Bulgaria, Macedonia Orthodox Church committees meet to discuss autocephaly

Committees comprised of senior officials from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian Orthodox Church met in Sofia to discuss further actions on the status of the “Macedonian” Church, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said in a statement on December 22.

The two committees discussed a roadmap for implementation of the decision by the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which decided last month to hold talks with other Orthodox Christian churches on recognising the neighbouring country’s church as autocephalous. The statement did not offer additional details on the specifics of that roadmap.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was represented by Stara Zagora Metropolitan Kipiryan, who is also chair of the committee, Lovech Metropolitan Gavriil, Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai, Varna Metropolitan Yoan, Nevrokop Metropolitan Serafim and Vratsa Metropolitan Grigorii. The Macedonian Church was represented by its head, archbishop Stefan, along with metropolitan Petar of Prespa and Pelagonia, metropolitan Timotej of Debar and Kičevo, and bishop Kliment of Heraclea.

Archbishop Stefan also met with Patriarch Neofit, the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, on December 21, the first meeting between the two since the Macedonian church’s asked, on November 9, for assistance in being recognised as autocephalous, specialist church news portal Dveri reported.

After that letter, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church decided on November 27 to hold talks with the Macedonian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Christian churches on recognising the neighbouring country’s church as autocephalous and agreeing to be its mother church. The Holy Synod’s decision did not state explicity whether the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was agreeing to be the Macedonian church’s mother church.

“It is not a light cross that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church takes on, because up to now nothing has been done to solve the issue of the Macedonia archbishopric”, Neofit was quoted as saying after his meeting with Stefan. For his part, Stefan thanked everyone in Bulgaria who supported the “Macedonian” Church’s bid for autocephaly.

Formed at a time when Macedonia was part of communist Yugoslavia, the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric is not recognised by any other Orthodox Christian church. The Serbian Orthodox Church, which has made attempts to re-assert its control of the “Macedonian” Church since the break-up of Yugoslavia, is strongly opposed to autocephaly.

Earlier this month, the Serbian church received an endorsement from the Church of Greece, which said that it was concerned by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s decision to hold talks on the Macedonian church’s autocephaly, saying that the Bulgarian church was intervening into the affairs that pertain to the jurisdiction of another church, namely the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Russian church also opposes a positive decision by the Bulgarian church, concerned that it would create a precedent for the similar request by the Ukrainian church. Church analysts believe that the Moscow Patriarchate will never agree that the autocephaly will be unilaterally recognised by only one local church, as this would create a precedent for resolving the Ukrainian church question./IBNA