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Updated on December 2, 2010


The formation of an independent Serbian Orthodox Church dates from the recognition of an independent Serbian kingdom in 1219 by the Byzantine Emperor and Greek Orthodox Patriarch. In 1346, Serbian Emperor Dusan raised the status of the Serbian Church to a patriarchate with its seat in Pec (Kosovo). Thus it served to emphasize the political and religious independence of the Serbs from-the Byzantines. During the course of the Ottoman occupation, the Serbian Orthodox Church served as a symbol of national unity and resistance. However, the Ottomans dissolved the Pec patriarchate, reducing Serbian Orthodoxy to a system of regional church alliances. The restitution of the Pec patriarchate was achieved only in 1919 following the creation of the Yugoslav state. In royalist Yugoslavia, Serbian Orthodoxy reinforced its role as representative and protector of Serbian nationalism against Roman Catholic influences emanating from Croatia and Slovenia. Similarly, Serbian Orthodoxy represented itself as the defender against the communist-led Partisan movement in World War II.

In socialist Yugoslavia, the Serbian Church felt at times that it was singled out for discrimination. Since it was the least organized (on the local level) among the three major religious bodies, its adherents were most susceptible to secularization. Its shortage of priests (one for every 5,714 believers) made it difficult for the clergy to attend to the spiritual needs of its flock. The Serbian clergy had spoken out against Serbian republican legislation which prohibited Serbian party members from practicing religion and children from receiving religious instruction, particularly when it is permitted in Slovenia and Croatia. The Serbian Church spoke out in defense of Serbian interests during the upsurge of Croatian nationalism in 1971 and again against Albanian nationalists in Kosovo since 1981.

Within the last few years, the Serbian Orthodox Church has experienced religious revival which is more nationalistic in response to similar revivals in Croatia, Slovenia, and Kosovo. The Orthodox resurgence rejuvenated Serbian nationalism, especially in defense of Serbian interests in Kosovo. The majority of the 8,140,000 Serbs declare themselves to be Orthodox (out of nationalist if not religious conviction). Recently, the 800th anniversary of the Serbian monastery in Studenica served as a symbol of Serbian church/state cooperation.

The seat of the Serbian patriarchate remains in Pec though the church is directed from Belgrade. Church executive authority rests in the Holy Archiepiscopal Council, with legislative powers in the Holy Archiepiscopal Synod. The Serbian Church consists of 19 eparchies (administrative districts) in Yugoslavia and 6 abroad. Three are in the United States (Cleveland; Chicago; Alhambra, CA). The Serbian Church controls five seminaries for the education of its clergy, and a theological faculty in Belgrade (no university affiliation). Serbian Orthodox religious institutions publish a wide variety of journals, books, pamphlets, and other religious-oriented material.


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