In the latest twist in the process of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church choosing a new head to succeed the late Patriarch Maxim, governing body the Holy Synod has ordered a fresh check into the list of delegates named to represent the powerful Sofia diocese in the electoral college.
The electoral college will gather on February 24 2013 to elect, from three candidates nominated from among their number by the Holy Synod, a new Patriarch.
The new Patriarch, who must be at least 50 and have been a metropolitan for at least five years, as well as meeting other criteria in church canon, will be enthroned in Sofia’s landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral the same day.
The process of choosing the electoral college has been marred by controversy in some dioceses, not only because of procedural issues but also – in the case of Sofia – because of a clash between acting Patriarch and Sofia Metropolitan Kiril of Varna, after an initial list of proposed members of the electoral college was challenged as including people with a serious communist background or lacking a connection to the life of the church.
On January 22 2013, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said that the review of the Sofia list was prompted by a challenge by Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai, who has been a deeply controversial figure in the process since Maxim died, clashing with other church leaders, notably Kiril. Nikolai does not meet the age criteria for election as Patriarch.
Nikolai, a hardliner in the church whose views on a range of ecumenical and social issues have brought him headlines (confirming that he viewed the Pope as a heretic and ascribing a fatal disaster to Divine punishment for a concert by Madonna, the musician, in Sofia, among these), reportedly has insisted that there are shortcomings and violations of canon law in the choice of the Sofia electors.
Sofia sends twice as many delegates to the electoral college as any other diocese.
Priests from Trun and Samokov also were said to be unhappy with the choice of members from Sofia for the electoral college, saying that Kiril had put forward the names of candidate representatives without consulting diocesan council prelates and vicars.
According to the report, most of the members of the Holy Synod supported Nikolai’s request for a review of the Sofia list.
Plans were for the review to be completed by January 23.
(Photo of Alexander Nevsky cathedral: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)