Two Bulgarian Orthodox Church metropolitans have backtracked on the controversial decision by the church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, to mention former monarch and former prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg in private and public liturgies as “Tsar of the Bulgarians”.
Saxe-Coburg inherited the royal title from his father on Boris III’s sudden death in 1943.
In the early years of communist rule, a national referendum overwhelmingly produced a vote to abolish the monarchy. When democracy came to Bulgaria after the fall of communism, the new constitution made no reference to a monarchy.
Saxe-Coburg returned to Bulgaria some years after the fall of communism, becoming prime minister in a landslide victory in the 2001 parliamentary elections. A diminished vote after four years of his government reduced his party to junior partner in a socialist-led tripartite coalition, and since then, in the most recent European and National Assembly elections, the party of which he eventually resigned the leadership came nowhere at all.
The recent decision by the Holy Synod to mention him in liturgies as “Tsar of the Bulgarians” has sparked national controversy, and criticism by current and former elected heads of state, President Rossen Plevneliev and former president Georgi Purvanov.
On May 6, Naum, Metropolitan of Bulgaria’s Danubian city of Rousse, posted an “urgent clarification” on his Facebook page, saying that the Holy Synod’s decision to cite Saxe-Coburg in worship was not mandatory but “aspirational”.
The same day, reports said Kalinik, Metropolitan of Vratsa, had ordered clergy in his diocese not to proceed with the usage referring to Saxe-Coburg as king of the Bulgarians.
Kalinik, reportedly aware of the public furore generated about the decision on the reference to Saxe-Coburg, had said that the order not to proceed with the reference was based in part on the wish not to offend the laity. Earlier, President Plevneliev had said that the decision had created the risk of dividing Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria into monarchists and republicans.
Among criticisms of the church’s decision have been that the church appeared to think that Bulgaria had two heads of state, and that the move ran counter to the country’s constitution, which affirms it to be a parliamentary republic. Bulgaria has a head of state – the President – elected by popular vote, with a limit of two terms of office of five years each.
The vicar of Vratsa, Bishop Kiprian, said that the diocese had received no written order from the Holy Synod about the matter.
“We shall await the final adoption of the document in question, which can happen only at the next meeting of the Synod in June,” Kiprian said.
As the Bulgarian-language website Dveri reported, the decision of the Holy Synod about Saxe-Coburg – as proposed by Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv, well-known as a fundamentalist in Orthodox Christian matters – and said to have been adopted unanimously by the Synod, was posted on the official website of the Holy Synod the previous Wednesday, and then abruptly removed.
Reports also noted that celebrations on May 2 and 3 in the ancient former capital of Pliska, celebrating the 1150th anniversary of Bulgaria’s adoption of Christianity, and at which Saxe-Coburg received high honours from the church, saw the absence of a number of top Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy.
Those absent included Vratsa Metropolitan Kalinik and Rousse Metropolitan Naum. However, also among those absent was Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai.