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Parishioner Johannes Wolf, for one, appreciates Father Pejic’s efforts to adapt the Divine Liturgy ever so slightly to accommodate the parishioners’ diverse linguistic and cultural needs. The 50-year-old lector is one of a dozen or so Germans who have joined St. Sava’s. After a long period of soul searching, Mr. Wolf found his spiritual home in Orthodox Christianity.

“It is a faith that touches the heart and not just the mind,” Mr. Wolf explains.

Drawn to what he calls Orthodoxy’s “unspoiled quality,” he says it bears a strong resemblance to early Christianity. For the past 12 years, Mr. Wolf has been translating and publishing Orthodox Christian resources into German and is quite knowledgeable about Orthodoxy’s many churches.

“The foundation of the liturgy and the mysteries [the sacraments] is the same everywhere. But there are differences in mindset among the Orthodox. In general, Serbs and Greeks are more relaxed than Russians, for example, regarding dress code or preparation for Communion,” he explains.

The diversity of St. Sava’s parishioners demonstrates that the faithful are as difficult to define as their church’s rites and traditions. No one is a “typical Serb.” Members come from all over present-day Serbia, the newly independent states of the former Yugoslav republic and further afield.

Mr. Petrovic, for instance, traces his lineage to the village of Skorica near Nis in central Serbia. The avid churchgoer has had a close relationship with Serbian Orthodoxy since birth. “Three of my uncles were priests,” he explains.

Such religious bonds are uncommon for an elderly Serbian guest worker who knew firsthand the suppression of the church by the former Yugoslavia’s Socialist authorities. But his story demonstrates why stereotypes and clichés do not accurately describe Germany’s Serbian community.

Even more than their place of origin, Serbs living in Germany can be differentiated by the time and circumstances of their arrival.

Serbs first settled in Germany unwillingly; the Nazis imprisoned tens of thousands, forcing them into concentration or internment camps for forced laborers and prisoners of war. At the end of World War II, thousands of Serbs elected to remain in Germany because of Yugoslavia’s unstable postwar political climate. These pioneering émigrés founded Germany’s first Serbian Orthodox churches in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Osnabrück.

From the mid-1960’s until the 1970’s, a second wave of Serbs came to Germany as temporary guest workers. But, Germany’s economic and political freedoms lured many to settle down on a more permanent basis. All told, the number of Serbian nationals in Germany rose to 200,000 during that period.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia and the bloody wars that followed in the 1990’s resulted in a third wave of Serbian migration to Germany. Church authorities estimate that as many as 30,000 Serbs managed to settle there. Given the Serbian government’s role in instigating the war, Serbian refugees had difficulty securing safe passage. Most were women and children who entered the country on tourist visas at the request of relatives already living in Germany.

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Tags: Immigration Germany Assimilation Yugoslavia Orthodox Church of Serbia