials under communism. Religious education in schools was prohibited, church property confiscated and by various overt and covert means of persecution the influence of the church in society was diminished.

After 1989 the position of the church became more tolerable, although church properties were not returned. Tragically, the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia brought again immense sufferings. Approximately 10,000 Serbs were killed and over a million became refugees. More than 700 churches and sacred places were entirely destroyed or damaged. Following the NATO bombing in 1999 the Serbian Orthodox Church faced a new exodus from Kosovo and Metochia, the ancestral spiritual birthplace of the church. From 1999 until 2005 about 250,000 people were expelled from their homes, some thousand have been killed or kidnapped, while about 150 churches, monasteries and sacred places have been destroyed.

The supreme authority of the Serbian Church is the holy assembly of bishops, composed by all bishops, which meets twice a year. A five-member standing synod of bishops administers the day-to-day affairs. The Serbian Orthodox Church maintains three theological faculties and seven theological seminaries, all residential institutions where students live and study together. Under the patronage of the holy assembly of bishops two organizations have been established: Philanthropy, the Serbian Church Aid and Dobrocinstvo, the pilgrimage organization. The church celebrates its feasts according to the old (Julian) calendar.