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|Serbian National Church|
Српска православна црква
Srpska pravoslavna crkva
|Headquarters||Belgrade; traditionally Patriarchate of Peć|
Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Possessions|| European Union|
|Language||Serbian and Church Slavonic|
|Serbian National Church|
Српска православна црква
Srpska pravoslavna crkva
|Headquarters||Belgrade; traditionally Patriarchate of Peć|
Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Possessions|| European Union|
|Language||Serbian and Church Slavonic|
The Serbian Orthodox Church (Serbian: Српска православна црква / Srpska pravoslavna crkva) is one of the autocephalous Orthodox Christian churches. It is the second oldest Slavic Orthodox Church in the world (after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church).
The Serbian Orthodox Church is the traditional church in Serbia and Republika Srpska (entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina), with 84% and around 88% of the population being adherents, respectively. Additionally, majority of population in Montenegro are at least nominal adherents of the church. The Serbian Orthodox Church is organized into metropolises and eparchies located primarily in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia, but also all over the world since many Serbs have emigrated to foreign countries.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Orthodox communion. The Patriarch of Serbia serves as first among equals in his church; the current patriarch is Irinej. The Church achieved autocephalous status in 1219 under the leadership of St. Sava, becoming independent Archeparchy of Žiča. Its status was elevated to that of a patriarchate in the 14th century, and was known afterwards as the Patriarchate of Peć. This patriarchate was abolished by the Ottoman Turks in the 18th century. The modern Serbian Orthodox Church was re-established in 1920 after the unification of the Patriarchate of Karlovci, the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is the custodian of many significant Christian relics, such as the right hand of John the Baptist, Saint George's hand and skull parts, Holy Cross segments, St. Paraskevi's finger and body of St. Basil of Ostrog, among others.
The Saints Florus and Laurus are venerated as Christian martyrs of the 2nd century, they were murdered along with 300 Christians in Lipljan. Constantine the Great (306-337), born in Niš, was the first Christian Roman Emperor.
In 380, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius decreed that his subjects would be Christians according to the First Council of Nicea formula. Greek was used in the Byzantine church, while the Roman church used Latin. With the definite split in 395, the line in Europe ran south along the Drina river. Tim Judah says that the Roman split resulted in that Serbs are Orthodox and the Croats Catholic.
In 731 or 733 or by 740, Leo III attached Illyricum and Southern Italy (Sicily and Calabria) to Patriarch Anastasius of Constantinople, transferring the papal authority to the Eastern Church.
Among old Christian heritage is the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima. It had the whole of present-day Serbia under its jurisdiction, and was formed in 535 AD. However, the Archbishopric did not last, as the Slavs and Avars destroyed it sometime after 602, when the last mention is made of it.
According to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Serbs were Christianized by "elders of Rome"[clarification needed] during the reign of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641). This would have taken place during the Byzantine Papacy (Greek popes during the years 678–752).
During the rule of Constans II (641–668), Serbs (Slavs) were resettled in Asia Minor (in ca 649 or 667) from the areas "around the river Vardar" to the city of Gordoservon (Serb habitat). Isidore, the "Bishop of Gordoservon" is mentioned in 680, the fact that it was an episcopal seat gives ground to the thesis that it had a large Serbian population.
Notable early church buildings include the monastery of Archangel Michael in Prevlaka (Ilovica), built in the beginning of the 9th century, on the location of older churches of three-nave structure with three apses to the East, dating from the 3rd and 6th centuries, Bogorodica Hvostanska (6th century) and Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
The establishment of Christianity as state religion dates to the time of Prince Mutimir and Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886), who, after managing to put the Serbs under his nominal rule, sent priests together with admiral Niketas Ooryphas, before the operations against the Saracens in 869 when Dalmatian fleets were sent to defend the town of Ragusa).
The Christianization was due partly to Byzantine and subsequent Bulgarian influence. At least during the rule of Kotsel of Pannonia (861–874), communications between Serbia and Great Moravia must have been possible. This fact, the pope was presumably aware of, when planning Methodios' diocese as well as the Dalmatian coast, which was in Byzantine hands as far north as Split. There is a possibility that some Cyrillomethodian pupils reached Serbia in the 870s, perhaps even sent by Methodius himself. Serbia was accounted Christian as of about 870.
The first Serbian bishopric was founded at the political center at Ras, near modern Novi Pazar on the Ibar river. The initial affiliation is uncertain; it may have been under the subordination of either Split or Durazzo, both then Byzantine. The early church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul at Ras can be dated to the 9th–10th century, with the rotunda plan characteristic of first court chapels. The bishopric was established shortly after 871, during the rule of Mutimir, and was part of the general plan of establishing bishoprics in the Slav lands of the empire, confirmed by the Council of Constantinople in 879–880. The Eparchy of Braničevo was founded in 878 (as a continuation of Viminacium and Horreum Margi). The seal of Strojimir (died between 880 and 896), the brother of Mutimir, was bought by the Serbian state in an auction in Germany. The seal has a Patriarchal cross in the center and Greek inscriptions that say: "God, help Strojimir (CTPOHMIP)".
Petar Gojniković (r. 892–917) was evidently a Christian prince. Christianity presumably was spreading in his time; also since Serbia bordered Bulgaria, Christian influences and perhaps missionaries came from there. That would increase in the twenty-year peace. The previous generation (Mutimir, Strojimir and Gojnik) had Slav names, the following (Petar, Stefan, Pavle, Zaharija) has Christian names, a notice of strong Byzantine missions to Serbia, as well as to the Slavs of the Adriatic coast, in the 870s.
The Bulgarian annexation of Serbia in 924 was important for the future direction of the Serbian church. By then, at latest, Serbia must have received the Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic religious text, already familiar but perhaps not yet preferred to Greek.
In 1018/9, the Archbishopric of Ohrid was formed when the Byzantines conquered the First Bulgarian Empire. Greek replaced Slavic. Serbia was ecclesiastically administered into several dioceses: the Diocese of Ras, mentioned in the first charter of Basil II (r. 976–1025), became part of the Ohrid archbishopric and encompassed the areas of southern Serbia, by the rivers Raška, Ibar and Lim, evident in the second charter of Basil II . Among the first bishops were Leontius (fl. 1123-1126), Cyril (fl. 1141–1143), Euthemius (fl. 1170) and Kalinik (fl. 1196). It joined the autocephalous Archbishopric of Žiča in 1219, at the time of Saint Sava.
The 10th- or 11th-century Gospel Book Codex Marianus, written in Old Church Slavonic in the Glagolithic script, is one of the oldest known Slavic manuscripts and was partly written in the Old Serbian-redaction. Other early manuscripts include 11th-century Grškovićev odlomak Apostola and Mihanovićev odlomak.
In the autumn of 1192 (or shortly thereafter), Rastko Nemanjić, the former Grand Prince of Hum under his father Stefan Nemanja, joined Russian monk, giving alms to the St. Panteleimon monastery of Mount Athos, where he was given the monastic name of Sava (Sabbas). They did not stay long, leaving for the Greek Vatopedi. His father later joined him, coming to Mount Athos on March 25, 1195, and taking monastic vows under the name Simeon. Father and son asked of the Holy Community that the Serbian religious centre be founded at the abandoned site of Hilandar, which they renovated, marking the beginning of a renaissance (in arts, literature and religion). Sava's father died at Hilandar on February 13, 1199, and was canonised as Saint Simeon. Sava built a church and cell at Karyes, where he stayed for some years, becoming a Hieromonk, then an Archimandrite in 1201. He wrote the Karyes Typicon during his stay there, and a marble inscription of his work still exists.
He returned to Serbia in 1207, taking with him the remains of his father, which he interred at the Studenica monastery, after reconciling Stefan II with Vukan, who had earlier been involved in a succession feud (civil war). Stefan II asked him to remain in Serbia with his clerics, which he did, providing widespread pastoral care and education to the people of Serbia. He founded several churches and monasteries, among them the Žiča monastery. Sava brought the regal crown from Rome, crowning his older brother "King of All Serbia" in the Žiča monastery in 1217.
Sava returned to the Holy Mountain in 1217/18, marking the beginning of the real formation of the Serbian Church. He was consecrated in 1219 as the first Archbishop of the Serbian church, and was given autocephaly by Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople, who was then in exile at Nicaea. In the same year Sava published Zakonopravilo (St. Sava's Nomocanon). Thus the Serbs acquired both forms of independence: political and religious. After this, in Serbia, he stayed in Studenica and continued to educate the Serbian people in their faith, and later he called for a council outlawing the Bogomils, who were regarded heretics. Sava appointed protobishops, sending them over all of Serbia to conduct baptisms, marriages etc.. To maintain his standing as the religious and social leader, he continued to travel among the monasteries and lands to educate the people. In 1221 a synod was held in the Žiča monastery, condemning Bogomilism.
In 1229/1233, he went on a pilgrimage to Palestine and in Jerusalem he met with Patriarch Athanasios II. Sava saw Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the Jordan River where Christ was baptised, and the Great Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (Mar Saba monastery). Sava asked Athanasios II, his host, and the Great Lavra fraternity, led by hegoumenos Nicolas, if he could purchase two monasteries in the Holy Land. His request was accepted and he was offered the monasteries of Saint John the Theologian on Mount Sion and St. George's Monastery on Akona, both to be inhabited by Serbian monks. The icon Trojerucica (Three-handed Theotokos), a gift to the Great Lavra from St. John Damascene, was given to Sava and he, in turn, bequethed it to Hilandar.
Sava died in Trnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, during the reign of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. According to his Life, he fell ill following the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Epiphany, 12 January 1235. Sava was visiting Trnovo on his way back from the Holy Land, where he had founded a hospice for Syrian pilgrims in Jerusalem and arranged for Serbian monks to be welcomed in the established monasteries there. He died of pneumonia in the night between Saturday and Sunday, January 14, 1235, and was buried at the Cathedral of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Trnovo where his body remained until May 6, 1237, when his sacred bones were moved to the monastery Mileševa in southern Serbia.
In 1253 the see was transferred to the Archbishopric of Peć (future Patriarchate) by Arsenije. The Serbian primates had since moved between the two. Sometime between 1276-1292 the Cumans burned the Žiča monastery, and King Stefan Milutin renovated it in 1292-1309, during the office of Jevstatije II. In 1289-1290, the chief treasures of the ruined monastery, including the remains of Saint Jevstatije I, were transferred to Peć.
In 1594, the Ottoman Turks unearthed his remains and took the relic to the Vračar hill in Belgrade where they were burned by Sinan Pasha on a stake to intimidate the Serb people in case of revolts (see Banat Uprising). The Temple of Saint Sava was built on the place where his remains were burned.[dead link]
The status of the Serbian Orthodox Church grew along with the expansion and heightened prestige of the medieval Kingdom of Serbia. After King Stefan Dušan assumed the imperial title of tsar, the Archbishopric of Peć was correspondingly raised to the rank of Patriarchate in 1346. In the century that followed, the Serbian Church achieved its greatest power and prestige. In the 14th century Serbian Orthodox clergy had the title of Protos at Mount Athos.
On April 16, 1346 (Easter), Stephen Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia convoked a huge assembly at Skopje, attended by the Serbian Archbishop Joanikije II, the Archbishop of Ochrid Nikolaj I, the Bulgarian Patriarch Simeon and various religious leaders of Mount Athos. The assembly and clerics agreed on, and then ceremonially performed the raising of the autocephalous Serbian Archbishopric to the status of Patriarchate. The Archbishop from now on is titled Patriarch of Serbia, although one document called him Patriarch of Serbs and Greeks, with the seat at the monastery of Peć. The new Patriarch Joanikije II now solemnly crowned Dušan as "Emperor and autocrat of Serbs and Romans" (Greek Bασιλεὺς καὶ αὐτoκράτωρ Σερβίας καὶ Pωμανίας). The status of Patriarchate resulted in raising bishoprics to metropolitans, as for example the Metropolitanate of Skopje.
The Patriarchate took over sovereignty on Mt. Athos and the Greek archbishoprics under the rule of the Constantinople Patriarchate (The Ohrid Archbishopric remained autocephalous). For those acts he was excommunicated by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1350.
The Church itself continued in existence throughout the Ottoman period, though not without some disruption. After the death of Patriarch Arsenios II in 1463, a successor was not elected. The Patriarchate was thus de facto abolished, and the Serbian Church passed under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which exercised jurisdiction over all Orthodox of the Ottoman Empire under the millet system. The Serbian Patriarchate was restored in 1557 by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, thanks to the mediation of the statesman Sokollu Mehmet Pasha. Sokollu Mehmet's brother or cousin Macarios was elected Patriarch in Peć.
The restoration of the Patriarchate was of great importance for the Serbs because it helped the spiritual unification of all Serbs in the Ottoman Empire. After consequent Serbian uprisings against the Turkish occupiers in which the Church had a leading role, the Ottomans abolished the Patriarchate once again in 1766. The Church returned once more under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This period of rule by the so-called "Phanariots" was a period of great spiritual decline because the Greek bishops had very little understanding of their Serbian flock.
During this period, many Christians across the Balkans converted to Islam to avoid severe taxes imposed by the Turks in retaliation for uprisings and continued resistance. Many Serbs migrated with their hierarchs to Habsburg Monarchy where they had been granted autonomy. The seat of the archbishops was moved from Peć to Karlovci. The new Serbian Metropolitanate of Karlovci would become a patriarchate in 1848.
The church's close association with Serbian resistance to Ottoman rule led to Serbian Orthodoxy becoming inextricably linked with Serbian national identity and the new Serbian monarchy that emerged from 1817 onwards. The Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia finally regained its independence and became autocephalous in 1879, the year after the recognition by the Great Powers of Serbia as an independent state. This church was known as the Metropolitanate of Belgrade, thus in the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, two separate Serbian Churches existed – the Patriarchate of Karlovci in the Habsburg Monarchy and the Metropolitanate of Belgrade in the Kingdom of Serbia. The Cetinje Metropolitanate held successorship to the Serb Patriarchate in Peć, its Vladikas were titled "Exarchs of the Peć Throne"
After World War I all the Orthodox Serbs were united under one ecclesiastical authority, and two Serbian churches were united into the single Patriarchate of Serbia in 1920 with the election of Patriarch Dimitrije. It gained great political and social influence in the inter-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, during which time it successfully campaigned against the Yugoslav government's intentions of signing a concordat with the Holy See.
During the Second World War the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered severely from persecutions by the occupying powers and the rabidly anti-Serbian Ustaše regime of Independent State of Croatia, which sought to create a "Croatian Orthodox Church" which Orthodox Serbs were forced to join. Many Serbs were killed during the war; bishops and priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church were singled out for persecution, and many Orthodox churches were damaged or destroyed.
After the war the Church was suppressed by the communist government of Josip Broz Tito, which viewed it with suspicion due to the Church's links with the exiled Serbian monarchy and the nationalist Chetnik movement. Along with other ecclesiastical institutions of all denominations, the Church was subject to strict controls by the Yugoslav state, which prohibited the teaching of religion in schools, confiscated Church property and discouraged religious activity among the population.
The gradual demise of Yugoslav communism and the rise of rival nationalist movements during the 1980s also led to a marked religious revival throughout Yugoslavia, not least in Serbia. The Serbian Patriarch, Pavle, supported the opposition to Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church was created in 1967, effectively as an offshoot of the Serbian Orthodox Church in what was then the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as part of the Yugoslav drive to build up a Macedonian national identity. This was strongly resisted by the Serbian Church, which does not recognize the independence of its Macedonian counterpart. Campaigns for an independent Montenegrin Orthodox Church have also gained ground in recent years.
Many churches in Croatia were damaged or destroyed since the start of the war in 1991. The bishops and priests and most faithful of the eparchies of Zagreb, of Karlovac, of Slavonia and of Dalmatia became refugees. The latter three were almost completely abandoned after the exodus of the Serbs from Croatia in 1995. The eparchy of Dalmatia also had its see temporarily moved to Knin after the Republic of Serbian Krajina was established. The eparchy of Slavonia had its see moved from Pakrac to Daruvar. After Operation Storm, two monasteries were particularly damaged:
The eparchies of Bihać and Petrovac, Dabar-Bosnia and Zvornik and Tuzla were also dislocated due to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The eparchy see of Dabar-Bosnia was temporarily moved to Sokolac, and the see of Zvornik-Tuzla to Bijeljina. Over a hundred Church-owned objects in the Zvornik-Tuzla eparchy were destroyed or damaged during the war. Many monasteries and churches in the Zahumlje eparchy were also destroyed. Numerous faithful from these eparchies also became refugees.
By 1998 the situation had stabilized in both countries. Most of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church was returned to normal use, the bishops and priests returned, and that which was destroyed, damaged or vandalized was restored. The process of rebuilding several churches is still under way, notably the cathedral of the Eparchy of Upper Karlovac in Karlovac. The return of the Serbian Orthodox Church faithful also started, but they are not nearly close to their pre-war numbers, as of 2004.
Due to the Kosovo War, after 1999 numerous Serbian Orthodox holy sites in the province were left occupied only by clergy. Since the arrival of NATO troops in June 1999, 156 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries have been damaged or destroyed and several priests have been killed. During the few days of the 2004 unrest in Kosovo, 35 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were damaged and some destroyed by Albanian mobs. Thousands of Serbs were forced to move from Kosovo due to the numerous attacks of Kosovo Albanians on Serbian churches and Serbs.
Based on the official census results in countries which encompass territorial canonic jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church (basically former Yugoslavia), there are more than 8 million adherents of the church. Orthodoxy is the largest single religious faith in Serbia with 6,079,296 adherents (84.5% of the population belonging to it) according to the 2011 census, and in Montenegro with 460,383 (74%). It is the second largest faith in Bosnia and Herzegovina with 31.2% of adherents, and in Croatia with 4.4% of adherents Figures for eparchies abroad (Western Europe, North America, and Australia) is unknown although some estimates can be reached based on the size of Serbian diaspora, which numbers around 2 million people.
The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church is the patriarch. He is also the head (metropolitan) of the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and Karlovci. The current patriarch is Irinej since 22 January 2010. The Serbian Orthodox patriarchs are styled His Holiness the Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci, Serbian Patriarch. The highest body of the Church is the Holy assembly of Bishops (Serbian: Sveti arhijerejski sabor, Свети архијерејски сабор). It consists of the Patriarch, the Metropolitans, Bishops, Archbishop of Ohrid and Vicar Bishops. It meets twice a year in spring and in autumn. Holy assembly of Bishops makes important decisions for the church's life and elects the patriarch. The executive body of the Serbian Orthodox Church is the Holy Synod. It has five members: four bishops and the patriarch. Holy Synod takes care of the everyday life of the Church, holding meetings on regular basis.
Dioceses are further divided into episcopal deaneries, each consisting of several church congregations and/or parishes. Church congregations consist of one or more parishes. A parish is the smallest Church unit - a communion of Orthodox faithful congregating at the Holy Eucharist with the parish priest at their head.
|Belgrade and Karlovci||Patriarch Irinej|
|Dabar and Bosnia||Nikolaj (Mrđa)|
|Montenegro and the Littoral||Amfilohije (Radović)|
|Zagreb and Ljubljana||Profirije (Perić)|
|Australia and New Zealand||Irinej (Dobrijević)|
|Austria and Switzerland||vacant|
|Banja Luka||Jefrem (Milutonović)|
|Bihać and Petrovac||Atanasije (Rakita)|
|Britain and Scandinavia||Dositej (Motika)|
|Budimlje and Nikšić||Joanikije (Mićović)|
|Eastern America||Mitrophan (Kodić)|
|New Gračanica and Midwestern America||Longin (Krčo)|
|Osječko polje and Baranja||Lukijan (Vladulov)|
|Ras and Prizren||Teodosije (Šibalić)|
|Upper Karlovac||Gerasim (Popović)|
|Western America||Maxim (Vasiljević)|
|Western Europe||Luka (Kovačević)|
|Zahumlje and Herzegovina||Grigorije (Durić)|
|Zvornik and Tuzla||Hrizostom (Jević)|
The Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid or Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric is an autonomous archbishopric in the Republic of Macedonia under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was formed in 2002 in opposition to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which had had a similar relationship with the Serbian Orthodox Church prior to 1967, when it unilaterally declared itself autocephalous. This archbishopric is divided into 1 metropolitanate and 6 dioceses:
|Skopje||Jovan VI (Vraniškovski)|
|Debar and Kičevo||vacant|
|Polog and Kumanovo||Joakim (Jovčeski)|
|Prespa and Pelagonija||vacant|
|Veles and Povardarie||vacant|
Vicar bishop (or titular bishop) is a bishop who is not in charge of a diocese. Vicar bishop bears in his title the name of a town or region that is within a diocese. He has no independent jurisdiction (even in his titular town), but is subordinate to his diocesan bishop. Only large dioceses have vicar bishops. There are five vicar bishops (one of them in the Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid):
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2010)|
Services cannot properly be conducted by a single person, but must have at least one other person present. Usually, all of the services are conducted on a daily basis only in monasteries and cathedrals, while parish churches might only do the services on the weekend and major feast days. The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays during the preparatory season of Great Lent. Communion is consecrated on Sundays and distributed during the week at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, can only be performed once a day on any particular altar.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, a belief in the Incarnation of the Logos (Son of God), a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by Sacred Tradition, a concrete ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a therapeutic soteriology.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2010)|
Services are conducted in church buildings and involve both the clergy and faithful. The original style of Serbian Orthodox Church was the church built out of wood. These churches were typically found in poorer villages where it was too expensive to build a church out of stone.
Serbian medieval churches have been built in the Byzantine spirit. The Raška style refers to the Serbian architecture from the 12th to the end of the 14th century (Studenica, Hilandar, Žiča). The Serbo-Byzantine architectural style, which is the typical one, was developed in the late 13th century combining Byzantine and Serbian influences to form a new architectural style (Gračanica, Patriarchate of Peć). By the time of the Serbian Empire, the Serbian state had enlarged itself over Macedonia, Epirus and Thessaly all the way to the Aegean Sea, which resulted in stronger influences from Byzantine art tradition. The Morava style refers to the period of the fall of Serbia under the Ottoman Empire, from 1371 to 1459 (Ravanica, Ljubostinja, Kalenić, Resava).
During the 17th century many of the Serbian Orthodox churches that were built in Belgrade took all the characteristics of baroque churches built in the Austrian occupied regions where Serbs lived. The churches usually had a bell tower, and a single nave building with the iconostasis inside the church covered with Renaissance-style paintings. These churches can be found in Belgrade and Vojvodina, which were occupied by the Austrian Empire from 1717 to 1739, and on the border with Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian Empire) across the Sava and Danube rivers from 1804 when Serbian statehood was re-established.
Icons are replete with symbolism meant to convey far more meaning than simply the identity of the person depicted, and it is for this reason that Orthodox iconography has become an exacting science of copying older icons rather than an opportunity for artistic expression. The Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were painted by Luke the Evangelist. Orthodox regard their depiction of Christ as accurate, with Christ having brown semi-curly hair, brown eyes, and Semitic features (the Virgin Mary being similar). The personal, idiosyncratic and creative traditions of Western European religious art are largely lacking in Orthodox iconography before the 17th century, when Russian icon painting was strongly influenced by religious paintings and engravings from both Protestant and Catholic Europe. Greek icon painting also began to take on a strong romantic western influence for a period and the difference between some Orthodox icons and western religious art began to vanish. More recently there has been a strong trend of returning to the more traditional and symbolic representations.
Icons are not considered by the Orthodox to be "graven images" or idols, but prohibitions against three-dimensional statuary are still in place, though before the crisis of Iconoclasm there was an Eastern Christian tradition of statuary, though not as major as in the West. Biblical prohibitions against material depictions have been altered by Christ (as God) taking on material form. Also, it is not the wood or paint that are venerated, but rather God is through the individual (or event) portrayed.
Large icons can be found adorning the walls of churches and often cover the inside structure completely. Orthodox homes often likewise have icons hanging on the wall, usually together on an eastern facing wall, and in a central location where the family can pray together.
Icons are often illuminated with a candle or oil lamp. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for lamps are preferred because they are natural and burn cleanly.) Besides the practical purpose of making icons visible in an otherwise dark church, both candles and oil lamps symbolize the Light of the World which is Christ.
Tales of miraculous icons that moved, spoke, cried, bled, or gushed fragrant myrrh are not uncommon, though it has always been considered that the message of such an event was for the immediate faithful involved and therefore does not usually attract crowds. Some miraculous icons whose reputations span long periods of time nevertheless become objects of pilgrimage along with the places where they are kept.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Sremski Karlovci
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