Monday, June 17, 2013

Temple and Church of St. Sava - Belgrade, Serbia

The Temple of St. Sava in Belgrade, Serbia is a Serbian Orthodox church and the largest Orthodox church in the world. It is also the eighth largest church in the world (at least on one list), after, among others, St. Peter's in Vatican City, Seville Cathedral in Spain, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Milan Cathedral in Italy. It is not a cathedral as the seat of the Metropolitan bishop of Belgrade is St. Michael's Cathedral. It is in the form of a Greek cross (two bars perpendicular to each other and dividing each other in half) with a large central dome. The facade is white marble and granite. It is still under construction, but when finished it will have mosaics as inner decorations. The central dome will have a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. Construction on the church began in 1935. Work stopped in 1941 in the Second World War when Belgrade was bombed by Germany. During the war it was first used as a parking lot by the Germans and then later as a parking lot by the Russians. Construction did not begin again until 1985. The center dome was lifted up by cranes and was completed in 1989. The exterior is is complete and the windows and bells are installed, but the internal decorations are still mostly incomplete. 
St. Sava Temple

Bluish white outer marble around a window.

The unfinished interior.
An example of what the inner mosaics will look like.
Unused marble on pallets outside.
A small church of St. Sava was built in 1895 and was later moved a short distance for the larger building, often referred to as the temple. When we visited on a Sunday they were having a service in the smaller church which we visited and spent about 15 minutes. There were three priests leading the service and each had his back to the congregation and was facing the iconostasis. They were singing along with a beautiful choir which was out of site. There were no chairs. The women congregants were all on the left side and the men were all on the right side. 
The small St. Sava church is to the left and the St. Sava Temple is to the right. 
People going to small St. Sava church for services.

St. Sava

St. Sava was born Rastko Namanjic in 1174 in what is now Podgorica, Montenegro. When he became a monk he took the monastic name Sava and founded the monasteris of Hilandar on Mount Athos (a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Greece) and Zica (in Serbia). In 1219 he was named the first Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church by the Patriarch of Constantinople. That same year, he authored the constitution of Serbia. He is considered the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and is canonized by it. The Ottoman Turks, under Sinan Pasha, burned his wooden coffin on April 27, 1595 on a pyre on the spot where the Temple of St. Sava is currently located. This was in response to the Serbs using icons depicting Sava as their war flags.
St. Sava is on the unfinished iconostasis just right of center.

Statue of St. Sava
Serbian Orthodox Church

The Serbian Orthodox Church is the dominant church in Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Srpska which is a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, it has a presence in other nearby countries, such as Croatia and in many other countries where Serbs have emigrated. It became an autocephalous church in 1219. The patriarchate was abolished by the Ottoman Turks in 1463, restored by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557, and abolished again in 1766.  Many Christians converted to Islam, but many Serbs also migrated to the Habsburg Monarchy where they were granted autonomy and the Serbian Metropolitanate of Karlovci became a patriarchate in 1848. In the early 1800s Serbians started to push for independence and in 1879 when Serbia was recognized as a separate state, the church was known as the Metropolitanate of Belgrade. After World War I, in 1920, all Orthodox Serbs were united under one ecclesiastical authority and the Patriarchate of Karlovci, the Metropolitanate of Belgrade and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro were unified into a single Patriarchate of Serbia. The Macedonian Orthodox Church was created in 1967 despite the resistance of the Serbian Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church still does not recognize the Macedonian church. Because of the War in Kosovo, and the enmity between the Serbs and the Albanians, the primary occupants of Kosovo, many Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo have been occupied only by clergy and protected by NATO troops. It is estimated that there are currently 6.5 to 7.5 million Serbian Orthodox, with about 6.4 million in Serbia, 1.5 million in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 568,000 in Germany, 460,000 in Montenegro, 385,000 in Austria, 200,000 in Croatia, 100,000 in Canada, 95,000 in Australia, 69,000 in the U.S. and 39,000 in Slovenia.

The church is currently divided into 5 metropolitanates, headed by metropolitans: (1) Belgrade and Karlovci (headed by a metropolitan who is also the patriarch); (2) Dabar and Bosnia; (3) Montenegro and the Littoral; (4) Zagreb and Ljubljana; and (5) Australia and New Zealand. It also has 34 eparchies, the equivalent of dioceses, headed by episops, the equivalent of bishops. Some of the eparchies include Austria and Switzerland, Buenos Aires, Canada, Central Europe, Nis (Serbia), Britain and Scandinavia, Banja Luka (Bosnia), Sabac (Serbia), Western Europe, Eastern America and Western America. 


  1. I like St Sava, all white and outlined in black.

  2. Fun to see this under construction. When are we going back to see the finished version?