What is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church?Question: "What is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church?"
Answer: The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous (self-governing) church within Eastern Orthodoxy. Being independent, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has its own patriarchate (ecclesiastical jurisdiction). The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the head of the church is the Metropolitan of Sofia, Patriarch of All Bulgaria.
The majority of Bulgarians (85 percent) would claim that they belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, although less than 20 percent of Bulgarians attend church regularly. Other Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses are established in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has between 6 and 8 million members worldwide.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, along with other Eastern Orthodox churches, traces its roots back to the missionary efforts of the apostle Andrew. Tsar Boris I organized the church in Bulgaria in 864. The church was recognized as autocephalous in 870 and became a patriarchate in 927. After an invasion by the Turks in 1393, however, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church ceased to function as a self-governing body. The Bulgarian church reorganized five centuries later, in 1870, but was not officially recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople until 1945. During the communist era, the Soviets subjected the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to strict state control. Currently, the Republic of Bulgaria enjoys freedom of religion, although the national constitution declares Orthodoxy to be Bulgaria’s “historical religion.”
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always resisted ecumenical calls to unite with other religious groups. In April 2016 the Holy Synod (the governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church) issued a statement condemning all churches outside of Orthodoxy: “Besides the Holy Orthodox Church there are no other churches, but only heresies and schisms, and to call these ‘churches’ is theologically, dogmatically and canonically completely wrong” (“Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Besides the Orthodox Church ‘There Are No Other Churches, Only Heresies and Schisms.’” The Sofia Globe. May 5, 2016. Web. Dec. 28, 2016).
The doctrine and practice of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church follow the standard teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church observes seven sacraments; venerates icons; prays to Mary, the “Mother of God,” and other saints; prays for the dead; and teaches a works-based salvation. These teachings, unfortunately, contradict biblical doctrine. Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father (Luke 11:2), and the Bible says that salvation is all of grace, apart from human works (Romans 4:5). The Orthodox view of salvation is a “different” gospel to be avoided (see Galatians 1:6–9).
Recommended Resources: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2d ed.: A Western Perspective by Daniel B. Clendenin
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What is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church?