The controversial Metropolitan of Plovdiv, Nikolai, has continued his campaign for a candidate in Bulgaria’s forthcoming mayoral elections, issuing an endorsement on one of the holiest days in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church calendar – and again attacking incumbent mayor Ivan Totev.
Open support for an election candidate is unprecedented in Bulgarian Orthodox Church history.
Nikolai, who recently endorsed Zdravko Dimitrov – who has been expelled from the parliamentary group of national coalition government majority partner GERB for announcing his candidacy against GERB’s official candidate in Plovdiv, Totev – did so again on August 15 as the church celebrated the Feast of the Dormition, which honours Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Speaking at the Church of the Assumption in Bulgaria’s second city, Nikolai said that he had looked around in the church and not seen mayor Totev: “”I looked to see if this time Mr. Mayor has come, but again he has not. Just as he also did not come to the feast of St Marina”.
Nikolai went on with his attack on Totev by saying that the mayor, “rather than welcome the relics of St Dimitar with Orthodox Christians” had organised the “sacrilegious show” of weddings during an opera at the Ancient Theatre in the city.
“I am sorry for the poor spirit of our mayor. Please Lord bring him to his senses and do not respect this sin,” Nikolai said.
Local media reports said that it was hardly surprising that Totev was not present, given the hostility that Nikolai had shown towards him – implying that he was an atheist – and in fact, Totev was seen at the Bachkovo Monastery, lighting a candle on the occasion of the August 15 holy day.
But Nikolai had praise for Dimitrov, who provided a traditional stew to be served to church attendees after the August 15 service.
“I am glad that with us again is Mr Zdravko Dimitrov, whom you all know as an Orthodox Christian. Dr Mr MP Dimitrov, I assure you of my sincere appreciation for your high Orthodox Church consciousness as a faithful son of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ.”
Calling for blessings for Dimitrov’s success, Nikolai, addressing himself to the mayoral candidate, said “Let the Mother of God watch over you, your family and your children. We pray for you”.
Nikolai’s endorsement of Dimitrov 10 days earlier at another church occasion caused widespread media coverage and comment, adding to the controversy surrounding the 46-year-old who has headed the Plovdiv diocese, the largest diocese of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and also said to be its wealthiest and among the most influential.
Nikolai has been the subject of many stories over the years for his striking statements, from blaming fatal natural disasters on gay rights parades, verbally attacking Lady Gaga, and his overall fundamentalist outlooks.
Earlier this week, a local media website posted a satirical story saying that Nikolia had anathematised the Perseid meteor showers. Copy-pasted uncritically by other media and shared on social networks such as Facebook, the story – reposted omitting the note that it was meant as an exercise in humour – appeared to have found a public ready to believe anything of the controversial cleric.