Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church Elects New Patriarch

February 25, 2013 by  
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Bulgaria Church LeaderMetropolitan Neofit of Ruse was elected Sunday as the new spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Orthodox Christians amid social unrest threatening to throw the Balkan country in a serious political crisis. The 67-year-old Neofit was picked among three candidates shortlisted in a secret ballot by the 14 bishops that make up the Holy Synod of the church.

The enthronement ceremony for Patriarch Neofit was held at Sofia with ongoing nationwide protests against high energy bills, poverty and corruption, and demands for radical political reforms, which forced the government to resign. Speaking at the ceremony, President Rosen Plevneliev voiced hope the new patriarch will contribute to Orthodox unity and the strengthening of the faith, and will preserve the integrity of the church.

The main challenges Neofit will face at home are addressing church unity, the church’s isolation from current public concerns, financial troubles and the dwindling number of priests and monks. Last year, a panel investigating communist-era secret services announced that 11 of the 15 metropolitans had ties to those services. Among those named was also Neofit. Over 20 Pentecostal and charismatic denominational leaders were also revealed to have been a part of a nationwide network of secret agents and handlers organized by the communist secret police. Yet, only two have resigned form their leadership positions. Alike many evangelical leaders in Bulgaria, the patriarch of the Orthodox church is elected for life.

Patriarch Maxim, Eastern Orthodox Church Leader of Bulgaria, Dies at 98

November 10, 2012 by  
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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria, who weathered a revolt over his Communist-era ties to lead his country’s Orthodox Christians for more than 40 years, died here on Tuesday. He was 98. Patriarch Maxim’s tenure as the church’s leader bridged Bulgaria’s transition from Communism.

Orthodox Christianity is Bulgaria’s dominant religion, followed by more than 80 percent of the country’s 7.4 million people. Patriarch Maxim’s tenure as the church’s leader bridged the country’s transition from Communism, and he withstood efforts to oust him by the new democratic government and by rebel priests who saw him as a Communist ally. Born Marin Naidenov Minkov on Oct. 29, 1914, he graduated from the Sofia Seminary in 1935 and entered Sofia University’s theology department in 1938, before rising through the church ranks to be named patriarch on July 4, 1971.

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.

Patriarch Maxim was hailed for meeting with Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit to Sofia in 2002, a trip seen as warming the frosty relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican. The Holy Synod of 13 senior clergy members will choose an interim patriarch until a larger Church Council is held within four months to pick Patriarch Maxim’s successor, church officials said.

Orthodox Split Deepens

August 1, 2004 by  
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Orthodox Split Deepens

July 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

The split in the Bulgarian Orthodox church after the fall of the communist regime considerably deepened last week, when the police expelled priests “reformers” from the Alternative Synod under the demand of the “conservative” Synod headed by Patriarch Maxim. The police temporarily closed approximately 250 churches, monasteries and religious buildings used by the alternative synod, 18 of which are located in the capital Sofia. The Alternative Synod accused Patriarch Maxim of serving the former communist regime. In Sofia, two of the priests “reformers” from the “St. Parashkeva” church and “The Assumption” church were arrested. The Police had ensured access to the churches of the “conservatives” under the order of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Sofia City Prosecutor Boiko Naidenov announced that the decision for the involvement of the police was taken when the Orthodox Church turned to the authorities for help against “people that impede the functions of the church”. Naidenov grounded himself on the Confessional Act passed in 2003, which allows the use of force against “people that abuse the heritage of the religious community”. A court investigation has already begun against the Alternative Synod, the magistrate stated. The priests-reformers in response, introduced a form of “church in the open” in the garden in front of the “St. Sofia” church in Sofia to protest against the non-clerical measures undertaken against them.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which claims eighty percent of the population of the country, experienced a schism after the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The Reformers, however, accuse Patriarch Maxim, who was elected for life in 1971, of cooperating with the communists and demanded that he be expelled. The Alternative Synod is currently led by Bishop Inokentii, elected in July 1996, after the death of patriarch Pimen. “Our problem is Patriarch Maxim. We cannot bow to a political bureau of the Communist Party,” stated bishop Inokentii. The arrest of priests with order of the Prosecutors’ Office is “the ultimate blow against the Orthodox religion, and worst of all is that this makes the faithful renounce from the church”, he said.

The Alternative Synod receives the support of the Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF) – the oppositional rightist party in Bulgaria. The party reacted sharply and strongly condemned the acts of the police, considering the lack of court decision for the actions. “This is not the way the wholeness of the Bulgarian Orthodox church should be restored”, commented former President of Bulgaria Petar Stoyanov. According to him, such acts will only deepen the conflict between the Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria. “Our main concern is the wholeness of the church. Patriarch Maxim is waiting for the stretched hands of the repented (reformers) to go back to the House of God”, said Father Nikolay, one of the “conservators”. State authorities, in its turn, are continuing to perform the role of a conciliator even after Bulgaria Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha swore to the Cross and the Gospel in the presence of Patriarch Maxim when he was sworn in at the position of prime Minister in 2001. The same did the newly elected Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov in January 2002.