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  • Ancient Glory and New Mission: The Serbian Orthodox Church
  • Filip Ivanovic (bio)

The Orthodox Church exists and lives within history and passes through it without changing its identity. This is a very important aspect of Orthodoxy which one should always have in mind when dealing with questions that regard the orthodox part of Christianity. This means that the Church always remains the same in its canonical organisation and theological teachings. However, the Church exists inside human society and interacts with it.

In the light of the ever-changing interests of contemporary man, the riddle that stands before us is as follows. What does the ostensibly static and passive Orthodox Church have to offer modern society and in what form? What could be the role of the Orthodox Church in contemporary integrations? What is the place of the Church in the modern capitalistic system? These questions remain very difficult and challenging, especially when they are addressed to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which exists in the part of Europe where peace and stability still seem to be goals impossible to achieve.

It is my experience that the western readership is not quite familiar with the historical and cultural background of the Balkans area, which, unfortunately, has become more known for military operations and difficult political processes. It therefore gives me even greater pleasure to contribute this article. Before considering the contemporary issues with which the Serbian Orthodox Church is concerned, I find it neccessery to offer a brief historical introduction to its development.


Serb adoption of Christian faith ran parallel to the process of the establishment of their first organised state during the first half of the 9th century. Christian and spiritual enlighteners of the Serbs, as well as other [End Page 220] Slav nations, were the Holy brothers Cyril and Methodius. It is thought that the baptism of Serbs occured during the reign of prince Mutimir (before the year 891). That which crucially affected the baptism of not only the Serbs but also other Slav nations was the invention of the Slavonic script, that is, the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabet, around the middle of the 9th century. The beginnings of literacy among Slavs are also connected with their adoption of Christianity in their own popular language. The Bible was immediately translated from Greek into Slavonic, as were all the necessary ecclesiastical offices, that is, service books. Therefore in-depth christianisation of the Slavs began not in Greek and certainly not in Latin but in the popular Slavonic language, the language and the script that would soon becomethe third (after Greek and Latin) on the list of most commonly used languages in the contemporary world.

It is also an important fact that Serbs adopted Christianity during the reign of prince Mutimir, when Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (867–886) ruled Byzantium and when Photius was Patriarch of Constantinople. Photius blessed the Holy brothers and their disciples in their endeavour to christianise the South Slavs. It has been rightly said that Photius became the Godfather of all Slavs. It should be said that there was a real threat at the time that all newly baptised South Slav nations – Serbs, Bulgars, Croats – would be placed under Roman, that is, Papal, spiritual jurisdiction. This was eventually accomplished with the Croats.

By the end of the 12th century, Grand Župan of Raška Stefan Nemanja (1169–1196) managed to unite most Serbian lands into a single state. In his foreign policy he opted for Byzantium and for Byzantine spiritual (Orthodox-Christian) and cultural influences. Stefan Nemanja was a devoutly religious person and from the very beginnings keen on Eastern Orthodoxy, which had without any doubt already set firm roots in his land and among his people centuries before. Even today there stand churches and monasteries which were founded by him. Among them Studenica (Studenitsa) monastery is named ‘mother of all Serbian churches’. It was in this monastery that Stefan Nemanja took his monastic vows and it was there that his body was laid when brought from Hilandar monastery.

The youngest of Stefan Nemanja’s three sons was St. Sava, the first Serbian Archbishop and the founder of Serbian autocephalous church. Until his appearance the Church...


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pp. 220-232
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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