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Political and ecclesiastical interests are behind the turmoil with the Russian Church in Sofia

Bulgarian priests will serve in the church "St. Nicholas Mirlikiyski" in Sofia

Photo: BGNES

At the end of last week, priests from the Russian Church in Sofia were asked to leave the country, as they pose a threat to national security. They included Archimandrite Vasian, archpriest Evgeniy and another employee of the church.

"There is a report of the State Agency for National Security that shows that they are carrying out actions that do not correspond to their status in Bulgaria", said the Minister of Defence Todor Tagarev on this occasion, specifying that the Bulgarian services have sufficiently convincing information that these three persons serve the geopolitical interests of Moscow.

Subsequently, the Russian Embassy announced that the church would cease its activities and its further fate would be decided by the Russian Orthodox Church. This caused a public reaction in defence of the church as well as a special position of the Metropolitan Naum of Ruse, according to whom: "The Russian Church of SaintNicholas is Bulgarian property, it is not consecrated by Russian clergy and cannot be closed either by the Russian state or by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church."

The reaction on the part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was not long in coming - with his order dated September 25, His Holiness the Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte, in exercising his powers as the Metropolitan of Sofia, in whose diocese the St. Nikolay Mirlikiyski temple is located, personally appointed priests from Sofia who will take care of the temple by performing the usual services.

"The Holy Bishoptic of Sofia guarantees that no part of the property of the church will be lost or damaged. As before, the faithful will be able to bow before the relics of Saint Seraphim of Sofia and beg for his gracious help and support," says the position of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has informed the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill about the actions taken.

What happened to the Russian Church in Sofia is a consequence of the war, which is not only on the territory of Ukraine, but is a global conflict between the West and the East, Prof. Ivo Hristov told the Bulgarian National Radio:

Prof. Ivo Hristov

"Unfortunately, in war, everything falls victim to the primary objective. The war is black and white, and it operates on the principle of "and yet Carthage must be destroyed." In this case, nuances, halftones, truth and lies do not matter at all, the important thing is to achieve the goal by all means without compromises and moral scruples.

As for the position occupied by Bulgaria in the political theatre, Hristov is firm that the political class in Bulgaria does not have the backbone to defend its own opinion.

For his part, sociologist Andrey Raichev believes that what is happening is part of a long-term dispute in the Orthodox Church:

Andrey Raichev

"It refers to the Pope. At the pole of this dispute are the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Russian Patriarch - should the Orthodox Church get closer to the Catholic Church, as is the insistence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, or should it move further apart, as Moscow has always wanted. In this dispute, the Bulgarian Orthodox church is on the side of Moscow. Our church did not take any stand on the matter. Within it there is also a small detail that concerns us a lot - is the Macedonian Church separate? The pro-Moscow position claims that the Bulgarian Church is the mother of the Macedonian Church. The other is more lax on the matter. The local Russian Church was aiding this position, which did not sit well with the Macedonians, and therefore they called the priests spies."

Since the arrival of Archimandrite Vasian Zmeev in 2018, Bulgarian-Macedonian church relations began to enter a total stupor, journalist Goran Blagoev explains:

Goran Blagoev

"Keep in mind that our services submit daily reports to the representatives of the three authorities in the country - to the president, to the prime minister and to the speaker of the National Assembly. This means that if there is something written and this information is neglected, then we should not blame SANS, because there is no way that in 6 days after the expulsion of Vasian Zmeev from North Macedonia, SANS could collect so much information that would substantiate his expulstion from Bulgaria, as well."

According to Blagoev, the Russian Patriarchate will try to ignore the case - "I have an unpleasant feeling that Vasian Zmeev may return on a white horse. With a change of political power, things can turn around," he said in an interview with BNR.

"There is no church problem. There is a division of the faithful Christians for political reasons" - this is how Archimandrite Nikanor from the Chernogorsky describes the situation:

Archmandrite Nikanor

"All the temples on the territory of the city of Sofia, in Kyustendil, Pernik, Sofia region are under the canonical jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte. He is the only one who can administratively appoint priests. This is from a canonical point of view. However, the temples may belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, they may be departmental, they may also be private."

The archimandrite did not undertake to predict when the doors of the temple will be opened again, but, in his opinion, "The Russian Orthodox Church has no interest in closing its church in Sofia. The Russian Church should send its representative. Whether the Bulgarian state will accept it, the future will tell."

Photos: BGNES, Ani Petrova - BNR

Compiled by Joan Kolev (based on interview of Vesselina Milanova, Petar Volgin and Dobrinka Dobreva from BNR's Horizon channel)

Editing by Elena Karkalanova

Translated and posted by Rositsa Petkova

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