Approximately 11.5 million Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians, are Eastern Orthodox by family background. The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Eastern Orthodox communion, located primarily in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Macedonia. About a quarter of all ethnic Serbs live outside the Republic of Serbia, mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia. The distinguishing feature of Serbian national identity is the Eastern Orthodox Christian heritage, although probably less than 10 per cent of the population actually attended church during the Communist era. Unlike Romanians or Hungarians, Serbs do not have a distinct language to set them apart from their neighbours. They speak essentially the same language as Croats and Bosnians, although some pronunciations and vocabulary are distinctive. This language, linguistically termed Serbo-Croatian, is now identified as Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian depending on the ethnicity of the speaker. It is in its written form that Serbian differs from other Serbo-Croatian languages. Reflecting Serbian religious heritage, it uses a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet, a script originally developed by the Byzantine missionary brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, 'Apostles to the Slavs'.

Old Church Slavonic was the first Slavic literary language and was written in two alphabets known as Glagolitic and Cyrillic (the invention of Glagolitic has been ascribed to St Cyril). Old Church Slavonic was readily adopted in other Slavic regions, where, with local modifications, it remained the religious and literary language of Orthodox Slavs throughout the Middle Ages and continued as a liturgical language into modern times.

According to the official classification of Orthodox Patriarchates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Serbian Orthodox Church is ranked sixth, following the Russian and preceding the Romanian Church. The Serbian Church See is located in Belgrade, in the patriarchate building. The head of the Serbian Church holds the title of 'Archbishop of

Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac, and Serbian Patriarch'. All together there are thirty-nine dioceses. The patriarch himself is the head of the Archbishopric of Belgrade and Karlovac. There are four metropolitanates: Metropolitanate of Zagreb, Ljubljana and the Whole of Italy; Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral; Metropolitanate of Mid-West America; and Metropolitanate of Dabar and Bosna.

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