Bourgas Mayor Declares War on Churches

April 30, 2008 by  
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Several days before the Bulgarian Easter, the mayor’s office in the Black Sea city of Bourgas issued an order to all school principles to limit the access to students for all ministers and church members who identify themselves as Mormons, Jehovah’s Wit nesses or Pentecostals. We publish an English translation of letter without any further comments:

26 Alexandrovska Street, Bourgas 8000
Tel: 056/84 13 13, fax: 056/84 13 14, telex: 83 433



The Local Committee Against Anti-Social Behaviour Among Children and Young People (LCAABCYP) in the Municipality of Bourgas, jointly with the Police, is making inquiries regarding the activities of Christian churches non-traditional in our country, in connection with the forthcoming Easter holidays. The need to gather this material was dictated all the more by the increasing frequency of complaints by parents and suffering children, victims of a lack of information, and a lack of responsibility and control on the part of school and family.

To this end we are sending you an information sheet intended for all the pupils in the school under your charge. We leave it to you to select a suitable means, in or out of the classroom, to acquaint them with the information in the material. Whether in the form of a discussion or special lessons, you should explain the indications by which they can distinguish the sects from the Orthodox Faith traditional to our country.

We require feedback by you: in the form of your own inquiries, send information no later than 10 May 2008, addressed to Desislava Vasilieva, secretary of the Local Committee Against Anti-Social Behaviour Among Children and Young People (LCAABCYP) in the Municipality of Bourgas [stating]:

• The means by which the information was presented
• The response on the part of the pupils – actual examples of incidents they have experienced and their impressions; confirmed violations of human rights and freedoms on the part of the sects.
• Your attitude to the incidents shared by the pupils.

For further information and specific questions:

1. Desislava Vasilieva – secretary of the LCAABCYP – tel. 84 57 63 and 0899/82 88 44
2. Ivan Dimitrov – Police Inspector – Bourgas – 856 026 and 0898/78 42 68

Yours sincerely

Deputy Mayor and Chair of LCAABCYP


In connection with the forthcoming Easter holidays there has been an activation of all the churches non-traditional in our country. It consists of a campaign to attract new members from all ages and social groups. To this end we consider it necessary to draw your attention to the most basic and dangerous sects which, despite their official registration with the Directorate of Churches at the Council of Ministers, are violating Bulgarian laws, civil rights and social order. For most people it is difficult to distinguish which missionary belongs to which religious sect. We will focus on some of the most popular non-traditional churches, who are using the forthcoming Christian holidays to agitate to their own advantage, attracting new members by manipulation. Initially they all present themselves as Orthodox Christians and later reveal that in fact this is to do with a different church, “better” and “truer”.


The church’s missionaries are well-dressed Bulgarian and foreign citizens. In the town at the moment there are representatives from Japan, Germany, Ukraine and Poland. In pairs they go around private homes, parks and schools, offering publications – “Watchtower”, “Awake!” and “What does the Bible really teach us?”. In most cases, according to the complaints that have reached us so far, the missionaries from the church of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” call for more modest dress, the repudiation by young people of all forms of entertainment, the repudiation of consultations with a doctor in the case of illness, and for cutting off from the natural family, on the pretext that love for Jehovah God comes before love for oneself and one’s own parents. The result of this suggestion, not uncommonly, is depression, mental disorders and suicides. A number of children have been offered money for food and clothes, as they were “helpfully” invited to attend their meetings in the so called “Kingdom Hall” situated next to “Konstantin Preslavsky” secondary school on the Slaveikov estate. Parallel with the refusal of medical assistance, the JWs also preach refusal of blood transfusions, even if it costs the life of the patient. According to schoolchildren, missionaries of this sect act by lying in wait for them outside the school gate and on the way home. There are confirmed cases of missionaries offering their sectarian literature to children and young people who were home alone, without parental supervision. When interest is shown or literature taken, the JWs return to the same address for renewed contact, in an insistent manner offering to give help and to expound texts from their booklets, with an invitation to attend their prayer house.


The missionaries of this church are basically Americans – young people up to 35 years old, who stay in the territory of the town for not more than 2 to 3 months and on an exchange basis, after this period expires, they leave for another town to continue their mission. They are known by their traditionally immaculate dress of a white shirt, tie, and jacket with their name badge on the lapel. They generally go around in pairs, they are always smiling, they greet even strangers and, if interest is shown, they begin talking to explain from the Bible and the Book of Mormon who Jesus Christ is according to them. It is characteristic of them that they also visit private homes and, if no interest is shown, they don’t insist on immediately visiting you again. Their most widespread campaign is holding English language courses in their building at 29 Tsarigradska Street. They also invite schoolchildren, passers by and pensioners to their meetings, showing them films with a religious theme and discussing them afterwards. The Mormons speak good Bulgarian and in this way they win the sympathy of all citizens. They stay in Bulgaria on missionary service, cut off from their families, with the sole aim of publicising the work of their church around the world and attracting new members into its ranks, if possible from among young people. If you don’t wish to have contact with them it’s enough to show that you are not interested and that you don’t need their explanations. In the event of a violation of your personal rights and freedoms, you can make a complaint at the nearest police station or telephone direct on 166.


Under this heading can be included all the Protestant churches in the country, known to the general public as evangelical churches and people who are members of them as evangelicals. They can very easily be confused with the country’s traditional Orthodox Church. Their basic book is also the Bible, but they use a different translation and interpret the texts in a different way. They themselves also present themselves on initial contacts as Orthodox. Their differences with the Orthodox faith lie in the fact that they worship only the person of Jesus Christ. They do not acknowledge the divine attributes of the Holy Mother of God and all the other saints such as St George, St Ivan, St Dimitiri, St Nicholas and others that the Orthodox Church reveres. For this reason evangelicals do not celebrate name days and other feast days on the national calendar. For them celebrating a name day, Lazarus Day, Grandmother March [1st March] and other similar feast days is worship of something material and un-Christian, which the evangelical church treats as “sin”. These people lead a rather closed and restricted way of life, subject basically to Christian canons. Their place of worship can look like a very ordinary building, in which there are no icons, no candles are lit, and their priests are ordinary people who expound texts from the Bible to them. At these meetings they sing Christian songs with a popular sound, the louder the noise, the more Jesus is “praised”. Often in these meetings people present have fallen into unnatural states of trance, speaking incoherently, allegedly in ancient languages, and there is very likely a danger of mental aberrations and disorders after such a séance. They dupe their new members with free excursions in the country and abroad, with gifts of clothes, money and medicines, in this way becoming most popular among the weak strata of society. Two years ago a massive campaign of agitation on the part of the evangelical churches was carried out through free showings of the film “Jesus” before the Easter holidays. After the showings question cards were distributed to all who attended on which they filled in their impressions of the film, names, addresses and telephone numbers. In this way the evangelical churches are misusing personal data by disturbing, at their home addresses or by telephone, the persons who filled in the cards. All evangelical churches are financed by their partners abroad and in this way they gain quick and easy popularity. In the event they are misusing the known weakness of the Bulgarian nation – the worship of all things foreign.

It is typical of the sects listed above and other similar religious organisations that they disunite the Bulgarian nation and oppose it on religious principles. A feature often encountered is the disregard for national holidays and holy days, erroneously explained as unnecessary worship. In case of doubt you should in the first instance seek a consultation and personal conversation in the family with a parent; with a suitable trustworthy teacher or educational adviser; and not least with a police officer.

New Bulgarian Translation for Easter

April 25, 2008 by  
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For Christmas 2007 our team released a new Bulgarian translation of the Gospel of John made from the original Greek text. Commentators who were able to review the new translation described it as a “bold step toward the true meaning of the Bible” and “a revolution in Biblical interpretation.”

The great interest among Bulgarian evangelicals toward the translation confirmed our conviction that the time for a new, more literal translation of the Bulgarian Bible has come. In the months that followed, we committed ourselves to produce a translation of the complete Johannine works (the Gospel, Epistles and Revelation). The final work was an 80-page book including a literal translation from the Greek originals, critical apparatus, textual commentary and translators notes which will be out on print for the Bulgarian Easter which this year falls on April 27, 2008.

For us, this is a fulfillment of a long-time dream and the fulfillment of a vision which God put in our hearts many years ago. After over a decade of studies and preparation, the first fruits of this work is finally an undeniable reality – a text of a new translation which can be put in the hands of the Bulgarian people who are hungry for the Word of God. We thank everyone who helped us, prayed for and supported this project and believed with us that this is only the beginning of something new which God is doing in Bulgaria in 2008.

Status of Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora

April 20, 2008 by  
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After years of hard work and patience, the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute is finalizing its arrangement with the Bulgarian Government for legal state accreditation. As one of its departments, the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora is complimenting the accreditation process as well. Nevertheless, a clear assessment of the school’s status and effectiveness based on its funding program is needed before its accreditation with the Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education as a Department of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute. The educational strategy also has to be redesigned to focus on training ministers for the Bulgarian Church of God. For it is the opinion of many Bulgarian pastors, that despite its numerous activities and accomplishments, the Stara Zagora Theological College struggles to fulfill its purpose to train and place ministers within the Bulgarian Church of God.

Therefore, a clear and responsible plan of how and when the Bulgarian Church of God should be able to recognize and benefit from the said changes must be produced soon. The official spring 2008 semester schedule of the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora sheds light on the above observations concerning its status, prior to the expected accreditation with the Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education as one of the departments of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute.

Academic Calendar: Spring 2008 (March 4-May 28, 2008)

A. Weekly Classes
1. English taught to second and third year students by M. Zheliazkova (Degree not specified).
2. New Testament Greek II taught to second and third year students by D. Dimitrov (Degree not specified).
3. Omiletics (sic., Homiletics) II taught to second and third year students by T. Ivanova (M.A. in Philology).
4. Theology of Cults and Religions taught to second and third year students by R. Koleva (M.A. in Comparative Religions).
5. Patrology taught to second and third year students by P. Zlatarova (Ph.D. candidate).

B. Three-day Seminars
1. March 5-7, 2008 Church Administration taught by R. and P. Bruton (Degree not specified)
2. March 22-24, 2008 Missiology by pastor S. Thomas (Degree not specified)
3. March 31-April 4, 2008 Church Growth and Planting by missionary R. Smidth (Degree not specified)

Pray for Miroslav Atanasov

April 15, 2008 by  
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Please pray for Church of God minister Miroslav Atanasov who was involved in an automobile accident on March 25, 2008. He was taken to the UK Hospital in Lexington, KY where he remained for two weeks until his condition was stabilized. Although, he was released from the hospital last week and is recovering at home, he is going back for another surgery on April 15, 2008. Miroslav, who is a native of Bulgaria and a graduate of East Coast Bible College and the Church of God Theological Seminary, is currently finishing his doctorate at the Asbury Theological Seminary. Please join us in prayer for the touch of God upon his health and his complete recovery.

Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora

April 10, 2008 by  
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The recent developments within the Bulgarian Church of God have resulted in a reassessment of the role of the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora beyond its educational scope as a faculty department of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute (BETI). This realization has become even more perplexed with the ongoing accreditation process of the Evangelical Institute with the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, as it remains unclear if the school in Stara Zagora will be included in the final registration as a theological institution of the Bulgarian Church of God or if it will be forced to follow an alternative registration. This lack of transparency leaves the Bulgarian Church of God in jeopardy of its educational representation within the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, it has been generally noted by other theological institutions in Bulgaria that the number of Bible students has gradually decreased in the past years. This process has been dictated by a number of internal and external factors, as the main one among them is that some two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the evangelical denominations in Bulgaria are unable to implement an adequate process of professional placement within their structures for graduates with religious education. The Assemblies of God in Bulgaria realized this trend and moved their training center from the Danube river town of Russe to the capital Sofia early in their educational endeavor. The Church of God College in Stara Zagora is yet to initiate such action, although it is becoming clearer that this move is simply inevitable. The timing for repositioning also remains under question.

It is unfortunate to notice that the school, as it operates today, is neither a leading theological center nor a provision of ministers for the denomination with which it is affiliated. This status raises the valid question of why, after a decade of operation through a substantial investment on the part of the denomination, the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora was unable to become a theological center. Not merely a school or educational institution, but a place where theology is envisioned, born and practiced. The reasons for this inability can be found in three major factors: location, people and communication.

The location of the Church of God Theological College in the Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora has proven to be insufficient for the global mission of the school. However, the location of the school on the territory of Bulgaria still remains one of its strongest characteristics. In the early part of its history, the Church of God Theological College was the only operational Church of God affiliated educational institution in the former Communist Block, including the vast territory of Russia. It was placed in the superb geographical location of the Balkan Peninsula with open access to three world continents, three world religions and over one hundred ethnic groups. It was the only Church of God School operating in an Eastern Orthodox country, thus monopolizing the opportunity to research the theological relationship between Eastern mysticism and the Pentecostal experience. And finally, based on the gateway between Europe and the Middle East, the school had an opportunity to effectively engage in the on-going international dialogue between Christianity and Islam. But for a decade of fully sponsored denominational existence, the college has not offered, within the perimeter of its educational strategy, any major research conferences, international round tables, global seminars, public discussions, publication of research papers or books to involve the international scholastic community within the theological trends offered by its unique context of ministry.

Besides its location, the people of the school have also played a major role within its development. Since the early strategy to provide scholarship for students was difficult to maintain, the interest toward the college decreased, as many students preferred the more convenient and prominent location of other schools within the Evangelical Institute operating in the capital Sofia. A similar trend took place among the faculty members, as many relocated only a few years after the school began operating. This was only natural as the initial faculty selection ignored a number of leading Bulgarian theologians with Pentecostal background and degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton Columbia, Regent, Fuller, Dallas and Duke who had a clearly expressed interest in Bulgarian religious education. Naturally, the theologians participating in the educational process of the Stara Zagora school were never able to embrace the school as their alma-matter of theological thought and their context of ministry.

This lack of communication between identity and practice remained a constant struggle for the school not only in the context of its location and people, but in its realization as a ministry training school for the Bulgarian Church of God. The denomination was press to accommodate the strife toward educational excellence on part of the college, on one hand and the plan for a ministry training center on part of the Church of God, on the other. Unfortunately, these two visions, as common as they may be portrayed, never reached a point of merge thus dictating the eventual, if not immediate, separation of the school from the mainline movement. In this context the Bulgarian Church of God was both unprepared and unable to embrace the school as its own. Regardless of its support before government authorities and representation with board of directors of BETI the denomination fell short to fully embrace the college in Stara Zagora and to communicate this relationship clearly to members and ministers seeking higher education. In this context, it can be understood why majority of the school graduates never return to minister in their home churches after completing the educational program at the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora.

Today, the separation of church and school remains a leading source of tensions, while the Church of God Theological College in Stara Zagora is in the process of receiving its official accreditation with the Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education as a Department of BETI. The unresolved tensions within the denominations contribute further to the dilemma leaving members, ministries as well as the Bulgarian Ministry of Education with one open question: Will the Theological College in Stara Zagora continue to be the ministry training center for the Bulgarian Church of God when it is granted official government accreditation.

The Past, Present and Future of Evangelical Education in Bulgaria

April 5, 2008 by  
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The missionary strategy of Protestant denominations toward Bulgaria within the 19th century effectively included evangelistic, publishing and educational outreaches. The educational paradigms, which the western missionaries introduced, were soon adopted by the Bulgarian people, quickly realized as progressive and successfully implemented in both religious and secular Bulgarian schools. These trends continued in the next several decades, educating Bulgarian youth and producing the first generation of Bulgarian leaders who took their rightful place in political, economical, social and religious structures in the Bulgarian lands.

Unfortunately, when the Communist Revolution took place in Bulgaria, all religious schools, with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Seminary in Sofia, were closed down and religious education was outlawed. For the next half century, Bulgarian evangelical ministers were destined to do ministry without any former religious education.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the tension for religious education reached its culmination and a number of religious schools were quickly established across Bulgaria. The instruction methods used ranged from Bible study home groups to Bible colleges all to fulfill the niche for religious education. Two important milestones must be mentioned here, and they are the opening of the Logos Bible Academy in the Danube town of Russe and the starting of a long distance program by ORA International.

Naturally, the general trend of Bulgaria’s post communist governments to control these educational institutions resulted in the registration of a religious institute under the Directorate of Religious Affairs, a government agency formed to register, manage and supervise the activity of religious formation on the territory of Bulgaria. It was in this context that the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute (BETI) was formed and registered in the capital Sofia. It included five departments (often called faculties), representing Bulgarian evangelical denominations with a predominant focus on the Pentecostal wing.

The Theological College in Stara Zagora, often mistakenly called a Theological Seminary, was established in 1998 as one of these departments to represent the Bulgarian Church of God. Because of current developments within the Bulgarian Church of God, the department was started in the city of Stara Zagora, located some four hours east of the capital and became the only of the faculties not located in Sofia. Naturally, its location, staff, affiliation and purpose created a sense of independence, both in its theology and structure.

With the acceptance of the new Act of Confessions in 2002, the Bulgarian government employed a more drastic approach toward all religious institutions not fitting the standard denominational profile. Since BETI was among them, the government initiated the process of the Institute’s accreditation with the Ministry of Education. Five years later, the government is yet to grant the accreditation. It was not until the publication of this article in March, 2008 that the Bulgarian Government moved toward finalizing the long-awaited accreditation of BETI.

Meanwhile the Institute’s management is facing a tri-dimensional dilemma which includes economic, cultural and leadership tensions. Some of them have not been resolved due to the lack of recourses; others have not been resolved due to the lack of essential prerequisites in the long-term educational strategy of the school. The following is a list of the challenges, which must be resolved immediately in order for the Institute to continue to operate under the said government accreditation:

1. The school’s baccalaureate program, structured primarily after 20th century American Bible college model, is practically incompatible with the requirements of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. The dilemma of changing the program to meet the accreditation requirements or to retain the school’s evangelical identity is yet to be resolved on part of BETI as a whole, as well as its theological departments individually.

2. Three masters programs that were to focus on the subjects of Christian counseling, chaplaincy ministry and missions were secured from the Bulgarian government several years ago. However, because of the lack of students and experts on the said topics, only one of them, the master’s program in counseling, has been partially developed. Today, it remains in its initial phase as a distance-learning program, while the other two programs are virtually untouched.

3. It has taken BETI over a decade to comply with the country’s requirements for higher education. In this process, the school has not facilitated the opportunity for religious master’s programs thus missing its mission to become a higher education authority in religious studies.

4. The resistance toward the evangelical movement and more specifically its presence within the educational process of Bulgarian adolescents has resulted in continuous protests on part of the Bulgarian community. They have been followed by restrictions from the government, which has forced the Institute at the periphery of the educational process. Two waves of attacks against Bulgarian evangelicals in 1990-1993, 2002-2004 and the current trend of the government to establish mandatory religious classes for children ages seven to twelve has contributed to this alienation and has forced the inability of evangelical education to find and establish its place within the Bulgaria community. Much of this has to do with the lack of an adequate placement strategy for graduates upon the completion of the college’s program.

5. Furthermore, scholarships for individual students and sponsorship for the colleges of the Institute has weekend since 9/11 creating an economical dilemma with which the Institute is still struggling. The financial crisis has brought about the rethinking of the economic strategy of the Institute, its dependency on religious support sources and its financial self-sufficiency.

6. Additionally, a number of Roma/Gipsy communities have received substantial educational grants from the European Union upon Bulgaria’s official membership. This has taken a great number of the Roma/Gipsy students within the Institute in a different direction.

7. Immigration has also taken its toll on the Institute’s graduates, as many of them have seized the opportunity to continue their training in religious educational institutions abroad, while other have simple forgone their higher religious education in the struggle for personal survival, both groups never to return and practice in Bulgaria.

8. It is also unfortunate, that most of the professionally trained Bulgarians who have graduated with a higher degree in religious studies from foreign colleges and universities, have been unable to find their place within the structure of the BETI and have been employed in educational institutions, religious centers, ministries and missions which often have to do very little with Bulgaria.

9. The denominational affiliation of each of the departments, has contributed to the dilemma of structural incompatibility with the leadership and vision differences between the denominations that are affiliated with the Institute. The recent crises in several of the member dominations have added to the escalation of the above dilemmas and the incapability for the resolution from a denominational standpoint.

10. Naturally, the well-educated graduates have chosen not to occupy themselves with denominational politics both to avoid confrontation and to express their disagreement. This dynamic has been partially ignored by leadership remaining from the period of the underground church when religious education was virtually nonexistent and lacking a complete realization of the power of education. This unnoticed trend, however, endangers Bulgarian Evangelism creating a lack of continuity within the leadership and preparing the context for the emerging leadership crises.

As an educational institution of the Bulgarian Church of God and a member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute, the Theological College in Stara Zagora has experienced all of the above dilemmas and more. Its physical distance from the capital Sofia has jeopardized its accreditation with Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education, the latest guidelines of which have constituted that a school department cannot be more than 25 miles away from its main office. Since Stara Zagora is almost 200 miles away, the Church of God Bible College has been forced to find a suitable alternative. One logical solution may be to move the school or parts of the school to a Sofia location.

However, the Stara Zagora Theological College has had very little if any representation in the capital for its decade of existence. A move to Sofia would propose a number of new problems such as the relocation of teachers and a forced split of focus between two campuses. Another immediate challenge would be the development of a long-term financial strategy to meet a budget, which in the capital would be three-four times the cost of the same operation in the city Stara Zagora. And finally, a successful strategy for establishing a new level of cooperation with the rest of the Institute’s departments, which have operated in the capital Sofia for over a decade is a must, before a successful educational program can be initiated by the Bulgarian Theological College at the new location.

The Albert H. Lybyer Papers

April 1, 2008 by  
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As we have reported through the years, a good number of our research publications on Bulgarian Protestant history come from the great treasure of knowledge stored at the library center of the University of Illinois in Urbana. Through this research, our teams have been able to discover documents, books and personal archives related directly to the early period of Protestant presence on the Balkans.

Our last trip to Urbana revealed the personal papers of Albert H. Lybyer who taught at Robert’s College in Istanbul as well as the Missionary School in Samokov. The University of Illinois Archives hold several boxes containing his personal papers among which we were able to identify his diary with records of his arrival on the Balkans, trips taken through Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey from the early 1940s, his grade book and a number of authentic official documents related to the school’s educational program, social activities and financial status. We are in the process of reproducing these papers in a digital format in order to make them available to the Bulgarian researches in the field, as part of our ministry’s endeavor to tell the story of Bulgarian Protestantism.