Arsenije III Crnojevic

Arsenije III Crnojevic (1633 – Vienna, 27 October 1706) was the Archbishop of Pec and Serbian Patriarch from 1674 to his death in 1706. In 1689, during the Habsburg-Ottoman War (1683-1699), he sided with Habsburgs, upon their temporary liberation of Serbia. In 1690, he left the Patriarchal Monastery of Pec and led the Great Migration of Serbs from Ottoman Serbia into the Habsburg Monarchy. There he received three charters (the “Serbian Privileges” of 1690, 1691, and 1695), granted to him by Emperor Leopold I, securing religious and ecclesiastical autonomy of Eastern Orthodoxy in the Habsburg Monarchy. In the meanwhile, after restoring their rule in Serbian lands, Ottomans allowed the appointment of a new Serbian Patriarch, Kalinik I (1691-1710), thus creating a jurisdictional division within the Serbian Orthodox Church. Until death, in 1706, Patriarch Arsenije remained the head of Serbian Orthodox Church in Habsburg lands, laying foundations for the creation of an autonomous ecclesiastical province, later known as the Metropolitanate of Karlovci.

Early life

Arsenije claimed to be a descendant of the medieval Crnojevic family, which had ruled the region of Zeta in the second half of the 15th century. He was born in Bajice, hamlet of Cetinje in the Old Montenegro, a mountainous region that was never fully conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

As a young boy, Arsenije came to live in the Patriarchal Monastery of Pec, the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate of Pec, at the time led by Serbian Patriarch Maksim I. There, as he grew older, he was tonsured and ordained a deacon and then a priest, thanks to his mentor Maksim whom Arsenije later described as “my father and teacher”. In 1665, Arsenije became the abbot (archimandrite) of the Pec Monastery. Arsenije was elected as Metropolitan of Hvosno. He was consecrated bishop by the metropolitans of the Patriarchal Synod on the Feast of the Ascension in 1669 in Dovolja monastery. During the following years, he became the main assistant of the aging Patriarch Maksim. In 1674, when Patriarch Maksim fell ill and decided to withdraw from the position, Arsenije was elected patriarch, probably between Easter and Ascension.


In 1673, the new patriarch visited the Serbs in the coastal lands who at the time were subjects to the Republic of Venice. He met with Catholic Archbishop of Bar, Andrija Zmajevic, who was a Serb, and also a member of the noble family who once served the Crnojevici, in order to contact European powers for the protection of Christians under Ottoman rule. He also visited his congregation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1674 and in Branicevo and Srem in 1676. In 1677 he went to the Zica Monastery, then again to Branicevo; he also visited Smederevo in 1680. All these visits were in order to give spiritual support to the Serbian people who were being oppressed by the Ottomans. In 1682 Arsenije decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but before leaving, he paid a visit to Metropolitans Teofan of Skopje and Ananije of Kratovo and all the faithful of that region.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, Arsenije was the honoured guest of Patriarch Dositheus II Notarius of Jerusalem (1669-1707). While he was in the Holy Land, Arsenije immediately embarked on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mar Saba and other monasteries, the journey of which we know from the diary he kept.

Arsenije III always spoke strongly in favour of the expulsion of the Turks from the Balkans and it was chiefly through his influence that the support of the Serbian people was given to Djordje Brankovic (1645-1711), the leader of the 1683 Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

Great Turkish War

Upon his return, in 1683, Arsenije III was in Nikolje Monastery where he received news of the Battle of Vienna (12 September 1683). The battle placed forces of the Ottoman Empire under Kara Mustafa Pasha against forces of the Holy League under John III Sobieski. The battle broke a two-month siege of Vienna and forced the Ottoman army to retreat. A note survives that reports Arsenije taking the news with pleasure.

As the war approached, and Serbs from Dalmatia, Herzegovina and the Bay of Kotor already took to arms, Arsenije III continued with his regular duties visiting Slavonia in 1684, but on the other hand secretly maintained contacted with forces of the League, particularly those of the Republic of Venice and the Archduchy of Austria. In 1685, Serbs in Montenegro and Dalmatia under the leadership of local guerrilla leaders, such as Stojan Jankovic, fought in the ranks of the army of the Republic of Venice, led by Francesco Morosini (1619-1694), against the Ottoman Empire in the Morean War.

The passing Ottoman armies plundered the local populace mercilessly; the worst of them all was the one under notorious Yeğen Osman Pasha who for two years (1687–89) robbed the area from Belgrade to Ohrid and from Sofia to Pec. This force also managed to rob the vast treasure of the Serbian Patriarchate of Pec, deposited there for centuries. Jegen Osman-pasha in addition captured Arsenije III demanding a ransom of 10,000 thalers. After this was paid and he was released, Arsenije’s mind was made up. He was soon forced to leave Pec because the Turks tried to assassinate him.

Arsenije contacted Peter I of Russia, asking the monarch to recognize him as the leader of the Serbs, but the Austrians cut these liaisons abruptly. Faced with Turkish threats, Arsenije escaped to Niksic and then to his native Cetinje which was already taken by the Venetian forces. There, he swore allegiance to the Doge. However, his close ties with the Venetian Republic were scrutinized in Vienna. Representatives of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor warned Arsenije that unless he renewed his cooperation with the Habsburgs, they would see to the election of a more obedient patriarch. According to one letter written by Catholic bishop Peter Bogdani, rebellious Rumelian beylerbey Yeğen Osman Pasha threatened to cut off the head of Crnojevic because he allegedly received money from Habsburgs to instigate anti-Ottoman rebellion of Orthodox Serbs.

Habsburg rule

In 1688, the Habsburg army took Belgrade and entered the territory of present-day Central Serbia. Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden called Arsenije III to raise arms against the Turks; the patriarch accepted and returned to the liberated Pec. As Serbia fell under Habsburg control, Leopold I granted Arsenije nobility and the title of duke. In early November, Arsenije III met with Habsburg commander-in-chief, General Enea Silvio Piccolomini in Prizren; after this talk he sent a note to all Serb bishops to come to him and collaborate only with Habsburg forces.

As the tide turned in 1690, and Turks advanced through Serbia, Arsenije retreated with the Austrian army and 60–70,000 Serbs (about 37,000 families) to the north, in an episode later named the “First Serbian Migration” of the Great Serb Migrations. In April, Emperor Leopold issued his Letter of Invitation, in which he invites Serbs and other Balkan nations on the run to come to the Habsburg Monarchy. In front of this huge decision Arsenije III organized the ecclesiastical and national gathering in Belgrade that met on 18 June and decided to accept Leopold as Serbian king, continuing the war against the Turks but only on clear conditions that were sent to Vienna.

Based on these, and in grave need of soldiers and farmers, on 21 August, Leopold issued his first Chapter on Privileges in which he recognizes Serbs within the Habsburg Monarchy as a separate political entity (corpus separatum) under the Serbian Orthodox Church. This edict guaranteed them national and religious singularity and certain rights and freedoms in the Habsburg Monarchy. On 29 September, Serbs – led by the key person of these processes Arsenije III – started the crossing of Sava and the Danube. Driven by further Turkish advance, they fled upstream the Danube all the way to Buda and Szentendre. This migration increased the number of Serbs in the Pannonian Plain. The privileges that were given to the Serbs by Leopold formed the legal base for the creation of Serbian Vojvodina in the 19th century, if not before.

Soon, Arsenije III was upset by news that the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church was forcing the newly arrived Serbs to convert. Upon reporting this to the Emperor, he was granted the Diploma of Protection for the Serbs and their religion on 11 December 1690. In the following years, Arsenije III travelled through the Habsburg realms, including the Kingdom of Hungary, Croatia and Slavonia with this diploma allowing him to stop the forceful conversions, ordaining new priests and organizing the church. At the same time, he was inaugurating new Serb infantry and hussar regiments that were to aid in the ongoing war.

Falling out of favour

As the religious pressures mounted, Serbian leaders met in 1694 in Baja demanding a separate territory where Serbs would settle – Slavonia and Srem were proposed. The Viennese court began to view Arsenije as a threat and a burden and started to promote other Serb leaders.

In 1695, Arsenije III formed seven new bishoprics in the territories where they were scarce prior to the migration of 1690. This was protected by another diploma (the last in the line) since it disrupted the decree of the Fourth Council of the Lateran that prevented two bishops from holding jurisdiction in the same area. Meanwhile, Serbs fought in the decisive Battle of Slankamen and Senta, in which the Turks were utterly defeated

After the Treaty of Karlowitz was concluded, Serb assistance was no longer needed and the Habsburg authorities started disregarding the previously given privileges one by one. Upon the advice of the proselyte fanatic Cardinal Leopold Kolonic, in 1701 the rights of Arsenije III as the “Serbian Patriarch” were limited to the newcomers living in the vicinity of Szentendre and he was reduced in rank to the “Metropolitan”, a title which was never accepted by Serbs. In connection with this, Arsenije was also forbidden to leave the town. In 1703, he was prohibited to use the title of patriarch and all Orthodox bishops were to recognize the authority of Roman Catholic ones.

However, things changed when in 1703, the rebellion of Hungarians under Francis II Rákóczi erupted. Austrian forces needed the Serbs’ assistance once more and privileges were instantaneously confirmed. Arsenije III was sent from Vienna to the Serb areas to explain the situation to the people.

He died in 1706 in Vienna and was buried in Krusedol monastery in Syrmia.