Bulgaria at odds with Russia over a church in Sofia
Bulgaria and Russia are engaged in a diplomatic spat over the fate of the so-called Russian Church in Sofia and a week after a Russian priest was expelled from the country over threats to national security.
On Monday, Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte appointed Bulgarian priests to start serving the St. Nicholas church in Sofia.
“The action of His Holiness (Patriarch Neophyte) is dictated by care for the faithful, preservation of good order in the church and should be understood only in its spiritual aspect. It does not affect the material or other rights of anyone, whatever they are guaranteed by secular laws”, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said in a statement.
It adds that the Patriarch expects assistance from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Sofia to reopen the site.
The Russian church was closed after Bulgarian counterintelligence expelled the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Archimandrite Vassian, and two other people as a threat to national security.
A week earlier, Vassian was also expelled from North Macedonia for espionage.
The expulsion of Vassian saw Russian Ambassador to Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, accuse the Bulgarian government of trying to divide the churches of the two countries. Orthodoxy is one of the most important fulcrums of Russian propaganda in Bulgaria, which makes the case particularly important for both countries.
The Russian Embassy announced that the church would remain closed, but the Bulgarian church announced that it would open it, and the Russian Patriarch Kirill had been informed about the appointment of the new Bulgarian priests.
After the expulsion of Vassian, a dispute arose over whether the Russian Embassy had the right to keep the church closed. On Sunday, September 24, Bulgarian Metropolitan Naum explained that the temple should not be considered Russian. He referred to a decision of the Russian Church from 1952, according to which all Russian Church properties in Bulgaria are under the ownership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The day after, the leader of the pro-rural, anti-European party Vazrazhdane, Kostadin Kostadinov, distributed a notarial act, which shows that the church was bought by the Russian embassy in 1997.
He defended the Russian position and defined as “lies” the words of all those who claim the church is Bulgarian. The Russian Embassy in Sofia has announced that it will take action in coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church, reported Mitrofanova, quoted by TASS.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow over Vassian’s expulsion. The Russian position is that this is another provocative attack by the Bulgarian authorities, which entirely fits into the current Euro-Atlantic guidelines for “combating Russian influence”. The threat of the Kremlin is that these positions of Bulgaria “will inevitably lead to unpleasant consequences – above all for the initiators.”
(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg)