Persecution of Eastern Orthodox Christians is the persecution faced by the clergy and the adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox Christians have been persecuted in various periods when under the rule of non-Orthodox Christian political structures as well as under the rule of the Russian Orthodox Church. In modern times, anti-religious political movements and regimes in some countries have held an anti-Orthodox stance.

Catholic activities in early modern Europe

See also: Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

Main articles: Union of Brest and Union of Uzhhorod

See also: Ruthenian Uniate Church

Christian denominations in Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 (Catholics in yellow, Eastern Orthodox in green, Protestant in purple/gray)
Christian denominations in Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 (Catholics in yellow, Eastern Orthodox in green, Protestant in purple/gray)

During the end of the 16th century, under the influence of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, rising pressures towards Eastern Orthodox Christians in White Ruthenia and other Eastern parts of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth led to the enforcement of the Union of Brest in 1595-96. Until that time, many Lytvyns and Ruthenians who lived under the rule of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth were Eastern Orthodox Christians. Their hierarchs gathered in synod in the city of Brest and composed 33 articles of Union, which were accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. Among their arguments was mentioning the efforts of former Metropolitan Isidore of Kiev who have sought unification of western and eastern churches. Also, in 1589 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the Russian Orthodox Church as legitimate.

At first, the Union appeared to be successful, but soon it lost much of its initial support,[1] mainly due to its forceful implementation on the Eastern Orthodox parishes and subsequent persecution of all who did not want to accept the Union.[citation needed] Enforcement of the Union stirred several massive uprisings, particularly the Khmelnytskyi Uprising of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.

In 1623 Uniate Archeparch of Polotsk Josaphat Kuntsevych was murdered by a mob in Vitebsk.

In 1656, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Macarios III Zaim lamented over the atrocities committed by the Polish Catholics against followers of Eastern Orthodoxy in various parts of Ukraine. Macarios was quoted as stating that seventeen or eighteen thousand followers of Eastern Orthodoxy were killed under hands of the Catholics, and that he desired Ottoman sovereignty over Catholic subjugation, stating:

God perpetuate the empire of the Turks for ever and ever! For they take their impost, and enter no account of religion, be their subjects Christians or Nazarenes, Jews or Samaritians; whereas these accursed Poles were not content with taxes and tithes from the brethren of Christ...[2]

Persecution in the Muscovite Tsardom

See also: Annexation of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv by the Moscow Patriarchate

Persecution in the Ottoman Empire

See also: Christianity in the Ottoman Empire, Armenian genocide, Greek genocide, Seyfo, and Istanbul pogrom

The Ottoman Empire grouped the Eastern Orthodox Christians into the Rum Millet. In tax registries, Christians were recorded as "infidels" (see giaour).[3] After the Great Turkish War (1683–99), relations between Muslims and Christians in the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire were radicalized, gradually taking more extreme forms and resulting in occasional calls of Muslim religious leaders for expulsion or extermination of local Christians, and also Jews.[citation needed] As a result of the Ottoman oppression, destruction of churches and violence against the non-Muslim civilian population, Serbs and their church leaders headed by Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III sided with the Austrians in 1689, and again in 1737 under Serbian Patriarch Arsenije IV, in war.[citation needed] In the following punitive campaigns, Ottoman forces conducted atrocities, resulting in the "Great Migrations of the Serbs".[4] In retaliation of the Greek rebellion, Ottomans authorities orchestrated massacres of Greeks in Constantinople in 1821.

During the Bulgarian Uprising (1876) and Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), persecution of Bulgarian Christian population was conducted by Turkish soldiers who massacred civilians, mainly in the regions of Panagurishte, Perushtitza, Bratzigovo, and Batak (see Batak massacre).[5]

Interwar period

The eastern part of Poland has a long history of Catholic–Orthodox rivalry.[6] The Roman Catholic clergy in the Chełm region in Poland was unambiguously anti-Orthodox in the Interwar period.[7][8][9] Ukraine, which has been a religious borderland, has a long history of religious conflict.[10]

World War II

Genocide of Serbs

Main articles: Genocide of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia and Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše

The Croatian fascist Ustashe created the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) four days after the German invasion of Yugoslavia. Croatia was set up as an Italian protectorate. Around a third of the population was Eastern Orthodox (ethnic Serbs). The Ustashe followed Nazi ideology, forced Serbs to wear armbands with "P" for pravoslavac (meaning: "Orthodox") on them like Nazis forced Jews to wear armbands with a yellow Star of David,[11] and implemented their goal of creating an ethnically pure Greater Croatia; Jews, Gypsies and especially Serbs were targeted and victims of genocidal policies.[12] The Ustashe recognized Roman Catholicism and Islam as the national religions of Croatia, but it held the position that Eastern Orthodoxy, as a symbol of Serb identity, was a dangerous foe.[13] In the spring and summer of 1941, the genocide against Eastern Orthodox Serbs began and concentration camps like Jasenovac were constructed. Serbs were murdered and forcibly converted, in order to Croatize,[13] and permanently destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church.[14] The Catholic leadership in Croatia mostly supported the Ustashe actions.[13][15] Eastern Orthodox bishops and priests were persecuted, arrested and tortured or killed (several hundreds) and hundreds (most[14]) of Eastern Orthodox churches were closed, destroyed, or plundered by the Ustashe.[13] Sometimes, the entire population of a village was locked inside the local Eastern Orthodox church and the church was immediately set alight.[12] Hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Serbs were forced to flee from Ustashe-held territories into territory of German-occupied Serbia.[15] It was not until the end of the war that the Serbian Orthodox Church would function again in western parts of Yugoslavia.

The persecution of Eastern Orthodox priests in World War II increased the popularity of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Serbia.[16]


At the Eastern Orthodox conference in Istanbul on 12–15 March 1992, the church leaders issued a statement:[17]

After the collapse of the godless communist system that severely persecuted Orthodox Churches, we expected fraternal support or at least understanding for grave difficulties that had befallen us ... Instead, Orthodox countries have been targeted by Roman Catholic missionaries and advocates of Uniatism. These came together with Protestant fundamentalists ... and sects

Former Yugoslavia

Some Serbs viewed the Catholic leadership's support for political division along ethnic and religious lines in Croatia during the Wars in Yugoslavia, and support for the Albanian cause in Kosovo as anti-Serb and anti-Orthodox.[18] Yugoslav propaganda during the Milošević regime portrayed Croatia and Slovenia as part of an anti-Orthodox "Catholic alliance".[19]


See also: Destruction of Serbian heritage in Kosovo and 2004 unrest in Kosovo

Destroyed Serbian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in Petrić village
Ruined medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery

Observers described that Orthodox ethnic Serbs of Kosovo have been persecuted since the 1990s.[20][21][22][23] Most of the Serbian population were expelled following ethnic cleansing campaigns and many of thеm were victims of massacres and captured in camps.[24][23][25][26] Heritage from the medieval Serbian state and Serbian Archbishops period, including World Heritage Site, is widespread throughout Kosovo, and many of them were targeted in the aftermath of the 1999 war.[27][23]

Karima Bennoune, United Nations special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, referred to the many reports of widespread attacks against churches committed by the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).[28] She also pointed out the fears of monks and nuns for their safety.[28] John Clint Williamson announced EU Special Investigative Task Force's investigative findings and he indicated that a certain element of the KLA intentionally targeted minority populations with acts of persecution that also included desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites.[29] According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, 155 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed by Kosovo Albanians between June 1999 and March 2004.[30] World Heritage Site consisting of four Serbian Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries were inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.[31][32]

Numerous human rights reports have consistently pointed to social antipathy towards Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as discrimination and abuse.[33] In the annual International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department wrote that the municipal officials continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision upholding the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling recognizing the Visoki Dečani monastery’s ownership of land.[34] Displaced Serbs are often barred from attending annual pilgrimage for security reasons because of protests by Kosovo Albanians in front of the Orthodox churches.[34] The Minority Rights Group International reported that Kosovo Serbs lack physical security and consequently freedom of movement, as well as they have no possibility to practice their Christian Orthodox religion.[35]


Russian nationalists view the United States as the centre of Western anti-Russian, anti-Slavic and anti-Orthodox 'conspiracy that aims to destroy Russia', and has used the NATO intervention in the Bosnian War (1992–95) as an argument for this.[36]

See also


  1. ^ Dvornik, Francis (1962). The Slavs in European history and civilization (3rd. pbk. ed.). New Brunswick [u.a.]: Rutgers University Press. p. 347. ISBN 9780813507996.
  2. ^ The preaching of Islam: a history of the propagation of the Muslim faith By Sir Thomas Walker Arnold, pp. 134–135
  3. ^ Entangled Histories of the Balkans: Volume One: National Ideologies and Language Policies. Brill. 13 June 2013. p. 44. ISBN 978-90-04-25076-5. In the Ottoman defters, Orthodox Christians are as a rule recorded as kâfir or gâvur (infidels) or (u)rum.
  4. ^ Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2002). Serbia: The History behind the Name. London: Hurst & Company. pp. 19–20. ISBN 9781850654773.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bulgaria/History" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Sorokowski, A. (1986). "Ukrainian catholics and orthodox in Poland since 1945". Religion in Communist Lands. 14 (3): 244–261. doi:10.1080/09637498608431268.
  7. ^ Sadkowski, K. (1998). "From Ethnic Borderland to Catholic Fatherland: The Church, Christian Orthodox, and State Administration in the Chelm Region, 1918-1939". Slavic Review. 57 (4): 813–839. doi:10.2307/2501048. JSTOR 2501048.
  8. ^ Wynot, E.D. Jr. (1997). "Prisoner of history: the Eastern Orthodox Church in Poland in the twentieth century". J. Church & St. 39 (2): 319–. doi:10.1093/jcs/39.2.319.
  9. ^ Sadkowski, K. (1998). "Religious Exclusion and State Building: The Roman Catholic Church and the Attempted Revival of Greek Catholicism in the Chelm Region, 1918-1924". Harvard Ukrainian Studies. 22: 509–526.
  10. ^ Lami, G. (2007). "The Greek-catholic Church in Ukraine during the first half of the 20th Century". In Carvalho, Joaquim (ed.). Religion and Power in Europe: Conflict and Convergence. Edizioni Plus. pp. 235–. ISBN 978-88-8492-464-3.
  11. ^ Croatia Under Ante Pavelić: America, the Ustase and Croatian Genocide by Robert B. McCormick, 2014, Publisher: I.B. Tauris ISBN 9780857725356. P. 72
  12. ^ a b Paul Roe (2 August 2004). Ethnic Violence and the Societal Security Dilemma. Routledge. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-1-134-27689-9.
  13. ^ a b c d Ramet, Sabrina P. (2006). The Three Yugoslavias: State-Building and Legitimation, 1918–2005. New York: Indiana University Press. pp. 118–125. ISBN 0-253-34656-8.
  14. ^ a b Rory Yeomans (2015). The Utopia of Terror: Life and Death in Wartime Croatia. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 178–. ISBN 978-1-58046-545-8.
  15. ^ a b Tomasevich, Jozo (2001). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration. Vol. 2. San Francisco, CA: Stanford University Press. pp. 531–532, 546, 570–572. ISBN 0-8047-3615-4.
  16. ^ Ken Parry (10 May 2010). The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-4443-3361-9.
  17. ^ Vjekoslav Perica (2002). Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States. Oxford University Press. pp. 160–. ISBN 978-0-19-517429-8.
  18. ^ Paul Mojzes (6 October 2016). Yugoslavian Inferno: Ethnoreligious Warfare in the Balkans. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 132–. ISBN 978-1-4742-8838-5.
  19. ^ Kemal Kurspahić (2003). Prime Time Crime: Balkan Media in War and Peace. US Institute of Peace Press. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-1-929223-39-8.
  20. ^ John Anthony McGuckin (2010). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444392548.
  21. ^ Donald G. Lett (2008). Phoenix Rising: The Rise and Fall of the American Republic. Phoenix Rising. p. 144. ISBN 9781434364111.
  22. ^ "Le martyr des Chrétiens-Serbes du Kosovo et l'irrédentisme islamiste-ottoman dans les Balkans..." (in French). Atlantico. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  23. ^ a b c "Kosovo: More violence against Christians". La Stampa. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  24. ^ Siobhán Wills (26 February 2009). Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers. Oxford University Press. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-19-953387-9. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  25. ^ "Abuses against Serbs and Roma in the new Kosovo". Human Rights Watch. August 1999.
  26. ^ "The Violence: Ethnic Albanian Attacks on Serbs and Roma". Human Rights Watch. July 2004.
  27. ^ "In pictures: Kosovo's reports" (PDF). UNESCO. 18 December 2001.
  28. ^ a b ""Stop denying the cultural heritage of others," UN expert says after first fact-finding visit to Serbia and Kosovo*". Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 14 October 2016.
  29. ^ "Statement of Chief Prosecutor" (PDF). Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies. 29 July 2014.
  30. ^ Edward Tawil (February 2009). "Property Rights in Kosovo: A Haunting Legacy of a Society in Transition" (PDF). New York: International Center for Transitional Justice. p. 14.
  31. ^ "Kosovo: Protection and Conservation of a Multi-Ethnic Heritage in Danger" (PDF). UNESCO. April 2004.
  32. ^ Ferrari, Professor Silvio; Benzo, Dr Andrea (2014). Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage: Legal and Religious Perspectives on the Sacred Places of the Mediterranean. ISBN 9781472426017.
  33. ^ Zdravković-Zonta Helena (2011). "Serbs as threat the extreme negative portrayal of the Serb "minority" in Albanian-language newspapers in Kosovo". Balcanica (42): 165–215. doi:10.2298/BALC1142165Z.
  34. ^ a b "2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Kosovo". United States Department of State. 2020.
  35. ^ "Kosovo Serbs". Minority Rights Group International. 2018.
  36. ^ Paul Hollander (2005). Understanding anti-Americanism: its origins and impact. Capercaillie. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-9549625-7-9.

Further reading