Church schism in Bulgaria healed


The Pan-Orthodox Council with the participation of the Primates and hierarchs of all Local Orthodox Churches was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, on September 30-October 1, 1998. The Council was convened on the initiative of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church with His Holiness Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria at the head who asked all Orthodox Church to support canonical Orthodoxy in Bulgaria and to affirm the unity of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria by the authority of the Pan-Orthodox Council.

The schism in the Bulgarian Church occurred in 1992 when the Administration for religions under the Bulgarian government declared the election of Patriarch Maxim illegitimate. He was elected in 1971 in the period of strict dependence of the Church on communist authorities. Several hierarchs headed by Metropolitan Pimen of Nevrokop acknowledged the fact of the intervention of a new Bulgarian government into church affairs as justifiable and refused to obey Patriarch Maxim and the Synod which he heads. On 31 May 1992, being backed by the Administration for religions, the schismatics took possession of the building of the Synod and formed an alternative structure which is supported by certain political circles in Bulgaria, but is not recognized by any canonical Orthodox Church. On 22 July 1992, The Bishops’ Council of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church deposed 7 hierarchs for making a schism in the Church. The schismatics continued their activities during several years. On 4 July 1996 they proclaimed the former Metropolitan Pimen of Nevrokop as Bulgarian ‘Patriarch’, and towards 1998 doubled the number of their hierarchs.

Taking part in the Pan-Orthodox Council in Sofia on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church were His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and Archbishop Clement of Kaluga and Borovsk, respectively Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Pan-Orthodox Council considered the facts of schism in the Bulgarian Church and resolved that the existence of the schism in the Holy Local Churches is a gravest sin which takes away the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and provokes a great and sometimes even an ineradicable temptation in the conscience of our brothers who believe in the Lord.

The Council considered an appeal from a group of schismatics who declared their repentance and wish to come back to the unity of the Holy Orthodox Church. While accepting this repentance, the Council resolved to restore the deposed hierarchs in their canonical dignity and to take them into church communion and ministry as bishops by the utmost economy. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church undertakes to appoint them to perform their archpastoral ministry in due time and according to canons. Likewise, forgiven for the sin of being in schism and for its promotion are the religious and laymen who should stay in humility and trust in the unity with the Holy Orthodox Church in which they were baptized and taken as those who retain unity and communion with all Primates of the Holy Orthodox Churches which recognize His Holiness Patriarch Maxim of Sofia and all Bulgaria and the Most Reverend Metropolitans and the Right Reverend Bishops of the Holy Bulgarian Church who stay with him.