Patriarch Kirill’s sends letters to Patriarch Maxim and Bulgarian president concerning the European Court

In February 2009, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia received a letter from His Holiness Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, notifying him of the decision made by the European Court of Human Rights on 22 January 2009 on the complaint lodged by the Bulgarian schismatic organization led by Innokentiy, ‘Metropolitan of Sofia'. The letter stated in particular that by this decision the European Court of Human Rights accused the Republic of Bulgaria of having violated Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms because it believed the state had interfered in the canonical matters through law and actions to settle a dispute between ‘two leaderships' of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

At the same time, the letter continues, the European Court ignored the decision of the All-Orthodox Council which considered this matter in 1998 in Sofia as well as the opinion of the heads of Orthodox Churches and the arguments put forward by both the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian state concerning legal and canonical problems involved in overcoming the schism. In his letter, Patriarch Maxim expressed concern for the fact that the European Court's decision ‘has created a dangerous precedent and a possibility for division and interference in the canonical life of any Local Orthodox Church' and a wish that all Orthodox Churches should unite their efforts ‘to defend the canonical unity of every Church and the entire Orthodoxy, so that neither national or European or international organizations and judicial authorities may be allowed to make any judgments on canonical questions of unity, governance and representation of the Local Orthodox Church just as on any other canonical matter'. Attached to the letter was a statement of the Holy Synod the Bulgarian Orthodox Church expressing a strong disagreement with ‘the unfair, partial and fact-distorting arguments of the court' and describing the court's decision as ‘interference in the affairs of the self-governed Bulgarian Orthodox Church'.

Later in February, another letter was received from Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria, notifying of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Synod decision to convene a working conference of representatives of Local Orthodox Churches and legal experts on March 11-12 to consider the problem.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights of January 22 was also discussed during the talk Patriarch Kirill had with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on 6 February 2009 and earlier when His Holiness Kirill received a delegation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on February 3.

Considering the above, Patriarch Kirill sent to Patriarch Maxim a letter thanking him for the detailed information on the difficult situation the sister Bulgarian Orthodox Church faced due to the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights. He expressed deep concern for the fact that the Strasbourg court agreed in part with the demands of the schismatics while disregarding the fundamental norms of the Orthodox canon law.

Patriarch Kirill noted that the Russian Orthodox Church consistently supported the Bulgarian Patriarchate in opposing the efforts of the schismatics to destroy the unity of both the Church and Bulgarian society. ‘It is only the Holy Synod led by Your Holiness that represents the only legitimate body of the canonical church authority and governance of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and this fact has been repeatedly attested to by the world Orthodox community', he stated in this letter.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed that interference in an internal church conflict made without consideration for Orthodox tradition and in the name of one-sidedly understood values of liberal pluralism and an interpretation of human rights which is not fully shared by the Orthodox world threatens to lead to serious consequences both for the preservation of harmony in Bulgarian society and the well-being of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as well as for other Churches and religious communities because this practice can be seen as a precedent.

His Holiness Kirill also informed Patriarch Maxim of his talk with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on the situation during which he reiterated the readiness of the Moscow Patriarchate to support the efforts of the supreme authorities of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to defend her legitimate rights.

In his letter to the Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, Patriarch Kirill stated in particular, ‘Through your efforts the defense of canonical Orthodoxy has recently become one of the priorities of the Bulgarian State, which has met with a positive response of the Orthodox faithful throughout the world'. At the same time, His Holiness expressed regret over the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in which the legitimate measures of the Bulgarian Government did not find understanding. The letter reiterates the readiness of the Russian Orthodox Church to take part in an open discussion on the problem.

His Holiness Kirill also sent a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, noting that the identity of Orthodox states was increasing threatened today, and the European Court of Human Rights' decision was one of the examples of this threat, which will have ‘ambiguous consequences for every traditional religious community in Europe'.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has sent a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the meeting of representatives of Local Orthodox Churches organized by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Sofia. It is led by Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria and includes Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, Moscow Patriarchate's department for external church relations secretary for inter-Orthodox relations, Rev. George Ryabykh, DECR acting secretary for church-society relations, and V. Kipshidze, DECR staff member.

Source: - DECR Communication Service