Plovdiv, Bulgaria, December 13, 2022
The ongoing war in Ukraine was preceded by an ecclesiastical, metaphysical battle, and until the wounds on the Body of Christ are healed, there will be no lasting peace, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Plovdiv of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church believes.
His remarks came during the recent visit of His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, head of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, whose working visit to Bulgaria began last Monday.
On Tuesday, on the new calendar feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, he participated in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian representation church in Sofia, which is consecrated in honor of St. Nicholas, together with His Eminence Metropolitan Gabriel of Lovech and His Grace Bishop Gerasim of Melnik of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
About two dozen people, organized by a Bulgarian journalist, protested the service, holding giant Bulgarian and Ukrainian flags across the street from the church, though their demonstration didn’t interfere with the service at all, Met. Anthony told RIA-Novosti.
Following the Liturgy, a moleben to St. Seraphim (Sobolev) was served at the saint’s relics in the crypt of the Russian church.
The next day, Met. Anthony visited the Monastery of the Nativity of Christ at the Shipka Pass and served a memorial service for the Russians and Bulgarians who fell in the battles there during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.
On Thursday, Met. Anthony visited the city of Plovdiv and was received by His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Plovdiv, His Grace Bishop Arseny of Znepole, and His Grace Bishop Vissarion of Smolyan at the Cathedral of the Great Martyr Marina.
In his greeting to his Russian guest, Met. Nicholas spoke extensively about the history of relations between the Bulgarian and Russian Churches and about the present conflict in Ukraine.
The Church in Plovdiv has a long history, His Eminence emphasized, noting that it was, in fact, founded by the Apostle Hermes himself in 71 AD, and thus existed long before there was an autocephalous Bulgarian Church. Hundreds of martyrs have come from the diocese over the millennia, he said.
The Bulgarian and Russian Churches are united not only by a common faith, but also deep historical ties, Met. Nicholas recalled. After imbibing the faith preached by Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Bulgarian Church then handed it on first to Kiev, “and from there to the vast lands of the east,” he said. In turn, Bulgaria has received help from Russian in times of need, including when Russia helped liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Yoke under Tsar Alexander II, who, Met. Nicholas said, is continually commemorated in all services of the Bulgarian Church.
And turning to the topic of Ukraine, the Bulgarian hierarch emphasized that he felt “obliged to share the concern that we and our peaceful Orthodox people are experiencing these days.”
We’re neither secular politicians who reason from the positions of utilitarian benefit for our own countries, nor are we detached analysts observing what is happening with scientific interest. We’re Orthodox Christians and the battles that are being fought in the lands for the conversion of which our predecessors, bishops and priests from Bulgaria invested their lives and souls in the 10th and following centuries, are a battle that is being fought inside our hearts. The Body of Christ is suffering because of this fratricidal war, we’re all suffering, we’re sure you’re suffering too. We’re bound, with sincere brotherly love, to try to discover the causes of the misfortune that has befallen us, and to try to put an end to it.
The Bulgarian hierarch then recalled how in March he reflected on the war that had just begun between two Orthodox nations, saying “there may be a reason that has gone unnoticed by secular politicians and analysts—that a few years before that, the Orthodox world was troubled by an inter-Church dispute over jurisdiction.”
Any dispute about jurisdiction is “actually a dispute about souls and tears at the souls of Orthodox Christians,” Met. Nicholas said. Such a dispute can only be resolved from the standpoint of Christian love and canon law, he continued, for any other method, “God forbid with worldly methods and approaches, can make the conflict even deeper, and this is currently happening before our eyes.”
And in the Bulgarian hierarch’s view, the current war is a direct consequence of the religious conflict:
In two words, Venerable Vladyka, I think and confess aloud that from the point of view of us Orthodox, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine began as an inter-church dispute over jurisdiction, in which gradually all the other Orthodox churches were involved to a greater or lesser extent. This is unnecessary and dangerous. We have no right to allow a conflict between two Orthodox peoples to spread like a conflagration over the entire universal Orthodox Church. On the contrary, universal Orthodoxy is obliged to help in every possible way to resolve the conflict. But, anyway, it is my opinion that the military conflict between your countries at the moment is a direct consequence of the transcendental conflict that preceded it. Until the cause is removed, the effect will not be corrected. Until the error, if any has been made, is corrected, peace cannot be restored. I believe this with all my heart and soul, and I ask you not to be angry with me for saying it so bluntly.
“The time for diplomacy is over,” he said, for the very Body of Christ is in danger, “and we no longer have the right to hide our thoughts and feelings behind fancy words and meaningless phrases.”
In the Church, the priority of honor doesn’t mean a priority of rights, he continued, nor does a mathematical majority of adherents matter if the majority deviates from Orthodox dogma and canons.
The Bulgarian Church is ready to make every effort to “get us all back together on the path of brotherly love and begin to heal the sounds that have been inflicted on the Body of Christ,” Met. Nicholas assured
“I believe that until the wounds on the Church are healed, the conflict between the nations won’t be overcome,” he said. He continued:
With tears in my eyes, I ask Our Lord Jesus Christ to enlighten our minds and strengthen our will to break free from the snares of the evil one, who has darkened our minds to the point where we forget who we are, what our calling is and what our mission is in this world. And it is to preach love, to strengthen peace and to work around the clock for the salvation of the souls of Orthodox Christians entrusted to us by God. If we can help peace and love with the means that God has given us at the moment of our ordination, there will be no greater reward for us and for you.
In conclusion, Met. Nicholas presented Met. Anthony with an icon of St. Clement of Ohrid.