THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovtzy and
Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent,
member of the Orthodox communion, located primarily in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia
and Herzegovina and Croatia. Since many Serbs have emigrated to foreign countries,
now there are now many Serbian Orthodox communities on all continents.
Soon after their arrrival to Balkans the Serbian tribes were successively
baptised by Christian missionaries and became Orthodox Christians. The consecration
of St. Sava as autocephalous Archbishop of Serbia in 1219, even more strengthened
various Serbian principalities in their ecclesia- stical allegiance to Constantinople
and Christian East. Later, as the medieval kingdom of Serbia grew in size and
prestige and Stefan Dusan, king of Serbia from 1331, assumed the imperial title
of tsar in 1346 to 1355, the Archbishopric of Pec was correspondingly raised
to the rank of Patriarchate. The period before the arrival of the Turks was
the time of the greatest flourishing of the Serbian Church. After the final
Turkish conquest of the most influental Serbian principality in 1459, the greater
portion of Serbian lands became a Turkish pasalik (province). After the death
of Patriarch Arsenios II in 1463 a successor was not elected. The Patriarchate
was thus de facto abolished, and the Serbian Church passed under the jurisdiction
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Serbian Patriarchate was restored in 1557
by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Macarios, brother of the famous
Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic was elected Patriarch in Pec.
The restoration of the Patriarchate was of great importance for
the Serbs because it helped the spiritual unification of all Serbs in the Turkish
Empire. After consequent Serbian uprisals against the Turkish occupators in
which the Church had a leading role, the Turks abolished the Patriarchate once
again in 1766. The Church remained once more under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople. This period of so called "Phanariots"
was a period of great spiritual decline because the Greek bishops had very little
understanding for their Serbian flock. This was also the period when great number
of 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 they had been granted the Church
autonomy. The seat of the archbishops was moved from Pec to Karlovci. The Serbian
Orthodox Church finally regained its independance and became autocephalous in
1879, the year after the recognition by the Great Powers of Serbia as an independent
After World War I all the Serbs were united under one ecclesiastical authority,
and the Patriarchate was reestablished in 1920 with election of Patriarch Dimitry,
the Patriarch's full title being "Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade
and Karlovci, and Patriarch of the Serbs."
During the Second World War the Serbian Orthodox Church passed through severe
trials in which many bishops, priests and about 700.000 lay Orthodox Christians
were killed by Croatian and Moslem fascists. Hundreds of churches were completely
destroyed or desecrated. After the Second World War the Church experienced new
trials under the communists who prohibited teaching of religion in schools,
confiscated the property of the Church and using various overt and covert means
of persecution in order to diminish the influence the Church had among the people.
It was only after 1989 that the position of the Church has became tolerable,
although the Church estastes have not yet been returned to their lawful owners.
Patriarch Paul serving the Divine Liturgy
The supreme authority of the Serbian Church, the Holy Synod, is composed of
all its bishops, who meet once a year in May. There is also a standing Synod
of four members who administer the day-to-day affairs of the church, which is
estimated to number some nine million faithful. There are 32 dioceses, including
4 in North America, 2 in Western Europe and 2 in Australia and New Zealand;
four seminaries and a theological faculty train candidates for the clergy.