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The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church is a Byzantine Rite sui juris particular Church in full union with the Roman Catholic Church.

History

Under Tsar Boris (853-889) the Bulgariansmarker accepted Christianity in its Byzantine form, with the liturgy celebrated in Church Slavonic. His successor Symeon the Great (893-927) proclaimed an autonomous Bulgarian patriarchate in 917, which won recognition from Constantinoplemarker in 927 and lasted until the fall of the first Bulgarian Empire in 1018. In 1186 the Bulgarian state regained its independence, and in 1235 the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the independence of the Bulgarian Church and the right of its leader to the patriarchal title. The Ottoman conquest of 1393 put an end to that patriarchate, whose territory was reunited with that of Constantinople.

In the succeeding centuries the Bulgarian Church was gradually Hellenized: Greek was used in the liturgy, and the bishops were ethnic Greeks. The rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century brought opposition to this situation. To end the ensuing conflict and in response to Russianmarker requests, the Sultan decreed on 12 March 1870 the establishment of a Bulgarian Exarchate, independent of the Patriarch of Constantinople, as a result of which the latter excommunicated the Bulgarian Church, a measure not recognized by other autocephalous Orthodox Churches but which was withdrawn only in 1945. Only in 1953 has the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church again taken the title of Patriarch.

This is the background of the approaches that some influential Bulgarians made to Rome in 1859-1861, in the hope that union with Rome would gain their Church the freedom they felt Constantinople was denying them. Pope Pius IX accepted their request and himself ordained Archimandrite Joseph Sokolsky as archbishop for them on 8 April 1861.

Though Archbishop Sokolsky, who had won recognition from the Ottoman authorities, was almost immediately removed on a Russian ship and held in Kiev for the remainder of his life, the movement for union with Rome initially won some 60,000 adherents, but, as a result of the Sultan's establishment in 1870 of the Bulgarian Exarchate, at least three quarters of these returned to Orthodoxy by the end of the century.

As a result of the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars and the 1914-1918 First World War, many Bulgarians fled from the territories of present-day Greece and Turkey to what is now Bulgaria. In 1926, an Apostolic Exarchate was established for the pastoral care of the Byzantine Catholics among them. This was arranged largely with the help of Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, who in 1925 was named Apostolic Visitator and, later, Apostolic Delegate for Bulgaria, where he stayed until 1934.

Unlike other Communist regimes in eastern Europe, the Communist government that took power in Bulgaria after World War II did not abolish the Byzantine Catholic Church, but did subject it to severe restrictions, which are said to have been somewhat eased after the election of Pope John XXIII on 28 October 1958.

At the end of 2004, the Apostolic Exarchate of Sofia had some 10,000 Catholics in 21 parishes, cared for by 5 diocesan and 16 religious priests, with 17 other male religious and 41 female religious.

Sources

  • Oriente Cattolico (Vatican City: The Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 1974)
  • Annuario Pontificio


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