Bulgarian Synod on 80th anniversary of “Salvation of Bulgarian Jews”

Sofia, March 9, 2023

Bulgarian bishop Stefan, saver of Jews. Dimitar Peshev on right and Bishop Stefan on left. Photo: www.flickr.com Bulgarian bishop Stefan, saver of Jews. Dimitar Peshev on right and Bishop Stefan on left. Photo: www.flickr.com Since 2003, March 10 has been celebrated in Bulgaria as the “Day of the Salvation of the Bulgarian Jews.”

From 1943 to 1945 around 48,000 Jews living in Bulgaria were rescued from the grips of the Nazi terror, thanks in part to Bulgarian Parliament's Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev, Metropolitan Stefan, Exarch of the Bulgarian Church, Metropolitan Paisy of Vratsa, and Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv (later to become Patriarch), who convinced then-tsar Boris III to defend his Jewish population. The Holocaust trains arrived on March 10, 1943, but the planned deportation never took place.

The Bulgarian Church has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and honored for its role in the “Salvation of the Jews” several times.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of those fateful times. The Bulgarian Holy Synod issued a statement in honor of the occasion:

Beloved children of our holy Church,

On the 10th of March, the institutions of the Bulgarian state and our public commemorate the day when, in 1943, in the darkest hours of the Second World War, when its outcome was not at all clear, our people, with their collective efforts, stopped the deportation of our compatriots of Jewish origin, the Bulgarian Jews, to the Nazi death camps.

The role of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in this work has never been forgotten and has always been emphasized, especially by the Jewish community, for which we are grateful. Therefore, there is no need, and it is not appropriate for the Church to point out its own merits, even less for the fact that in a certain, difficult historical moment it acted in the only way possible for it, namely, in harmony with the commandments of the Orthodox faith.

The truth is that when, on the night of March 9-10, 1943, Metropolitan Stefan sought an urgent meeting with the state leadership to express the Church’s disapproval of the impending deportation, and Metropolitan Kirill put the imprisoned Jews in the school in Plovdiv and told the guards that if they were taken he would go with them, these were not isolated acts of civil position, but the result of a systematic, firmly held line of the Holy Synod. In accordance with the Christian teaching and the 1,000-year-old practice of tolerance, empathy and love, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always rejected any form of anti-Semitism, racial or religious hatred towards the representatives of the Jewish community, as well as in principle towards every person. As early as the adoption of the anti-Semitic Law for the Protection of the Nation, in the minutes of the Holy Synod of 1940, the warning words of the Bulgarian bishops can be heard: “The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which carries out among our people the saving truth and commandment of our Savior that we are all sons of the Heavenly Father, cannot fail to draw attention to the factors responsible that this bill, in some of its decrees against the Jewish-Israelites, contains provisions which cannot be considered just... Every man and every nation must protect themselves from dangers, but injustice and violence against others must not be allowed in this justified endeavor.”

And again: “The question of our attitude towards the Jews is clear. We are Christians, and as bishops of the holy Bulgarian Church, we cannot but stand on the ground of the Holy Gospel and Christ’s teaching about the equality of all men before God, regardless of origin, race and culture. Therefore, we must stand up for the Jews.”

The Holy Synod declared this position as early as 1940, and it found its most vivid expression in the action of the 9th-10th of March 1943, as a result of which not a single Jew living on the territory of the canonical diocese of the Bulgarian Exarchate at that time was sent to the death camps for extermination.

This action would not have been possible if the Bulgarian people had not been churched, if they had not been firmly united around their Metropolitans, if the voice of the Church had not been so strong, because it was the voice of the faithful, Christ-loving and philanthropic Orthodox Bulgarian people of God. No one else, namely the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, has nurtured in its people the strength and determination to oppose evil—qualities that are a manifestation of their belonging to the Christian faith and its values. The power of faith was demonstrated by the people, led by the bishops of their Orthodox Church, in the freezing days of 1943, and with their faith they saved their compatriots, the Jews. The people’s power is impossible without the Orthodox faith, and this is a very important lesson that we must learn for ourselves today from the case of the 10th of March.

We cannot but mention with deep sadness that, despite this, more than 11,000 Jews from neighboring territories, temporarily under Bulgarian secular administration, were still taken and many of them died in the flames of the Holocaust. We mourn for them. We regret that the Exarchate did not have the strength and opportunities to take care of the Jews in those dioceses that were forcibly separated from its body 30 years earlier, in the same way as for the Jews in Bulgaria. We are sincerely sorry!

Usually, on this day, the names of only some of the Metropolitans are mentioned, who especially manifested themselves in the holy and philanthropic work of saving the Bulgarian Jews in 1943. However, we are obliged to recall the names of all worthy bishops, members of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Exarchate at that time, who were gathered in the name of Christ and God was among them and blessed their work, and the Holy Life-giving Spirit dictated their decisions. These are: Metropolitan Neofit of Vidin, Deputy Chairman of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia, Metropolitan Michael of Dorostol and Cherven, Metropolitan Paisiy of Vratsa, Metropolitan Boris of Nevrokop, Metropolitan Sophrony of Tarnovo, Metropolitan Iosif of Varna and Preslav, Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv, Metropolitan Philaret of Lovech, Metropolitan Evlogy of Sliven, and Metropolitan Kliment of Stara Zagora.

Eternal and blessed be the memory of these ancestors of ours! Let their work be an inspiration and an example to us when we have to face contemporary manifestations of xenophobia, anti-Semitism or human hatred of any nature and against anyone. Their faith is our faith, their strength is our strength, their convictions are our convictions. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church will always educate its pious and Christ-loving people in love for neighbor, tolerance, solidarity and humanity. It has been so since Bulgaria became an Orthodox Christian state and, as far as it depends on us, it will be so here forever and ever.

May God forgive our archpastors who have passed away, who helped to save the Jews in the Exarchate dioceses on the territory of Bulgaria and thus protected the dignity of the Orthodox Church and preserved the honor of our Motherland.

God save Bulgaria!

The statement is signed by His Holiness Patriarch Neofit and all the members of the Bulgarian Holy Synod.

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Pfmd3/16/2023 11:18 pm
This is indeed a strange holiday for an Orthodox Church to celebrate. Today their descendants are trying to destroy the same Orthodox Church in Russia and Ukraine, as did their brethren in Russia and Ukraine in 1917 during the so called “Russian Revolution”, which was anything but Russian, but a Wall Street and London funded coup by bankers named Schiff, Lowe and Rothschild just as today the Ukrainian coup is funded by London and Wall Street bankers named Soros, Rothschild, and Larry Fink (Black Rock).
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