Workshop Competing Identities in the Serbian Orthodox Church
European, Balkan, or Eastern Slavic – Competing Identities in the Serbian Orthodox Church
Even after the perspective for Serbia of becoming a member of the European Union has been temporarily closed roughly two years ago (as for other possible applicants), Serbia still remains an interesting, but also sometimes puzzling direct neighbor of the European Union. The current president Aleksandar Vucić apparently navigates a complicated course between pro-European options on the one hand, and fostering closer connections with Russia on the other hand.
A similar diversity of attitudes is being displayed within the Serbian Orthodox Church. Already the consultation process previous to the 2016 pan-Orthodox council on Crete brought to the fore sometimes deep internal divisions concerning topics like ecumenism or the place of Orthodox Christianity in the contemporary world. Serbian Orthodoxy’s eventual participation in the event was always overshadowed by controversies which previous to, during, and still after the council seemingly could be balanced only with difficulties. Currently, the general division within the Orthodox world between Constantinople and Moscow, having become most apparent in connection with the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, has its repercussions also within Serbian Orthodoxy. More recently, new controversies about independence of theological research at the theological faculty of Belgrade University repeatedly made it into international headlines, and helped shed light once more on the rather divergent theological positions represented among clerics, lay theologians and ordinary believers. Finally, disputes about how to appropriately handle the COVID-19 pandemic divided the clergy over various eparchies and provinces. But the pandemic also in itself deeply affected the life of the church by demanding tragic tolls among the hierarchs, not the last among them patriarch Irinej himself, who in December 2020 died of corona disease. The election of a successor is envisaged for February 18th, 2021, and will possibly provide another stage for the clash of competing fractions. On the other hand, this is an opportunity for an outlook on the further course Serbian Orthodoxy might take.
In the background of such controversies lies the opposition between conservative, anti-Western and sometimes pro-Russian forces on the one hand, and more pro-European, ecumenically minded groups on the other hand. This is yet a rough description, applying a scheme that would, with slight alterations, also fit for several other European Orthodox Churches, like Bulgaria or Greece. The question is, then, how this scheme would find concrete expression in the Serbian context, against the background of Serbia’s specific geographical, but also political and social conditions. The question in long term perspective also concerns historical narratives and sites of memory (from the famous “svetosavlje” pattern to the role of controversial 20th century figures like Nikolaj Velimirović or Justin Popović), but can be expanded to geopolitical schemes (Balkan versus Europe, Greek or Slavic Orthodoxy, borderland identities etc.). All such visions also have their theological dimension.
While each of such manifestations is unique in the Serbian context, the underlying scheme of competing identities is not. Therefore, in turn, one might equally ask in what sense Serbia can be treated as an illustrative example for more general developments within the Orthodox world.
Thursday 4 March 2021
14.00-14.10 Introduction by Prof. Dr. Alfons Brüning, IvOC, Nijmegen
14.10-14.30 Prof. Dr. Thomas Bremer, University of Muenster, Faculty of Catholic Theology: “Serbian Orthodoxy and “the West” – Images, Perceptions, Attitudes”
15.00-15.20 Dr. Vladimir Cvetković, University of Belgrade, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory: "Ukraine, Crete, Kosovo, Montenegro - local and global dimensions of Serbian Orthodox antagonisms in the 21st century"
15.35-15.55 Prof. Dr. Rade Kisić, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Orthodox Theology: “Ecumenical Relations of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 20th and 21st centuries”
Take a look at our YouTube playlist for the recordings of the workshop: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7zXAE4eRMWPhzoF6jhdkqY2zRNu7TZFD