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St. Sava's Nomocanon

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Title: St. Sava's Nomocanon  
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Subject: Constitution, Serbian Empire, Stefan the First-Crowned, Serbia in the Middle Ages, Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
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St. Sava's Nomocanon

Nomocanon of Saint Sava

First page of St. Sava's Nomocanon, 1262 manuscript
Created 1219
Author(s) Rastko Nemanjić (Saint Sava)
Purpose Constitution (Code)

The Nomocanon of Saint Sava (Serbian: Zakonopravilo, pronounced [zakɔnɔprâʋilɔ], Savino Zakonopravilo) was the first Serbian constitution and the highest code in the Serbian Orthodox Church, finished in 1219. This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon[1] was the compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law[2][3] and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils and its basic purpose was to organize functioning of the young Serbian kingdom and the Serbian church.


During the Nemanjić dynasty (1166–1371), the Serbian medieval state flourished in the spheres of politics, religion and culture. A large number of monasteries were built, far more than in previous centuries. The country was expanding between three seas and urban life became highly developed. Trade, mining and manufacturing were significantly expanded. Serbia and the Nemanjić dynasty became well known and respected. The ruling family, despite becoming prosperous, was widely known for piety and religious dedication and was praised and celebrated by following generations. Formal establishment of a kingdom (1217) and religious independence (1219) came after extensive political efforts by Stefan Nemanja (founder of the dynasty) and his sons, Stefan Nemanjić (first Serbian king) and Sava Nemanjić (first Serbian archiepiscope). To create a lasting foundation for this independent state it was necessary to produce a legal system that established regulations for the Serbian kingdom and Serbian church. During this period, only the tsar could establish legal acts and laws, which would fill the gaps in common law. As the state developed, so too did industry develop, and thus the legal system had to regulate various relations. Therefore, with the development of an economy, Roman Law was adopted. It is important to note that prior to the Nemanjić era, Serbia was not ruled by a Tsar, so its ruler could not create a code of laws which would regulate the relations in the state and church. Serbian rulers reigned with single legal acts and decrees. In order to overcome this probem and organize the legal system after acquiring religious independence, Saint Sava finished his Zakonopravilo in 1219.

Zakonopravilo is inseparably connected with gaining the religious independence. Saint Sava, probably, brought to Nicaea already written nomocanon, when he went there in 1219 to request independence for the Serbian church from the Patriarch of Constantinople. It is hardly to believe that Patriarch would have accepted the creation of Serbian independent church, before he had seen the nomocanon book that would regulate the functioning of the new church. After that, on his way back to Serbia, Saint Sava spent short time in Thessaloniki where he completed the nomocanon. It is most likely that he began the work on the Serbian nomocanon in 1208 while being at Mount Athos, using the Synopsis of Stefan the Efesian, Nomocanon of John Scholasticus, Nomocanon in 14 Titles, Ecumenical Councils' documents, which he modified with the canonical commentaries of Aristinos and John Zonaras, local church meetings, rules of the Holy Fathers, the law of Moses, translation of Prohiron and the Byzantine emperors's Novellae (most were taken from Justinian's Novellae).

Zakonopravilo was completely new compilation of civil and religious regulations, taken from Byzantine sources, but completed and reformed by Saint Sava in order to function properly in Serbia. Beside decrees that organized the life of church, there are various norms regarding civil life, most of them were taken from Proheiron.[4] Legal transplants of Roman-Byzantine law became the basis of Serbian medieval law and Serbia became the part of European and Christian civilization. Zakonopravilo was accepted in Bulgaria, Romania and Russia. It was printed in Moscow in the 17th century. So, Roman-Byzantine law was transplanting among East Europe through Zakonopravilo. In Serbia, it was considered as the code of the divine law and it was implemented into Dušan's code[5] (1349 and 1354). It was the only code among Serbs in the time of the Ottoman reign.


During the Serbian Revolution (1804) priest Mateja Nenadović established Zakonopravilo as the code of the liberated Serbia. It was also implemented in Serbian civil code (1844). Zakonopravilo is still used in the Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian Orthodox Church as the highest church code.

See also



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