Arsenije III Čarnojević (Serbian Cyrillic: Арсеније III Чарнојевић, 1633, Bajice, Cetinje, Montenegro - 1706, Vienna, Habsburg Monarchy) was the Archbishop of Peć and Patriarch of Serbs from 1674 to 1691 and Metropolitan of Sentandreja from 1691 to his death in 1706.
Arsenije was born in Cetinje clan of Old Montenegro. His surname was written by himself as Črnojević, that is Crnojević, the same as the surname of the last dynasty that ruled Montenegro until 1499 but it remains unclear if Arsenije was in any way related to them. The spelling was later corrupted to more Church Slavonic and Russian-sounding Čarnojević as he is known to this day.
It is not known when he received his monastic vow but we see him first in the monastery of Pećka Patrijaršija, the seat of the Patriarchy, at the time led by Maksim I of Skopje, whom Arsenije latter described as his “father and teacher”. In 1665, Arsenije became the abbot of this monastery. In 1669, he was promoted to the rang of a bishop with the title “metropolitan of Hvosno”, which was considered as patriarch’s closest advisor and inheritor to the throne. When, in 1674, patriarch Maksim fell sick and withdrew from the position, Arsenije, only 39 years old, took over the position.
His first task was to make canonical visitation of his flock, and from 1674 to 1680, we see him traveling from Bosnia across Srem to present-day central Serbia. In 1682, he embarked on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, of which journey we know from the diary he kept.
Upon his return, we know that 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 Boka Kotorska already took to arms, Arsenije III continued with his regular duties visiting in 1684 Slavonia, but on the other hand secretly maintained contacted with forces of the League, particularly those from the Republic of Venice and the Archduchy of Austria.
The passing Ottoman armies plundered the local populace mercilessly; the worst of them all was the one under notorious Jegen Osman-pasha who for two years (1687-1689) robbed the area from Belgrade to Ohrid and from Sofia to Peć. This force also managed to rob the vast treasure of Peć Patriarchy, deposited there for centuries. Jegen Osman-pasha in addition captured Arsenije III demanding the ransom of 10,000 thalers. After this was paid and he was released, Arsenije’s mind was made up.
Arsenije contacted Peter I of Russia, asking the monarch to recognize him as the leader of the Serbs, but the Austrians cut these liaisons soon. Faced with Turkish threats, Arsenije escaped to Nikšić 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 Habsburg, they would see to the election of a more obedient patriarch.
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 Peć. 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, 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 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 (Beogradski sabor) that met on June 18 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 August 21, 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. On September 29, Serbs led by 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.
Soon, Arsenije III was upset with news that 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 December 11, 1690. In the following years, Arsenije III traveled through the Habsburg realms, including the Kingdom of Hungary, Croatia and Slavonia with this diploma allowing him to stop the forceful conversions, ordering new priests and organizing the church. At the same time, he was inaugurating new Serb infantry and hussar regiments that were sent to the ongoing war.
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 starts 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.
After the Treaty of Karlowitz was concluded, Serb assistance was needed no more and the Habsburg authorities started disregarding the previously given privileges one by one. Upon the advice of the proselyte fanatic cardinal Kolonić, in 1701 the rights of Arsenije III as the Serb patriarch were limited to the newcomers living in the vicinity of Szentendre and he was reduced in rank to the "Metropolitan of Szentendre", 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 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.