Bulgaria says solemn final farewell to Patriarch Maxim

The simple and sacred surroundings of Troyan Monastery became the final resting place of the late Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Maxim on November 9, towards the close of a day of national mourning that seemed filled with the sound of plainsong and tolling bells.

Through the day, from the morning funeral service at Alexander Nevsky cathedral to the final at Troyan, most major national television channels devoted blanket coverage to the ceremonies.

In Alexander Nevsky, state and religious leaders passed in procession to pay their respects as Patriarch Maxim lay in state in an open coffin. Hundreds of lips brushed with respectful kisses the hand of the man who led the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for more than 40 years.

Among those at Sofia’s landmark Orthodox cathedral were President Rossen Plevneliev, Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, former president Georgi Purvanov, Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov and a host of senior national office-bearers, politicians and diplomats.

The Bulgarian people should mourn and remember Patriarch Maxim for what he did for the unity of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and preservation of the spirit of the whole nation, President Plevneliev told journalists.

“I am grateful to him, I bow down to what he did and I wish the next Patriarch will be as worthy as Patriarch Maxim,” Plevneliev said.

Faith communities representatives included Istanbul-based Eastern Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeos I, Serbian Patriarch Irinej, senior clergy from the Orthodox Christian churches in Russia, Romania, Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Albania; senior representatives of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and other denominations, the Bulgarian metropolitans who make up the Holy Synod, bishops, abbotts, monks, nuns and priests. Others who paid their respects included a large number of foreign diplomats accredited toSofia.

After the VIPs had passed through, rank-and-file faithful were admitted to the cathedral, crowding its cavernous interior to say farewell to a man whose role and legacy are being avidly debated and will be for time to come.

On television, priests, pundits and academics debated the role of Maxim, whose career at the head of the church endured through the time of a Bulgaria in the chill grasp of communism, through to the present reality of a much-changed country, integrated with the rest of Europe and the wider world.

Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai, currently acting in one of the roles previously held by Maxim as Metropolitan of Sofia, said that Bulgarians mourning Maxim need not hold back their tears: “We all love him, the way we love a wise and learned father, we love him the way we love Bulgaria – silently, without showiness, but sincerely”.

Among the younger clergy, much in evidence were digital cameras and mobile phones as, amid the ancient ceremonies and mournful song, they sought to capture their own memories of this end of an era.

Finally, the funeral convoy made its way the 150km from Sofia to Troyan, the hearse bearing Maxim’s coffin passing on its way the village of Oreshak where he was born in October 1914.

At the monastery, where Maxim first took orders, the acting head of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Grigorii of Veliko Turnovo, led the service in the Virgin Mary church.

The two Bulgarian churches in Chicago served masses for the dead for Patriarch Maxim, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio said. On November 11, after the regular liturgy, both orthodox churches will hold memorial services. A prayer for the dead was also held in the St. Patriarch Euthimius of Tarnovo Church in Paris.

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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.