Church of Serbia

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The Church of Serbia is one of the autocephalous Orthodox churches, ranking seventh after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem Russia, and Georgia. It exercises jurisdiction over Orthodox Christians in Serbia and surrounding Slavic and other lands, as well as exarchates and patriarchal representation churches around the world. The Patriarch of Serbia serves as first among equals in his church; the current patriarch is His Holiness Pavle.

The Patriarchate of Serbia
Founder(s) Apostle Andrew, St. Sava of Serbia
Autocephaly/Autonomy declared 1219 (lost in 1459), again in 1832
Autocephaly/Autonomy recognized 1219 by Constantinople, again in 1879
Current primate Patriarch Pavle
Headquarters Belgrade, Serbia
Primary territory Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Republic of Macedonia (disputed), Montenegro, some former Yugoslav republics
Possessions abroad United States, Canada, Europe, Australia
Liturgical language(s) Church Slavonic
Musical tradition Serbian Chant; some Byzantine Chant used
Calendar Julian
Population estimate 15,000,000
Official website Church of Serbia


The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Orthodox communion, located primarily in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and a disputed presence in the Republic of Macedonia. Since many Serbs have emigrated to foreign countries, there are many Serbian Orthodox communities on all continents. Soon after their arrrival to the 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, strengthened various Serbian principalities even more in their ecclesiastical allegiance to Constantinople and the Christian East. Later, as the medieval kingdom of Serbia grew in size and prestige and as Stefan Dusan, king of Serbia from 1331, assumed the imperial title of tsar (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 Ottoman Empire. After consequent Serbian uprisals against the Turkish occupation in which the church had a leading role, the Turks abolished the patriarchate once again in 1766. The church returned once more to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constintinople. This period of so-called "Phanariots" was a period of great spiritual decline because the Greek bishops had very little understanding of their Serbian flock. This was also the period when a great number of Christians converted to Islam to avoid the 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 autonomous. 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 by the Allied powers of Serbia as an independent state. 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 Muslim fascists (according to the Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren). 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 used 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 became tolerable, although church estates have not yet been returned to their lawful owners.

In the Republic of Macedonia

Main articles: Macedonian Orthodox Church, Autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid

In 1959, the portion of Yugoslavia known as the Republic of Macedonia was approved by the Serbian patriarchate to have its own autonomous archdiocese. In 1967, however, with government and popular backing, the bishops of the archdiocese proclaimed themselves to be an autocephalous church, styled the Macedonian Orthodox Church, to the protests of the patriarchate. The autocephaly of this church has not been recognized by any of the other Orthodox churches, who have broken off communion with it (though its laity are usually received into communion).

In 2002, at the invitation of the patriarchate, one of the bishops of the breakaway group, Jovan (Vraniskovski) (then Metropolitan of Veles and the Vardar Valley), came into union with the Serbian patriarchate, which thus reestablished its Autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid, which is the canonically recognized Orthodox church in the Republic of Macedonia. Tensions between the breakaway group and the patriarchate remain high, and Archbishop Jovan, who was made head of the autonomous archdiocese, was imprisoned for eighteen months by local authorities for allegedly criminal activities. The breakaway church has government backing, and so the activities of the autonomous archdiocese are subject to persecution by the authorities.

Structure of the patriarchate

The supreme authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church is the Holy Synod, composed of all its bishops, who meet once a year. A permanent synod of four members carries out the administration of the day-to-day affairs of the church. Over the years the Serbian church has had its primate located at several various locations. There have been 54 (44 in Pec) patriarchs in Serbia, and other major metropolitans.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is divided into 40 dioceses, each headed by its own metropolitan, archbishop, or bishop:


  • Archdiocese of Belgrade and Sremski Karlovci, with see in Belgrade
  • Diocese of Banat, with see in Vršac
  • Diocese of Backa, with see in Novi Sad
  • Diocese of Branicevo, with see in Požarevac
  • Diocese of Vranje, with see in Vranje
  • Diocese of Žica, with see in monastery Žica near Kraljevo
  • Diocese of Mileševa, with see in Mileševa monastery
  • Diocese of Niš, with see in Niš
  • Diocese of Ras and Prizren, with see in Prizren
  • Diocese of Srem, with see in Sremski Karlovci
  • Diocese of Timok, with see in Zajecar
  • Diocese of Šabac and Valjevo, with see in Šabac
  • Diocese of Šumadija, with see in Kragujevac


  • Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, with see in Cetinje
  • Diocese of Budimlje and Nikšic, with see in