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The Orthodox Church / Patriarchate of All Bulgaria

Patriarchate of All Bulgaria

Number of faithfulapprox. 7 million
Title of First HierarchMetropolitan of Sofia and Patriarch of Bulgaria
See of the First HierarchSofia (Bulgaria)
Current incumbentNeofit (Dimitrov), born 1945, in office since 2013
Bishops and dioceses28 bishops; 15 dioceses, 1 each in Western Europe and America
Liturgical LanguageChurch Slavonic
Calendarmixed calendar (Gregorian/Julian)
Presence in Austriaapprox. 100,000 believers; 3 parishes, 3 priests
Presence in Germanyapprox. 320,000 believers; 1 bishop, bishopric in Berlin; 11 parishes, 10 priests, 1 deacon

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church can claim the oldest tradition within Slavic-speaking Orthodoxy: After its Christianization in 864, it gained its independence already in the early 10th century (First Bulgarian Patriarchate: 927-1018). After an intermediate period of Byzantine dominance, the Bulgarian Church regained its prominence for the Christianization of the entire Balkans (Second Bulgarian Patriarchate: 1235-1393), before the Bulgarian church was placed under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople by the Ottomans. In 1870, the Sultan established the Bulgarian Exarchate, granting the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria an autonomous status. The striving of the Bulgarian Exarchate for complete independence from Constantinople led to the schism between the Bulgarian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1872, and the Bulgarians being accused of "phyletism" - the organization of the Church according to the principle of nationality. The schism came to an end in 1945, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and later also approved the reestablishment of the Patriarchate (Third Bulgarian Patriarchate: since 1951).

During communist rule, the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria suffered from restrictions, such as the expulsion of the Faculty of Theology from Sofia University in 1950 (reintegrated into the university in 1991) and the nationalization of the famous Rila Monastery in 1961. However, the theological faculty in Sofia managed to continue as a "spiritual academy" even during the communist era securing the training of the clergy. One of the best-known Bulgarian theologians of the 20th century is Stefan Zankov (1881-1965), one of the Orthodox pioneers of the ecumenical movement, who also paved the way for the participation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1961.

In 1992, there was a split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church due to the accusations of some bishops against the incumbent Patriarch Maksim (1971-2012) of only having attained office with communist support. Although, the schism was officially resolved in 1998 through a small pan-Orthodox synod in Sofia, the disputes between the "alternative synod" and the patriarchate - especially over the ownership of church buildings - continued for years. These internal tensions were probably also the main reason for the withdrawal of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church from the WCC, which was announced in 1998. Under Patriarch Neofit (since 2013), the situation of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria has gradually stabilized.


  • J. Lis, Die Bulgarische Orthodoxe Kirche, in: Th. Bremer / H.R. Gazer / Chr. Lange (Hg.), Die orthodoxen Kirchen der byzantinischen Tradition, Darmstadt 2013, 61-70e.
  • G. Vlantis, Die orthodoxe Kirche Bulgariens und die ökumenische Bewegung, in: Orth. Forum 27 (2013) 57-69.
  • H.-D. Döpmann, Kirche in Bulgarien von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, München 2006.