Skip to main content

Bulgaria, The Catholic Church in

BULGARIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN

Located in southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria is bordered on the north by Romania, on the east by the Black sea and Turkey, on the south by Greece, on the southwest by the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, and on the west by Serbia. Characterized by cold, damp winters and hot, dry summers, Bulgaria is a mountainous region visited by earthquakes and landslides, its mountains falling to agricultural lowlands in the southeast and north. Natural resources include bauxite, copper, lead and coal, while agricultural crops include fruits and vegetables, tobacco, wheat, barley, sugar beets and wine grapes.

Ethnically Turco-Tatar, the Bulgarians moved into the lower Danube basin at the beginning of the 7th century and despite their small numbers, founded a large, powerful state. Intermarriage with their Slav subjects, who had previously settled there, caused the Slav strain to predominate. After a long period under Turkish domination Bulgaria became a principality in 1878 and an independent kingdom in 1908. Known as the Bulgarian People's Republic during communist rule from 1943 to 1989, Bulgaria has since become a parliamentary democracy.

Early History. While Christianity had entered the region of modern Bulgaria by 343, the date of a famous council at Sardica (modern Sofia), it almost disappeared after the Slavs migrated to the region. Bulgaria became a recognized state in 681, and Christianity was renewed c. 864 with the conversion of boris i, who was baptized by the Orthodox clergy of Constantinople. Soon after his conversion, Boris (reigned 853889), who was eager for a status of equality with the Byzantine emperor, sought to have a patriarchate created for the Bulgarian Church. When Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, refused this request, Boris sent a delegation to Rome (866). Pope Nicholas I sent legate Bishop (later Pope) Formosus to Bulgaria and promised to eventually appoint an archbishop for the country. Dissatisfied with the papal solution, Boris took his case to the Council of Constantinople IV

(869870), at which the Byzantines submitted Bulgaria to the jurisdiction of Constantinople, despite the pope's protest. Bulgaria remained under Constantinople's jurisdiction and, as a result, part of the Byzantine rite and within the orbit of Byzantine civilization (see constanti nople, ecumenical patriarchate of; byzantine civ ilization). The issue of Bulgaria was among the chief issues in the controversy between Rome and Constantinople during the 9th century.

In 917 King Simeon the Great (893927) proclaimed himself emperor and named the archbishop of Preslav as patriarch of Bulgaria. In 927 Constantinople recognized the first Bulgarian patriarchate, which lasted until 1018. After the Byzantines overthrew the first Bulgarian Empire (971), the patriarch left Preslav and resided in Ohrid, Macedonia. When Byzantium occupied Macedonia (1018), the Bulgarian patriarchate was reduced to the rank of autocephalous archbishopric until 1767.

Bulgaria was ruled by the Byzantine Empire until 1185. Upon regaining independence, it established its second empire (11861396), with Trnovo as capital. Opposition to Constantinople motivated renewed contacts with Rome. In 1204 Bulgarian Tsar Kaloian (11971207) asked Pope Innocent III to acknowledge him as emperor and to recognize the archbishop of Trnovo as patriarch. The pope granted the kingly crown to Kaloian and the title of primate to the archbishop, who also received the pallium from Rome. Union with Rome lasted until 1235, when Emperor John Assen II (121841) allied with the Greeks. In 1235 John obtained recognition of the second Bulgarian patriarchate from the Byzantine patriarch, which endured until the Turkish occupation of Trnovo in 1393. Thereafter the Bulgarian Church was incorporated into the Orthodox Church of Byzantium (see orthodox churches).

After the occupation of Trnovo, the region fell quickly, and was part of the Ottoman Empire between 1396 and 1878. During the 17th century Franciscan missionaries entered the region and converted most of the heretical Christian Paulicians and neighboring bogomils to Catholicism. As a result of this perceived effort to gain a Western foothold in Bulgaria, the Turks began a concerted effort of persecution against the Church, while allowing the Orthodox to practice their Slavic-based faith. Rising Bulgarian nationalism sparked a rebellion in 1876 during which thousands of Turks were killed. With Russian support, the Bulgarian nationalists ousted the Turks, and a treaty signed March 3, 1878 left the region independent. A vestige of Turkish occupation, Islam was the faith of ten percent of the country by 1900, most of whom were Turks, the rest being ethnic Bulgarians, or "Pomaks."

Catholic Rites Develop. Following independence, German nobleman Alexander of Battenburg became the prince of Bulgaria in 1879, but was forced to abdicate by the Russians due to his aggressive actions. In 1887 Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was offered the crown. A Catholic, Ferdinand I gave the Church latitude in developing schools, hospitals and colleges in Bulgaria, while papal nuncio Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1925 and otherwise aided the efforts of Church leaders to spread the faith. Capuchins tended a growing Catholic population in the Plovdiv region, while Passionists tended those living along the Danube. In 1908, Ferdinand proclaimed Bulgaria independent and took the title of Tsar. Following defeat in the Balkan wars of 191213, Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son, Boris III. The Catholic population in Bulgaria saw further increases due to refugees from Greek Thrace following the Balkan wars (see eastern churches).

The strife between the Greeks and the Bulgarians caused by the resurgence in Bulgarian nationalism also filtered down to the Orthodox Church when the Greeks refused to allow the Bulgarians their own hierarchy. In 1870, when the Turkish government granted an independent Bulgarian exarchate, the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated the Bulgarian Church, a ban that lasted from 1872 to 1945. Controversy broke out again in 1953 when the Bulgarian Church, without Constantinople's permission, established the third patriarchate and elected Cyril (Markov) as patriarch. In 1961 Constantinople agreed to this change and settled the dispute.

After the patriarch of Constantinople denied the Bulgarian Orthodox a national hierarchy in the mid-19th century, small groups of Orthodox in Bulgaria, Thrace and Macedonia appealed to the Holy See, resulting in a formal union with Rome (185960) that created the Bulgarian

rite. In 1861 Joseph Sokolski was consecrated archbishop by Pius IX, but shortly after his return to Constantinople he was seized and taken to Russia. In 1881, when the faithful totaled about 70,000, the Holy See created a vicariate apostolic for Macedonia, with its seat in Salonika, and another for Thrace, with its seat in Constantinople.

Bibliography: k. j. jireČek, Geschichte der Bulgaren (Prague 1876). s. vailhÉ, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 2.1:11741236. e. reinhardt, Die Entstehung des bulgarischen Exarchats (Lucka 1912). g. songeon, Histoire de la Bulgarie depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1913). f. dvornik, The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization (Boston 1956); The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, NJ 1962); Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle (Paris 1926). s. runciman, A History of the First Bulgarian Empire (London 1930). m. spinka, A History of Christianity in the Balkans (Chicago 1933). r. janin, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al., (Paris 1912) 10:112094. d. slijepČeviĆ, Die bulgarische orthodoxe Kirche 194456 (Munich 1957). m. zambonardi, La Chiesa autocefala bulgara (Gorizia 1960). i. sofranov, Histoire du mouvement bulgare vers l'Église catholique au XIXe siècle (Rome 1960). m. macdermott, A History of Bulgaria 13931885 (London 1962). Oriente Cattolico (Vatican City 1962) 191198. Bilan du Monde 2:175179.

[m. lacko]

The Modern Era. Due to the political allegiances of its Tsar, Bulgaria joined with Germany during World War I, and as a result of Germany's loss suffered political and economic chaos as monarchists and communists fought to gain control. Bulgaria joined with the German Axis powers during World War II, but shielded its 50,000 Jewish citizens from Nazi genocide. In 1943, following the death of Boris III, the situation grew more unstable,

despite the efforts of Boris's successor, Tsar Simeon II. A communist-led coalition government took control on Sept. 9, 1944, and adopted a policy of neutrality with regard to the war. Withdrawing from occupied territories, Bulgaria attempted to avoid further conflict, but was invaded by Soviet troops in 1944, whereupon Bulgaria surrendered to the Allied Powers.

The Church under Communism. The Communist Party swiftly took control of the government, purging itself of disloyal members, exiling the tsar and holding mock elections to establish a quasi-legitimate power base. In 1946 Bulgaria was declared a people's republic, and the following year Communist Party leader Georgi Dimitrov became prime minister. All democratic opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and Bulgaria became the closest of the Soviet Union's allies.

After the communists seized power in 1945, the Bulgarian Byzantine Catholic Church and the Latin Catholic Church were oppressed as representing foreign influences, and their activities were severely limited. Under the constitution of 1947 Church and State were separated, and the government immediately forbade religious instruction in public schools. The following year, in 1948, the state confiscated all Catholic schools and institutions, and banished all religious who were not Bulgarians. The apostolic delegate was expelled in 1949, and convents of women religious were outlawed. Trials held between 1951 and 1952 resulted in convictions of treason against 60 priests. The apostolic exarch for the Byzantine Catholics, Ivan Garufalov, died mysteriously in 1951 after having strongly resisted Communist proposals for a new but unacceptable statute for the Catholic Church. Ivan Romanoff, Vicar Apostolic of Sofia and Plovdiv, died in prison in 1953. Both the Byzantine Catholic bishop for the apostolic exarchate of Sofia and the Latin Catholic bishop for the vicariate apostolic of Sofia-Plovdiv were permitted limited activity, and both attended Vatican Council II. No Catholic seminary or institutions existed.

In 1949 Dimitrov died, but the government remained in the hands of a totalitarian government. Despite the hardships imposed under communist rule, the Church remained essentially unaltered in numbers and with its basic diocesan structures and parishes intact. Despite such anti-church acts as the secret decree No. 88 of 1953 that authorized the government to confiscate all church property, the number of faithful remained steady at about 70,000, and the almost 30 priests were enough to staff the

parishes. Moreover, the Church served as an example for those determined to resist communism: about two-thirds of its clergy suffered imprisonment and detention without making any compromises with the regime. In 1962 Todor Zhivkov took control of the government, and held power until Nov. 10, 1989, when he was deposed by members of his own party.

Following the open persecution of the early 1950s, the Church was left bereft of its bishops. Providentially, elderly Bishop Kiril Kurtev, who had resigned his position as apostolic exarch in 1941, returned to his old post. In 1963 Kurtev obtained a coadjutor, Metodi Stratiev, who had just been released from prison. However, it took until 1965 before Stratiev could be ordained a bishop. It was only in 1960, after Stalin's death, that it became possible to ordain Simeon Kokov, a Capuchin friar, a bishop for the apostolic vicariate of Sofia-Plovdiv. A serious conflict arose with the apostolic administrator, Bogdan Dobranov, whose own ordination as bishop had apparently been blocked by a Communist veto. The Holy See suggested a compromise that would divide the administration of the vicariate between the two, with the vicar Kokov, a bishop, ministering to the countryside and Dobranov, the administrator without episcopal orders, serving at the cathedral in Plovdiv. Still, the rift could not be healed. Only after Bishop Kokov died in July of 1975 did the government relent in its opposition to Dobranov and even insisted on his succeeding Kokov in the Sofia-Plovdiv see. The situation of the diocese of Nikopol remained most precarious, as its bishop, Evgeny Bossilkov, had been sentenced to death in 1952. After Bulgarian leader Zhivkov visited the Vatican in 1975 Vasko Seirekov was ordained bishop for Nikopol. Working exhaustively at his post, Seirekov died in 1976 and was succeeded three years later by Samuil Djoundrin, who had spent 12 years of hard labor in the notorious death camp of Belene. Sofia-Plovdiv was raised to a diocese in 1979.

While Bulgaria's Church leaders continued to advocate for the revival of democracy, the government recognized the Vatican as offering opportunities for contacts with the West, contacts it desired because its ties with the USSR had resulted in international isolation. The ascension of Pope John XXIII in 1958 was seen as a means to gain improved relations with the Holy See, as he had served in Bulgaria as papal nuncio from 192534. The pope, for his part, did not miss an occasion to recall his Bulgarian experience, even calling it "the most vigorous ten years of my life." Two positive results followed for the Bulgarian Church from that special relationship with Pope John XXIII: the first was being able to reconstitute the hierarchy; the second was securing the participation of Bulgarian bishops in the Second Vatican Council.

The participation of the Bulgarian Church in Vatican II was somehow exceptional when compared to that of most other East European churches. Although half its clergy remained in prison, all three active prelates attended council sessions: Simeon Kokov in 1962, Kiril Kurtev in 1963 and 1965, and Damial Talev in 1964. G. Eldarov and I. Sofranov contributed to the work of the preparatory commissions as consultors, and the former served as a peritus on several council commissions. Shortly after the Council in 1966, Pope Paul VI appointed Eldarov, who was a professor at the Pontifical theological faculty of St. Bonaventure in Rome at the time, as visitor delegate to oversee the pastoral care of Bulgarian Catholics of both rites abroad. In 1981 Eldarov established a center for Bulgarian Church archives in Rome that came to be regarded as the best collection of books and documents relating to Bulgarian themes existing in the West. He also took responsibility for the Vatican Radio's daily broadcasts in Bulgarian.

The Church after Communism. The fall of dictator Zhivkov, in late 1989, opened up a new era promising greater religious freedom, as Bulgaria became a parliamentary democracy in 1990 and adopted a democratic constitution on July 12, 1991. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was declared the "traditional" faith, while all other religious groups were required to register with the new government. The Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Bulgarian Orthodox each received financial assistance from the state. On Dec. 5, 1990, full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Bulgaria were reestablished, and to many Pope John Paul II became a symbol of the new age rising from the ashes of Communism. The two Roman rites worked together to develop a Bulgarian-language liturgy, although the Orthodox Church still refused to establish relations with either Latin or Byzantine Catholic leaders.

In 1992, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church suffered a severe internal rift after several bishops, led by Hristofor Sabev left the synod and established their own council. In 1994 Orthodox Patriarch Maxim I's party elected its own metropolitans in most of the dioceses held by the Savev-led bishops, whereupon the new, dissident council reacted by electing its own bishops for sees loyal to Maxim, even going so far as to appointing a bishop for the capital, traditionally the see of the patriarch. Accusations that Maxim was a puppet of the communist state resulted in the appointment of a new patriarch Pimen I, by the dissident group, in 1996. The resulting rifttwo full, parallel hierarchies that ruled over the Orthodox communityshowed no signs of healing by 2000, despite an offer by Pimen to abdicate if Maxim would follow suit, which offer the elder patriarch refused.

An exceptional development for the Bulgarian Byzantine Catholic Church was the beatification of Bishop Evgeni Bossilkov, who died in prison four years after being imprisoned by the communist regime in 1948. Hampered by pressures initiated from inside Bulgaria, the process was restarted by Bulgarian bishops.

Into the 21st Century. In December of 1992 Bulgaria's national assembly revoked the decree permitting the confiscation of Church property. By the late 1990s the state returned religious education to Bulgaria's public schools, although Church leaders raised objections to the predominance of Orthodox educators. The country's economic woes ended in the late 1990s as businesses became privatized and the government began addressing agricultural advancement and social reforms. Despite continued unrest in the Balkans due to Serbian attempts at ethnic cleansing in neighboring Kosovo province, Bulgaria's economic outlook was bright going into the 21st century. After receiving an invitation from Bulgarian president Petar Stoyanov, Pope John Paul II anticipated a trip to Bulgaria in 2002 after a proposed visit was accepted by the Orthodox Patriarch Maxim I.

By the year 2000 Bulgaria had 53 parishes, tended by 14 diocesan and 30 religious priests. Other religious included two brothers and over 75 sisters, among them the Eastern-rite Sisters of Charity, the Benedictines and the Eucharistine nuns. Education remained a prime concern of Church leaders; not only did the University of Sofia require all students in its theology program to be Orthodox, but a 199899 law initiating a "world religions" curriculum was perceived as heavily pro-Orthodox. Latin Catholics centered near Plovdiv and in northern cities, while Byzantine Catholics lived in Sovia Plovdiv, Burgas, and villages in the southeast.

Bibliography: k.g. drenikoff, L'Eglise catholique en Bulgarie (Madrid 1968). m.t. carloni, Il silenzio della chiesa bulgara (Urbania 1979). trevor beeson, Discretion and Valour (London 1974). j. broun and g. sikorska, Conscience and Captivity: Religion in Eastern Europe (Washington, DC 1988). f. strazzari, Tra Bosforo e Danubio (Sinisello Balsamo 1988). i. sofranov-s. mercanzin, Eugenio Bossilkov (Rome 1986). s. eldarov, Uniatism and the Fate of Bulgaria (Sofia 1994). j. zvetkov, The Crucifix (Sofia 1993). s. p. ramet, Nihil Obstat: Religion, Politics, and Social Change in East-Central Europe and Russia (Durham, NC 1998).

[g. eldarov/eds.]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bulgaria, The Catholic Church in." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bulgaria, The Catholic Church in." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bulgaria-catholic-church

"Bulgaria, The Catholic Church in." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bulgaria-catholic-church

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.