Lovech, Bulgaria, January 29, 2020
While the hierarchs of the schismatic “Macedonian Orthodox Church” (MOC) are optimistic about the possibility of receiving a tomos of autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, other, canonical, hierarchs believe this would be a serious mistake.
In the view of His Eminence Metropolitan Gabriel of Lovech, a member of the Bulgarian Holy Synod and one of the most authoritative hierarchs of the Bulgarian Church, the MOC could receive autocephaly either from the Serbian Church, from which it split in the 1960s, or from a pan-Orthodox council, as he expressed in a recent interview with Bulgarian National Radio.
Historically, Local Churches receive autocephaly either from their Mother Church, as the Georgian Church did from the Antiochian Church in the first millennium, or from a council, as the Church of Cyprus did from the 3rd Ecumenical Council.
“It is good that the Ecumenical Patriarch appealed to the Serbian Church to remove the schism imposed on the Macedonian Orthodox Church and give it autocephaly. Although the Macedonian Church was once part of the Bulgarian Church, after the wars it entered the territory of Yugoslavia and became autonomous under the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is recognized by all Orthodox Churches,” the Bulgarian hierarch said.
Therefore, the Bulgarian Church cannot be considered a Mother Church to the Macedonian schismatics, Met. Gabriel stated.
“No one would recognize such a decision, it would make no sense, and there is a great danger that we would fall into a schism if we allowed ourselves to make such a decision. It’s speculation,” he added.
“There was great pressure on our Church ... but we do not have the canonical right to remove the schism from them or give them autocephaly,” the Bulgarian hierarch said.
The MOC initially reached out to the Bulgarian Church in late 2017, to take it under its wing and help it resolve its canonical status, to which the Bulgarian Church initially agreed, but, as Met. Gabriel notes, several Local Churches warned the Bulgarian Church against interfering in the Macedonian situation.
“Our Church has withstood tremendous pressure from people who didn't know what they wanted from us. They wanted us to go back and become a schismatic Church again. Several Churches warned us not to allow ourselves to resolve the schism, because we would also fall into schism,” His Eminence explained.
“We very much want the Macedonian Orthodox Church to deliver itself from schism and gain independence, but it must be canonical and recognized by the entire Orthodox world. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense,” he added.
Given the serious reservations expressed by other Local Churches, including the Serbian Church, the Bulgarian Church wisely chose not to move ahead with any unilateral actions that would cause a greater split in the Orthodox world.
The Serbian Church, however, could bring the MOC back into canonical communion with the Church, Met. Gabriel said, noting that, “when the Ecumenical Patriarch says that they should remove the schism, he recognizes that the Serbian Church is the mother Church of Macedonia.”