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The Orthodox Church of Bulgaria

In July 1997 the first Bulgarian Orthodox general council in 40 years was held in Sofia under the leadership of Patriarch Maxim. The council focused on new possibilities open to the church in the new conditions of a democratic society. It called upon the government to allow it to develop its ministry in various areas of public life including the media. It asked the authorities to guarantee religious instruction in schools, to establish chaplaincies in the armed forces, in prisons and hospitals, and to return property confiscated by the communists. Measures were adopted to begin a process of renewal of church life, including the development of catechetical programs and theological formation, the setting up of a large program of social action, the strengthening of the role of the laity in the church, and the renewal of monasticism. New church statutes were to be drafted to replace those instituted in 1953 under communist pressure. Religious instruction in the schools resumed in September 1997.

New theology faculties have been created since the fall of communism. At present there are Orthodox theological faculties in Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, Kardzhali, Shumen, and Blagoevgrad, and two Orthodox seminaries located in Sofia (St John of Rila, founded in 1903) and Plovdiv (Sts. Cyril and Methodius). In 2006 the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had 13 dioceses in the country and two abroad, with about 2,600 parishes served by 1,545 priests. In addition, there were about 250 monks and nuns. According to a 2005 report by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, about 50% of Bulgarians who self-identify as Orthodox participate in formal religious services. Other sources indicated that about 40% of the population was atheistic or agnostic. Article 13 of the 1991 Bulgarian constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the “traditional” religion of the country.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Holy Synod, made up of the Patriarch and all the diocesan bishops, is the supreme clerical, juridical and administrative authority in the church. It functions in two bodies. The Full Synod meets each June and November and whenever else it is judged necessary. The Lesser Synod is composed of the Patriarch and four other bishops elected by the Full Synod to four-year terms, meets almost continually and deals with current church affairs. The Patriarch presides over both bodies and handles relations with the state and other churches.

Patriarch Maxim passed away at the age of 98 on November 6, 2012. The Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Neofit of Ruse to succeed him on February 24, 2013.

Metropolitan Joseph (born 1942, elected 1989) heads the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia (550-A West 50th Street, New York, New York 10019). Altogether there are 19 parishes in the USA, eight in Canada and two in Australia. The bishops’ vicar for Australia is Fr. Alexander Popov, Sts Cyril and Methodios Cathedral, 3 Bayview St., Northcote 3070 Melbourne, Victoria. Bulgarian Orthodox in Britain are under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Antonyi (born 1978, elected 2013) of Western and Central Europe, who resides in Berlin. Contact Archpriest Simeon Iliev at St. John of Rila Church at the Bulgarian Embassy, 186-188 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5HL.

Another Bulgarian Orthodox jurisdiction broke with the Bulgarian patriarchate during the communist period and is now part of the Orthodox Church in America. It is headed by Bishop Alexander Golitzin (born 1948, elected 2012), whose offices are located at 519 Brynhaven Dr., Oregon, Ohio 43616. The diocese has 20 parishes and missions and one monastery in the USA, plus two parishes in Canada.

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