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Crisis in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Sobornost or Authoritarianism?

02. Mai 2024

Polina Spirova, Zlatina Ivanova
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University

In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC), elections are taking place: in the coming months the metropolitan of one of the largest seaside dioceses, Sliven, and then the Bulgarian patriarch, will be elected.

Of course, the election of a diocesan bishop cannot be called a unique event in the life of the BOC, but this time the election has led to a serious crisis that has raised an important ecclesiastical question about the participation of the clergy and laity in the life of the Church. Undoubtedly, the elections of the patriarch, scheduled for June, will also take place in the context of this crisis.

What caused the crisis?
The procedure for the election of the metropolitan of the BOC involves not only the representatives of the high clergy but also priests and laypeople. The first stage is that the Holy Synod provides diocesan electors (clergy and laity) with a list of approved candidates for the vacant metropolitan see. The electors, by secret ballot, choose the two candidates with a majority of votes. A week later, the second stage takes place when the members of the Synod elect one of the two bishops as the new metropolitan.

The participation of clergy and people in the election of bishops to metropolitan sees dates back to the restoration of the Bulgarian Church at the end of the 19th century. At that time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, and the struggle for national liberation was closely linked to the struggle for an independent Church. The re-establishment and consolidation of the Bulgarian Exarchate was then a common labor of clergy and laity, and from that time the Statutes of the Bulgarian Church adopted the principles of their active participation in the matters of the Church.

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