Ecumenism in Bulgaria: still a challenge to take up


Ecumenism is a difficult challenge at present in Bulgaria.The Orthodox Church, which went through harsh and painful stress after the fall of Communism, is very closed on itself and doesn’t favor dialogue with other Christian confessions.

One could say that it is rather against this. In fact, several members of the synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church readily stress that the only true Christian Church is the Orthodox Church with its Oriental Tradition.

   new Orthodox Metropolitan of Plovdiv

It is not haphazard that the people of this country often make a distinction between the Catholics and the Christians (a synonym for Orthodox).

Very strongly a majority (85%of Bulgarians are Orthodox) the Bulgarian Orthodox Church seems to be in search of its own identity and at the same time as the Catholics and Protestants, with a strong accent on its role as the spiritual guide of its country.

A sign of this was the recent discussion of the Holy Synod to study the possibility of reintroducing the Julian calendar and celebrating Christmas on 6 January like the other major Slav Orthodox Churches, although since 1969 Christmas is celebrated in Bulgaria on 25 December with the Greek Orthodox Church.

This possibility that is not ecumenical, and is also considered as anachronistic by several representatives of the civil society, illustrates quite well the entrenched conviction in at least part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church that spiritual authority should have preeminence over the temporal authority, when faced with the model of the Western society, which is materialistic and secularized, and that Orthodoxy is the only true expression of the Christian faith.

In faithfulness to the spirit of the Congregation and the specific goal of the Assumptionist Mission in the countries of Eastern Europe, the Plovdiv community has always tried to be open to hospitality and links of friendship with its brothers of the Orthodox Church.

In the past, we were even able to organize ecumenical pilgrimages to Lourdes, but unfortunately this was stopped by the new Orthodox Metropolitan of Plovdiv, who openly forbade the priests of his diocese to have any relationships with Catholic priests. We must admit that the distrust does not come only from one side.

ecumenical pilgrimage to Lourdes

At times it happens, in the Latin Catholic Church of Bulgaria, that what divides us from the other Christian brothers is more so underscored than what unites us.
In spite of this, we are getting ready to celebrate Church Unity Octave Week with optimism, aware that the Spirit of unity is stronger than the Spirit of division.

On Sundays, our liturgical celebrations are often frequented by faithful Orthodox; there are also children of Orthodox families that come here on Saturdays for catechesis.

Besides, receiving the poor and visits to the prisoners always has the ecumenical trait of love that does not make any differences of faith. Recently Fr. Claudio and the sisters of Mother Teresa celebrated Christmas with our Orthodox chaplain and quite a number of “ecumenical” prisoners of the Plovdiv prison.

These are tiny signs that show that, nevertheless, even in Bulgaria, the unity of Christians advances.