Sofia Echo


Men in black: What did Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy do while spying for the communist state?

Author: Clive Leviev-Sawyer Date: Wed, Jan 18 2012 3970 Views
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The senior clergy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church named as having worked for the country’s communist-era State Security did not file denunciations of lay people but gathered information about what was going on within the church and wrote denunciations of other senior clergy.
This emerged in an interview given by Ekaterina Boncheva of the Dossier Commission to television station bTV on January 18 2012, a day after the commission disclosed that 11 out of 15 of the church’s metropolitans had been agents of State Security.
The metropolitans were involved with the Sixth Department of State Security, which was responsible for acting against "political subversion".
Boncheva said that the clerics’ co-operation had been voluntary and there was no evidence of subversion, while she added that priests had been aware that by co-operating with State Security, their chances of career advancement were enhanced. In one case a member of the clergy was paid for his services but this was not common practice, she said.
The reports turned into the communist state’s secret service covered characteristics of colleagues and also had passed on information about representatives of the Greek and Macedonian churches.
Clergy serving abroad had passed on information about emigres.
Documents indicated that State Security decided who should be sent to Mount Athos, where Bulgaria has a monastery.
Boncheva underlined that there was no document indicating that Patriarch Maxim, who currently has headed the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for more than 40 years, had been a State Security agent.
There was no evidence that any such document had been destroyed and she was certain that if Maxim had any role in State Security, a document confirming this would have remained.
Historian Momchil Metodiev, appearing on Bulgarian National Television on January 18, also emphasised that Maxim was not on the list announced by the Dossier Commission.
He said that had the files been opened at the beginning of the 1990s, there would have been no schism in the church.
After the formal end of communism in Bulgaria, an "Alternative Synod" arose that demanded the ouster of Maxim, alleging that he was tainted by the communist era.
The dispute lasted for several years and had its dramatic moments, including scuffles outside the landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral in capital city Sofia and some years later, the eviction of "Alternative Synod" figures from possession of churches, carried out by police.
The matter went to the European court, which responded with an opinion that the rivals should sort out their differences.
Metodiev, speaking to Bulgarian National Radio the same morning, said that it was hardly a surprise to anyone that the church under communism had been controlled by State Security.
He expressed hope that the disclosure of the list would cause the Holy Synod to address the whole period of communism, currently a neglected page in the history of the church.
On Bulgarian National Television, religious affairs journalist Goran Blagoev said that the disclosure of the list was a blow to the senior clergy but not to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church itself, which had its own dignity, holiness and history.
Blagoev said that he expected that the clerics would repent.
Interviewed by Bulgarian-language mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa, Vidin Metropolitan Dometian (born in 1932 and recruited in 1972, an agent code-named Dobrev) said that "there will be people who might be disappointed, others will protect me, but my conscience is clean".
Dometian said that he always had served "the church and the people".
He said that from 1970 to 1979, as secretary of the Holy Synod, he held a crucial position and naturally, had been visited by people from State Security.
During that time, there had been conferences and symposia that were ecumenical, with church representatives coming from all continents.
He said that he had been obliged to compile reports to the synod and church affairs committee "and from there they were sent to State Security, I suppose". He said that the reports that he wrote were about who had come to Bulgaria "but without making comments".
"Two-thirds of my life during those years were spent at the airport, meeting and seeing foreigners," he said
Dometian said that at the time, the atmosphere was such that he had to write reports to the Holy Synod, not to State Security, about trips abroad.
He recalled, for example, being at a conference in February 1988 and attending a meeting with dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Dometian said that "I have not ever been privileged by the powerful and I did not serve State Security, and vice versa – I suffered a lot of trouble".
He himself, entering the army after theological seminary, had been reported as "unreliable" while his brother, also a priest, had been a political prisoner for speaking out against atheism. Dometian said that his ordination as a bishop had been delayed because his brother was a political prisoner.
"Again I say with a clear conscience that I have served, and serve, the church and the people," Dometian said.

Metropolitan Neofit of Rousse, recruited in 1983 (code name: Simeonov) said that he felt no guilt about complying with something that had been a requirement when travelling outside the country.
State Security had been interested in conferences and meetings abroad and after his return from abroad, what had happened and what meetings there had been. This in no way prejudiced those with whom meetings and conversations had been held, he said, Bulgarian news agency BTA reported.
Vratsa Metropolitan Kalinik (code names: Rilski, and Velko) expressed surprise that he had a code name as an agent, saying that after his many trips abroad he had reported to the Holy Synod, but at the same time asked forgiveness. "We were obliged to be in sync with the state for the good of the people," he said.
Emil Velinov, head of the religions directorate at the Council of Ministers office, told Bulgarian National Radio that the position of the Holy Synod on the issue should be awaited and there was no reason for interference.
"I have worked with all of them," Velinov said, describing them as conscientious people. "I know that I do not believe them to be quite as bad as some people want to convey," he said.
He said that there was a purposeful attack on the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, not only on this issue but also on several others, and which was undeserved, and he saw no reason to deepen the process.
Lovech Metropolitan Gavril, who was not on the list of those who worked with State Security, told Bulgarian National Radio that it was possible that the clergy had been forced to co-operate.
"Maybe a person was forced to, I cannot know about that. I am glad that, with the help of God, it was not me. It was not easy for me. Never condemn, because only God can know what is happening in a human soul," Gavril said.
"These are my brothers, with whom I have worked for so many years. How to comment?" he said, adding that he did not think that there would be resignations.

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