Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Alternative synod
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Alternative synod is an Eastern Orthodox Church that claims to be the sole legitimate Orthodox Church in Bulgaria but is not recognized as canonical by the national Orthodox churches and most believers.
In 1991 the new Bulgarian government created a Board of Religious Affairs that began to initiate reforms in the country’s religious institutions. In March 1992 it ruled that the 1971 election of Patriarch Maxim had been recognized illegal because he had been appointed by the communist government in an uncanonical manner. This triggered a division among the bishops, and three of them under the leadership of Metropolitan Pimen (Enev) of Nevrokop called publicly for Maxim’s deposition. The dispute hardened into a deep division when, on July 4, 1996, Metropolitan Pimen was installed as rival Patriarch and was anathematized by Maxim’s Holy Synod.
When Petar Stoyanov was sworn in as Bulgarian President in January 1997, Pimen conducted a blessing ceremony, and in March 1997 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the registration of Maxim’s Holy Synod was invalid. In January 1998 President Stoyanov called upon both Patriarchs to resign to provide for the election of a single successor that would end the schism.
An effort of reconciliation was short lived. Patriarch Pimen was not replaced after his death in 1999, and in December 2002 a new Bulgarian law on religion marginalized and started to persecute the Alternative Synod. Eventually the Bulgarian authorities decided to intervene. On the night of July 20–21, 2004, priests of the Alternative Synod that opposed Patriarch Maxim’s leadership were forcibly evicted from approximately 250 churches and other properties that the Holy Synod claimed they were illegally occupying. In the immediate aftermath of the operation, clerics from the Alternative Synod held religious services outside of the churches from which they had been evicted.
A synod was held in 2008 for the election of the new head of the Church, and Metropolitan Inokentii was elected as the leading hierarch. In 2010, Metropolitan Inokentii called for a healing of division between the churches. The church is in full communion with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchy, the Orthodox Church in Italy and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church.
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