Beloved in the Lord children of our Holy Church,
During the last more than half year, the attention of the Church and of the society in Bulgaria has been greatly focused on the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia and more particularly on the topic of the Orthodox Church status in this country, which unfortunately has been residing for decades outside the communion with the family of the local Orthodox churches. This topic and this problem acquired acuteness in relation to the officially stated request by the Authorities of this Church for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate to accept the role of her Mother-Church and, in this way, the canonical status of the Church in present-day Macedonia to be finally settled. A request that was considered with attention and sense of responsibility by the Bulgarian Church, but at the same time – in an unequivocally negative manner by some local Orthodox Churches which explicitly stated their disagreement with such a development of the Macedonian Church question.
Part of the great issue with the status of the Orthodox Church in present-day Macedonia is the question about the historical fate of the existing in the past Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid, from the establishment of which were completed 1000 years in the present year of 2018. Celebrations of this significant anniversary were carried out and other celebrations are forthcoming, which are another proof of the depth of the division between the brotherly Orthodox churches on this question.
At the same time, in relation to the denial of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to participate in the celebrations carried out on 27th and 28th May in the historical temple of the Holy Wisdom of God in the town of Ohrid, there were made undeserved reproaches towards the Supreme Authority of the holy Bulgarian Patriarchate, building up to accusations in betrayal – severe reproaches, which no matter whether have been a result of incomprehension or of malevolence, brought up unnecessary bitterness for our whole Church. In relation to all this, with archpastoral concern in relation to the situation that has arisen and with a sense of responsibility to the ordained by God unity of the whole holy Orthodox Church, but also with ecclesiastic and national memory and faithfulness to the historical truth about the ancient throne of Ohrid, we turn to all of you with this epistle, in which we responsibly state and remind:
1. The history of Archbishop Episcopacy of the ancient and glorious in the ecclesiastical past Ohrid is an organic, unconditional part of the historical continuity of our native Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate, as it has also been stipulated in its Statute that was approved and ratified by the Sixth Ecclesiastical and People’s Council (2008) where is stated:
„The self-governing Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate is a successor of the Pliska Archbishopry, Preslav Archbishopry, Ohrid Archbishopry, Turnovo Archbishopry and the Bulgarian Exarchate. It is united and indivisible.”
2. Such was – according to God’s will – the historical fate of our native Orthodox Church, such are the facts from the millenary, but also inconstant Bulgarian history, and they cannot be changed and distorted, irrespectively of the present-day situation. The historical sources and our ecclesiastical memory clearly testify that in its establishment in 1018 – in the sad year of losing the Bulgarian state autonomy, the Byzantine emperor Basil II who conquered Bulgaria established in Ohrid not another, but namely a Bulgarian Archbishopric, which remained Bulgarian until its very closure in 1767 – seven and a half centuries after its establishment. This was the way in which the emperor having remained in history with his nickname „the Bulgar Slayer” wanted to preserve among our ancestors the memory for their glorious and heroic past as a Church and as a state, as it was clearly testified also in the charters, with which he established the jurisdiction of Ohrid:
„We decree, – we read in the second of these charters – that the present holy archbishop shall have and shall govern all the Bulgarian episcopates, as all other towns under the rule of Tsar Peter and Tsar Samuil were owned and were governed by the archbishops at that time… Because, although we became a ruler of this country (i.e. of Bulgaria), we kept its rights intact, as we affirmed them with our royal decrees and sigilla”.
3. With this statemanslike decision of the emperor, Ohrid – the town of the Bulgarian and Slavic enlightener and Miracle-Maker Kliment, where in the time of our baptizer, the equal to the apostles St. Boris I Mihail, there was thriving a wondrous episcopate and there was working one of the first Bulgarian and Slavic literary schools, then was established as a new Bulgarian capital of the spirit, assigned to preserve, if only partially, the Bulgarian ecclesiastical and national memory. That is why all the primates of the Ohrid Church, during the long years of its existance, had explicitly added to their titles „the Bulgarian” title – because such is the history of this church and with such conscience it had been living until the very end of its life that was violently interrupted in 1767. That is why later – in the years of the revival of the Bulgarian spirit – the beginning of the organised movement for returning our ecclesiastical independence was set namely in Ohrid, and the figures of our ecclesiastic independence insist on recovering our Orthodox Church as a successor of both the Tarnovo Patriarchate and the Ohrid Archbishopry. Because this memory is Bulgarian memory and it is going to remain such both in the Bulgarian Exarchate and in the recovered Bulgarian Patriarchate, which by the present day has remained a faithful spiritual mother and nurse of the nation entrusted to her by God.
Brothers and sisters,
The historical fortunes of the lands, in which we all live according to God’s will, and of the Christians having inhabited and inhabiting nowadays this region are complex and inconstant. Today, on the Balkans there are absolutely different state and church realities in comparison to the ones in the distant past. As a result of various social and political processes, in this region throughout the years there have been established new states and new local Orthodox Churches – successors of one or another ecclesiastical jurisdiction that had existed in the past. However, the thing that continues until today to unite all of us – without exception – is our salvific Orthodox Christian faith entrusted to us by Jesus Christ. The thing that continues to unite us in one even today is our unity in the God-Man Body of the holy and martyr’s Orthodox Church.
This was also the reason and our main incentive the Holy Synod of our Orthodox Church t accept the role proposed by the Macedonian side to be an intermediary that is to undertake the necessary and possible steps and actions before the rest of the brotherly Orthodox Churches for settling the canonical church statute of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia that has been suffering from the isolation imposed on it for more than half a century. With this motive and with this intention, in the end of November 2017 we accepted the request that have arrived from the Republic of Macedonia and the proposal to undertake on us the load of being an intermediary for settling the statute of the Orthodox Church in this country. However, this intention cannot imply in any way a violation whatsoever of the century-old rules of the Church.
As bishops assigned by God in His Church, we are ready even today to do everything that lies within our powers and that is in compliance with the sacred canons of our holy Church in order to help our Orthodox brothers in present-day Macedonia – in accord with the explicit and clearly stated will of the other brotherly Orthodox churches as well. Nevertheless, we also have the obligation to keep faithfully not only the truths and the sacred canons of the holy Orthodoxy, but also the memory of this Church, which God has entrusted to us today to take care of spiritually – of her history, her continuity, her present and future. Because this requires from us the memory for all our ever-memorable, glorious and worthy ancestors who have born us in the Lord – primates of Bulgarian Orthodox Church and our pious rulers from the past, clergymen and writers, and for all those who throughout the centuries have laid down their lives in order for Bulgaria to exist – together with its state and its autocephalous Orthodox Church.
That is why on this day, when our Church is celebrating the memory of all the saints from Bulgarian origin who have shone forth for ages, we turn to all our faithful children – in our Motherland and beyond its bounderies, with an archpastoral message for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, as we call everyone to faithfulness to the holy Orthodoxy and the holy Orthodox Church – to its divine tenets and its sacred canons forged with the goodwill of the Holy Spirit, but also faithfulness to the Church and state forged with so much labour and blood, which our ancestors bequeathed to us and with which historical memory they decreed to us not to make any compromises, but to keep it for the generations – in order for our nation to exist henceforth as well, in order for Bulgaria to live forever.
May God of peace and love, the communion in the Holy Spirit and the prayers of all the saints from Bulgarian origin to be invariably with us: with our Orthodox nation, with their century-old state and with the holy Orthodox Church endowed to them by God!
HEAD OF THE HOLY SYNOD
PATRIARCH OF BULGARIA
METROPOLITAN OF SOFIA
MEMBERS OF THE HOLY SYNOD:
† METROPOLITAN IOANIKIY OF SLIVEN
† METROPOLITAN JOSEPH OF USA, CANADA AND AUSTRALIA
† METROPOLITAN GREGORY OF VELIKO TARNOVO
† METROPOLITAN IGNATIY OF PLEVEN
† METROPOLITAN GAVRIIL OF LOVECH
† METROPOLITAN NIKOLAY OF PLOVDIV
† METROPOLITAN AMVROSIY OF DOROSTOL
† METROPOLITAN ANTONIY OF WESTERN AND CENTRAL EUROPE
† METROPOLITAN JOHN OF VARNA AND VELICKY PRESLAV
† METROPOLITAN SERAPHIM OF NEVROKOP
† METROPOLITAN NAUM OF ROUSSE
† METROPOLITAN CYPRIAN OF STARA ZAGORA
† METROPOLITAN GREGORY OF VRATSA
† METROPOLITAN DANIIL OF VIDIN