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News 13 Feb 18

Serbia's Orthodox Church Takes its Message Online

Serbia's main faith denomination is pitching for a new online audience, with a site that describes itself as a a sign of the Church's embrace of modern technology.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Crkva.net screen shot with "To help you God" welcome message.

People who want to learn more about the Serbian Orthodox Church, by far the biggest church in the country, no longer have to head off to their local church building.

Now they can get a taste of religion from Crkva.net, the first Orthodox church social network, which already has 6,000 members, and is looking for more.

One of the site's administrators, Vladimir Jovanovic, told BIRN that Crkva.net was created in April 2016 by a group of priests, religious professors and theologians of the missionary committee of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“It was formed out of a need to gather everything that is good in the Church in one place, with the creators of content themselves, in a simple way, editing and creating the content,” he said.

Crkva.net in many ways recalls Facebook, but with a different layout and a Christian narrative.

“Good day and God help you,” is the message every user receives when logging in. One of the questions asked during the procedure of creating an account is: “When is your patron saint's day?”

Existing users include dioceses, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Malta, groups sharing advice on Christian education and family and others.

Kosovo – which Serbia claims as its territory depite declaring independence a decade ago – has its own group in which people share Serbian patriotic news.

Sixteen days ago, Crkva.net also started its own Android application.

Jovanovic explained that while BIRN Crkva.net is an Orthodox Christian community site, anyone can sign up for it, “whether or not he or she is Orthodox, Catholic, or another Christian denomination, or an atheist”.

People who sign up, Jovanovic explained, will likely meet interesting people from all types of communities.

“They can find out more about Orthodox Christianity, they can see scheduled events that are taking place at their church, or they can organize a trip to the holy mountain of Athos or to Jerusalem, for example,” he said.

Like every other social network, users have to meet some terms of use.

Jovanovic said users may not insult any member, or church, spread hatred of any kind or spread blasphemy against Christianity. If the content managers see something insulting or offensive, it will be removed without warning.

Asked whether any celebrities or well-known people use the social network, he answered not – so far.

“But it is possible that sometime in future celebrities like the folk singer Seka Aleksic could create a profile on our site. You never know,” Jovanovic said, adding that it would not be surprise, as the folk singer is a big supporter of the Church.

Underlining that current users number bishops, official pages of dioceses and church parishes, he said: “We hope that the number of new users will increase”.

Crkva.net, he said, was fresh proof that the Serbian Orthodox Church is opening up to new technologies and to finding new ways to get the young closer to religion.

“We invite everyone, no matter who they are, to sign up on our site and see for themselves what Orthodox Christianity looks like. Everyone is welcome,” Jovanovic concluded.

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