Bulgarian Orthodox Church Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai has become the latest Holy Synod member to speak out on the issue of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, over which Bulgaria’s top clergy are divided.
His May 23 statement came in the week after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod decided against accepting an invitation from Macedonian Orthodox Church head Stefan to participate in 1000th anniversary celebrations of the Ohrid Archbishopric.
Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai was among the Bulgarian church leaders defeated on the issue. He had backed sending a delegation, and after that proposal was defeated, tabled one that he lead a delegation to Ohrid. That too was rejected.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church is not recognised by any mainstream Orthodox Christian church. The Macedonian church declared itself autocephalous, splitting from the Serbian Orthodox Church at the time of communism in the then-Yugoslavia.
In recent months, the Macedonian church formally asked the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to become its mother church. The Bulgarian church agreed to discuss the issue with other Orthodox churches, to the chagrin of the Serbian church which regards the Macedonian question as an internal issue.
Metropolitan Nikolai, in a lengthy statement, said that the controversy over the Macedonian Orthodox Church was a problem for the entire church, and it was in the interest of all for a solution to be found.
Nikolai cited the Ecumenical Patriarch as having said that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the “first-born daughter” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate among the Slavic churches.
As such, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had no right to confer autocephaly, but had the right to consult with the younger churches in the region, Nikolai said.
He said that the use of secular courts – in this case, the European Court of Human Rights – to resolve internal church problems was “absolutely unacceptable”. He was referring to a recent ruling by the ECHR which found against the Macedonian state for violating the rights of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric of the Serbian Patriarchate.
A solution to the church problem should be sought in Constantinople (as the Istanbul seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is referred to by the Orthodox Christian churches, in that context). The two churches at odds in the Republic of Macedonia should approach the Ecumenical Patriarch to arbitrate, Nikolai said.
In the past few days, six members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod have issued public statements about the Macedonian issue.
One of the church leaders, Metropolitan Naum of Rousse, rejected allegations that the Holy Synod had committed “national betrayal” by not agreeing to send a delegation to Ohrid.
Such accusations arose because over the past several months, official relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia have become more cordial, including with the ratification of a treaty of good-neighbourliness by the two states.
Naum said that the Holy Synod was responsible for defending the historical truth and canonical order in the Orthodox church.
“The Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate never intended to abandon its centuries-old history and canonical dignity as the successor of the historic Bulgarian Ohrid Archdiocese, regardless of the political situation,” Metropolitan Naum said.
(Photo of Metropolitan Nikolai: Plovdiv diocese)