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Holy Smoke! Bulgarian Church Embraces Macedonian Brethren

Move echoes political reconciliation with a country many Bulgarians see as their little brother.

13 April 2018

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s outreach to its Macedonian coreligionists has met a rebuff from the spiritual head of Orthodoxy.


The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a strongly worded rebuke to the Bulgarian church Wednesday after it agreed to stand as the “mother church” of the unrecognized Macedonian branch of Orthodoxy.


“The action of the sister church of Bulgaria was wrong. It complicates matters. The mother church of all Balkan nations is that of Constantinople,” Bartholomew said, according to Greece’s Ekathimerini.


Improving ties between the Macedonian and Bulgarian churches echo better relations at the political level as well since a new government took power in Skopje last year. Its close historic and linguistic links to Bulgaria have sometimes been uncomfortable for the smaller neighbor, which is also embroiled in a long-running dispute with Greece over its official name.


In a landmark treaty last year, Bulgaria committed itself to backing the former Yugoslav republic’s bids to join the European Union and NATO, but Athens has blocked its NATO path because of the name dispute.


In November, Bulgaria’s Orthodox hierarchy reacted favorably when the Macedonian church asked it to become its symbolic “mother church,” Reuters reported.


The Bulgarian church had a “sacred duty” to take all necessary steps to bring recognition to its Macedonian counterpart, the church said in a statement.


The Macedonian Orthodox Church has never been recognized by the Orthodox mainstream since it broke away from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, The Sofia Globe writes.



  • Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov paid a visit to Patriarch Bartholomew in Turkey this week. Among other things, they discussed recognition of the Macedonian church, EU Scoop reports.


  • The Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers reported some progress in talks on resolving the name dispute in Ohrid yesterday, The Associated Press reports. Macedonian leaders have said they would accept adding a qualifier such as “New” or “North” to the country’s name to assuage Greece’s reservations, and Athens says it will lift its veto of Skopje’s NATO bid if the dispute is resolved.


  • For the first time, a Macedonian Orthodox delegation was present at Sofia airport last week to greet Bulgarian Orthodox clergy bringing the “holy fire” from Jerusalem, ahead of this weekend’s Easter celebrations. As The Sofia Globe reports, some Bulgarian Orthodox leaders bitterly oppose any reconciliation with the Macedonian church, as do church leaders in Russia and Serbia.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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