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Yugoslavia: Eastern Orthodoxy
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Religion > Eastern Orthodoxy


Since Byzantine times, the Eastern Orthodox churches have had an almost symbiotic connection to individual nation states such as Greece and Russia. Yugoslavia had two main Orthodox churches: the Serbian Orthodox Church, present since the Middle Ages, and the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which split from the Serbian church in 1967. The Romanian Orthodox Church was also present in Vojvodina. An estimated 11.5 million Yugoslavs, primarily Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians, were Eastern Orthodox by family background.

The self-governing Serbian Orthodox Church was founded in the thirteenth century by Saint Sava Nemanja, brother of the first Serbian king. In the centuries after its founding, the church served a series of kings and emperors, and it acted as the repository of Serbian culture during the centuries of Ottoman domination (1459-1829). The Serbian church supported the Karadjordjevic Dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between the world wars. The brutal religious persecution of Orthodox priests in World War II enhanced the church's popular standing throughout Serbia. After the war, the communist regime took advantage of the Serbian church's loyal support of the Yugoslav state to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Serbian population. But the church soon came into direct conflict with the communist regime's policy on nationalities and lost its secular role and influence. One result of this conflict was the refusal of the Serbian church hierarchy to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church, given self-governing status by the Yugoslav state in 1967.

In 1987 the Serbian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Belgrade, included about 2,000 parishes; 2,500 priests, monks, and nuns; 180 monasteries and convents; four seminaries; and one school of theology. It also published ten periodicals. The Serbian church was very active in defending the Serbian and Montenegrin minorities in Kosovo. Following the upswing of ethnic tensions in Kosovo in the 1980s, identification as an Orthodox churchgoer became more popular in Serbia. In 1985 completion of the long-delayed Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade received government approval. When finished, St. Sava was to be the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the world.

At various times before World War I, the Eastern Orthodox diocese in Macedonia was under the jurisdiction of Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek Orthodox authorities. Between the world wars, the Serbian church was in control. Until 1958 the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek Orthodox hierarchies recognized no distinct Macedonian nation or independent Macedonian Orthodox Church. In 1958, however, the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy recognized the Macedonian dioceses by consecrating a Macedonian bishop. Shortly thereafter the Macedonian Orthodox Church came into official existence, but it remained under the authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In 1967 Macedonian clergymen proclaimed their church independent, prompting the Serbian Orthodox Church to refuse all further relations with it. Aware that a self-governing Macedonian church would enhance the sense of Macedonian nationhood within the Yugoslav federation, political authorities gave the church their full support. Without recognition from the Serbian hierarchy, however, the Macedonian church remained isolated from the world's other Orthodox churches. By the mid-1980s, the Macedonian Orthodox Church had six dioceses in Yugoslavia and two abroad, 225 parishes, 102 monasteries, about 250 priests and about 15 monks, and one school of theology.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 68 of 208


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