Homeland and Diaspora Politics

The relations between the Church and the state in the East have been shaped rather differently than in the West. Unlike the Catholic Church in Western Europe, Orthodox Churches never became independent political forces. Because they were autocepha-lous, Orthodox Churches functioned as one of the primary agents of nation-state integration. In Byzantine spiritual and political circles, the state and the Church were two aspects of the same phenomenon. The situation evolved from the biblical principle, 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.' The Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges that the state is a divine institution and preaches complete subjugation to state authority, condemning every act of disobedience regardless of the religion professed by the head of state. The ideal relationship is conceived as a close tie and mutual support between Church and state. Opposed to this principle was the 'rigorous politics' promoted by monastic orders, advocating strictness on all questions. On those occasions when the state adopted an adversarial or hostile attitude towards the Church, the latter was supposed to focus inward and humbly await the moment when 'God's justice shall prevail', for the Church is one, unchanging and eternal, while states are many and ephemeral. The close tie between the Orthodox Churches and the rulers contributed to the unique development of Orthodoxy as a form of Christianity and as a cult of the nation-state. To understand better the close link between confession and ethnos, it should be noted that as early as 451, the Council of Chalcedon determined that the territorial boundaries of the church's influence should coincide with state borders.

Among the Orthodox Churches, there exist different conceptions of the nation as a domain of church influence, and of the relation between the Church and the nation.

During the medieval period, the Serbian Church had a significant, if not the principal, role in the lives of every individual and the state as a whole. The relationship between the Church and the state was natural and harmonious, and was most often compared to the human organism and the relationship between the soul and the body. This is a case where the well-known Byzantine theory of symphonia between the Church and the state was applied almost to its fullest extent. The Church was materially and financially completely independent. Every diocese owned land, priests were entitled to pop-ovski bir (priest's choice, i.e., those goods that a priest could take for his service instead of a cash payment) and some land which they could cultivate for their needs.

Only with the Ottoman Turkish occupation of the Balkans did the Orthodox Church hierarchy in the East directly assume civil authority. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was thus appointed by the sultan as head (millet-bachi) of the entire Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. The patriarch exercised these powers until the secularization of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Ataturk in 1921. By that time, however, he had lost most of his jurisdictional powers because of the establishment of autocephalous churches in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

While the Serbian Orthodox Church has been autocephalous and independent throughout its history, it has nevertheless remained closely tied to the state. It has been financially dependent on the state and thus susceptible to state influence. The Church, which viewed itself as a protector of the Serbian people, operated according to this principle. It did not regard the national question as a separate political problem, but as a form and an aspect of religion; thus it acted as a national, and not solely religious, institution. During the period after the Second World War, religious communities were gradually, and increasingly, moving from social and political life towards the margins of society. The revitalization of Orthodoxy occurred in the mid-1980s, during the period of the collapse of the socialist system and the liberalization of social relations. It was especially active during the 1990s in granting substantial moral and material support to the Serbian population in territories where war was being waged. The Serbian Orthodox contacts with other churches (especially other Orthodox) constituted an important aspect of the politics of this period.

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