Bulgarian Synod calls for spiritual revival, Orthodox education in schools

Sofia, August 30, 2023

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Bulgarian society is in need of a spiritual revival as a solution to the problems it is facing, say the hierarchs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The Holy Synod issued a statement last week calling for the people and the state to return to their Christian values, which should be supported by mandatory Orthodox education in schools.

The Synod has produced textbooks for all grades for the religious classes that are currently voluntary and not available to all students.

In its call for repentance, the Synod condemns the increasing cases of violence seen in Bulgarian society lately.

The Church’s statement reads:

Our society is in urgent need of a spiritual revival, which can happen if we all together offer universal repentance for our sins and weaknesses and join ourselves to the ennobling spirit of the Orthodox faith and its divine social and moral values. This is a well-tried path, successfully applied through the centuries to resolve personal and interpersonal conflicts, to reduce widespread aggression, to overcome national and institutional divisions. Christian morality is the most powerful barrier against the destructive influence of multiplying addictions, materialism, consumerism, debauchery, greed, violence, and crime.

That is why for three decades the Bulgarian Orthodox Church-Bulgarian Patriarchate has been calling on our public leaders to show patriotic determination, statesmanlike wisdom, and political will for the return of compulsory religious education in schools. Thus, students will be able to successfully build a sustainable worldview of faith in God, love for people, peacemaking, charity, hard work, and also a sense of national belonging on the basis of the Gospel teaching of Christ.

In the period of transition, the Holy Synod actively assists the state with its concept of religious education, which provides for both compulsory and electability within the subject Religion in order to take into account the rights and interests of all parents and their children. From 2020 until 2023, the Holy Synod also created new, modern textbooks on Religion-Christianity-Orthodoxy for all students from 1st to 12th grades that received the approval of the Ministry of Education. Guided by its millennial experience in the exceptional educational power of Orthodox Christianity, our Church does not cease emphasizing the great importance of spiritual and moral education of children from an early age—in the family, in the church, in kindergarten, in school. This our Holy Church does out of love for its people, out of concern for the growing generations and out of compassion for the pains and problems of modern man.

In connection with the widespread public discontent about the increasing cases of violence and impunity in Bulgaria, we call on the responsible institutions to implement timely and decisive reforms. However, these reforms should not only focus on the criminal code or the Domestic Violence Act but should cover the entire Bulgarian legislation, with an emphasis on the protection and support of Bulgarian families, the upbringing and growth of Bulgarian children in a healthy family environment, and a supportive educational environment. The legislative changes should not only have punitive effects but should primarily have educational and preventive effects. A society where punishment is the guiding principle in the fight against crime and aggression has no future and is doomed to disintegration. Conversely, a society that prioritizes spiritual and moral upbringing, education, and culture, and implements them as tools to protect national identity and security and the well-being of the entire nation has a future.

The status of the subject Religion in our educational system and the state of contemporary Bulgarian society are directly and inevitably connected. The family is the first educational environment for a child. But the educational process continues and should continue in schools, in the Church, and in society. The formation of a human personality is influenced not only by its physical and intellectual development but primarily by its spiritual and moral improvement. This aspect should be given special attention without delay through the restoration of religious and moral education for all children and students, if we want the cases of inhuman cruelty and brutal crime to decrease and disappear in our homeland. There is no other subject in school that can achieve this.

Until 1947, the Law of God, or Religious Education had a particularly positive influence on the value formation of our grandmothers, grandfathers, and parents. It was mandatory and placed at the forefront of their study programs and notebooks. After 1997, the subject Religion also proved to have a beneficial influence on the students and classes that studied it. Paradoxically, it is not yet part of the mandatory curriculum, which means that many parents who want their children to study it do not have this opportunity. Moreover, in most European countries, religious education is mandatory and denominational.

It saddens us that conflicts in our society are escalating and the suffering of victims of violence is increasing. But this is a logical consequence of the lack of targeted spiritual and moral upbringing and education in our native schools. A significant portion of our youth is confused, lacks purpose and meaning in life, and experiences increasing moral degradation. These tragic results were already predicted by the notable Bishop Boris of Nevrokop in 1928 when he wrote his remarkable work The Crisis In Our School. In it, he prophetically emphasized that if the denial of religion dominates Bulgarian education, our society and state will suffer catastrophic consequences in the coming decades. This is exactly what happened during the atheist regime, and it continues to this day, and we are all witnesses to it. Bishop Boris alarmingly warns that some self-righteous “people in our country wished to go beyond good and evil and attempted to redefine values.”

In connection with everything said above, we, the members of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, responsibly declare that when “the difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood, love and hate, justice and injustice, virtue and vice, honor and dishonor” is erased, a personal and universal social crisis occurs, which can only be overcome through the rediscovery and application of Christian virtues. We call on our leaders and our entire society to unite in the fight against aggression and moral degradation, and for the subject of Religion-Orthodoxy to be introduced into the mandatory curriculum for those students whose parents want them to study it, so that we may have our own rebirth and ensure the survival of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian people!

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