Last week, on January 23rd, the 45th Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, was enthroned. He is a humble man and, from what I can tell, very much deserving of the honor and will definitely do an excellent job during his tenure.
What of the heraldry though?
As opposed to the Churches of the West, the bishops of the Eastern Churches don’t normally adopt a Coat of Arms unless they come from armigerous families.
This is the case with Patriarch Irinej. As the son of peasant farmers, his family was not armigerous and never adopted personal arms while rising through the ranks of the Church. Therefore, he uses the arms of the Office of the Patriarch displayed above.
What immediately stands out is the cross in base that appears to be the same as that found on Byzantine arms, also known as the tetragrammatic cross.
As was described in a previous post, the objects in each quarter are called “firesteels” or fire starters. The reason these were used in Byzantine arms (and later influenced all the Easter Churches) was because of Greek Fire. In any case, these firesteels are artistically depicted as letters. In the case of the Byzantine Empire and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they were interpreted as “B”s and having the text “Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων” or “King of Kings Ruler of Rulers”.
However, in the Serbian case, these symbols are called očila and in the Serbian tradition have also come to be interpreted as letter with a specific meaning. The letter it is interpreted as is the letter “C” which is the equivalent to the “S” in English. The text is “Само слога Србина спасава” or “Only Unity Saves the Serbs”. This is a text attributed to St. Sava from the 12th Century, a Serbian prince and ascetic who also was the first archbishop of the Church. This saying has united the Serbs for centuries and, it is said, that it was a rallying cry for the faithful Orthodox Serbs in their efforts to remain Orthodox in the face of the increasing pressure from Rome to convert to Catholicism.
(Note: images above are courtesy of Wikipedia)