Bulgarian Orthodox Church, leadership have always Been legitimate: Prime Minister of Bulgaria
Bulgarian Orthodox Church and its leadership have always been legitimate, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told journalists Monday, emerging from a meeting with Patriarch Maxim. Stanishev specified he had requested the meeting to discuss yet again the situation involving a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He said he regarded the judgment with great concern because it was important and all ways and instruments should be found to defend the authority and unity of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The judgment was delivered by the Strasbourg Court on January 22 in the Case of "Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Inokentiy) and Others v. Bulgaria." Metropolitan Inokentiy headed the so-called alternative synod which was set up in 1996 after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church split. In its application to the European Court of Human Rights, it claimed that it had been deprived of churches and monasteries and that its priests and staff were evicted in an operation of the law-enforcing authorities in 2004 whereby the Bulgarian government effectively intervened in church matters. The Court awarded the applicants jointly 8,000 euro in respect of all costs and expenses, reserving the question of non-pecuniary and pecuniary damage claimed by the applicants. It invited the Government and the applicants to submit, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final, their written observations on the matter and, in particular, to notify the Court of any agreement that they may reach. "We have always tried to help those who have split from the church to return to its bosom and they have this opportunity," Stanishev said. "The church is particularly important to Bulgaria as it is part of the national identity and has helped the nation survive for centuries under foreign rule," he explained, adding that in modern times it also passed through a number of trials, including political interference in its affairs which led to great tension and a split. This split was overcome with a church council in the fall of 1998, which entirely restored the unity of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and its legitimate leadership, Stanishev said.
The Prime Minister asked Patriarch Maxim to inform him about the meeting of Orthodox churches held two weeks ago in Sofia because, as he explained, the decision of the ECHR concerns not only the Bulgarian church but all Orthodox churches in the world. "We shall do everything necessary to defend our arguments that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always had legitimate leadership, respected not only by all Orthodox believers in Bulgaria but also recognized by the entire world of orthodoxy," Stanishev said.