St. Petar Cetinjski (1747-1830)

Vladika Abramovic Vladika Antonije Abramovic (1919-1996)
Vladika Dedeic Vladika Mihailo Dedeic (present Vladika)
In the area of present-day Montenegro (formerly the Roman province of Praevalitane), Christianity started to put down roots early. The first episcopacy was formed in the fourth century when the native populace consisted of Romans and Romanized Ilirs. (See “Iz Povijesti Hriscanskih Crkava u Crnoj Gori” by Dr. Danilo Radojevic.)

An influx of Montenegrin Slavs who immigrated from the Baltic and who had their own pagan religion disrupted the Christian church in Praevalitane. Gradually, however, the immigrants began to adopt Christianity. A long cultural and linguistic interaction led to the formation of Dukljan Ethnos, the precursor of Montenegro. In the 10th century Duklja became an independent kingdom under the Vojislavljevic dynasty (1077). Soon after this, the Roman pontiff elevated the church in Duklja to an archbishopric, and numerous Benedictine monasteries were built. The monasteries promoted literacy and cultural activities.

In the 12th century, neighboring Raska (the precursor of Serbia) occupied Duklja, destroying cities and many Catholic churches and Monasteries. Raska formed three Eastern Orthodox episcopacies in Duklja, and the Catholic church was left only as a diplomatic base for relations with the west.

In the middle of the 14th century, during the Balsic dynasty, Duklja started to free itself of domination by Raska, and, under the new name of Zeta, was again a Catholic country. This changed after Turkey became a predominant force in the area and promoted Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy at the expense of Catholicism, which it considered a more serious threat.

When the capital of Montenegro was moved from the area near Scutari Lake to Cetinje, the Orthodox Church in Montenegro got a new center — the Cetinje Monastery (1484) — which was under the jurisdiction of the Ohrid Archepiscopacy. The Serbian Pecka patriarchy was abolished at that time. It was briefly renewed, then again abolished in 1766, from which time the Montenegrin Church has continued to exist as a totally independent church.

For many centuries, the theocratic government of Montenegro and its Autocephalic Orthodox Church played an important role in the history and culture of the Montenegrin people. The Metropolitans (vladikas), chosen by traditional public acclamation, headed not only the church but also the state, uniting the patriotic and religious feelings of the people. The Metropolitans carried weapons and took part in warfare, very often as commanders of the army. One of them, Petar II Petrovic-Njegos (1813-1851), undoubtedly the greatest poet not only of Montenegro but of all the South Slavs, is also one of the most renowned European poets of the 19th century.

The Montenegrin Orthodox Church has four saints: Saint Vladimir of Duklja, Saint Steven Piperski, Saint Vasilije Ostroski and Saint Petar Cetinjski. Saint Vladimir, a Catholic (at a time when there was a single undivided Catholic Christian church), was killed in 1016. He was king and founder of the independent state of Duklja (Montenegro). He belonged to the oldest Montenegrin dynasty, the Vojislavljevici, who ruled Montenegro until it was captured and occupied by Serbian despot Steven Nemanja in 1186. It was after this time that Montenegrins were converted from Catholicism to the Orthodox religion, the religion of Raska (the ancient name of Serbia). Their acceptance of the Serbs’ religion is often misinterpreted, even today, to mean that Montenegrins are Serbs.

After the collapse of the Serbian state around 1455, and its subjugation by the Ottoman empire, Montenegro, under the name of Zeta, resisted the Turkish penetration into the Balkan Peninsula. While the Serbian church fell under domination of the Ottoman empire and for five hundred years was controlled by the Turkish patriarchy of Constantinople, the Montenegrin church was independent, recognized by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as by the Ecumenical Patriarchal (the Eastern Pope of Constantinople).

In 1904 during the reign of the Montenegrin king Nikola I (1841-1921), the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was granted its Charter of the Holy Synod of the Principality of Montenegro (Ustav Svetog Sinoda).

Charter of the Holy Synod Front page of the Charter of the Holy Synod (168 Kb)
Cross Montenegrin church symbol (cross)

The Montenegrin Autocephalic Orthodox Church functioned independently until 1920. With the destruction of the Kingdom of Montenegro, the Church of Montenegro suffered the same fate. Following the illegal annexation of Montenegro by Serbia (1918), and through Serbia into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, in 1920 the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was abolished uncanonically by King Alexander Karadjordjevic. Even after that, it continued to exist in some places abroad, for instance in Detroit, U. S. A., where in 1923, the Independent Montenegrin Orthdox Church Saint Vasilije Ostroski was still performing baptisms (see a complete birth certificate from that time as well as a detail of the seal on that certificate). After the time of King Alexander’s decree all the Montenegrin monasteries, which guard the rich cultural heritage of the Montenegrin nation and state, have been in the possession of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose assimilatory projects have become increasingly aggressive since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

In today’s Montenegro there are three main religious faiths: Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim. Although Eastern Orthodox Christians are predominant, Montenegrins of all faiths have always lived together and continue to coexist in a multi-religious society based on many shared values. Montenegro’s existence at the boundary between West and East has resulted in a highly complex cultural and religious mixture. Some churches even have two altars, one Catholic and one Orthodox.

Following the centuries-old tradition of popular election of the Montenegrin Metropolitans, on October 31, 1993 in Cetinje, the ancient capital of Montenegro, the people of Montenegro elected their own Metropolitan, His Holiness Antonije Abramovic. His Holiness was the Vladika and spiritual leader of the renewed Montenegrin Autocephalic Orthodox Church until his death in 1996. The new Vladika is Miras Dedeic, who was recently promoted to archimandrite under the monastic name Mihailo.
Vladika Dedeic Vladika Mihailo Dedeic (present Vladika)

This re-establishment of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the election of its leader at the general Montenegrin people’s assembly is not only a religious act. It is part of the democratic struggle for Montenegro. It has the support of Montenegrin citizens professing other religions (Catholicism and Islam), since they regard the preservation of Montenegro’s cultural and national identity as vital for protecting their own national and civic interests.

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