SERBS IN DALMATIA
The intolerance between the East and West culminated in the XII century, although it appeared at the end of the XI century when the hordes of western Crusaders started destroying and robbing their brothers in the West. At the time, the Orthodox religion in Dalmatia was carefully preserved and cherished in numerous Greek colonies. There were three Greek churches in Zadar: of St. Antonius the Great, St. Stephen, St. Plato and St. Demetrius. At the time, there were also Orthodox churches in Šibenik, Split, Makarska and some other Dalmatian towns. Remnants of the monastery of St. Paraskeva exist even today on the island of Hvar.
After the Crusades, other hardships befell the Orthodox population of Dalmatia as well as the occupation of the Hungarians and their tyranny that lasted until the second decade of the XII century. Since the Orthodox Christians did not want to submit to the Latins, the Bishops' Assembly in Split in 1111 condemned the Orthodox religion as heretic and decided that it could not be professed. In the following year of 1112, the Church of St. Cyriacus in Split was taken from the Greeks and turned into a Latin place of worship dedicated to St. Jerome. The same was done with some other Orthodox churches, for example, the churches of St. Antonius the Great and of St. Stephen in Zadar were transformed into Roman Catholic churches. Soon afterwards, in 1166, Dalmatia fell under the jurisdiction of Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus and, better times came for the Orthodox Christians. In 1180 emperor Manuel died and then followed a period of the Byzantine Empire’s weakening during which it lost a large number of its provinces. Soon, most of Dalmatia was ruled by Hungarian king Bela, and part of it was under the Venetians. That was the time when local authorities - knezovi (princes), who controlled smaller territories – župe, stepped onto the Dalmatian political scene. Among the prominent domestic lords in the mid XIII century was the Šubić family, the hereditary princes of Bribir. With the help of Hungarian kings, and in opposition to the Venetians, the Šubić gained control over a large part of Dalmatia and certain fortified towns in Bosnia.
Apart from being the ruler of Dalmatia and Croatia, Pavle Šubić also held the title of the lord of Bosnia (dominus Bosnae). Already during his lifetime, Pavle Šubić let Bosnia be administered by his son Mladen who also held the title of the second ban of Bosnia (secundus banus Bosnae). Starting from the time of the Šubić family, Serbs moved increasingly often from Bosnia to Dalmatia, first to the hilly and mountainous regions, and then to the Coast. A large number of Serbs was also in the army of ban Mladen Šubić.
In the mid XIV century, the Serbian army came near Trogir: on January 8th 1351, envoys of the town of Trogir brought presents to the Serbian army. While tsar Dušan's army was in Dalmatia, his sister Jelena, the widow of Mladen Đurđev Šubić, ruled Klis and Skradin on behalf of her underage son. That is the time when Jelena founded and built the monastery of St.Archangel Michael, better known as the monastery Krka. It was the Nemanjićs' spirit of endowment and the wish for reaching the Kingdom of Heaven that spoke through Jelena. She handed over her towns of Klis and Skradin to her brother Dušan who joined them to the Hum principality.
Soon afterwards, from the Holy Land (Jerusalem), from the St. Archangels' monastery the endowment of king Milutin, came three hieromonks. The oldest of them remained at the court as princess Jelena's spiritual teacher, while the other two, along with Elder Ruvim, left and on “the river Krka, that was once called the Bird's River”, on the same place where Apostle Paul preached, they built modest cells. In one of the cells they arranged a place for praying dedicating it to “the Assembly of St. Archangel Michael”, in memory of king Milutin's endowment in Palestine.
The chronicle of Bishop Simeon Končarević says that the word soon spread among the Serbian-Orthodox and other Christian people “about the accomplishments and prayers of those holy people.” Princess Jelena generously bestowed the monastery and, thus, Krka became a lavra, a place of prayer, of folk gatherings and the cultural center of the Serbs in Dalmatia.
A constant threat to the Serbs in Dalmatia and their shrines were the Turks, that is, the clashes between the Turkish and Venetian armies. After a short truce, fierce clashes between these two big powers broke out at the end of the XVI century, more precisely, in 1596 when Klis was liberated from the Turks. Because of this defeat, the broken Turkish army started attacking the innocent people and their spiritual leaders. A large number of the Serbian population left Dalmatia, and many monks and priests were among them. Seven monks from the monastery Krka, including Aksentije, Visarion and Mardarije, founded the monastery of Gomirje at the end of 1601 and the beginning of 1602. When leaving the monastery Krka, they took with them valuable liturgical books and vessels. A new wave of Turkish oppression spread once again in these regions in 1619, when the Turks forced the Christians to convert to the Mohammedan religion. The monastery Krka and its brotherhood managed to avoid this evil. Namely, the monks gave the Turks several bags full of riches in order to be left alone. But, in 1647 the Turks plundered the monastery Krka and desecrated the church. Several monks fled to Zadar to ask the protection from Venetian authorities. With them fled a large number of Serbs from the surrounding places, especially from Kistanje. According to the decision of the Venetian authorities of August 28th 1648, the monks of the monastery Krka were allowed to use the Roman Catholic church in Belefuga, while Orthodox services were renewed for the rest of the Orthodox population in the rearranged Roman Catholic church of St. John underneath the town walls of Zadar, called “the church of Kistanje” even today. Finally, in 1650, the cadi of Skradin allowed Krka’s brotherhood to return to their monastery. Upon returning to the deserted monastery, they started work on its renewal. First of all, in 1671, Abbot Antim addressed Metropolitan Hristifor of Dabar-Bosnia (1671-1681) with the request for him to ordain the graduated seminarians since there were not enough priests due to the fact that they had either been killed or had fled in the face of the Turks and their oppression. At the invitation of the Krka brotherhood, after Easter in 1673, the Metropolitan came to the monastery of St. Archangel Michael, consecrated the renewed church and refectories, ordained twenty four seminarians and also visited the monasteries of Krupa and Dragović, as well as the Serbian people in the region of Cetinska krajina. After the canonical visit to his flock, he once again returned to the monastery, where he elevated the superior of the monastery Krka, Antim, into an archimandrite on the Day of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. Soon afterwards the monastery was once again plundered by the Turks. This happened in 1674 when yet some more monks fled, but not for long.
Apart from the Turks, a constant danger for the Serbian Orthodox population on the territory of Dalmatia was also the Roman Catholic Church and its program of Uniatism.
At the time, on the territory of the Knin military frontier region appeared Serbian-Orthodox Bishop Vasilije who had fled from Bosnia. At the request of the Dalmatian Serbs, Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević appointed him Bishop. He settled in Golubić near Knin. His arrival and appointment as Bishop were opposed by Archbishop Meletije and the Venetian government, so that Bishop Vasilije soon had to leave Dalmatia. In order to win the favour of the Orthodox Serbs, Archbishop Meletije intended to consecrate as the Bishop of Dalmatia monk Nikodim Busović of the monastery Krka who, at the time, was a priest in his native town of Šibenik. Nikodim informed Patriarch Arsenije about this. The Patriarch proposed that he himself perform the ordainment according to church canons. However, on June 24th 1693, Nikodim was consecrated as Bishop by Archbishop Meletije of Philadelphia. When Bishop Nikodim came to live in the monastery Krka, the brotherhood received him with mistrust. The superior of monastery Krka, Josif, sent two of his monks, Jefrem and Teodosije, to Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević in Srpski Kovin on the island of Cepelj near Budim, to give them advice. In his response to the brotherhood of the monastery Krka, Patriarch Arsenije told them to be patient and he reproached Bishop Nikodim for having been appointed Bishop "by an alien". Despite everything, the Patriarch advised the Krka brotherhood to live in peace and love with the Bishop. Later on, Bishop Nikodim himself went to Patriarch Arsenije to thank him and to prove his loyalty and Orthodox confession.
Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević acknowledged Nikodim as the Bishop who had named himself “the Bishop of Krka.” From that time on, he worked and acted in canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church. During his time, the monastery was renovated and supplied with church and artistic valuables. Because of his devotion to the Orthodox religion and resistance to the Venetian authorities and Roman Catholic proselytism, in 1705 Bishop Nikodim was banished from Dalmatia. He first went to Mt. Athos, and then on pilgrimage to Palestine. His numerous appeals to be allowed to return to Dalmatia were eventually granted. He was allowed to come back, but was denied the right to perform bishop's duties, that is, to have episcopal authority. He first came to the monastery Dragović, then built a house in Vrlika and finally he went to the monastery Krka – the monastery in which he was tonsured, where he died on December 20th 1707. He was buried in the church of the monastery Krka.
The reputable priest Simeon Končarević of Benkovac opposed the process of the uniatism of the Serbs. In 1731, at an all-Serbian assembly in Benkovac, people's stand was clearly proclaimed in six points expressing unrelenting support to the Orthodox religion, then the non-recognition of Latin rule over the Orthodox population, a ban on Orthodox priests serving together with Roman Catholics and the explicit request for the Serbs to be allowed to elect a new bishop. The whole campaign was led by wise and reputable priest Simeon Končarević who was in 1735 elevated into an archpriest by Metropolitan Sava Petrović of Montenegro. When Simeon became a widower he was elected bishop. This took place at the church of St. Ilija in Markovac in 1750. With the blessing of the Patriarch of Peć Atanasije, Simeon was consecrated in Trebinje in 1751 by Metropolitan Gavrilo of Dabar-Bosnia and another two bishops. Bishop Simeon appointed as his exarch the archimandrite of the monastery Krka, Nikanor Rajević.
Končarević's election as Orthodox Bishop was opposed by the Venetian authorities so that soon afterwards, on April 14th 1753, he had to leave Dalmatia and move to Lika from where he administered the Church in Dalmatia through his exarch, the archimandrite of Krka, Nikanor. Despite numerous appeals and recommendations he was not allowed to return to Dalmatia. At the end of July 1755, he went to Russia with a group of Dalmatian Serbs. After his departure, spiritual care of the Serbs in Dalmatia was taken by the Montenegro Metropolitan or the Bishop of Gornjokarlovačka Diocese. However, the most loyal protectors of Orthodox Christianity were the monks in the Dalmatian monasteries Krka, Krupa and Dragović. The administrative duties were performed by the archimandrite of the monastery Krka, Nikanor Rajević. After his death in 1770, these duties were taken over by the abbot of Krka, Nikanor Travica, and, in 1778, Nikanor Bogunović became “the plenipotentiary archimandrite and administrator of the church.” That is the time when, due to the centuries-long struggle and the resistance to Roman Catholic proselytism, a law was finally passed in 1780 on the freedom of the Orthodox religion in the Venetian republic. After this law was proclaimed, in 1781 the Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed, in Venice, Sofronije Kutavijo as the Bishop of Venice-Dalmatia. In 1783, Bishop Sofronije appointed as his exarch in Dalmatia archimandrite Nikanor Bogunović who died on June 27th 1792. With his death the superiors of Krka ceased running the Serbian Church in Dalmatia. The position of archimandrite Nikanor was inherited by archimandrite Gerasim Zelić who, after a long stay in Russia, returned to the monastery Krupa where the brotherhood of the monastery elected him their superior in 1794. In 1796, at the church of St. George in Kninsko Polje, the Dalmatian clergy elected archimandrite Gerasim Zelić as the general vicar of the Orthodox Serbs in Dalmatia.
It is in such historical circumstances that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Dalmatia developed and survived. Its spiritual pillar was the monastery Krka. After the death of Nikanor Bogunović, vice-abbot Georgije Miljević was elected superior of the monastery Krka. Afterwards came abbots: Makarije Krneta, Spiridon Novaković, vice-abbot Vikentije Knežević, who considerably improved the monastery. In 1842 by his effort an epitrachelion of St. Sava was bought for the monastery Krka. His entire life archimandrite Jerotej Kovačević worked on the improvement of the monastery. He renovated the monastery buildings, built a veranda in front of the monastery cells, planted a vineyard and did much more. In 1880 when he felt that he had grown weaker, he resigned as the administrator of the monastery, retaining only spiritual leadership. He was succeeded by Amvrosije Kolundžić who continued to work according to the advice of archimandrite Jerotej. Apart from erudition, he also possessed great oratorical skills. When the All-Slavic ethnographic exhibition was held in Moscow in 1867, he was one of the guests. On that occasion, he visited many Russian shrines and obtained church-artistic valuables for the monastery Krka. In 1871, he was elected honorary member of the Consistory, and Bishop Nikodim Milaš appointed him the spiritual head of all the monasteries. He died at the age of 76, on September 26th 1891. From his legacy the Krka brotherhood established an Educational fund.
On the southern side of the monastery church there was a big cave with several graves. This cave - catacomb, served as a place of worship at the time when Christians were persecuted. According to folk tradition, which is alive even today, this place of worship is linked to the visit of Apostle Paul to Dalmatia and his preaching on that place.
In 1876, Bishop Stefan turned part of the cave into a monastery chapel devoted to St. Sava. During his lifetime, Bishop Stefan made a richly decorated marble sarcophagus in which he was buried after his death in 1890.
Archimandrite Danilo Bukorović also improved life in monastery Krka. As a hieromonk he went to America and in that distant part of the world, together with reputable Serbian scientist Mihailo Pupin, he helped in the activities of the Church-educational fund and tirelessly did missionary work among Serbs throughout America. Upon his return from America, hieromonk Danilo was elevated into an archimandrite by Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije. He returned to the monastery Krka where he continued work on its improvement. He introduced water into the monastery, built a pier on the Krka river, drained the monastery swamp and turned it into fertile land. At the monastery, he opened a seminar on the promotion of agriculture. During his time, the monastery Krka was visited by numerous pilgrims and significant people. In 1926, it was visited by Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije accompanied by the Bishop of Gornjokarlovačka Diocese Hilarion and Bishop of Dalmatia Danilo. On June 8th 1929 the monastery Krka was also visited by king Alexander I Karadjordjević.
In World War II, the monastery Krka was under Italian occupation. At the time, the abbot was Nikodim Opačić who, in those most difficult days, despite his personal sufferings, managed to preserve this shrine. The Italians took the abbot to the camp in Monat where he stayed until Italy's capitulation. Upon his return, in Šibenik he was intercepted by the Ustashi who maltreated and arrested him. The war was not yet over when he was imprisoned in 1945. A verdict and imprisonment soon followed. The higher court altered this sentence into a month of forced labour. He was immediately released after having spent over a month in prison. In 1959 he was presented the Decoration for merits for the nation, and the same authorities that had decorated him, abolished his pension.
The time of prior Nikodim Opačić is also the history of the monastery Krka. During the war and pre-war years, he took valuable books, icons and other valuables from the neighbouring churches and placed them for safe-keeping in the monastery treasury. In the post-war years, he used to say the following about himself and his work: “I am alone, exhausted and I feel quite sick, so I am afraid I will lose my strength which I need so much and which is necessary for every person performing this holy duty. I care about our monastery more than I do about my own life, and my concern is even greater because of the lack of young and skilled people, since this national heritage should continue to be preserved.”
After archimandrite Nikodim Opačić, in 1964, protosyngellos Nikolaj Mrđa, today the Metropolitan of Dabar-Bosnia, was appointed the abbot of the monastery Krka in 1964. Apart from this, he was also the principle of the two-grade and five-grade theological seminaries. As the abbot of Krka and the Bishop of Dalmatia he really did a lot for this Orthodox spiritual centre. His first undertaking was to introduce electricity into the monastery. The first light in the monastery Krka was lit prior to the Patron's Day of the church – the Feast St. Archangel Michael, in 1964. At the time of prior Nikolaj all the monastery buildings were adapted and additional floors were built onto the southern refectories. The construction of a new building of the seminary started while Nikolaj was the Bishop of Dalmatia and it was finished during his time. A general renovation of the monastery Krka was also done at the time of Bishop Nikolaj, 1988-90. During this restoration, the foundations of possible original refectories were found.
When archimandrite Nikolaj was elected Bishop of Australia in 1973, the administration of the monastery Krka was taken over by archimandrite Stefan Maletić. Apart from the head of the monastery, this reputable clergyman was also the principle of the Theological Seminary and its teacher. He was succeeded as abbot by young hieromonk Mitrofan Kodić who, apart from being an abbot, was also the principal and a teacher in the Seminary of the Holy Three Hierarchs. After archimandrite Mitrofan was elected Bishop of Toplice, the administration of the monastery Krka was taken over by protosyngellos Benedikt Ananić. During his time, monastery Krka was generally reconstructed. Namely, the new building of the Seminary was completed as were the works on the reconstruction of the entire monastery complex, and the monastery was partly fresco-painted.
An enormous number of people gathers at the monastery Krka four times a year: on the Feast St. Archangel Michael (the church Patron's Day), on the Feast St. Sava, the Pentecost, the Transfiguration and the school's slava - the Holy Three Hierarchs. During those feast days not only Serbian people come to the monastery of St. Archangel Michael, but also people from all over the Dalmatian region, Lika, Bosnia and other Serbian regions. The biggest gathering in the monastery Krka takes place on Transfiguration.