Prayers and politics as Bulgarian Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter

With about a week to go to Bulgaria’s May 12 parliamentary elections, even Easter could not quite escape a dash of political activity.

Bulgarian Orthodox Christians observe Good Friday on May 3 in 2013 and Easter Sunday on May 5, in accordance with the Eastern Orthodox calendar.

But while the country’s Orthodox Christian majority was focusing on such landmark events as the arrival on Saturday evening of the “holy fire” from Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some political parties were not allowing campaigning chances to pass them by.

In Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv, Petya Raeva and women from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms were holding an Easter charity bazaar to raise funds for a seriously ill child, and later in the day, Raeva was hosting a charity cocktail with local businesses.

Somewhat more direct politicking was a scheduled news conference on the afternoon of Good Friday by Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev.

Plovdiv was to be the centre of attention on Easter Sunday because it was at the small airport there that the “holy fire” would arrive, borne by Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai on a private aircraft.

Unlike previous years, the government Falcon was not available for the ceremony, and so arrangements were made for Nikolai to bring the flame, accompanied by Plovdiv clergy and the businessman named in a Plovdiv diocese statement as the main sponsor of the trip, Ivan Mihailov. The rest of the costs were being paid by “devout Christians of the Plovdiv diocese”.

The “holy fire” was due to arrive at Plovdiv’s Krumovo airport at about 6.30pm on May 4. The flame would be shared with clergy and laity who come to the airport, the statement said.

According to unconfirmed media reports, Nikolai’s place front and centre in the ritual of the holy fire was linked to rivalries among senior clergy, with Varna Metropolitan Kiril already having sought to make his own arrangements to receive the holy fire via a flight from Romania.

The “holy fire” being brought by Nikolai was scheduled to be taken on to Sofia, to be received at Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky cathedral at about 8.30pm.

In Sofia, Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit was to preside over an Easter liturgy from 11pm at the Bulgarian capital city’s landmark cathedral.

Patriarch Neofit

Nikolai, meanwhile, was to preside over the Paschal liturgy at Plovdiv’s main cathedral of the Assumption at 11.30pm.

Nikolai, according to a statement by his diocese, would have a special guest – former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his wife Doña Margarita, who were to celebrate Easter in Plovdiv and attend the service at the Assumption cathedral on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced that it was taking special steps to protect public security and order during the Easter weekend, including special operations from the night of Good Friday to early Sunday morning to check for people drink-driving, driving while under the influence of narcotics or driving without a licence.

The ministry said that there would be increased police presence at places where large groups of people were gathering, such as airports, railway stations, bus stations, ports, major retail outlets and churches.

Police would be paying “particular attention to people behaving suspiciously or provocatively” and while intoxicated in areas where public events were being held.

Arrangements had been made for constant exchanges of information with municipal authorities, security firms and civil defence.

Further, Food Safety Agency inspectors were continuing to check foodstuffs on offer for Easter while the Motor Vehicle Administration was checking for illegal transport of live animals, the ministry said.

(Main photo: Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv)



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, 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.