Building up the Bulgarian Exarchate

Thanks to the firman the Bulgarian Church regained the independence of which it had been deprived at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The decree of the Ottoman administration was received with hostility by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which declared it uncanonical. In fact the firman issued by the Sultan on 2 7 February 1870 was based on a draft prepared in 1867 by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory VI, and a document drawn up by a joint Bulgarian-Greek committee in 1869 which had also been seen and revised by the Patriarch. Besides, the provisions of the firman did not in any way infringe the historical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, nor the holy canons approved by the ecumenical and local councils of the Church. Four of its articles (3, 4, 6 and 7) clearly and unambiguously stated that the Bulgarian Exarchate should be closely associated with and, to a certain extent, even be dependent on the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The other provisions of the firman were also in harmony with the ecclesiastical canons and in line with the practice of the other churches.

Article 10 was the only one which the patriarchate may have found really difficult to countenance. It described the pastoral jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Exarchate by specifying only parts of some dioceses, that is, only the districts where the Bulgarian population was the majority. The jurisdiction of the districts with a mixed population was to be decided by plebiscite. The truth of the matter is that by Article 10 of the firman large and wealthy Bulgarian dioceses were taken away from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, depriving it of a substantial share of its revenue and creating serious obstacles to any further Greek cultural influence on the re-emergent Bulgarian nation. For that reason the patriarchate protested vehemently to the Sublime Porte and when that did not yield results, took the unwarranted decision to declare a schism.

Despite the obstructions of the patriarchate, the active supporters of the independent Bulgarian Church in Constantinople went on to establish the ecclesiastical structure of the exarchate. The First Council of the Bulgarian Church and People met in Constantinople between 23 February and 24 July 1871. It was made up of 11 clerics and 39 lay representatives. The council held 3 7 regular sessions. It adopted and signed the statutes for the government of the Bulgarian Exarchate at its twenty-third session on 14 May. The statutes were then translated into Turkish and submitted to the Sublime Porte for approval. Having waited in vain for two months for permission to elect an exarch, the council broke up.

Eventually an election was held on 12 February 1872. Bishop Hilarion of Lovech, the oldest Bulgarian prelate who until shortly before that had been based at the Patriarchate in Constantinople, was elected exarch. However, at the instigation of the Sublime Porte and as a result of pressure by certain political circles he was forced to resign and a second election was held. Thus, on 16 February 1872 the Metropolitan of Vidin, Anthimus I, was elected exarch.

Annoyed by the success of the Bulgarian cause, on 29 August 1872 the Greek clergy convened a grand (Greek) church council, which on 16 September declared the Bulgarian Church and people schismatic. That did not bother the Bulgarians, who were in a hurry to establish their own ecclesiastical structure, but the schism remained a blot on the name of the Bulgarian Church. After the crushing of the April Uprising which hoped to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, Exarch Anthimus showed himself to be a fervent and valiant patriot. He made sure that the European governments learned about the atrocities of the Turks in suppressing the uprising and wrote a personal letter to the Tsar of Russia asking him to intervene by military force in order to liberate Bulgaria. That provoked the wrath of the Sublime Porte, which sought to arrange his deposition with the help of some notables from the Bulgarian community in Constantinople. On 12 April 1872 Anthimus was deposed and exiled to Angora (modern Ankara). On 24 April a council of electors consisting of three metropolitans and 13 laymen met at the building of the exarchate in the Ortakoy district of Constantinople and elected as the new exarch the young Metropolitan of Lovech,

Joseph (1840-1915), who had been elevated to the episcopate in 1872, and therefore, after the establishment of the exarchate.

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