Serbian Orthodox Church

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The Serbian Orthodox Church ( Serbian Српска Православна Црква Srpska Pravoslavna Crkva , abbreviated СПЦ / SPC) is the name of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Serbia and its subordinate churches. According to the creed common to all Orthodox churches, they form, together with the other Orthodox churches, the one, holy, general and apostolic church (Serbian jedinu, svetu, sabornu i apostolsku crkvu ).

According to the Orthodox Church canon, the Patriarchate in Belgrade is responsible for the territory of the former Yugoslavia , in the strict sense of the word for all those who profess to be Orthodox Christians, regardless of their ethnicity, and thus officially a regional church, since there are no national churches according to Orthodox church law. Most of the believers are Serbs . After the breakup of Yugoslavia and the fact that many Serbs live outside Serbia, as well as the historical background of the church, it was increasingly pushed into the role of a national church.


Beginnings of Christianity in Serbia

The pagan Slavs from the north colonized the Balkan Peninsula from the end of the 6th century . The Serbian tribes came into contact with Christianity during this time , as the long-established population had been Christian for over 200 years, but it would take several centuries for the southern Slavs to adopt the new faith. Rather, the conquest of the Slavs in the Balkans initially brought about the downfall of most of the ancient bishoprics between the Danube and the Aegean .

Emperor Leon VI. annexed the western Illyricum to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 732 , but the Roman Pope continued to claim ecclesiastical jurisdiction. After the establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dalmatia around 870, a Greek influence was added to the Latin influence in the coastal cities. Around 860–870 Cyril and Method missionized in the area of ​​the Morava. Method was also Archbishop of Pannonia based in Syrmium, today's Sremska Mitrovica . According to various sources, the Serbian tribes are also said to have been under his church leadership.

The Serbs finally converted to Christianity under Mutimir (around 850–891), his successor Petar Gojniković (892–917) already had a Christian first name. At this point in time, the question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction should have been undisputed: Pope John VIII asked Mutimir in 873 to recognize Methodius as Bishop of Syrmia and Pannonia. In addition, there was the expansion of the Bulgarian Tsar Simeons when the Serbian countries came under the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Church . After the collapse of the First Bulgarian Empire at the beginning of the 11th century. they were subordinate to the Bulgarian Archdiocese of Ohrid .

The great schism of 1054 created an invisible ecclesiastical-cultural boundary that ran right through the old Serbian empire. The western half with the coastal cities of Dalmatia, Zachlumien , Travunien , Bosnia and Duklja remained predominantly within the framework of the Roman church. Rome's supporters included in particular the Dioclitic kings Mihailo and Bodin , with the latter establishing the Archdiocese of Bar . The Roman Catholic mission started from the archbishoprics of Split , Bar and Dubrovnik . In inland Serbia, the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Ohrid largely coincided with the Byzantine rule.

The effects of this can be seen in the story of Stefan Nemanja , who was baptized twice by both Latin and Greek priests. Nemanja's empire encompassed areas on both sides of the border, so he maintained relationships with both churches and also gave gifts to both, but showed a certain preference for orthodoxy, while his sons Stefan and Vukan had the Serbian-Dioclite kings as models and leaned towards Catholicism. The climax of this development is the coronation of Stephen as king by a papal legate in 1217. Despite everything, the inclination of Nemanja's youngest son Rastko ( monk name Sava) to the Eastern Church and to the Athos monastery turned out to be trend-setting.

Archdiocese of Žiča-Peć (1219–1346)

Sava around 1228, Mileševa monastery

Sava (Sabbas) (* around 1175, † 1236), the youngest son of Nemanja, played a cardinal role in the establishment of the Serbian Church .

In Nemanja's time, the ecclesiastical organization was in the hands of the Archdiocese of Ohrid , with dioceses in Niš , Ras , Prizren , and Lipljan , and temporarily in Drač . As a result of the Fourth Crusade , the Byzantine Empire was divided into two parts. The despot of Epirus , Theodor Angelos Komnenos Dukas , ruled over the western part, who was hostile to the Nemanjid state, and on whose territory the seat of the Archdiocese of Ohrid was located.

Nemanja's sons Stefan and Sava used the turmoil after the establishment of the Latin Empire to set up a church independent of the Archdiocese of Ohrid . Sava went to Nikaia in 1219 , where the expelled Emperor Theodor I Laskaris and the Constantinople Patriarch Manuel I Sarantinos resided, and asked her permission to found an autocephalous Serbian archbishopric. The request was granted and Sava was ordained bishop and archbishop that same year.

After his return, Sava designated the Žiča monastery , a foundation of his brother Stefan , as the seat of the archbishop. In addition, he established ten dioceses, eight of them in Raszien ( Ras , Toplica , Moravica , Dabar, Budimlje , Hvosno , Prizren and Lipljan ), and one each in Zeta (near Kotor ) and Zachlumien (in Ston ). In the course of the expansion of the Serbian Empire, the following dioceses were gradually added: Belgrade , Braničevo , Niš , Banjska , Lipljan, Velbužd , Skoplje , Tetovo and Debar .

Sava provided new versions of the nomo canon and monastic typics and devoted himself to educational work with the clergy. The dogmas of faith were laid down in an editorial office of the Orthodox Synodicon . It validated the teachings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of ecumenical councils and condemned a number of heresies, the most important of which was Bogumilism . Together with Stefan, Sava wrote a vita of his father and thus created a personality cult around Nemanja, who was canonized as a monk Simeon after his death.

Sava's strongest theological opponent was the Ohrid Archbishop Demetrios Chomatos , who condemned the establishment of a Serbian archbishopric as uncanonical. Chomatos' protest was barely heard, especially after he crowned Theodor Angelos, much to the displeasure of the Patriarch in Nikaia . In addition, Jerusalem , Alexandria, and Antioch recognized Sava's autocephalous archbishopric.

In 1253 the Žiča monastery was sacked by Bulgarians and Cumans . The archbishop's seat was then moved to the Sveti spas monastery near Peć . The Peć Monastery remained the seat of the Serbian patriarchs until the final dissolution of the patriarchate in 1766, with interruptions from 1382 to 1459, when the patriarchs resided in Žiča and Smederevo because of the Ottoman threat .

As a result of the expansion of the Nemanjiden empire, there was a close bond between church and state. All Nemanjids founded at least one monastery each, with the exception of Radoslav , who only had an extension to the Studenica monastery made. Most important was the Athos monastery of Hilandar , founded by Nemanja . The Serbian kings continued to stand up for their Catholic subjects, for example Uroš I moved against Dubrovnik to defend the rights of the Archdiocese of Bar.

Patriarchate of Peć


At the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, Latinophobic phenomena became noticeable, which went hand in hand with the expansion of the Hungarian kings and Angevins . By the middle of the 14th century the fronts were already hardened: the Archbishop of Bar was a bitter enemy of the Serbian Church, while Stefan Dušan's code of law forbade conversion to “Latin heresy ”.

The empire of Stefan Dušan encompassed the entire archdiocese of Ohrid . Only Zachlumien was lost to the Bosnians in 1326, Ston and Pelješac were handed over to Dubrovnik in 1333 for an annual tribute payment (500 pieces of silver for the Serbian monastery of the Holy Archangels in Jerusalem ). Dušan planned to be named tsar and needed a counterpart to the Constantinople patriarch . Canonically, this was justified with the tradition of aligning the ecclesiastical and territorial situation, as was customary since the metropolitan constitution. Dušan therefore had the Archbishop of Peć Joanikije II appointed patriarch in Skopje in 1346 . Seven days later he was crowned "Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks" (actually emperor and autocrator of the Serbs and Romans, i.e. Byzantium). All of this happened in agreement with the Tarnovo Patriarch, the Ohrid Archbishop and the Athos monasticism, but without the consent of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The establishment of the patriarchate changed little in terms of ecclesiastical conditions. The Autokefalie of the Archdiocese of Ohrid remained untouched, the Athos monasteries retained their privileges. The dioceses of Skopje, Prizren, Zeta and Raszien were upgraded to metropolises . Lesnovo Monastery became the seat of a new diocese that was part of the Skopje Metropolitan Area. The newly added Greek eparchies in the south were occupied by loyal bishops. Nothing was changed in the rights of the clergy.

In 1349 and 1354, Stefan Dušan's code of law was proclaimed, which contained important provisions concerning the patriarchy. As in Byzantium, the election of the patriarch was the responsibility of a council of ecclesiastical and secular representatives, in agreement with the emperor; the bishops were elected by a synod . The title of the patriarch was "by the grace of God archbishop and patriarch of all Serbian and primor countries" (until 1375 "patriarch of the Serbs and Greeks"). The patriarch had a chancellery with logos .

As a result of its development to patriarchy, the church became a great feudal lord who had extensive goods ( metochia ) and many workers. The goods were tax-exempt until the beginning of the Ottoman conquests and enjoyed other privileges as well. Church activities also included clearing forests, settling farmers, and building roads and buildings. The wealth could corrupt some priests, so that offices were bought and sometimes violence was used to get lucrative offices. In addition to income from the operation of monasteries and church property, bishops were entitled to a tax that was levied by special confidants of the bishop, the exarchs . The exarchs were also responsible for monitoring the religious and moral conditions in the eparchy. Eparchies were subdivided into parishes , later the protopopiate was added as an organizational unit. The priest responsible for a parish was called Pope , he was appointed by the bishop in agreement with the mayor. All priests were allocated three fields for self-sufficiency, they were also allowed to accumulate hereditary assets in foundations, but they too had to pay taxes to their bishop. In addition to spiritual activities, agriculture was the main occupation of the simple priests.

The ecclesiastical court played an important role, among other things. the criminal and private law jurisdiction over members of the then numerous church property. The pastoral care and confession was handed over to particularly trustworthy priests and monks. Legal provisions against paganism, superstition and witchcraft strengthened the position of the church.

The proclamation of the Patriarchate of Peć initially provoked no reaction from the Constantinople Patriarch. It was only after the efforts of Emperor Johannes' Kantakuzenos that the Constantinople Patriarch Kallixtos I imposed an anathema against Tsar Dušan and Patriarch Joanikije II in 1352. The greatest criticism did not come from Constantinople, but from Serbia itself. Many Serbs were against the unauthorized Appointment of a Serbian patriarch and saw in it a departure from the Savasian order. The anathema also had concrete effects: many Greek Athos monks refused to attend church services with Serbs who had anathemized church leadership, especially after Byzantium regained control of Athos.

As a result of a growing threat from the Ottomans, there were several attempts at rapprochement between Constantinople and Peć. First there was a partial union between Jovan Uglješa and the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1368 . Uglješa, brother of the Serbian king Vukašin , ruled as despot over Serres and drama . He handed over the Pećer eparchies on his territory to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and appointed the Metropolitan of Drama as exarch. After the defeat of the Mrnjavčevićs at the Battle of the Maritza in 1371, Johannes Paleologos , Lazar Hrebeljanović and the Athos monk Isaiah made renewed efforts to achieve reconciliation. Finally in 1375 Patriarch Philotheos recognized the Serbian patriarchy, the anathema was abolished. The only condition was that the Serbs leave the Greek bishops and metropolitans alone if they expand again.


Territory of the Patriarchate of Peć in the 16th and 17th centuries.

During the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Orthodox Church was an important bearer of Serbian culture. The Ottomans initially banned both a Serbian patriarch and an archbishop and made the Serbian Orthodox Church subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. But in 1557 they allowed a patriarch for Serbia, and he was often the Serbian president at the Sublime Porte. The Patriarchate of Peć , the name for the Serbian Church at the time, comprised Serbia, Montenegro , Bosnia-Herzegovina , Croatia , northern North Macedonia and southeastern Bulgaria , as well as Hungary and Transylvania . Many patriarchs worked on a liberation from the Ottoman rule, and the first uprisings of the Serbs against the Ottomans were led by bishops: Bishop Todor in Vojvodina (1593-1606 / 1607), Bishop Visarion in Herzegovina (1597-1609), Patriarch Arsenije III. (1688/1689) and others. Montenegro, as a peripheral zone of the Ottoman dominion, was ruled by bishops for centuries.

In 1766 the Ottomans again subordinated the Serbian patriarchate to the ecumenical patriarch, but the archbishops in Vojvodina and in Montenegro, where the Ottomans did not rule, remained autonomous and carried on the tradition of the Serbian patriarchate.

Archdiocese of Krušedol-Karlovci (1708–1920)

Map of the Orthodox Dioceses in Austria-Hungary (1909)

From 1690, many Serbs settled on Habsburg territory in southern Hungary because they no longer wanted to be under Ottoman rule. Emperor Leopold I granted them numerous special rights, but in return expected the "fortified farmers" who lived there to defend the border area. In 1708 the Orthodox Archdiocese of Krušedol (1713 seat in Karlovci ) was founded. The archbishop was the spiritual head of the Orthodox Serbs and initially also of the Orthodox Romanians of the Habsburg Empire. The archbishopric of Karlovci, located on Habsburg territory, gained more and more importance in the following years and was finally elevated to an autocephalous patriarchate by the Austrian authorities in 1848 (until 1920).

With the renewal of the Serbian state at the beginning of the 19th century, the independence of the Archdiocese of Belgrade was also renewed. Due to the political situation, however, the Serbian Orthodox Church was not united. In addition to the Archdiocese of Belgrade, there was the Archbishopric of Sremski Karlovci in Vojvodina and southern Hungary, the Archbishopric of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia (1878 to Austria-Hungary ), whose leadership was the Orthodox Archbishop of Bukovina and Galicia was incumbent.

Serbian Patriarchate (since 1920)

After the First World War , the union of the Serbian Orthodox Church became possible with the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later: Kingdom of Yugoslavia ). The Serbian Church was granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Metropolitan of Belgrade, Dimitrije Pavlović , was recognized as the first Patriarch of the renewed Serbian Patriarchate in 1920.

During the Second World War , the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered the most serious casualties. Under the rule of the predominantly Catholic Ustasha fascists in Croatia alone , three bishops and 515 priests were murdered. The Serbian patriarch Gavrilo Dožić was placed under house arrest in various monasteries in 1941 and sent to the Dachau concentration camp as an "honorary prisoner" in 1944 , from which he was released a little later. Patriarch Gavrilo experienced the end of the war outside of the country and was able to return to what was now socialist Yugoslavia in autumn 1946.

The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Gavrilo (center) in Slovenia , 1945. To his right are Bishop Nikolaj , Tschetnik- Vojvode Momčilo Đujić and the fascist leader Dimitrije Ljotić . On his left Milan Cvjetićanin , the commander of the Bosnian Chetnik Corps "Gavrilo Princip" and Miodrag Damjanović , General of the Serbian Volunteer Corps, among others.

The fascist terror was followed by the time of socialist Yugoslavia under the leadership of the League of Communists with Tito at its head. Although the relations between the Yugoslav communists and the Serbian Orthodox Church were not optimal, they were granted freedoms that would have been unthinkable in Eastern Bloc countries .


The Serbian Orthodox St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade
The current seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Belgrade

Today the Serbian Orthodox Church belongs to 40 dioceses around the world with a good 3,600 parishes and 2,000 priests. Around 80 percent of the eleven million Serbs worldwide profess the Orthodox Church. In the church there are over 200 active monasteries with around 230 men and 1000 women who have dedicated their worldly life to monastic existence. There are also six theological faculties in Belgrade (capital of Serbia), Kragujevac (central Serbia), Sremski Karlovci (northern Serbia), Cetinje (Montenegro), Foča (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and in Prizren (Kosovo); the Faculty of Prizren was relocated to Niš (southern Serbia) in 1999 because of the Kosovo war . There are also two theological colleges in Belgrade and Libertyville (United States), a theological institute in Belgrade and a spiritual academy in Foča.

Metropolitan of Belgrade and Sremski Karlovci, Archbishop of Peć and Serbian Patriarch was Irinej from 2010 until his death in November 2020 ; Successor since February 18 is Porfirije Perić .

The members of the Serbian Orthodox Church living in Germany receive pastoral care from Bishop Grigorije Durić . The episcopal seat of the eparchy of Düsseldorf and all of Germany was Hildesheim-Himmelsthür from 1978 to 2015 , with the Church of the Dormition as the cathedral church and the monastery of All Saints Mother of God, then until 2018 Frankfurt am Main.

The members of the Serbian Orthodox Church living in Austria , Switzerland , Italy and Malta receive pastoral care from Bishop Andrej Ćilerdžić , who is based in Vienna (see Serbian Orthodox Diocese Austria-Switzerland ).

The Serbian Orthodox Church is a member of the World Council of Churches . Since 1967, the publication is Pravoslavlje the newspaper of the Church .


Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church

The Serbian Orthodox Church includes the following eparchies :

  • Worldwide: Stockholm (Sweden, Iceland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland and Norway), Paris (France, Spain and Benelux), Campbellville- Milton (Canada), Mars (Eastern USA), Third Lake (Central USA), Alhambra (Western USA, Alaska and Mexico), Sydney (Australia and New Zealand), Buenos Aires (South America), Vienna ( Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Malta )

The following eparchies also exist as titular dioceses: Jegar, Dečani, Peč and Hvosno (in Serbia and Kosovo), Ostrog (in Montenegro), Hum (in Bosnia)

The communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church was recognized in 1988 by parts of the Spanish Orthodox Church ( Iglesia Ortodoxa Española ) and in 2004 also by parts of the French Orthodox Church (also Orthodox Church of the Western (Latin) rite in France - Union des Associations Cultuelles Orthodoxes de Rite Occidental ). Both are formally subject to the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Bishop for Western Europe (France, Spain and the Benelux countries). So-called non-canonical churches can apply for the jurisdiction of a canonical church in order to get into the whole communion with the orthodox world church.

Church buildings worldwide (selection)

See also


  • Dietmar Schon (Ed.): The Serbian Orthodox Church in the Challenges of the 21st Century (=  writings of the Eastern Church Institute of the Diocese of Regensburg . Volume 3 ). Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 2019, ISBN 978-3-7917-7238-7 .
  • Rade Kisić: The Serbian Orthodox Church . In: Thomas Bremer, Hacik Rafi Gazer , Christian Lange (eds.): The orthodox churches of the Byzantine tradition . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-534-23816-3 , pp. 45-52 .
  • Mihailo Popović, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: The Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Churches of Bulgaria and Serbia from the 13th to the 15th Century . In: Historicum. Journal of History . No. 96 , 2008, p. 62–70 ( [PDF] with extensive further bibliography).
  • Klaus Buchenau: Orthodoxy and Catholicism in Yugoslavia 1945–1991. A Serbian-Croatian comparison (= Balkanological publications. Vol. 40). Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-447-04847-6 .
  • Christos Mylonas: Serbian orthodox fundamentals. The quest for eternal identity. Budapest / New York 2003, ISBN 963-9241-61-X .
  • Gerhard Podskalsky : Theological literature of the Middle Ages in Bulgaria and Serbia 815-1459. CH Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45024-5
  • Radomir Popović: Srpska Crkva u istoriji. Belgrade 1997.
  • Thomas Bremer : Ecclesial structure and ecclesiology in the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 19th and 20th centuries (= Eastern Christianity, New Series. Vol. 41). Augustinus-Verlag, Würzburg 1992.
  • Marija Janković: Episkopije i mitropolije srpske crkve u srednjem veku. Belgrade 1985.

Web links

Commons : Serbian Orthodox Church  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jean-Marie Mayeur et al. (Ed.): History of Christianity [Ger. Ub.], Vol. IV, 1994, pp. 950ff.
  2. ^ Gerhard Podskalsky : Theological literature of the Middle Ages in Bulgaria and Serbia 815-1459 ; Munich: Beck, 2000; ISBN 3-406-45024-5 ; P. 85.
  3. D. Bogdanović: Preobražaj srpske crkve . In: Istorija srpskog naroda 2 , I, 1994, p. 317f.
  4. R. Grujic: Zicko-Pecka arhiepiskopija . In: Narodna enciklopedija , IV, 1928, p. 1334.
  5. S. Ćirković: Pravoslavna crkva - Srednji vek . In: Enciklopedija Jugoslavije 1 , VI, 1965, pp. 589f.
  6. Holm Sundhaussen: History of Serbia: 19. – 21. Century . Böhlau Verlag Vienna, 2007, ISBN 978-3-205-77660-4 , p. 312 .
  7. Thomas Bremer: 15.2.1 The Orthodox Churches . In: Dunja Melčić (Ed.): The Yugoslavian War: Handbook on Prehistory, Course and Consequences . 2nd updated edition. VS-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-33219-2 , p. 242 .