Russian Church rep expelled from Bulgaria, banned from N. Macedonia—Church responds

Sofia, September 22, 2023

Photo: Telegram Photo: Telegram     

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s representation Church of St. Nicholas in Sofia and two others were expelled from Bulgaria yesterday.

The Bulgarian authorities “considered Fr. Vassian (Zmeev) a threat to national security,” the Russian embassy in Sofia told TASS.

According to the Bulgarian Security Service, “There is information about the actions of these persons related to the implementation of various elements of the Russian Federation’s hybrid strategy to purposefully influence the socio-political processes in the Republic of Bulgaria in favor of Russian geopolitical interests.”

Russian ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova explains that Fr. Vassian, Fr. Evgeny Pavelchuk (secretary of the podvoriye), and another church employee “were summoned to the migration service, where they were told that they pose a threat to Bulgarian national security and must leave the country today.”

They were then put in a police van and taken to their homes and the church to gather their things before being taken to the border with Serbia, the ambassador said.

The Church representatives are also banned from returning to Bulgaria for five years.

The expulsion comes just a few days after Fr. Vassian was also banned from entering North Macedonia, which he had previously visited several times during his time in Sofia. Fr. Vassian has been serving in the Sofia church for five years, and last year he was also appointed to represent the Russian Church to the newly autocephalous Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric.

The Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations issued a statement yesterday “strongly protesting against the unjustified expulsion of its representatives from Bulgaria.”

“The expulsion of the clergy, whose vocation is to serve God and people, to preach peace and brotherhood between peoples, is an outrageous act dictated by Russophobic motives and a desire to erase the glorious pages of the common history of Bulgaria and Russia,” the DECR states.

The Church of St. Nicholas “has been a symbol of the spiritual unity of our fraternal peoples for past hundred years,” the statement continues.

The DECR further notes that the church crypt is home the relics of St. Seraphim (Sobolev), who is widely venerated in both the Russian and Bulgarian Churches. However, “The current decision of the authorities also expresses their disrespect for the feelings of the faithful who are now deprived of the opportunity to visit the tomb because of the suppression of the podvoriye’s activities.”

The statement concludes that the “rude measure of police arbitrariness … is aimed at undermining the traditionally friendly relations between the two Sister Churches, with the aim of turning fraternal peoples connected by a common history and a single faith against each other.”

However, “The Moscow and Bulgarian Patriarchates will preserve their centuries-old communion and will not sacrifice the historical memory of our peoples,” the DECR is sure.

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