The Bulgarian Orthodox Church still has no official position on the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision that Ukraine could have its own Orthodox Christian church independent of Moscow, Patriarch Neofit said in Sofia on October 19.
On October 11, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeos I approved a request by clerics in Ukraine to move for an Orthodox church in the country independent of the Russian Orthodox patriarchate.
The decision by the Ecumenical Patriarch, traditionally regarded in the Orthodox Christian world as “first among equals” among the leaders of Orthodox churches, terminated the right granted in the year 1686 for the Patriarch of Moscow to name the metropolitans of Kyiv.
Four days later, the Patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia severed its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, calling the ruling by Bartolomeos “lawless”.
The issue is a fundamental crisis for the world of Orthodox Christianity. It comes not only against a background of rivalry between the Russian Orthodox Patriarch and the Ecumenical Patriarch, but also the vexed relations between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine.
Moreover, apart from the fact that some see the issue as threatening a schism among the Orthodox Christian churches, it will at least divide them as each national church chooses sides.
Some Orthodox churches, for example the Serbian one, are closer to their Russian co-religionists, just as politically Belgrade is traditionally close to Moscow. Others, such as the Greek Orthodox Church, traditionally have workable relations both with the Russian Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Eyes have been on Bulgaria, where the majority of the country’s population declare themselves to be Orthodox Christians, to see which way it will jump.
Neofit said: “We have not looked at this question at the moment. It will be (looked at) soon. It will be examined and there will be an opinion”.
Speaking on October 16, Lovech Metropolitan Gavriil said that there was “no division” in the leadership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the matter, but there were “different positions on the matter”.
Earlier, Gavriil was one of three Bulgarian Orthodox Church metropolitans, members of the Holy Synod – the church’s governing body – to issue a joint position on the Ukrainian issue.
The statement, issued jointly with Metropolitan Yoan of Varna and Veliko Turnovo and Daniil of Vidin, criticised on October 11 the decision by the Holy Synod on October 3 to postpone a response to a letter from Moscow Patriarch Kirill calling for the holding of talks on the issue.
The three Bulgarian metropolitans advanced arguments against Ecumenical Patriarchate approval of the autonomy of a Ukrainian Orthodox church, saying that such a decision was a violation of various church canons.
It said that there was a danger that the dispute between the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates and the breaking off of the Eucharistic communion between them would lead to a global division of Orthodoxy.
“The Patriarchate of Constantinople does not have the right to enter a foreign canonical territory and enter into communion with schismatics in Ukraine, ignoring the only canonical hierarchy in Ukraine. Admitting or tolerating this entry would lead to a dangerous precedent, the consequences of which are unpredictable and threaten the unity of the Church,” the statement by the three Bulgarian metropolitans said.
They said that the situation could be resolved only “through pan-Orthodox discussion and the convening of a pan-Orthodox assembly.”
Some weeks ago, the Moscow Patriarchate put forward the proposal to convene a new Pan-Orthodox Council on the question of autocephaly of the Ukrainian church, but this has found scant support among local Orthodox churches.