Sofia, February 11, 2020
On February 28, 1870, Sultan Abdülaziz of the Ottoman Empire issued a decree (firman) restoring the ancient autocephalous Bulgarian Church under the name of “Bulgarian Exarchate,” thus satisfying the Bulgarian peoples long-hoped for independence from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the reign of Hellenism in their Church life.
On February 28 this year, the Bulgarian Church will prayerfully commemorate this restoration of its autocephaly.
A statement on the Bulgarian Church’s official website reads:
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the issue of the sultan’s firman on the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate, on February 28 of this year (Friday) at 10 o’clock, a solemn moleben of thanksgiving will be served in the dioceses of the BOC–BP [Bulgarian Orthodox Church-Bulgarian Patriarchate], accompanied by the festive ringing of the bells. At the end of the moleben, the Patriarchal and Synodal message on the occasion of this illustrious anniversary is to be read.
The Bulgarian Church was initially declared autocephalous in 919, which the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized in 927. It later lost its independence under the Ottoman yoke, being placed under the spiritual jurisdiction of Constantinople, and it began to be Hellenized, which Bulgarian luminaries such as St. Paisius of Hilandar (1722–1773) resisted. By the end of the 1860s, the Bulgarian people managed to regain control of most of their dioceses, culminating in the sultan’s decree in 1870.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople refused to recognize this act of the Sultan and declared the Bulgarian Church to be in schism until 1945, when it recognized the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church.