The Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe, Antonii, has become the second Metropolitan to praise the visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria, after the church’s leader in Plovdiv sharply criticised it.
On the first day of Pope Francis’s visit to Bulgaria, on May 5, Metropolitan Antonii accompanied the Pope on his visit to Sofia’s landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral where the Pontiff prayed.
The Pope’s visit to the cathedral followed his talks with Patriarch Neofit and members of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which agreed to receive him while also earlier having issued a ban on its clergy participating in prayer and worship with the head of the Roman Catholic church.
After Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai was reported to have used strong language in lashing out at the Pope’s visit – including a claim that there was a plot to unify believers under the Pope who would then “meet the Antichrist” – Rousse Metropolitan Naum countered with a Facebook post effectively rebutting Nikolai’s reported words. Naum’s post was titled “What threat is Pope Francis to us?”
Antonii followed later on May 7, saying that the visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria had provoked a strong public response: “The goodwill, the openness and the message of peace that came to our homeland have won the hearts of our compatriots.
“Let’s be honest – this visit has shown how many Bulgarians need the voice of the church, its messages of benevolence among people, communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, to strengthen the ecclesial community,” Metropolitan Antonii said.
“Many of our fellows have rightly noted that these messages also sound in Orthodox temples and worship, they are part of our daily church sermon. During his visit to the country, the Pope gave us an example of how the shepherd goes to the flock, how he seeks and finds fallen souls, giving them an example of Christ’s active love.”
Metropolitan Antonii said: “I am convinced that the purpose of this visit was not Roman Catholic propaganda in Bulgaria.
“It was not meant to artificially ignore the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, for such unity would be fake and perishable. The Pope’s visit was an example of the importance of personal communication among Christians that overcomes fears.”
Antonii said that this was why the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod had received Pope Francis as a brother in Christ, as the spiritual guide to many Christians around the world, “who kindly extends a hand of communication between all Christians and people of all denominations because Christians are good at being peacemakers”.
“Indeed, the faithful of Christ has nothing to fear. No one can endanger our Orthodox faith except our hearts, cold and unready for salvation,” he said.
“Orthodox Christians do not see in their neighbours enemies and threats, but brothers and children of God,” Antonii said.
Pure faith was based not on fear and aggression towards others, towards the different, “but on love and faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
Metropolitan Antonii, in his post, quoted from the Christian Bible’s book of John (1 John 4:18): “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love”.
(Photos of Pope Francis and Metropolitan Antonii in Alexander Nevsky cathedral: popeinbulgaria.gov.bg)