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History

The Orthodox Church is a divine institution. The founder and the Head of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When we examine the inner structure of the Orthodox Church, we find that it represents a society of the faithful united into one body by the Orthodox doctrine (teaching) divine laws, hierarchy (priesthood), and sacraments.

The full title of the Serbian Orthodox Church is „The Serbian Holy Eastern Orthodox Ecumenic and Apostolic Church“. Although it is an independent, autonomus (”self-governing”) Church in administrative matters. The Serbian Orthodox Church (as we call it in its abbreviated form) is in full spiritual communion with all other Orthodox Churches. Together with all other Orthodox Churches, the Serbian Orthodox Church constitutes one and the same “body” of Jesus Christ, that is, one and the same Orthodox Church. Each member of the Church lives in a mystical union and communion with the whole Church. It is not a unity expressed in jurisdictional power, that is, in governing and legislative power; it is a unity in faith, love and hope. This unity of the Church has been manifested most strikingly in the gatherings of the spiritual representatives of the Orthodox Churches  (that is the Bishop) in Ecumenical Councils.

The characteristic traits of the Orthodox Church are as follows:

The Orthodox Church is one and holy because Jesus Christ, as its Founder and Head, designed it as one; it is holy because He is the Son of God.

The Church is called the Eastern Orthodox Church. This term came into use at the time when the Roman Empire was finally divided into the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395 A.D. The Orthodox Church has been called Eastern in contrast to the Western Church, as the Roman Church has been frequently called especially since her division from the Orthodox Church in 1054 A.D.

A characteristic feature of the Orthodox Church is that it is Ecumenical or Catholic. Ecumenical means “worldwide”, and  Catholic means “universal”.

Both terms have  virtualy the same meaning, and both are valid. In the English language, some of the Orthodox Churches prefer to use the one term, and some, the other. In common with the Greek Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church prefers to use the term Ecumenical.

In Serbian, the corresponding term is saborna, which literally means “counciliar”. From the Apostolic times onward, the problems of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church have been discussed and solved in councils under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This counciliar system has achieved unity without enforcing uniformity and without destroying the individuality of the autonomous Orthodox Churches. Ecumenical Councils which, among other privileges, defines the teaching of the Church.

Orthodox is a Greek term. It means “the right kind of believing”; it signifies also faithfulness and devotion to the pure Christian doctrine. In Serbian, Orthodoxy is Pravoslavlje,  which literally implies “the right kind of glorification of God”.

The Orthodox Church is called the Apostolic Church because it was organized by the Holy Apostles, and because it has preserved the Apostolic tradition. The Holy Apostles appointed and consecrated their own successors, called Bishops.

These, in turn, appointed and consecrated their own successors, and so on, up to the present time. This is called the Apostolic succession. In other words, the Apostolic succession has been preserved in the Orthodoxy.

Our Orthodox Church is a Serbian National Church. The Apostolic cannons  and Ecumenic Councils of Chalcedon (in 451) and Trullo (in 692) approved the idea that politically independent and autonomous states should have their own aotnomous Orthodox Churches.

By becoming a national Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church gradually has become the living force of the Serbian nation. It took the initiative in the development of national education, literature, art, and culture in general. It has promoted and strengthened the unity of the Serbian nation and has served as the backbone of the Serbian state. When the Turks subjugated and oppressed the Serbs, the Serbian Orthodox Church supplied them with the needed comfort and spiritual strength. The Church promoted national solidarity among the Serbs, awakened in them the spirit of national liberty and independence, and prepared them for heroic self-sacrifice. When the liberation movement flared up, the nationalistic clergy promptly took a prominent place among the leaders of the nation.

The highlights of the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church are as follows:

Up to the 13th century, the Serbian Christian population was under the jurisdiction of the Greek Archbishop of Ochrid, as well as under the jurisdiction of a few Latin dioceses (bishoprics) in the western part of the Balkans.

In 1219, St. Sava achieved the unification and administrative organization of the Serbs into the autocephalous (meaning “having its own head”) Serbian Orthodox Archbishopric.

In 1346, the Serbian King Dushan summoned an assembly of Serbian bishops and nobles which elevated the Serbian Archbishopric to the rank of Patriarchate.

During the Turkish rule over the Serbian population, which lasted for five centuries, the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered martyrdom in the literal sense of the word. Being the spiritual representative of the Serbs (as the National Church), it was treated harshly and cruelly most of the time.

In 1766, the Turkish Sultan abolished the Serbian Patriarchate and subjected its territories to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Serbian Church of Montenegro refused to comply with the Sultan’s order and became an independent Church.

The Serbian Orthodox Archbishopric of Sremski Karlovci obtained the recognition of its independence in 1710.

A separate Serbian Orthodox Church was created in Dalmatia sometime between 1808 and 1810.

The Orthodox Church of Serbia proper began its separation from Constantinople in 1815. A little later, in 1832, it obtained a wide administrative autonomy and, in 1879, gained its full independence.

The Serbian Orthodox Church of Bosnia and Herzegovina achieved its independence from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in 1880, through the mediation of Austro-Hungary.

After the First World War, in 1920, all the autonomous Serbian Orthodox Churches amalgamated themselves into the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was simultaneously elevated to the rank of Patriarchate. Two years later, in 1922, the Patriarch of Constantinople peremptorily sanctioned the promulgation of the Serbian Patriarchate and, soon after, all the rest of the Serbian Orthodox Churches formally acknowledged it.