Bulgarian Catholic Church (Eastern Catholic)

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A general revolt in 1186 marked the end of Byzantine domination and the beginning of the second Bulgarian Kingdom, which Ivan Assen II (121841) brought to its greatest political expansion and which disappeared in 1396. The new capital, Tyrnovo, was also the residence of the archbishop. The first important event in this period was the return of Bulgaria to communion with the Holy See (1204) after its sad experience with Constantinople. According to the agreement between Kaloian, Archbishop Basil, and Pope Innocent III, Bulgaria returned to communion with Rome, keeping its own ecclesial and liturgical usages, while the pope granted Kaloian the title of king and Basil that of primate of Bulgaria. This title corresponded to the Eastern title of patriarch, since Basilio, invested with the pallium, obtained the right to crown the Bulgarian kings, consecrate chrism, and install metropolitans.

The union with Rome lasted until 1235. At that time relations with Constantinople (Nicaea) having been restored and those with Rome having deteriorated because of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the Bulgaro-Byzantine Council of Blasherna was convoked, which proclaimed the autonomy of the Bulgarian Church in communion with Nicaea and separated from Rome. Bulgaria thus definitively entered the Byzantine sphere, and the union effected by the Ecumenical Councils of Lyons and Florence was rendered even less stable than it had been before.

Turkish domination. In the full flowering of its ecclesiastical, cultural, and social development, Bulgaria was struck by a new disasterTurkish political domination (13961878), to which was joined Byzantine spiritual domination. This was the saddest period in Bulgarian history, when the people were reduced to actual slavery. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Phanar, preserving a certain autonomy as mediator between the "Sublime Portal" (Turkish government) and the subject Christian people, devoted itself to the exploitation and Hellenization of the Slavic population. The Bulgarian bishops were gradually replaced by Greeks, and the Bulgarian language by Greek in schools and churches. The "Phanariots" did not hesitate to destroy even the most ancient libraries and archives.

In 1767 the Archdiocese of Ochrida, which had continued to "represent" the autonomous Bulgarian Church, was officially subjected to the jurisdiction of Constantinople. For almost five centuries the Bulgarian Church and state did not exist, while the people lived in the most profound ignorance and misery. Many Bulgarians were either Hellenized or totally oblivious to their national origins. The liturgy was celebrated in Bulgarian only in monasteries hidden in the mountains.

Independence. The first signs of rejuvenation came from the Catholic bishops Partehevitch, who carried on a tireless diplomatic activity, exhorting the Western powers to free Christianity from the Turks, and Stanislavov, who composed a booklet in the New Bulgarian language. The father of the Bulgarian revival, the monk Paissi, wrote the Bulgaro-Slavic History (1762), in which he implored the Bulgarians, "a nation of kings and saints," not to forget the glorious past of their land and their Church. His ideas, taken up by Spiridon, Sofronius (bishop of Vratsa), and others, stirred up a vast national movement.

The difficult struggle against Constantinople for ecclesiastical independence was caused by two currents: the one, guided by Tsankov, proposed the union of Bulgaria with Rome, but because of the opposition of Russia, only a small group returned to the Catholic Church; the other, guided by Makaripolski, succeeded in creating an Orthodox exarchate (1870) recognized by the Turks but excommunicated by Constantinople.

Bulgarian Catholic Church. The formation of the small Bulgarian Catholic Church dates from the middle of the 19th century. Bulgarians in the Macedonian cities of the Kilkis Province sent a petition in 1859 to the apostolic delegate in Istanbul to be admitted into communion with the Apostolic See. In the following year, another group of Bulgarians similarly petitioned the Catholic Armenian archbishop of Istanbul. Joseph Sokolski was consecrated archbishop and received help from the Assumptionist and Resurrectionist Fathers. He was captured by Russian spies and was imprisoned in Kiev, where after 18 years he died. Raphael Popov succeeded Sokolski and administered the Bulgarian Catholic exarchate from 1865 to 1876. At this time there were about 80,000 Bulgarian Byzantine Catholics. The growing progress was halted due to a lack of clergy, persecution by the Russians, and the defection of Catholic Bishop Lazzarus Mladenov. Many thousands returned to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. World War I crushed any further growth. An apostolic administrator was appointed in 1923, and in 1926 an exarchate was formed with Cyrill Kurteff appointed as the apostolic exarch. After World War II, the Bulgarian Catholic Church underwent severe persecutions, with many bishops and clergy imprisoned. Nevertheless, its lot was better than many other Eastern Catholic Churches within the communist sphere, which were forcibly suppressed and merged into their Orthodox counterparts. The collapse of communism gave the Bulgarian Catholic Church a new lease of life, with the release of imprisoned clergy and a return of expropriated church properties.

Bibliography: m. spinka, A History of Christianity in the Balkans (Chicago, Ill. 1933). v. n. zlatarski, Istoră na Bŭlgarskata Dŭrzhava, 3 v. in 4 (Sofia 191840), basic work. d. tsuchlev, Istorîâ na Bŭlgarskata Tsŭrkva, 2 v. (Sofia 1910). s. tsankov, Die Bulgarische Orthodoxe Kirche seit der Befreiung bis zur Gegenwart (Sofia 1939). i. sofranov, Histoire du mouvement bulgare vers l'Église catholique au XIX e siècle (Rome 1960). a. cronia, Saggi di letteratura Bulgara antica (Rome 1936). r. roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, 6th ed (Rome 1999).

[i. sofranov/eds.]