Initially the Principality of Bulgaria was divided into the following dioceses: Sofia, Samokov, Kyustendil, Vratsa, Vidin, Lovech, Turnovo, Dorostol and Cherven, and Varna and Preslav. After the union of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia in 1885 another two dioceses were added: Plovdiv and Sliven. The diocese of Stara Zagora was created a little later (1896) and after the First Balkan War Nevrokop also joined the other Bulgarian dioceses. According to the Statutes of the Exarchate (1871) several diocese were to be merged with others after the death of their metropolitan bishops. Thus after the death of Metropolitan Hilarion in 1884 the diocese of Kyustendil ceased to exist as a separate pastoral entity and became a part of the diocese of Sofia. Then after the death of Metropolitan Dositheus the diocese of Samokov also came under the jurisdiction of Sofia. Third in line was the diocese of Lovech, which would have followed the others after the death of Exarch Joseph. The exarch, however, had made the necessary arrangements for his diocese to survive him and it exists to this day.
In 1880 and 1881 an episcopal meeting was held in Sofia in which all metropolitans of the principality took part. It debated the rules for governing the Church in liberated Bulgaria. A draft entitled 'Exarchal Statutes adapted for the Principality' was drawn up. It was based on the exarchal statutes formulated and adopted by the First Council of the Bulgarian Church and People on 14 May 1871 in Constantinople. On 4 February 1883 the Bulgarian head of state, Knyaz Alexander Battenberg, endorsed this ecclesiastical-cum-legal document and it came into force. It was amended in 1890 and 1891. Four years later new statutes were approved, which in their turn were amended in 1897 and 1900. According to the statutes the Church in the Principality was governed by a Holy Synod made up of all metropolitans, but in practice during the first four years only four of them met regularly. It was agreed that Exarch Joseph would govern the Church in the principality by means of an exarchal vicar, who was to be elected by the metropolitan bishops of the principality and approved by the exarch. Until 1894 the Holy Synod did not meet regularly, but thereafter it assumed its regular functions and dealt with all current issues of the government of the Church.
The government of the Church, however, was fraught with difficulties. In many Macedonian dioceses and in some within the principality there were cases of diarchy, that is, one diocese having two metropolitans. In Plovdiv, Sozopol, Anhialo (Pomorie), Mesembria (Nesebur) and Varna there were Greek bishops affiliated to the Patriarchate of Constantinople (under the provisions of the firman of 2 7 February 1870). To have them officiating in Bulgaria was in contravention of Article 39 of the Turnovo Constitution and at times this led to serious conflicts. The Greek metropolitans remained in Bulgaria as late as 1906, when in a burst of indignation at the Greek outrages against the Bulgarians in Macedonia, the Bulgarian population rose against them, took over their churches and drove them out of the principality.
Conflicts also flared up between the Holy Synod and some government departments. The Holy Synod had to wage a long war before it managed to assume responsibility for religious education in schools and to put in place provisions for financial support of the parish clergy.
During his brief reign the Bulgarian Knyaz Alexander Battenberg did not get involved in any conflicts with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and did not show any special attitude towards it. The relationship between Church and ruler, however, changed significantly with the arrival in the principality of Knyaz Ferdinand I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on 10 August 1887. He was brought up in a Catholic family and listened to the advice of his zealously Catholic mother (and later on, his no less pious Catholic wife). He came to a country about which he knew nothing and where according to the Constitution 'the dominant religion is Orthodox Christianity of the Eastern rite'. Besides this, the Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov was too obsequious in his dealings with the monarch and neglectful of the interests of the Church, with whose hierarchs he was in constant conflict. At one point relations between the government and the Holy Synod even broke down because the latter refused to mention the non-Orthodox prince in the liturgy. While they were meeting in session on 30 December 1888 the members of the Synod were escorted out of Sofia by police and sent to their respective dioceses. It was only towards the end of 1889 that Stambolov's government and Ferdinand managed to iron out their differences with the ecclesiastical authorities with the active mediation of the Metropolitan of Dorostol and Cherven, Gregory. The prime minister satisfied the demand of Exarch Joseph for the convocation of an extraordinary session of the Holy Synod in Rouse. In June 1890 the members of the Synod met in Rouse and adopted a liturgical formula that mentioned Knyaz Ferdinand in the liturgy.
In the autumn of the same year the Synod met in regular session in Sofia and on 27 October the bishops paid a visit to the prince. On the same day he returned the visit, accompanied by Stefan Stambolov. The restored relations between the Church and the secular authorities survived for just one year. In 1892 an initiative of Stambolov's again pitted them against each other. In connection with the engagement of the monarch to Maria-Louisa, the government tried to amend Article 38 of the Turnovo
Constitution by including the provision that not only the first prince of Bulgaria but also his successor should not necessarily belong to the Orthodox Church. Since the amendment of Article 38 was adopted without consulting the Holy Synod, the Church put up a fight against it. Stambolov, however, persecuted the metropolitans who opposed his policies and actions. The Metropolitan of Turnovo, Clement (Droumev), was particularly badly victimized. Because of a single sermon, delivered on 14 February 1893, he was treated as if he had committed high treason. He was most brutally exiled to the Lyaskovets Monastery and a criminal trial was cooked up against him. The district court of Turnovo (with a judge and jury specially selected for their subservience to the authorities) condemned the bishop to exile for life. Subsequently the Turnovo Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to two years. Thus the 'Russophile' Clement was convicted and exiled to the Glozhene Monastery, an outrage that stands out not only in the ecclesiastical but also in the civil history of Bulgaria.
However, the prince was quick to appraise the situation, pardoned the exiled bishop and decided that the heir apparent, Knyaz Boris III, should be brought up in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. So on 2 February 1896, in the cathedral church of St Nedelya, Exarch Joseph personally performed the sacramental anointing of the heir to the throne in the presence of the special envoy of the Russian Emperor, Knyaz Golenishchev-Kutuzov. Besides being a sign of the improved relations between the prince and the Bulgarian clergy this act also showed that the approval of Russia had been won.
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