The governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod, has called on the country’s government not to admit more refugees, while saying it has compassion and solidarity for those already in the country.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also indicated that its view was that accepting more refugees from the Middle East could threaten Christianity in the country and even put at risk the existence of Bulgaria as a state.
In the most recent national census in Bulgaria, in 2011, close to 60 per cent of Bulgarians declared themselves to be Orthodox Christians. The next-largest religious group is Muslims, just less than eight per cent, of whom most are Sunni Muslims.
In a 700-word statement on September 25, signed by Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Neofit and other members of the Synod, the church said that repeatedly in recent months, the question had been asked what its position was on the “so-called ‘refugee problem'”.
The church said that, “as usual” it had been accused of passivity both in its position and in its actions.
But the millennium of experience of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church did not envisage making hasty decisions dictated by a current situation, the statement said, nor decisions dictated by populist considerations or intended to please prevailing opinions.
Instead, the church said that it was obliged to think in terms of scripture, God’s commandments and the context of history, meaning having regard to the implications of events “and how they woudl affect the long-time Orthodox people, the flock that our Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted to our care”.
“This is especially true for situations like this with the refugee crisis,” the Holy Synod said.
This was a situation which by its nature, apart from matters of the moment such as the caring for the material needs and solidarity with the people coming to the country, “raises questions about the stability and existence of the Bulgarian state in general”.
This in turn raised the issue of whether the flow of refugees, if it continued in the current extent, would change the existing ethnic balance in “our fatherland Bulgaria, in which God ordained our Orthodox people dwell”.
“In recent months we have witnessed a wave of flooding from countries of the Middle East and North Africa impoverished by war countries, seeking refuge in European countries people. A wave, which has acquired all the signs of an invasion,” the Holy Synod said.
The church said that there should be no doubt that it called for compassion and solidarity with all those people who had already come to the country and real, not illusory, care for the needs of these people, in accordance with Bulgaria’s capacity.
“But let’s also be clear that the Orthodox Church is strongly opposed to the war that is the cause of this human misery.”
The church always explored the reasons for unhappiness and called for the removal of the reasons, the statement said.
Struggling with the consequences without eliminating the causes of the phenomenon was doomed, the church said.
The church said that it was helping “and will help with whatever we can” the refugees in Bulgaria and made no distinctions according to faith and nationality, “but we believe that our government should never allow into our country more refugees”.
For those who are already here, it is appropriate as Orthodox Christians and as a society to provide care as much as scarce resources would allow, but no further than that, the church said.
It called for the overcoming of the reason for the problem, adding, “it is not right that the Orthodox Bulgarian people pay the price of our disappearance as a state”.
The church called on the Bulgarian government to, in all forums and all international organisations in which its participates, put “most strongly and categorically” that question of an immediate end to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa and the removal of the causes of millions of people being severed from their countries of origin.
“Ending the war is the first and indispensable condition for solving the problem and ending the war should be the first duty of any government that wants to show kindness and respect for European principles of humanity,” the church said.
Further, the government should raise the question whether there is a “religious cleansing” of Christianity from these territories, and how this fit into the dictates of interethnic and interfaith tolerance.
The church called on the government to raise with international organisations the guarantee of inter-religious tolerance in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other countries, and measures to be taken by the world democratic community to ensure compliance with this principle in these countries.
The Synod added that the government should take care and pay attention that the refugees who come to Bulgaria under the proposed quota system, and for which the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was ready to assist in providing care to, “are those who would feel well among us”.
“And for those whom the care, provided to them by an Orthodox Christian society, is not some kind of moral problem.
Because if they have a problem to accept support from the Christian community, it will mean that the Christian community in the future would have a bigger problem than we currently suspect,” the Holy Synod said.
(Photo of Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Sofia: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)