Election of Exarch and Abolition of the Schism

After the death of Exarch Joseph in 20 June 1915, no election for a new primate of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was held for 30 years. This was due to the indecisiveness of the Bulgarian ruling circles. Besides, there were different opinions about who should be exarch and who should be Metropolitan of Sofia, but according to the canonical rules the two positions could not be separated and many believed that only an exarch elected by the whole Church should occupy the metropolitan chair of the capital. During the three decades when the Bulgarian Church had no primate (exarch), it was governed by the Holy Synod, presided over by a vicegerent chairman, elected for a limited term of office.

Some of the bishops took advantage of the political change after 9 September 1944 to solve some of the problems of the Church. Stephan, the Metropolitan of Sofia, was the most active among them. In several broadcasts over Radio Sofia and in a message to the Russian people he declared that Nazism was an enemy of all Slavs, but will be defeated by Russia and her allies, the USA and Britain. The new Bulgarian government - the left-wing Fatherland Front coalition - was seeking popular support and was willing to help the Church. On 16 October 1944 the Holy Synod accepted the resignation of the Metropolitan of Vidin, Neophyte, and elected as its new vicegerent chairman, the Metropolitan of Sofia, Stephan. Two days later the Holy Synod decided to ask for the government's consent to the election of an exarch. The consent was immediately granted. Meanwhile the Statutes of the Exarchate were amended so as to enable a broader participation of the clergy and the laity in the election. The amendments were approved by a decree promulgated in the State Gazette. The Synod promptly issued Circular No. 52 of 4 January 1945, which set the date for the diocesan conferences on 14 January and for the election of an exarch on 21 January. Each diocese had to elect seven delegates - three clerics and four laymen - who were to meet in Sofia and elect an exarch.

The council for the election of an exarch was held in the ancient Church of St Sophia on 21 January 1945. Ninety delegates with valid credentials chose the exarch from among three metropolitan bishops: Stephen of Sofia, Neophyte of Vidin, and Michael of Dorostol and Cherven. With the largest number of votes (84) the Metropolitan of Sofia, Stephen, was elected as the third Bulgarian exarch.

Another extremely important problem was the need to have the schism abolished, since it was a burden that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had had to live with for 73 years. That was achieved with the unstinting support of the Russian Orthodox Church, which promised to intercede with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. To this end, the Deputation of the Exarchate was moved from Constantinople to Sofia and the Holy Synod decided to send to Constantinople the metropolitans Boris of Nevrokop and Sophronius of Turnovo who, along with the Bishop of Veles, Andrew, were authorized to act in every way to conduct the necessary negotiations and to sign the requisite documents.

The delegates of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church met in Constantinople with the Ecumenical Patriarch and negotiated with a commission of the patriarchate (comprising the Metropolitans Maximos of Chalkidon, Germanos of Sardis and Dorotheos of Laodikeia) the conditions for the abolition of the schism. A 'Protocol on the abolition of the anomaly which has existed for years in the body of the Holy Orthodox Church' was signed on 19 February 1945, and on 22 February a special decree was issued by the Ecumenical Patriarch which contained the following statement:

We give our blessing to the autocephalous status and government of the Holy Church in Bulgaria, which shall be called the Holy Orthodox Autocephalous Bulgarian Church, and being henceforth recognised as our spiritual sister shall govern and manage her own affairs independently and in an autocephalous manner according to her rules and sovereign rights . . .

In that way, in February 1945, the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was confined to the territory of the Bulgarian state, but its complete independence (autocephaly) was recognized and it occupied its place in the family of the local auto-cephalous churches which comprise the worldwide Orthodox Church.

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