sabato 17 dicembre 2022

Action of Bulgarian Synod on Serbian tomos & other news

(Peter Anderson)
On December 16 the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Bulgarian Patriarchate posted the results of its meeting on December 13. (link) The results are as follows:

At its regular meeting on December 13 (Tuesday), the Holy Synod, in full composition, considered the letter No. 569/29.09.2022 of the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije, notifying that in implementation of a unanimous decision of the Holy Bishops' Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church during the Holy Bishops' Liturgy on June 5 this year, the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos was handed over, granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia, with a recommendation that the issue of the official name be resolved in a fraternal dialogue with the Greek-speaking and other Local Orthodox Churches.

After voting, the Holy Synod unanimously DECIDED:

It accepted with spiritual joy the Tomos given by the Serbian Patriarchate to the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia.  Until the adoption of a Pan-Orthodox decision on the issue of the name of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia: 

The Holy Synod adds the following wording in the Diptychs of the BOC - BP for the mention of the Heads of the Local Orthodox Churches, the mention of the Head of the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia: "His Beatitude Stefan - Archbishop of North Macedonia."

When the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate responded on August 25 to the request of Patriarch Porfirije, it expressly stated that it recognized the Macedonian Church “as an autocephalous Sister Church.”  (link)  The statement by the Bulgarian Church is not as strong as this.  However, Bulgarian Church does state that it accepted with joy the tomos which it earlier described as “granting autocephaly” to the Macedonian Church.  Further, Stefan will be commemorated in the diptychs with the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.  This certainly implies that the Bulgarian Churches recognizes the Church in North Macedonia as an autocephalous church.  The Bulgarian statement is also stronger than the statement issued by the Orthodox Church of Poland on October 25. (link) The Council of Polish Bishops stated that it “joyfully took note” of the “information of the Serbian Patriarch about the independence of the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia.”  In so doing the Polish Church refrained from using the Polish word for autocephaly, but rather used the general word for independence.  Also the Polish Church said nothing about commemorating Archbishop Stefan in the dipyths.

In contrast to this, the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia itself has viewed the tomos from Porfirije as a kind of recommendation and believes that only the Ecumenical Patriarch can issue a universally recognized tomos. (link)  The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece at its meeting on June 8-9 had expressed “its serious objections and reservations… for the possible granting of autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Serbia, given that the most venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only one competent to grant autocephaly.” (link)

Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate, was in Bulgaria for several days beginning December 5.  According to the DECR website, he participated in the 70th anniversary of the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, met with the head of the Royal House of Bulgaria, Simeon II,  visited the memorial church near Shipka Pass, and visited Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv. (link) The Bulgarian Church posted the full text of the welcoming address of Metropolitan Nikolai. (link) Metropolitan Nikolai expresses the view that the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine at the moment is a direct consequence of the inter-church dispute over jurisdiction that preceded it.  He stated, “Until the cause is removed, the effect will not be corrected.”  He also stated, “Glory to God and to the holy fathers of the Church, who decided and decreed that in the Orthodox Church all bishops are equal and that priority in honor does not mean priority in rights.”  As far as I can determine, Metropolitan Anthony did not meet with Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit.

The decision by the Bulgarian Holy Synod has resulted in some strong criticism by the Bulgarian media.  One example is found at (link) This article contends that “the Synod strictly fulfilled the orders of the Russian masters, given by Antony during his visit to our country last week.”    The meeting of the Synod “was planned for December 8, but General Secretary [of the Synod, Bishop] Gerasim postponed it due to the urgent visit of Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk.”  “Then he [Anthony] held official and unofficial meetings with more than 2/3 of the metropolitans, including the former monarch Simeon, who influenced their decisions today.”  The article also states that the Holy Synod decided against recognizing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine at this time, but to await the results of a pan-Orthodox council.  However, the official posting by the Bulgarian Church says nothing about the latter.  Another example of criticism is from the website that first broke the news of the Synod’s decision. (link) (the website refers to “the Serbian pseudo-tomos”) 

However, a partial explanation for the action of the Bulgarian Synod may also be the special role that the Bulgarian Church assumed in the past with respect to the Church in North Macedonia.  In November 2017, the Bulgarian Holy Synod resolved:  “Given that the Orthodox Church of Macedonia recognizes the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Bulgarian Patriarchate as its Mother Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Bulgarian Patriarchate, aware of its sacred duty, undertakes to offer full cooperation with the latter, as well as to intercede for her and to support her with the Local Orthodox Churches, so that all the measures necessary for the establishment of her canonical status are taken.”  Perhaps, the Bulgarian Synod may have reasoned that it should accept the tomos from the Serbian Patriarchate now, and thus allow the immediate commemoration of Stefan in the diptychs of the Bulgarian Church, rather than wait for a tomos from the Ecumenical Patriarchate which may be years in the future.

On December 10 in Belgrade, there occurred an event which I believe is a major milestone in relations between the Serbian Patriarchate and the Catholic Church.  It was the installation of Bishop Ladislav Német as the new Catholic archbishop of Belgrade. (link)  For Catholics, it was a major event with over forty Catholic bishops from Eastern Europe including Cardinal Péter Erdö of Budapest.  However, very significantly, the installation was attended by Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia together with Bishop Irinej of Bačka and Protodeacon Radomir Vrućinić (rector of St. Sava Seminary).  It appears that this is the first time that a Serbian Patriarch has attended the installation of a Catholic bishop.  However, even more remarkable is the location of the Patriarch and his delegation during the service.  This can be seen in a video of the entire service at (link).  Patriarch Porfirije processed into the Cathedral in the long line of Catholic bishops.  (video at 2:53)  During the entire service, Patriarch Porfirije, Bishop Irinej, and Protodeacon Radomir were in the sanctuary of the Cathedral only a few meters from the concelebrating Catholic bishops as can be seen from the video.  In my opinion, this closeness is very unusual for an Orthodox hierarch at a Catholic Mass.  At the service, Patriarch Porfirije gave a 13-minute address.  (video beginning at 1:33:40)  The text of his address can be read at (link).  Near the beginning of his address, the Patriarch stated:

Dear Archbishop, You are a man of this area, I can freely say a man of our people, someone who was born and grew up, don't mind what I say, in Bačka, where I was born and grew up.  This very fact says that not only do you know the soul of all the people who live here in Serbia, but as a Christian, as a bishop, as a minister of the Church, you certainly know that you share all that is good and all that is bad with all the people of this area.  I am also sure that you share the conviction that all people living in Serbia, and above all those who believe in God, know - and I am deeply convinced of this - that we need each other and that no one can say to anyone: You are redundant!  If it were not so, God would not have placed us in this time and in this space to live together, because we Christians know that everything happens according to His will and according to His providence.

After the installation, Archbishop Német gave an interview to Vatican Radio. (link)  He stated:

It seems to me that the most important thing is to create good contacts and relations with the representatives of other historical Churches in Serbia, and especially, as I mentioned, with the Orthodox Church, because it is the largest and has a huge influence on life in Serbia, and then the same with others…. What is important for us in Serbia is that the level of humanity, human closeness, be in order.  And then we will be able to talk in peace and reach some results.  It was a special honor for me, but I think for all Catholics as well, that there were representatives from all Churches at the enthronement, and especially, as you probably saw, that the Patriarch was there.  It is a special honor for us.  I think that was the first time it was like that.  However, this means that the weather is changing in Serbia and is moving in a better direction. 

Lastly, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Orthodox Cypriot people when they vote for a new primate on Sunday, December 18.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA