Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan of Varna Kiril, found dead on a beach near Varna on July 9, appears to have drowned after suffering from hypothermia, Bishop Tikhon of Tiveriopol said on July 10.
Bishop Tikhon, the chairman of the trustees board of Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia, dismissed all speculation of foul play that appeared in some local and international media, as “an absolute canard”.
Bulgarian National Television (BNT) quoted Varna prosecutors saying that the official cause of death has been ruled as drowning and the autopsy carried out at a Varna hospital found no signs of foul play.
The body was found at about 8am and was reported to the 112 emergency hotline; the deceased was later identified as Kiril. He was wearing a diving mask and a snorkel. Local residents interviewed by BNT said that Kiril was a good swimmer and was often seen swimming on the beach were his body was found.
The same BNT report said that the water temperature was somewhat colder than usual. According to Tikhon, the hypothermia set in after Kiril dived too deep and was caught in a cold-water current.
Speaking to television channel bTV, Tikhon said: “We were all surprised by what happened yesterday because he was a good swimmer. But we people always overestimate our abilities. The truth is that when one is caught in such a cold current, their muscles seize up and they can neither breathe, nor move.”
Varna district prosecutor Vladimir Chavdarov told bTV that prosecutors had asked for a report on the sea currents in the area where Kiril had drowned.
Bulgarian Orthodox Church Holy Synod appointed Vratsa Metropolitan Kalinik as interim metropolitan of Varna on July 10, until a replacement for Kiril is elected.
Procedurally, the election of a new metropolitan would not go ahead until after the 40-day period of mourning had concluded, bTV said.
Kiril is to be buried on the Metropolitans Row of Varna’s graveyard on July 11, following a church service that will be attended by Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit and other senior church officials, BNT said.
Kiril, born in 1954, was among the most controversial figures in the church, not only for being revealed to have been one of the several senior clergy to have been an agent for Bulgaria’s communist-era State Security but also for his luxury car and alleged taste for an opulent lifestyle.
After the death in late 2012 of long-serving Patriarch Maxim, Kiril was named the acting chairperson of the Holy Synod, the church’s governing body, but – after an initially vicious public contest about the future leadership of the church – he did not make the shortlist of three in the election of a new Patriarch. In February 2013, Rousse Metropolitan Neofit was elected Patriarch.
The death of Kiril would have a significant implication for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, because it would create another vacancy on the Holy Synod.
Pro tem, Neofit has held on to the diocese of Rousse but a Metropolitan would have to be elected in his place. In June 2013, the Holy Synod accepted the resignation of Simeon, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe, on the grounds of serious ill-health.
A third vacancy in the church’s governing body creates wider possibilities for changes in the balance of the power in the running of the church. Census results and surveys indicate that a majority of Bulgarians declare themselves to be adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
(Photo: DP Gatev)