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Church of Greece “concerned” by Bulgarian Orthodox Church decision on FYROM Church

The holy synod of the Church of Greece has expressed concern regarding the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s decision to hold talks with other Orthodox churches on the status of the FYROM Church, which asked last month for recognition as autocephalous.

In a statement posted on the Church of Greece website, the holy synod said that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was intervening into the affairs that pertain to the jurisdiction of another church, namely the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was contrary to church canons and traditions, ignored the leading role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and could lead to “difficult developments.”

The Church of Greece also said it hoped that prudence would prevail and that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church would not go ahead with its decision.

On November 27, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, decided to hold talks with the FYROM Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Christian churches on recognizing the neighbouring country’s church as autocephalous and agreeing to be its mother church. The Holy Synod’s decision did not state explicitly whether the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was agreeing to be the FYROM Church’s mother church.

The FYROM Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric made the request in a letter on November 9.

The Bulgarian Church’s governing body said that it was appointing a committee of bishops that would hold talks with the FYROM and other Orthodox churches. Formed at a time when FYROM was part of communist Yugoslavia, the FYROM Orthodox Church is not recognized by any other Orthodox Christian church.

Ahead of the Holy Synod’s meeting, Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neophyte said: “We must accept the outstretched hand of the ‘Macedonian’ church”.

There was no immediate response from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but the Church of Greece statement prompted a reaction from the nationalist VMRO party, one of three parties that form the United Patriots group, the minority partner in Bulgaria’s ruling coalition.

The statement, quoted by Bulgaria’s state news agency BTA, said that the party did not accept the view that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was intervening into the affairs of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

FYROM parishes had been part of the Bulgarian Exarchate, whose successor is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and were only transferred to the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church by political decree of the Comintern, the VMRO statement said. The Communist International (Comintern) issued a resolution recognizing a separate ‘Macedonian’ ethnicity in 1934.

The party said that the Church of Greece’s statement was the one causing “church intrigues, which risked setting church relations back by centuries”.

The Church of Greece is not the only one opposing the autocephaly of the FYROM Church. The Russian Church opposes a positive decision by the Bulgarian Church, concerned that it would create a precedent for the similar request by the Ukrainian Church, while Serbia also opposes recognition. Church analysts believe that the Moscow Patriarchate will never agree that the autocephaly will be unilaterally recognized by only one local church, as this would create a precedent for resolving the Ukrainian church question.