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The Serbian orthodox church

Aleksov, B; (2014) The Serbian orthodox church. In: Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe. (pp. 65-100). Fordham University Press: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

There are two mutually related issues that require clarification when discussing the history of the Orthodox faith and church among the Serbs during the long nineteenth century. Firstly, although the Serbian Orthodox Church carries the legacy of the Patriarchate of Peć (1346-1463 in medieval Serbia and 1557-1766 in the Ottoman Empire), the Karlovci Metropolitanate (1691-1920 in the Habsburg Empire) and an in de pendent archbishopric established in 1219, its name and present structure date back only to 1920. It was only after the First World War and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugo slavia from 1929) that the Orthodox Serbs, previously living under six ecclesiastical authorities, united into a single patriarchate and their church took the name by which it is now commonly known. Although united in dogmatic matters, over the previous centuries, these ecclesiastical authorities had developed different practices and administrative systems. Importantly, while Serbs shared some beliefs and customs, local religiosity, morals, and values in the lives of individuals and communities greatly differed. Secondly, the concept of a monolithic national character of the Orthodox Serbs and their common aspirations for the unification prior to the First World War (and even after it) disregards evidence and ignores the dialectic and dynamic nature of historical pro cesses. Unfortunately, this is a feature of most history writing upon which this chapter is unavoidably based.1 During the twentieth century the Serbian Orthodox Church came to be considered an inseparable and key part of a timeless and immutable Serbian national identity. When writing about the church, Serbian historiography tended to view church history as indistinguishable from national history, with both inevitably leading to national liberation and unification.2 Thus, national consciousness and unity are projected back onto the past of the church when other issues and interests prevailed. As a prominent Serbian clergyman and metropolitan commented regarding the concept of an overarching national principle as recently as the second half of the nineteenth century," To speak about the national principle in interpreting church canons is sheer anachronism. The national principle only came into being in the middle of this century. The more we look into the past the harder it becomes to find any evidence of it. In the beginnings of our holy church there is no mention about it whatsoever."3 Taking this tendency into account, this chapter evaluates the position of the Serbs and their church during the nineteenth century from a more nuanced perspective. Following a general introduction, it will provide a separate account for each ecclesiastical authority and identify the main features and conflicts underlying their history preceding their abolition and amalgamation in one entity in 1920. The concluding section will identify some common developments across the lands inhabited by Serbs in the nineteenth century, which fermented the Serbian religious nationalism, a process that was completed in the interwar period. The nineteenth century in Southeastern Europe began in turmoil due to Napoleonic wars and uprisings against the local Ottoman rulers. During previous centuries Serbs had spread across the western part of the Balkan Peninsula and crossed Sava and Danube into Habsburg central Europe an lands. After two waves of Serbian migration led by church hierarchs (1690 and 1740) away from the Ottoman Empire, there were church structures in both empires. In the Ottoman lands the Sublime Porte nominated its own candidates for Peć (Serbian) patriarchs until 1766, when this patriarchate was abolished. Spiritual authority over the remaining Serbs in the Empire was transferred to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Phanariots were appointed to former Serbian eparchies (dioceses). The latter remained in notorious collective memory for their extortions from the flock, corruption and lack of contact with the lower clergy, which continued to be exclusively Serbian, uneducated, and unfamiliar with the tenets of Orthodoxy, let alone versed in pastoral care. The influence of the Orthodox spiritual center at Mount Athos waned as its Hilandar Monastery lost its Serbian character and ceased to be a place of learning for Serbian priests. Under these circumstances, the religion of Serbian peasant folk saw the blending of pre-Christian and Islamic traditions with those of Orthodoxy, a necessary and natural pro cess in order to exercise autonomy and use religion to accommodate daily needs.4 Nevertheless, in comparison to other Balkan peoples, the Serbs were advantageous. There was the opportunity for Serbian priests or monks who wished to engage in learning to cross the Sava or Danube and join their brethren in Hungary, where there was an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which, for all but formal purposes, was Serbian. The Karlovci Metropolitanate of the Habsburg Empire in par tic u lar cherished the legacy of the abolished Peć Patriarchate. Despite imperial restrictions, the Karlovci Church provided a backbone for all future Orthodox ecclesiastical administrations for Serbs in neighboring lands and finally for the creation of the unified Serbian Orthodox Church. The Ottoman legacy, therefore, and especially the all-pervasive influence of the Habsburg domain, determined the history of the church among Serbs in the nineteenth century. The importance of the Habsburg influence also accounts for the order in which various administrations are presented below.

Type: Book chapter
Title: The Serbian orthodox church
ISBN-13: 9780823256099
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1515/9780823256099-005
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > SSEES
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10029064
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