The Right-believing Stephen of Decani, in Serbian: Свети краљ Стефан Дечански, was the king of Serbia from 1321 to 1331. He is also known as Stephen Uros III in honor of St. Stephen the Patron Saint of Serbia and Uros in honor of his grandfather Stephen Uros I. He was glorified St. Stephen of Decani, King of Serbia. His feast day is November 24.
Stephen was born about the year 1285, the only son of the King Milutin (Stephen Uros II) and his first wife Anna of Bulgaria. Raised at the court of his father, Stephen received a good education, studying the language and writings of his people as well as the Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Orthodox Faith. The fruits of his upbringing were revealed when King Milutin was forced to send him as hostage to the Tartar chief Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde. In spite of the potential dangers, Stephen was obedient to his father's will and did not resist, trusting his life to the Lord, which was not in vain. He eventually made friends with one of the Tartar nobles, who succeeded in assisting his safe return home after Nogai's death in 1299.
When Stephen came of age, his father arranged that he marry the daughter of the Bulgarian King Smilatz, Theodora, and the young couple were given the land of Zeta, where they settled until such a time as Stephen would be called to succeed his father to the throne.
In the meantime King Milutin remarried and his new wife, Simonide, plotted in order that one of her brothers would inherit the throne. To accomplish this she convinced King Milutin that Stephen wanted to seize the throne prematurely. The deceived King ordered that his son be captured, blinded to ensure that he never again entertain such treachery, and be sent as a prisoner to Constantinople.
Taken together with his children, Dusan and Dusica, his guards, using red hot pokers, blinded him as they passed through Ovcepole (Sheep's Field). That night St. Nicholas appeared to Stephen in a dream: "Be not afraid," he said, "your eyes are in my hands." Comforted by this vision, the sightless Stephen arrived in Constantinople where Emperor Andronicus took pity on the young exile and received him graciously. Stephen settled in the monastery of Pantocrator, where he impressed the monks by his meekness and his long-suffering acceptance of the bitter trial that had come to him through his own father. Five years passed and King Milutin was growing old. Having heard good reports about his son, his heart softened, and he called Stephen home to Serbia. Before leaving Constantinople, Stephen had a dream in which St. Nicholas again appeared to him, holding in his hand a pair of eyes. When Stephen awoke, his sight was restored.
Three years later, his father died, and Stephen, always popular with the people, was crowned King of Serbia by Archbishop Nikodim I in Peć Monastery on Theophany January 6, 1322. His royal title was Stephen Uros III King of Serbia and Coastlands. His brother Constantine, resenting this turn of events, raised an army in order to wrest the throne away from Stephen. Desiring to avoid bloodshed, King Stephen addressed a letter to his brother:
- "Put far from thee thy desire to come with a foreign people to make war on thine own countrymen; but let us meet one another, and thou shalt be second in my kingdom, for the land is great enough for me and thee to live. I am not Cain who slew his brother, but Joseph who loved him, and in his words I speak to thee. Fear not, for I am from the Lord. You prepared evil for me, but the Lord has given me good, as you now see."
Constantine was unmoved and gave orders to attack. In the ensuing battle, his army was defeated and he himself was slain.
For the next ten years, King Stephen ruled in relative peace, and the Serbian land prospered. His son Dusan proved to be an able military leader and was successful in battles with the Bulgarians and the Greeks, who became envious of the now powerful Serbian state and rose up against it. Grateful to the Lord for these victories, King Stephen set about with Archbishop Danilo II, Nikodim's successor, to find a place to build a church. They settled upon a place called Decani, and there, in 1327, King Stephen himself laid the cornerstone for what was to become one of the most magnificent and enduring specimens of Serbian church architecture. Inside, it was graced by splendid icons, to which more were added in the sixteenth century by the hand of the Slav iconographer, Longinos.
King Stephen gave generously to the needy. He also made generous donations to churches and monasteries on the Holy Mountain, in Jerusalem, Alexandria, and to the monastery of Pantocrator in Constantinople. He did not forget his debt to the wonderworker St. Nicholas as he commissioned a silver altar and sent it together with some icons to the church in Bari, Italy, where the St. Nicholas' holy relics are located.
Having in a true Christian manner endured the grievous trials and afflictions which he met through the years, the good king deserved to live out the rest of his life in peace. But it was only fitting that he who suffered as a martyr in life should be granted an opportunity to receive in death a martyr's crown. After he defeated the Bulgarians in famous Battle of Velbazhd in July 1330, Stephen did not want to take any Bulgarian territories.
His final trial was the most agonizing. His son Dusan's successes on the battle field gave him an appetite for power and glory. Encouraged by his entourage of nobles, Dusan decided to take the throne from his father. In 1331, King Stephen was taken as a prisoner to a fortress in the town of Zvecan and cruelly murdered by some nobles (some accounts say he was hung, another that he was strangled). His son did not know that these nobles wanted to kill his father, and soon the guilty were killed.
Almost immediately Dusan was struck by remorse. Earnestly and tearfully, he repented of his treachery. The following year, on the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, he had his father's remains transferred from Zvecan to Decani. There, they were placed in a marble tomb. In 1339, the tomb was opened and his body was found to be incorrupt. That same day saw many miracles of healing. The holy king has become a protector and healer of those who suffer with their sight, and at his relics blind people have received their sight.
Stefan Uros III of Serbia
Stephen Uros II Milutin
|King of Serbia
Stephen Uros IV Dusan