Bulgarian Church celebrates 70th anniversary of restored Patriarchate

Sofia, May 10, 2023

Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv was elected the first new Patriarch in 1953. Photo: marica.bg Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv was elected the first new Patriarch in 1953. Photo: marica.bg     

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its restored Patriarchal status, which occurred in 1953 after decades of schism with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The event was solemnly celebrated with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and moleben this morning in the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia.

The Holy Synod also issued a statement on the occasion, covering the long history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The statement reads in full:

Christ is risen!

Beloved in the Lord, children of our holy Church,

Today, the tenth day of May, on which we liturgically celebrate the Feast of Mid-Pentecost, a significant anniversary decorates the calendar of our native Bulgarian Orthodox Church even more: in the middle of the period between Pascha and Pentecost, this year seven blessed decades are fulfilled from the act of the third proclamation of its patriarchal dignity in its millennium-long history.

On May 10, 1953, on the last day of its work, the Third Church-People’s Council of our Orthodox Church made the historic decision to restore its patriarchal status—a decision by which it corrected an historical injustice and fulfilled the dreams and hopes of generations of Orthodox Christians from the Bulgarian race, who gave their strength and their lives for our spiritual freedom and our ecclesiastical independence.

Having begun its historical existence in the distant 870 as the Archbishopric of the Patriarchal See of Constantinople, the Bulgarian Church was awarded the highest patriarchal status in the Orthodox world already in the period of the First Bulgarian State, only to lose this status together with the loss of state independence at the beginning of the eleventh century, being demoted by the conqueror again to the rank of an aAchbishopric—the Bulgarian Archdiocese of Ohrid.

After the rejection of Byzantine power by our people and the rise of the Second Bulgarian State, in 1235 the Holy Patriarchate of Tarnovo was proclaimed: a glorious Church that enjoyed high recognition and authority throughout the medieval Christian world, which existed until the time of the Ottoman invasion, when it was absorbed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and when only the Ohrid Archbishopric remained to remind Orthodox Bulgarians of their glorious past.

But the centuries of dual state and Church-non-independence failed to break the freedom-loving Orthodox Bulgarian spirit. In the midst of an unequal struggle, with much perseverance and quite a few sacrifices, in 1870—exactly a millennium after the historical first establishment of the Bulgarian Church—our ancestors managed to win the restoration of our Church independence, in the form of the Bulgarian Exarchate; in 1945 the schism imposed on us by the Ecumenical Patriarchate was lifted, and in 1953 our patriarchal dignity was restored once again.

Throughout this long and thorny historical path, the Orthodox Bulgarian family, regardless of all the trials and temptations it was subjected to, remained faithful to the most important thing: Throughout this time, our spiritual leaders, the priesthood and monastics, and all our worthy ancestors remained firm in the Orthodox faith, as they did not deviate either to the left or to the right from the royal path, but preserved and preserved the pure the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude. 1:3).

And these trials and temptations were not few. The numerous attempts to persuade to a shameful union with the Papacy, to Islamization in the centuries under Ottoman rule, and to a final separation of the Bulgarian people from holy Orthodoxy and its formation into a nationally defined confession in the long decades of the shameful schism with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, instead of diverting our people from the Orthodox faith, they only managed to confirm it even more in the choice made already in the ninth century by our God-crowned enlightener, the holy Equal-to-the-Apostle Boris I-Michael. The example of our great native saint Patriarch Euthymius and his prayerful intercession have always been a guiding light for our Church and our people.

All this difficult, but dignified historical path tread by our people, gives us an occasion and reason today, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the restoration of the patriarchal dignity of our own holy Orthodox Church, to say, together with the Holy Apostle Paul, on behalf of the entire Orthodox Bulgarian people: I have fought a good fight I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). And let us continue together on this narrow but saving path—to the crown of righteousness with which the Lord crowns those who are faithful to Him to the end.

On this highly festive day, abiding in the light and in the fullness of joy arising from the news of Christ’s Resurrection, we thank God for the renewal of our Orthodox Church and with filial gratitude we bow our heads before the feat of countless known and unknown benefactors for its purity and holiness through the ages.

With particular strength, we remember in our prayers today the ever-memorable Bulgarian Patriarch Kirill, under whom this renewal was carried out, as well as our incomparable father and Patriarch Maxim, who with great kindness, but also with determination and uncompromising in preserving Church unity, confirmed the foundation laid before him in order to hand over to us our holy Orthodox Church without spot or blemish, holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27), as, according to the Apostle to the Gentiles, the true Church of Christ is.

The feat and example left us by them, by our worthy exarchs Antim, Joseph, and Stefan, and in general by all the builders of our holy Orthodox Church over the centuries, oblige us to even more zeal for the benefit of our beloved Orthodox people, for the glory of God, and in affirming the mission of the holy Church of Christ in the modern world.

Through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, of all the saints .and of all His followers from the Bulgarian Christian race, may the Almighty God always grant His peace to our Orthodox Church and strengthen us with His grace!

Happy and blessed anniversary!

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