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Across town, the Pokrov medical center helps those who lack resources for medical care in Bulgaria’s private hospitals. “There was a sharp decrease in state spending after the economic collapse [of 1997], so certain categories of patients were marginalized,” said Maya Ivanova, the director of the medical center. “This was especially true of patients with psychiatric needs, so we offer them special services.”

The center has also employed many doctors and other medical professionals who found themselves unemployed after the collapse of the Communist state. It also runs a drug awareness program at nearby schools; escalating drug use and criminal activity, rooted in high rates of unemployment, plague Bulgarian youth.

Professional and volunteer staff pay home visits to the elderly and gravely ill. Recently, for instance, Katerina Artmianova looked in on 78-year-old Ivana Gradova, a retired professor of Russian who has problems with her legs. She needs help in all aspects of daily life: cooking, cleaning, shopping and bathing.

“Ivana is a woman warrior. She wants to do things by herself but can’t,” said Mrs. Artmianova, who has worked for the Pokrov medical center for two years. “I felt a need to help people, and that’s why I do it. It’s hard, draining work, but I draw inspiration from it.”

In the suburbs, the Pokrov day care center provides instruction for 20 children, between the ages of 6 and 12, with mental and physical disabilities. The goal is to provide the children with specialized instruction that is rarely offered at state schools and then carefully integrate them into the state system. Children at the center have various maladies, including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and epilepsy. While the center employs trained specialists, it also relies on volunteers who have therapy experience.

“For most of our volunteers, working here is an expression of their faith,” said Milen Zamfirov, the center’s director.

Along with its various philanthropic endeavors, the Pokrov Foundation also runs a publishing house, Omophor, through which it hopes to broaden interest in the church.

“Our books are aimed at a religious audience, but not too serious of an audience,” said Elena Alexandrova, the publishing director. “We are trying to fill a big gap in the public’s knowledge.”

Recent titles include Vladeta Jerota’s The Teaching of St. John Climacus and Our Times, Leonid Ouspensky’s classic, Theology of the Icon, and a number of works by the revered Russian-English bishop, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. Omophor also produces a journal, Christ Has Risen.

Most of the authors are not Bulgarian, however. “In the last decade, there has been almost no theological literature by Bulgarians,” Mrs. Alexandrova said. “Most of our books are translations from Russian, Serbian and English.”

Though the Bulgarian Orthodox Church today claims as members 83 percent of the country’s 7.4 million people, most Bulgarian Orthodox know little about their faith.

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Tags: Communism/Communist Bulgarian Orthodox Church