Bulgarian church row over return of the Archons
Posted Jun 25 2012 by Clive Leviev-Sawyer in Bulgaria, News
A petition, public protest and open division among the Bulgarian
Orthodox Church have followed the church’s new rules legitimising the
awarding of the title “Archon” to lay people – with critics among the
faithful lashing out at church leaders for conferring the title on those
they allege hardly deserve it.
The row, revived in 2012, first broke out in 2007 when the title was
given to Slavi Binev.
Binev, a Sofia business person in his 40s whose company is in the
finance, security and entertainment business and reportedly owns what is
arguably the Bulgarian capital city’s most popular pop-folk nightclub,
was among four people made into an “Archon” that year – the first time
that the title had been conferred since the 14th century.
The title was conferred on Binev, who in 2007 was the failed Sofia
mayoral candidate for Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party (and
whose detractors lampooned him by distributing pre-election posters with
photos of Binev outside Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia wearing a fez), at a
ceremony far away from traditional Orthodox Christian territory – the
Vatican in Rome.
The 2012 reboot of the controversy has seen Archon status given to,
among others, business person Petar Mandjukov – former owner of
Bulgarian Socialist Party mouthpiece Duma, founder of the BBT television
channel and who some time ago became known as a prominent trader in the
fuel business – by Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai.
Mandjukov, awarded Bulgaria’s highest honour, the Stara Planina, by
then-president Georgi Purvanov for services to journalism, was a
collaborator and agent with Bulgaria’s communist-era State Security,
under the code name Omurtag, according to information made public by the
Others who have been given the title include business person Ivan
“Chombe” Kochev and Ovanes “Pashaeva” Melik, a naturalised Bulgarian
citizen of Russian origin perhaps best known for organising concerts in
Bulgaria by Russian pop stars.
The awards prompted a silent protest outside the headquarters of the
Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, on June 22
after the church’s leadership – with at least two senior clerics
dissenting – endorsed rules drafted by the Plovdiv diocese on the
awarding of the “Archon” titles.
In 2007, the church had come out against handing out the title. The 2012
decision by the Holy Synod reverses this.
The Holy Synod said that the title Archon could be given only to
Orthodox Christians, by the diocesan bishop at the discretion of the
Where funds had been donated, “the manner of their acquisition should
not be contrary to Christian morality and the morality taught by the
Bulgarian Orthodox Church”.
The title Archon should be awarded only for visible and proven public
merit in supporting the activities of the Orthodox Church, the Holy
Such contributions could include building new churches, serving the
spiritual needs of a large number of lay people, repairs and other forms
of assistance to diocesan monasteries, restoring monastic life,
sustainable support for the educational and social activities of the
church, long-term support for religious lessons and Sunday school,
construction and maintenance of soup kitchens, orphanages, shelters and
other similar charitable institutions.
An Archon could have manifested extraordinary civic activity in the
field of religious education, and a significant intellectual or creative
contribution, which has honoured spiritual rather than material values
and has put all his skills and talents to the glory of the Divinity and
the benefit of the church.
Metropolitan Nataniel Nevrokopski publicly dissented with the decision
by the Holy Synod, saying that he did not agree with the new rules on
the title and would never confer it. His conscience was “troubled and
disturbed” by the new ruling, Bulgarian media reported him as saying.
He said that by its decision, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was
demeaning the great virtue of church-building for motives that were
pure, and was resurrecting the defunct practice of the Roman Catholic
church of the sale of indulgences.
“This will mislead men into buying the fancy title by building temples,”
Metropolitan Nataniel said.
News website Mediapool said on June 22 that within 48 hours, a steering
committee against the Archon decision had collected close to 800 signatures.
Theologian and philosophy professor Kalin Yanakiev, who took part in the
vigil, told Bulgarian National Radio that the campaign would continue to
seek support until the clergy took it seriously.
“We are gathered here as Orthodox Christians who do not want a departure
from Orthodox traditions,” he said.
Author Emilia Dvoryanova said that she did not know whether the protest
would awaken the conscience of those who took the decision on Archons,
“I cannot answer for their consciences but I can promise that there will
be very strong pressure to abandon (the decision),” she said.
She called on other lay people and people who care for the church “to
wake up and realise that for 20 years we have succumbed to their mafia
country but now we are gathered as people who will not allow the mob to
seize the church”.
Varna Metropolitan Kiril said that he too had rejected the new rules on
Archons. The decisions of the Holy Synod should follow morality and the
finest traditions of the Bulgarian church, and not introduce new practices.
This is the latest public controversy to shake the Bulgarian Orthodox
Church, which in 2011 was in the headlines for some time after the
Dossier Commission disclosed that most of the Holy Synod – with few
exceptions, including church head Patriarch Maxim and Plovdiv
Metropolitan Nikolai – had been agents and collaborators with
communist-era State Security.