Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Bulgaria is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

At dinner last night a Romanian friend told me that Bulgarians, visiting their monasteries, behave like holidaymakers, unlike Romanians who behave like pilgrims when they visit theirs. Two Bulgarian academics told me recently that the Church is not liked and respected south of the Danube the way it is here. I wonder why. Are the centuries of Turkish rule the reason? I should have thought Turkish rule would have made the people like the Church more, not less.


  1. i belive on this problem the turkish helped bulgarians......while romanians where under the infulence of the moscow church as well as the fact that if in bulgaria people were hold in line with force,nord of the danube they used the church

  2. Do you attribute every characteristic of Bulgaria to Turkish rule then?

  3. Don't know enough about Romania to comment, and my fairly long-term contact with Bulgaria is mainly with urban, educated and to some extent younger Bulgarians. However, my impression is that
    (a) if there's such a thing as a a Bulgarian national character, healthy scepticism about everything--including the ffine print of what the almighty wants--is pretty important within it;
    (b) even many believers aren't overly devoted to ritual except for occasions like Easter, baptisms, marriages and funerals;
    (c) there's a lot of historical respect for the church that's to do precisely with the Ottoman period, during which the church and especially the monasteries were seen as the carrier of national culture generally; and
    (d) there's a lot of scepticism about today's institutional church, simply because the hierarchy was so heavily infiltrated by the State Security--and because there was a period of "alternative synods" based on that.
    I would also guess--but don't know--that suppression was less thoroughgoing, if you take the communist period on average, than in either Romania or the USSR. After an extremely nasty early period, the Bulgarian regime got quite skilled at accommodatimg personal interests and not clobbering people as long as they kept their heads down/ So maybe less of a reaction from the religious afterwards.
    All speculation. But one thing's for sure: Bulgarians aren't anywhere near as observant as Greeks, especially the older generaiton

  4. I really don't know the Bulgarians well enough to comment in any depth on this subject. Based on my limited acquaintance of them, I have the feeling that Bulgarians tend to be less respectful generally of authority than Romanians. The church in Bulgaria is viewed as part of the structure of authority, and is treated accordingly, whereas in Romania the church was and is a refuge from authority and therefore held in higher regard. I have seen no evidence at all for any Turkish influence on Bulgarians' attitude towards their church.

  5. I was well aware that Bulgarians are less religious than Romanians. I can point to some historical facts to explain it partially:
    - Under Ottoman domination, Bulgarians had no Bulgarian bishops and institutional Church, and most folk were less observant of liturgy while also being more doctrinally unorthodox with folk rites and superstitions (vis-à-vis ethos).
    - Under the monarchy (1878-1944) Bulgarians don't seem to have regained an ethos as Orthodox as that of the Romanians or the Greeks.
    - Under communism, the top of the Church-hierarchy was infiltrated with State Security agents, and the popular ethos was poisoned with the idea that the Church is a good source of art and a protector of historical Bulgarian identity, but that its beliefs and morality have been refuted by science/philosophy and we should leave that behind.
    - After 1989, Bulgaria seems to have become one of the most atheistic and impious countries on the Balkans, rather than to recover from atheism. While we did have our martyrs under communism, it has become the popular opinion that with the new, liberal democracy, we should have a new Church-hierarchy, one unrelated to the red regime. Scandals played no small role, but even morally-speaking Bulgarians are really in a worse state than most Orthodox peoples (abortion rates used to be abominably high in the 90s).
    Also, the "Vanga phonomenon" and similar superstitions and "paranormal" things seem to be stumbling blocks for the ordinary folk, especially those not born in families with a strict minimum of Christian piety.

    A remark that I can make, though, is that we didn't have the militant atheism of the 20s and 30s USSR, nor did we have a single generation that has lived its entire life under the atheist regime. My grand-grand-mother that I knew as a child was about 20 y.o. when the Soviet army arrived, and she died seeking reconciliation with God, in the silence of her home and in prayer in front of an icon and a candle. My maternal family still believes that it is good to go to church but disbelieve that we should obey the Church's teachings, while my paternal family never baptised my father and accommodated themselves with a more godless (though not militant) worldview.
    The visible "pattern" is simple: you had some Orthodox devotion to keep till your deathbed if you were born before communism. The children of the communist and post-communist years are not blessed to have inherited such gifts.

    So I am not surprised about the Bulgarian "holidaymakers". *Some* Bulgarians tend to go visit monasteries only to boast about it, especially rich people. Only the very very old have a pious tradition to continue, including one of pilgrimages.

    And things are not likely to get better - Bulgarians are pessimistic about institutions, and I don't see (for now) anything that could encourage them to return to church and stop boasting material problems. But I don't really have the right to speak here, I have always had what I wanted.
    I am sorry if I sounded bitter - I really am bitter about my people's current state.

  6. I enjoyed these insightful comments, although I feel sorry that the author is so depressed about the current state of his people. I can only say that my limited experience of Bulgaria has generally been good and I have not observed much that made me feel uncomfortable - so cheer up, Valentin, don't feel so bad!