The Bulgarian Orthodox Church may have ancient roots, but the fight over its future is being conducted not only in top church circles but also among lay people in a very modern way – on Facebook.
After the death of Patriarch Maxim on November 6 and the election of a temporary stand-in head of the church on November 10 to oversee the choice of a new Patriarch, the social network has become a hive of activity as detractors and supporters of various metropolitans vie for “likes” and members.
The Metropolitan apparently inspiring the most activity online is Plovdiv’s Nikolai, well-known for his luxury vehicles, stylish wristwatch and controversial redecoration of the St Marina church in Bulgaria’s second city. To say nothing of his hardline views on church matters. At 43, Nikolai is too young by seven years to be eligible for election as Patriarch, but more than one Facebook group seems determined to forestall future elevation for Nikolai. The largest Facebook group against Nikolai had (as of the morning of November 12) 2154 members. A separate, newly-established, group against Nikolai had 191.
Nikolai is not without his fans. Facebook has three groups favouring him becoming Patriarch. They had 164, 142 and 46 members, respectively.
A number of people who supported the campaign against Nikolai also seemed to object to Varna Metropolitan Kiril, who on November 10 was elected the acting head of the Holy Synod. Objections to Kiril run along lines similar to those against Nikolai, including Kiril’s possession of a luxury car.
Also set up on Facebook is an online poll about which of the Metropolitans should succeed Maxim. The list, in line with Bulgarian Orthodox Church canon law, omits Nikolai, because he is too young, and Ambrosii of Silistra, who does not meet the requirement of having been a metropolitan for at least five years.
If it was up to this group, rather than an electoral college of clergy and lay people, the next Patriarch would be Gavril of Lovech, who since the poll was set up on November 10 has 1344 votes. Next along is Yoaniki of Sliven, with 442 votes (he also placed second in the Holy Synod vote on November 10, getting four out of 12); Neofit of Rousse, with 367 (in the Holy Synod, he got one vote); Dometian of Vidin, with 106; Nataniel of Nevrokop, with 87; Grigorii of Veliko Turnovo, 64; Kiril of Varna, 67; Yosif of the United States and Canada, 42; Galaktion of Stara Zagora, 19; and Kalanik Vrachanski, 16.
Neofit of Rousse has a Facebook page in his support, with 332 members.
But then, the Facebook phenomenon in relation to the Patriarchal succession is not without its departures from reality. Grisha, the buffoonish priest in television series Stolichani v Poveche, has a Facebook page nominating him for Patriarch, though his chances seem slim; not only is he fictional, he only has 12 Facebook likes.
(Main photo: Zsuzsanna Kilian/sxc.hu)