21 April 1999


by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

The death on 10 April 1999 of 93-year-old METROPOLITAN PIMEN, former rival claimant to PATRIARCH MAKSIM as head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, does not spell the end of the schism which has split and undermined the Church since 1992. Pimen was the senior bishop in a breakaway group trying to force Maksim to resign because of his alleged collaboration with the communist regime (see Keston News Service �Bulgarian Schism Not Resolved?� 2 Dec 98 and �Irregular Bulgarian Church Council Deposes Patriarch Maksim� 23 Feb 99).

After the fall of Communism, Maksim was endorsed as legitimate Patriarch by the government formed by the recycled communist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). But an uncanonical Subor (Council) elected Pimen Patriarch on 2-3 July 1996 with the support of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), which had formed the first post-communist government but which was by then in opposition. However, 55 of the 150 delegates abstained. Moreover Pimen and his Synod were not recognised by any local Orthodox Church and Patriarch Maksim excommunicated him.

Pimen, originally ENEV NEDELCHEV, became a monk in 1933 but was subsequently disciplined for a severe moral offence and banished to Bachkovo monastery. Nevertheless he was rehabilitated and as a protege of Interior Minister ANTON YUGOV, one of the most hardline communist officials, became a bishop in 1947. In 1953 it took the (as yet uninfiltrated) Holy Synod five months instead of the routine two weeks to ratify Pimen as successor to METROPOLITAN BORIS OF NEVROKOP (Blagoevgrad, in south west Bulgaria) following Boris' mysterious assassination. Pimen did and said what the regime ordered, including splintering the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the USA by expelling its best priests.

The schism seemed to have been resolved by a Pan-Orthodox Council on 30 September - 1 October 1998 which confirmed the octogenarian Maksim as Patriarch though the ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMAIOS dropped a broad hint that it was time for him to retire gracefully in favour of a younger and more active man. The Council offered unexpectedly generous terms to Pimen and 12 schismatic bishops, reinstating them after they proffered their repentance. Pimen himself was not present, on health grounds, but he accepted the decision and the anathema against him was annulled. He was given the title 'former Metropolitan of Nevrokop' in view of his age and health and the bishop the Holy Synod had earlier replaced him with, NATANAIL, was left in charge.

A month later 400 dissident clergy, a third of the total, plus 700 lay delegates who refused to acknowledge the Council's decision held an Extraordinary Subor in Sofia on 9-10 November. This uncanonical Subor was actively backed and subsidised by the Board of Religious Affairs (BRA) and its head LUBOMIR MLADENOV, noted for his truculent attitude towards Maksim. This Subor voted unanimously for Maksim's dethronement and drafted new bylaws. The Holy Synod denounced the Subor as uncanonical on 17 November. To the relief of the majority of church members who support the Holy Synod, the Board of Religious Affairs has not yet registered the new constitution as representing the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. At the end of March Keston's contact in Sofia reported approvingly that Prime Minister IVAN KOSTOV had refused to receive one of the schismatic priests -'and he said "no" not "later."' At the same time Patriarch Maksim attended the launch of three books by his Patriarchal Vicar ILARION OF TRIANOPOL in a municipal hall under the aegis of Sofia's UDF council in the presence of UDF deputies. By 14 April Keston�s contact was less optimistic about the schism coming to an end. Eight of the 12 reinstated bishops had defected and ignored a stern warning from Bartholomaios that if they persisted in their rebellion they would face severe discipline. Meanwhile, the election of Pimen's successor in the rehabilitated parallel dissident Synod is under discussion.

Reporting on Pimen's funeral in Blagoevgrad Keston's source noted that only two important government ministers were present and that PRESIDENT PETAR STOYANOV and Maksim and the Holy Synod had sent wreaths. �The media didn't attach much importance to it; television coverage was brief, reticent and reserved, with neither praise nor accusations,� he commented. (END)