(Pravoslavie) - Reports from Sofia indicate that the hierarchy of the schismatic “Alternative Synod of the Bulgarian Church” has, following a long process of trial and error, returned to full unity with the canonically-recognized Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The schism came about when in 1992 the government-established Board of Religious Affairs announced that the 1971 election of Patriarch Maxim was illegal as he had been appointed by the then Communist government, which led to a group of three bishops calling for his resignation. The overthrow of the Bulgarian Communist regime was accomplished in 1989, and the new government sought to appear as acting against all Communist vestiges. Soon after the then War Minister gave the dissenting hierarchs permission to occupy the official Palace seat of the Bulgarian hierarchs, and in 1996 they elected their own independent Patriarch, although the 1998 Pan-Orthodox Council of the Bulgarian Church in Sofia of course recognized Maxim as the legitimate Patriarch.
The Ecumenical Patriarch His All-Holiness Bartholomew I played an important role in the reunification, as the RINSU (Religious News Service of Ukraine) noted in their April 2015 report on the UOC-KP/UAOC dialogues for unity: “Recently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been an agent of reunification of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, although there were also two branches very aggressive against each other,” stated professor of Religious Studies Oleksandr Sagan.
The Bulgarian government also had a stake in the process and had been trying to heal the schism since 1998 when then-President Stoyanov called for the resignation of the Patriarch of both synods that a single successor might be elected to end the schism. This plan remained unexecuted and the Patriarch of the Alternative Synod reposed in 1999. His 2008-elected successor, Inokentii, called for a healing of the schism in 2010. A number of Alternative Synod bishops refused to reunite at that time but have one-by-one reconciled with the Bulgarian Patriarchate, thus bringing an end to the Bulgarian Patriarchate/Alternative Synod schism.