Question: "What is the Serbian Orthodox Church?"
Answer: The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous (self-governing) church within Eastern Orthodoxy. Being independent, the Serbian Orthodox Church has its own patriarchate, or ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The Serbian Orthodox Church is strongest in southeastern Europe, and its churches are located primarily in the former Yugoslavia, including Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia. As Serbs have emigrated to other countries, Serbian churches have spread to the U.S., Australia, South Africa, and western Europe. The Serbian Orthodox Church has been a member of the World Council of Churches since 1965. According to the WCC, the Serbian Orthodox Church has 8 million members worldwide.
The history of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been one of persecution and turmoil for the past five hundred years. The church flourished in Serbia until the arrival of the Muslim Turks, and by 1459 most of Serbia was under Turkish control. For one hundred years, the Serbian Orthodox Church was placed under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as the Serbian church, as an independent church body, disappeared. The Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent restored the Serbian Patriarchate in 1557, but the church in Serbia was abolished by the Muslims again in 1766. It wasn’t until 1859 that the Serbian Orthodox Church regained its autonomy, but the patriarchate was not re-established until 1920, after World War I. During World War II, the fascists persecuted the Serbian Orthodox Church, killing 1.7 million church members. After the war, the persecution continued, as the communists attacked the Serbian Orthodox Church: religious education in schools was banned under Stalin, and church property was confiscated. The persecution eased somewhat after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., but then civil war in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s killed about 10,000 Serbs and caused a million others to flee the country. The unrest in that area of the world continues to this day.
The Serbian Orthodox Church claims to possess many Christian relics, such as John the Baptist’s right hand, Saint George’s hand and skull parts, and pieces of Jesus’ cross. The doctrine and practice of the Serbian Orthodox Church follow those of other churches within Eastern Orthodoxy. The Serbian Orthodox Church observes seven sacraments; venerates icons; prays to Mary, the “Mother of God,” and other saints; prays for the dead; and teaches a works-based salvation. The Bible is clear that salvation is all of grace, apart from human works (Ephesians 2:8–9), making the Orthodox doctrine “another” gospel to be avoided (see Galatians 1:6–9).