Wednesday 23 February


by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

Following a Pan-Orthodox Council's confirmation (on 30 September - 1

October 1998 in Sofia) of PATRIARCH MAKSIM as Bulgarian Patriarch, a

state-subsidised Extraordinary Council has voted to depose the

Patriarch. Maksim's validity has been contested and the Church rent by

schism since 1992. Schismatic bishops repented in front of the top-level

Orthodox Council which announced the schism was at an end. Despite this

certain interested parties, with support from at least part of the

goverment, are doing their utmost to keep the schism alive. The

Extraordinary Council was convened (9/10 November) despite a specific

warning by the Pan-Orthodox Council that no kind of Council should be

convened without the consent of the Patriarch and Holy Synod.

Key government figures attended it; the Board for Religious Affairs

(BRA) subsidised the travel and hotel expenses of around 600 delegates

and hired the Sofia Opera House for the occasion. According to Keston's

informant in Sofia, some delegates, out of interest, checked the number

of priests present; one estimate was 385, at the start. 'Certainly the

turn-out did not come up to the organisers' expectations', he

said.'There are around 700 full-time and 500 part-time pensioner priests

so two-thirds of the clergy remained loyal to Maksim and boycotted it.

A letter from a number of Holy Synod Metropolitans stated that though

they would gladly attend a Council of Unity in the future they could not

attend this one. At least one senior foreign cleric was present, but on

an unofficial basis - possibly a representative from the schismatic Kiev

Patriarchate.' The Kiev Patriarch FILARET believes in keeping all

possible lines open - Catholics included.

The Extraordinary Council was condemned by, among others, the priests

SPAS MIHAILOV of the pro-Patriarchate Movement for the Unity of the

Church and by BOYAN SARUEV. Saruev, who has a dubious background as an

ex-police officer, has achieved considerable popularity in certain

Orthodox and government circles since he made his speciality a mission

to reconvert the Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Muslims) to Christianity.

The Council voted unanimously for Maksim's dethronement. It passed draft

By-Laws composed under the direction of BRA head LUBOMIR MLADENOV and

the Dean of Sofia University's Theology Department Professor IVAN DENEV,

which followed the precedent of the communist government back in 1950.

It prepared the ground for another Council and elected its own Synod.

Although Vice-Premier VESSELIN METODIEV registered the new By-Laws some

elements in the government were sensitive to public and international

Orthodox opinion and tried to keep their lines open with both sides.

'ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTOLOMAIOS hinted to Maksim at the Pan-Orthodox

Council that if he were Maksim he would resign´┐Ż, Keston's informant

commented. (Maksim is 85 and even among supporters of legitimate church

rule there is widespread feeling that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church

needs a younger, fitter man to lead it out of its crisis.) 'But

Metodiev's registration, the uncanonical Council and its demotion of

Maksim were ridiculous.'

The Holy Synod in a statement on 17 November denounced the Council, its

composition and competence and said there was no provision in Bulgarian

Orthodox Church canons or constitution for it. It regretted that 'a

government organ encouraged and supported the participants with

exhortations, financial inducements and promises of material benefits'.

It appealed to Bulgarian clergy and members loyal to the Orthodox

Church to stand firm and help promote the unity of the Church and

people. The majority of church members regard Maksim as the legitimate

Patriarch. (END)