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News 27 Nov 17

Bulgarian Bishops Agree to Lobby for Macedonian Church

Following the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s plea for help in escaping its isolation, the Bulgarian Church has set up a committee to launch talks with the rest of the Orthodox world.

Martin Dimitrov
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/MrPanyGoff

Following a meeting on Monday, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchate announced that it has formed a committee to lead talks with other Orthodox churches on the status of Macedonian Orthodox Church, which remains unrecognised as a result of a long-lasting dispute with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The move came after Macedonia’s Orthodox Church asked the Bulgarian Church to assume a form of parental authority over it.

The Patriarchal website stated that, that following the Macedonian request, the Bulgarian Church felt it had a “sacred duty” to offer its full support for Macedonia's Orthodox Church and to advocate among the other Orthodox Churches for recognition of its canonical status.

“The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has never been indifferent to the sufferings of Macedonian Orthodox Church,” the Bulgarian Patriarchal website wrote.

Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit had restated his position that Bulgaria should support the Macedonian Church, as they are “our brothers and our people”, it added.

However, in a Sunday interview for 24 hours newspaper, one of the appointees to the committee intended to lead the talks with other churches, Metropolitan Gavrail of Lovech, warned that if Bulgaria recognized the Macedonian Church unilaterally, “we won’t help our Macedonian brothers and will harm ourselves”.

Earlier this month, the Macedonian Church sent an official request for the Bulgarian Church to become its “mother” Church, and so encourage its acceptance as an equal among the other Orthodox churches.

The Macedonian Church remains unrecognized by other Orthodox Churches owing to a long-lasting dispute over its ecclesiastical independence from the Serbian Orthodox Church, to which it was formerly united.

The two churches remain locked in conflict over the right of the Macedonian Church to be accepted as an equal to the other Orthodox churches.

The Serbian Church, which has close ties with other Orthodox churches, has blocked recognition of the Macedonian Church ever since it unilaterally declared its “autocephaly”, or ecclesiastical independence, in the 1960s.

The Serbian Church claims the decision was uncanonical – ecclesiastically illegal – and was pushed by Yugoslavia's then communist government for political reasons.

The announcement from the Bulgarian Holy Synod follows pressure on the Bulgarian Church from different stakeholders.

Last week, Bulgaria’s Patriarch discussed the letter from Macedonia with President Rumen Radev.

After the meeting, they released a joint statement, agreeing that both the “Bulgarian state and the Bulgarian Church are united in their willingness to develop further and deeper the relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia”.

On Monday morning, while the Holy Synod was discussing its position, dozens of people gathered for a silent vigil in front of the Synod headquarters in Sofia to support the bid of the Macedonian Church.

“I hope they [the Synod] take the right path, so we can become the mother church of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. This fold is ours and we need to take care of it, as we care for our own – our Orthodox Church is theirs, too,” Milen Vrabevski, chairman of the “Bulgarian Memory” Foundation that actively supports the Macedonian bid, told a TV station.

Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov also commented on the Synod’s dilemma to the TV, complaining there was too much “outside pressure for our Church to not recognize the Macedonian [Church]”.

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