[ditty_news_ticker id="27897"] Death of Patriarch Neophyte & other news - Orthodox Christian Laity

Death of Patriarch Neophyte & other news


Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria

There is the very sad news that Patriarch Neophyte died on the evening of March 13 at the age of 78 after a long illness.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/saobshtenie-po-povod-konchinata-na-negovo-sveteyshestvo-balg  He had been patriarch for 11 years.  The funeral service will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/sv-sinod-na-bpts-bp-opredeli-datite-za-poklonenieto-opeloto  Patriarch Neophyte seems to have been highly regarded by everyone, and his condolences have poured in.  On the morning of March 14, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew conducted a Trisagion service for the repose of the soul of Patriarch Neophyte.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarchal-trisagion-for-the-late-patriarch-of-bulgaria-and-bishop-of-efkarpia/  The following are the condolences sent from Patriarch Kirill:  https://mospat.ru/ru/news/91526/

The election of a new patriarch is governed by Articles 40 -48 of the Statutes of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC). https://bg-patriarshia.bg/statute (full text of the Statutes); https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-election-of-the-next-patriarch-of-bulgaria-an-insight-into-the-process (English translation).  Among the eligibility requirements for a new patriarch is that the bishop must have been a diocesan metropolitan for at least five years and must be at least 50 years of age.  (Article 40)  There are now 15 dioceses of the BOC, and there are nine diocean metropolitans who satisfy the eligibility requirements.  The nine are:   Yosi, Metropolitan of the United States;  Grigorii of Veliko Turnovo;   Ignatii of Pleven;  Gavriil of Lovech;  Nikolai of Plovdiv;  Yoan of Varna;  Naum of Rousse;  Grigorii of Vratsa; and Daniil of Vidin.  https://sofiaglobe.com/2024/03/14/late-bulgarian-orthodox-church-patriarch-neofits-funeral-to-be-on-march-16/   Under Article 45 the Holy Synod elects, by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority, three diocesan metropolitans to be the final candidates.  (Article 45)  A Patriarchal Electoral Church Council then chooses one of three to be the next patriarch.  (Article 47)  The composition of the Patriarchal Electoral Church Council is specified by Articles 41 and 43.  It is a large group consisting of representatives from the dioceses, the monasteries, and the secondary theological schools.  A theologian of the BOC describes what to expect in an article at https://www.bta.bg/bg/news/bulgaria/635504-do-yuli-se-ochakva-da-bade-izbran-noviyat-balgarski-patriarh-kaza-za-bta-bogosl.

With respect to relations with Catholics, Neophyte as a metropolitan represented the BOC at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and he was one of three bishops to show the Pope the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia in 2002.  He accompanied the President of Bulgaria in a meeting with Pope Benedict on May 22, 2009.  As Patriarch, he warmly greeted Pope Francis on his visit to Sofia in May 2019.  On the return flight from Sofia to Rome, Pope Francis stated: “Then the conversation with Patriarch Neophyte edified me greatly; he is a man of God!”  However, the Patriarch’s warmness was not true for all of the nine metropolitans who are now eligible to be the next patriarch.  After the visit by Pope Francis, Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv stated: “The visit by the Pope of Rome is a political act.  The goal is to unite all the churches around Rome, and when the Antichrist comes, for the Pope to meet him.”  https://sofiaglobe.com/2019/05/06/bulgarian-orthodox-church-plovdiv-metropolitan-nikolai-launches-stinging-attack-on-popes-visit/   On the other hand, another candidate, Metropolitan Naum of Rousse, strongly defended Pope Francis.  There is also the question of where the future patriarch will stand with respect to the current tensions between Moscow and Constantinople.  Metropolitan Gavriil of Lovech and Metropolitan Daniil of Vadim seem to be close to the Moscow Patriarchate.

On March 12 the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met in Moscow.  The minutes of the meeting are found at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/91510/.  These are some of the important decisions:  (1)  With respect to Romania, the Holy Synod criticized the action of the Romanian Patriarchate on February 29 to bless the formation of a “Romanian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”  The Moscow Synod also criticized the action by the Romanian Patriarchate to declare invalid the sanctions imposed by the Orthodox Church of Moldova (Moscow Patriarchate) on priests transferring to the Romanian Patriarchate’s Metropolis of Bessarabia.  (Journal entry 29)  The Holy Synod in Moscow stated that these actions “are in direct contradiction with the sacred canons.”  It also stated that if these actions are “further implemented,” it will “inevitably entail grave consequences both for the bilateral relations of the Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches, and for the unity of the Orthodox Church as a whole.”  Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, head of the DECR, was instructed to study the matter further and to submit promptly proposals for consideration by the Holy Synod.  (2)  With respect to certain occupied areas of the Zaporozhye Region of Ukraine, the Holy Synod made these areas a part of the Berdyansk diocese on a temporary basis.   (Journal entry 7)  The Berdyansk diocese is also on occupied territory, and the Moscow Holy Synod had assumed direct jurisdiction over it on May 11, 2023.  With respect to the areas now added to it, the Holy Synod directs that both the head of the Berdyansk diocese and the UOC’s Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhe of and Melitopol are to be commemorated.  (3)  With respect to Moldova, two new vicar bishops were elected.  (Journal entries 17 and 18)  One, at least, is a native of Moldova.  https://mitropolia.md/arhimandritul-nicolae-rosca-duhovnicul-manastirii-sf-m-mc-teodor-tiron-a-fost-ales-episcop-vicar-al-eparhiei-de-cahul-si-comrat/  Patriarch Kirill will determine the places of the two ordinations.  (4)  With respect to Africa,  Bishop Konstantin of Zaraisk was confirmed as the Patriarchal Exarch of Africa and is no longer “acting” in this capacity.  The Holy Synod stated that the action of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in defrocking him was “illegal and invalid.”  (Journal entry 30)

In Ukraine, the time for the full Rada to vote on the revised version of Draft Law 8371 on the “second reading” has not yet been announced, but it is expected to be soon.  For final approval by the Rada, a “third reading” is also required, but this may occur immediately after the “second reading.”  I have received a machine-translated English text of the full text of the revised Draft Law 8371.  The revised Draft Law is more than ten times longer than the original draft law.  I have now annotated in green font on the English translation my personal observations (available on request) with respect to all of the Draft Law.  Frankly, I am alarmed by what I read.  I could understand a law which prohibits a Ukrainian religious organization which is a mere puppet with Moscow pulling the strings.  However, the revised Draft Law prohibits the activities of religious organizations which are “in any way affiliated” with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).  Later in the revised Draft Law it states that “a religious organization is affiliated” with the ROC “if one or more” of seven enumerated subparagraphs are satisfied.  The provisions of these seven enumerated subparagraphs seem generally to follow the elements used by the DESS “expert” commission in finding that the UOC is part of the ROC.  Under subparagraph 3, “affiliation” is established if the charter of the ROC has “provisions regarding the right to adopt by the statutory management bodies” of the ROC “decisions on canonical and organizational issues that are binding for a religious organization (association) operating on the territory of Ukraine.”  One only has to look at Chapter X of the charter of the ROC to see that this element is satisfied.  Chapter X provides that the “ decisions of the Local and Bishops’ Councils are binding on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”  Thus, the existence of this single provision in Chapter X of the ROC Charter alone mandates that all activities of the UOC are prohibited.  The UOC is without power to require the ROC to remove Chapter X from the Charter of the ROC, so this element cannot be cured by the UOC.  Thus, it is 100% certain that the activities of the UOC will be prohibited under the revised Draft Law and that the UOC will be subject to termination.  Furthermore, there is a provision in the revised Draft Law that activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the affiliated religious organization are also prohibited.

The penalties imposed by the revised Draft Law on an affiliated religious organization subject to termination are draconian.  All of the assets and property, except religious property, of the organization become the property of the state.  With respect to religious property, this property “is transferred to other religious organizations.”  It can be expected that in almost all situations the other religious organization will be the OCU.  Thus, it seems that all or almost all of the churches of the UOC will be given to the OCU.

Aside from affiliation, there are other grounds on which a religious organization can be terminated.  There is a provision that an entire religious organization can be terminated if there is a “conviction of its authorized persons for committing on behalf of a religious organization a crime against the foundations of national security of Ukraine” or for committing certain specified criminal offenses.  It reported that this provision was added at the request of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

A very new element in the revised Draft Law relates to propagating the ideology of the Russian world.  A provision states: “A religious organization that is found to be spreading propaganda of the Russian world ideology, either in whole or in part, is subject to termination in accordance with the law.”  The revised Draft Law contains a definition of the Russian world which enumerates certain statements but ends with “etc.”  This is unlawfully vague.  One of the enumerated statements is “expansion of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church beyond the territory of the Russian Federation.”  Because termination of a religious organization under the revised Draft Law can result from propagating only “part” of the Russian world ideology, that part could be simply advocating the quoted statement that the canonical territory of the ROC extends beyond the Russian Federation.

The foregoing are just some of the highlights of my concerns relating to the revised Draft Law.  So far the revised Draft Law is only the product of a Rada committee.  Hopefully, the full Rada will not approve such an unreasonable law.  If the full Rada approves it, hopefully President Zelensky will not sign the law.  If the revised Draft Law does become law, there is a danger, in my opinion, that some Ukrainians may begin to believe that Russia is their only hope to save their beloved UOC.   Also I believe that many members of the UOC will not watch passively to see their UOC destroyed and their church buildings given to the OCU.  Ukrainians need to focus on saving their country and do not need a chaotic situation behind the front.  Hopefully, reason will prevail.  That at least is my fervent prayer.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA


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