Bulgarian church clergy, laity protest against proposed promotion of controversial cleric

Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy and laity held a peaceful protest outside the Sofia headquarters of the Holy Synod, the church’s governing body, on December 9 against the proposed promotion to bishop of controversial figure Archimandrite Dionisii.

The protest was held ahead of a meeting of the Holy Synod, and follows open letters of objection, including from the Zografski Monastery on Mount Athos and a petition signed by well more than 1000 people, most of them priests.

Dionisii is controversial for a number of reasons, including his involvement in conferring the title of “Archon” to wealthy business people who in turn have sometimes controversial reputations. Archon, in effect an honorable lay supporter of the church, is a title that is seen in traditional church circles as having been obsolete for several centuries.

Among those on whom the title was conferred was Slavi Binev, who on December 8 resigned as head of Parliament’s committee on culture and media following public protests against him holding the post.

Other objections are that a candidate bishop should have lived in a monastery for at least three years and should be at least 35 years old, conditions that Dionisii does not meet.

Recommending the conferring of the title on Dionisii on November 28, the Synod scheduled his elevation to bishop for December 21.

According to specialist church news website Dveri, ahead of confirmation by the Synod of the recommendation, Dionisii already had scheduled a celebratory reception for 200 guests at a luxury hotel in central Sofia.

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The prayer vigil outside the Holy Synod offices featured the singing of hymns and respectful greetings as church leaders, among them church head Patriarch Neofit, arrived for the meeting.

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According to Dveri, the initial recommendation that Dionisii should be promoted to bishop was not made unanimously and not all senior clergy were present at the meeting.

Two action committees, including prominent professionals such as lawyers, theologians, physicians and historians, have been set up to oppose the promotion. Representatives of one of the committees were received by Neofit last week.

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There also has been an open letter in defence of Dionisii, but according to a separate report by Dveri on December 6, priests whose names appeared as signatories “expressed outrage” because they said that they had not signed it.

At a news conference in Varna on December 9, an initiative committee “Purity in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church” – set up in 2013 to oppose a subsequently failed bid by a controversial figure to become Varna Metropolitan – also stated their objections to Dionisii.

The proposal to promote Dionisii was a “provocation against Christians in Bulgaria,” the committee said.

Update: Soon after 1pm, it was reported that the proposal to elevate Dionisii to bishop had been withdrawn at the meeting of the Holy Synod.

(Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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