Sofia, June 13, 2018
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has published a statement on its official website on the occasion 1000th anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid in which it addresses the issue of its stance towards the schismatic “Macedonian Orthodox Church.”
The Macedonian Church, which formed as a schism form the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, reached out to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in November for assistance in becoming a canonically-recognized autocephalous Church. The Bulgarian Church agreed to help, which greatly angered the Churches of Serbia and Greece, and also the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Holy Synod has also previously published a statement from His Eminence Metropolitan Naum of Ruse, emphasizing that it will not cause a schism in the Orthodox world over the Macedonian issue.
The Church also drew criticism from its own flock after the Synod announced it would not be sending a delegation to the Macedonian Church’s celebration of the 1000th of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, as many Bulgarians welcome a rapprochement with the Macedonians, to whom they are closely related.
The Synod begins by emphasizing that the Macedonians’ request “was considered with attention and sense of responsibility by the Bulgarian Church,” although the Bulgarian response drew the ire of several other Local Churches. It later explains that although borders have changed throughout history in the Balkans, and although there are now “absolutely different state and church realities in comparison to the ones in the distant past,” it is the common Orthodox faith that unites the people still today.
The bishops write,
This was also the reason and the main incentive [for] the Holy Synod of our Orthodox Church to accept the role proposed by the Macedonian side to be an intermediary that is to undertake the necessary and possible steps and actions before the rest of the brotherly Orthodox Churches for settling the canonical church statute of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia that has been suffering from the isolation imposed on it for more than half a century. With this motive and with this intention, in the end of November 2017 we accepted the request that arrived from the Republic of Macedonia and the proposal to undertake on us the load of being an intermediary for settling the statute of the Orthodox Church in this country.
“However,” they continue, “this intention cannot imply in any way a violation whatsoever of the centuries-old rules of the Church.”
They go on to again affirm that they are ready to do whatever necessary to help the Macedonian Church, within the confines of the Church’s canonical tradition, “in accord with the explicit and clearly stated will of the other brotherly Orthodox churches as well.”
The Bulgarian bishops also characterize the reproaches from their own people regarding the 1000th anniversary Ohrid celebrations as “undeserved,” saying they “brought up unnecessary bitterness for our whole Church.”
The statement then reaffirms that the Ohrid Archbishopric is an “unconditional part of the historical continuity of our native Bulgarian Orthodox Church.” This relationship was previously approved and ratified by the Sixth Ecclesiastical and People’s Council in 2008, which noted that present-day Bulgarian Patriarchate is the successor of the Pliska Archbishopric, Preslav Archbishopric, Ohrid Archbishopric, Turnovo Archbishopric, and the Bulgarian Exarchate. They also recall that in 1018, when the Bulgarian state lost its autonomy, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II established precisely a Bulgarian Church in Ohrid, which remained until 1767.
As the bishops have previously stated, it is due to this history that they could not participate in the Macedonian celebration of the Ohrid Archbishopric.
The Holy Synod concludes its statement with a call “for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, as we call everyone to faithfulness to the holy Orthodoxy and the holy Orthodox Church—to its Divine tenets and its sacred canons forged with the goodwill of the Holy Spirit, but also faithfulness to the Church and state forged with so much labour and blood, which our ancestors bequeathed to us and with which historical memory they decreed to us not to make any compromises, but to keep it for the generations—in order for our nation to exist henceforth as well, in order for Bulgaria to live forever.
Read the Synod’s full statement on the site of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
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