In the historical and geographical region of Macedonia, Christianity and organized clerical life have existed for two millennia. Due to the specific political and geographical peculiarities of the Balkans, this life has gone through various complex developments.

Christianity came to the Balkan Peninsula very early – in the middle of the 1st century. But it actually became widespread in the fourth century, when it was recognized as a religion in the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire). However, in the 6th and 7th century, when systematic assaults and settling of Slavonic tribes began all over the Balkan Peninsula, the clerical organization they found was destroyed, as the new settlers were pagans.

The actual Christianization and the establishment of religious life in Macedonia was not a fact until the middle of the 9th century, when the southeastern lands were already within the borders of the Bulgarian state, and together with the rest of the Bulgarian population they converted to Christianity in 864. Here, in Ochrida, King Boris I created a big Christian centre, which some called “The Second Jerusalem”. Here the great Bulgarian educators and bookmen Clement of Ochrida and Naoum worked, many churches and monasteries were built, and a solid clerical organization was created as a part of the Bulgarian Christian Church – first an archbishopric, and later – a patriarchate. As a result of all this, as early as the second half of the 9th century, the Slavonic population of Macedonia became a part of the Bulgarian people, with a clearly expressed Bulgarian identity. Because of this fact, from that moment onwards, in order to settle well in Macedonia, each conqueror had to destroy the clerical organization Bulgarians had created, in an attempt to assimilate the Bulgarian population.

When in 971 the Byzantine armies conquered Northeastern Bulgaria, the Bulgarian state continued its existence in the lands from the Iskar River to the Adriatic Sea. Then the Bulgarian Patriarch Damyan moved his residence in the Macedonian region. The Bulgarian Patriarchate continued to exist in the southwestern part of Bulgaria until these lands were also conquered by Byzantium in 1018.

In 1019 Emperor Basil II transformed the Bulgarian Patriarchate into Ochrida Bulgarian Archbishopric. In the three charters he sent to the Archbishopric, he specified that in the Bulgarian lands he had conquered he will retain the taxes and privileges as they had been during the rule of the Bulgarian kings Peter and Samuil. Even the Archbishop was to be elected by the Bulgarian clergy.

After the death of Emperor Basil II in 1025, his will was forgotten – the diocese of the Ochrida Archbishopric was limited, only Greeks were appointed for archbishops, and the Church turned into a weapon of the Byzantine policy of imposing Byzantine identity upon the conquered population.

In the first half of the 13th century there were two periods when the Archbishopric’s diocese was within the territory of the Bulgarian state – first, during the rule of King Kaloyan (1197-1207) the Greek bishops were replaced by Bulgarian ones, and they were the ones who ordained Bulgarian priests and monks; and secondly, during the rule of King Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) the Ochrida Bulgarian Archbishopric came under the influence of the renewed Bulgarian Patriarchate in Turnovo (1235).

In the 13th century the Archbishopric’s diocese repeatedly changed its appurtenance – it came into the territory of Byzantium, or the Epirus state, or in one part of it – the Latin Constantinople Empire. Each of these states used the Ochrida Archbishopric for its own purposes. The same thing was done by Serbia in the 14th century, when Macedonia came into the territory of the huge state of King Stephan Dušan.

In spite of these changes, the population of Macedonia still kept its Bulgarian identity and was a part of the steadfast Bulgarian ethnic community. Such was its state when the Ottoman armies conquered the territory at the end of the 14th century.

Within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire the state of the Ochrida Bulgarian Archbishopric was seriously aggravated not only due to the limitations the new rule imposed, but also due to the serious rivalry of the Constantinople Patriarchate. In the beginning, the Ochrida Archbishopric disseminated its influence beyond the Danube River, in the Wallachian region and in Moldova, and even over the East Orthodox communities in Italy and Dalmatia. After 1557, when the Serbian Archbishopric was renewed, the Ochrida Archbishopric lost many of its dioceses.

In 1767, as a result of intrigues, slanders and bribes, the Constantinople Patriarchate managed to eliminate the Ochrida Bulgarian Archbishopric. The Ochrida diocese itself was under the authority of the bishop of Drach, and even the ancient name of Ochrida – Lihnis – was restored.

After the elimination of the Ochrida Bulgarian Archbishopric, all Christian Bulgarians fell under the ecclesiastical authority of the Universal Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople. The century-long position of Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire of being considered as part of the Greek people (rum millet) was strongly established, and the Turks considered the Constantinople Patriarch the only religious leader (millet bashi) Bulgarians had. Besides, the Constantinople Patriarchate was turned into a market place, where religious titles and offices were acquired with bribes and bidding. The Sublime Porte made use of this profitable state of affairs and often increased the “fees” for approving new patriarchs and bishops. However, the unrestrained plunders of the Greek clergy in the Bulgarian lands accumulated lasting hatred in Bulgarian consciousness against the clergy of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Gradually, among the enslaved Bulgarian population arose the desire to counteract the violence of the bishops and their protégés. At first these counteractions were too local and quite spontaneous.

The Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople was not satisfied with getting from the Bulgarian dioceses material benefits only. It gradually developed an aggressive denationalizing program. At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, patriarchal administration and religious hierarchy were obsessed with the “megali idea” of reviving the Byzantine Empire at the expense of the cultural and historical inheritance of the Southern Slavs (especially the Bulgarians), and they set out to impose the Greek influence upon the Orthodox communities of other languages. However, the Bulgarian clergy with its patriotic and educational activities, managed to preserve the way of thinking, style of living and morality of the Bulgarian people. It tempered its will and strengthened its moral powers to fight against the oppressors. The struggle for religious independence began in the early 20s of the 19th century and continued in Macedonia and Adrianople Thrace even after the national liberation of the Principality of Bulgaria in 1878. This struggle underwent two stages until 1870 and it was done under very specific conditions. The first stage started in 1824 and continued until the Crimean War (1853-1856) as a movement for rejecting the Greek language as a part of the religious service and for introducing Bulgarian instead; the second stage was harder and longer, and concerned the expelling of bishops of the Greek Patriarchate from Bulgarian dioceses.

The book discusses in many details and examples the struggle for national religious liberation in five Macedonian dioceses: Skopje (where the struggle started and from where it dispersed to the other dioceses), Ohrid, Bitola (the Pelagonian diocese), the Veles diocese and the Polyana diocese (Dojran and Koukoush). In these dioceses for many decades the Bulgarian population carried on a steady struggle for holding religious services in the Church-Slavonic language, for Bulgarian bishops and for religious independence. A number of popular teachers, educators and bookmen excelled in this uncompromising struggle – people like the priest Kiril Peychinovich, Yordan hajji Konstantinov-Jinot, Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinovi, Rayko Jhinzifov,  Grigor Parlichev, Kuzman Shapkarev, Georgy Ikonomov, as well as many others. The local leaders and figures also participated in the struggle – hajji Trayko Rekali, the Popovich brothers, Todor (Tode) Kusev, the Robev brothers, the Mishaykovs, Nako Stanishev, etc.

The struggle for national religious liberation in Macedonia lagged behind the struggle in Moesia and Northern Thrace. The delay in the struggle for national religious liberation was most of all due to the stronger positions of the Greek culture, as the Macedonian lands were quite peripheral for Bulgaria and in close proximity to the Greek kingdom. There were strong Greek communities in many places, consisting mostly of Phanariots, Aromanians and Arnaouts.

As it is well-known, the struggle for national religious liberation was a “peaceful” stage in the national revolution and all social strata of the Bulgarian society took part in it. In its essence, this struggle was a sociopolitical movement for the acknowledgement of the Bulgarian nation as an independent unit of the Orthodox community within the Ottoman Empire. At that time Lyuben Karavelov pointed the essence of the religious issue and categorically stated that “the Bulgarian religious issue has nothing to do with hierarchy, or canon, but it is a political one, because when it is resolved, the existence of the Bulgarian nationality will be recognized”. By 1870 the success achieved in the struggle for national religious liberation in Macedonia was not insignificant or trivial, but it was not sufficient. New and decisive actions were to be done, whose initiator and coordinator was the Bulgarian church community in Constantinople, and later, the Provisional Mixed Council and its legal structure – the Temporary Mixed Exarchate Council, and then – the Bulgarian Exarchate itself.

The struggle for national religious liberation continued for almost four decades and received its lucky conclusion on February 27, 1870, when by means of a firman of the Sultan the independent Bulgarian Exarchate hierarchy was established as Bulgarian Exarchate.

The formation of the Bulgarian Exarchate was a difficult and arduous process. The Patriarchate of Constantinople created multiple impediments, together with the inert Ottoman administration. On the First National Religious Congress in 1871, held at Constantinople, representatives from all Bulgarian bishoprics participated in the congress, including the Macedonian ones. They developed and signed the statute of the Exarchate, which was based on comparatively progressive and democratic principles of government for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The successful developments of the Exarchate achieved through hard work and dedication were interrupted by the Russian-Turkish War for the liberation of Bulgaria. After the Berlin Congress on July 1, 1878, which violently tore the San Stefano Bulgaria to pieces, the Bulgarian Exarchate came to a crossroad. After long discussions, they decided to leave the headquarters of the Exarchate in Constantinople and from there the Church would take care of its parishes in Macedonia and Adrianople Thrace. Thus by the end of 1913, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had one leader (Exarch Yosif I), but it followed two different roads of development. In Macedonia and the Adrianople region the struggle was for the establishment and development of the Exarchate diocese, and for the educational and cultural restoration of the enslaved Bulgarian people. By the end of 1912, 7 bishoprics were established and governed by exarchate bishops; 8 bishoprics in Macedonia and one in the Adrianople region, governed by “exarchate vicars”. They encompassed about 1600 churches and chapels, 73 monasteries and 1310 priests. The number of the exarchate schools was 1373 (of those there were 13 high-schools and 87 secondary schools) with 2266 teachers and 78 854 students. In the free Principality of Bulgaria, the Exarchate was also being established, but it led continuous internal struggles with the government authorities for its independence and internal immunity.

After the first national catastrophe (the Balkan War of 1913), the territory of the Exarchate diocese was limited, the headquarters moved to Sofia and in Constantinople a representative agency was left to keep the door open for future expansions. After the death of Exarch Yosif on June 20, 1915, for three decades the Church was governed by deputy chairmen of the Holy Synod.

After the war of 1913, Bulgaria underwent a national catastrophe and the huge Exarch diocese in Macedonia and Adrianople was almost destroyed. The Macedonian bishoprics (nine tenths of which were in Macedonia) were seized by Serbian and Greek despots who chased Bulgarian bishops away and broke up Bulgarian church communities. In World War I, which broke a year later, Bulgaria participated as a part of the Central Powers, as they promissed the entire region of Macedonia back to Bulgaria. After the liberation of Vardar Macedonia and the occupation of Eastern Serbia the Bulgarian Exarchate hurried to set up a clerical administration. The bishops and priests who were chased out in 1913 came back to their canonic bishoprics and parishes, and others were sent to the freed bishoprics. Until the autumn of 1918 the exarchate work in these parishes was subsidized by the country’s budget. As the education work had been organized by the Ministry of Education, there was friction with the Holy Synod concerning the ownership of the properties that belonged to the old clerical-and-educational communities.  In September 1918 Bulgaria underwent its second national catastrophe. According to the peace treaty of November 27, 1919 Bulgaria lost the Western outlying districts and the region of Struma. So after the First World War the Bulgarian Exarchate was narrowed down again within the political borders of the state. Only one exarchate representative agency functioned in Constantinople.

The Vardar Macedonia with its bishoprics came within the borders of the newly created kingdom of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians. In 1920 the Serbian Patriarchate was restored and the former exarchate bishoprics in Macedonia acquired by the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople were included.

The years after the World War I became a nightmare for the Bulgarian population of Macedonia – in the Serbian regions it was proclaimed to be Serbian, and in the Greek regions it was considered Greek. Both Greeks and Serbians destroyed the Bulgarian clerical organization and built their own bishoprics, with their own bishops and priests. They destroyed Bulgarian cultural monuments, chased away or murdered Bulgarian intellectuals and imposed their own language. They carried out an unreserved and unscrupulous policy of assimilation.

In the beginning of World War II the Bulgarian Exarchate was faced with another possibility to regain its Macedonian bishoprics. Macedonia was conquered by Bulgaria’s allies, Germany and Italy, which transferred the conquered territory to Bulgaria for administration. Again temporary bishoprics with Bulgarian bishops were built and hundreds of priests were sent to the newly annexed territories. After Bulgaria withdrew from the War in the autumn of 1944, the Bulgarian army, the civil and church administration also withdrew from the newly annexed territories of Vardar and Aegean Macedonia. This was practically the end of the active and real participation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in the settling of the Bulgarian question, concerning the integration of the Bulgarian ethnic territories and communities into a single national state.

In 1944, when the Republic of Macedonia was created as a part of the new Yugoslavia, its population was proclaimed Macedonian. That led to changes in the life of the church as well. In October 1944 an Initiative Committee for the Organization of Clerical Life in Macedonia was created. At its First Clerical Congress on March 4 and 5, 1945 in Skopje, a resolution was passed for the renewal of the Ohrid Archbishopric under the name of Macedonian Orthodox Church headed by an archbishop. The Bishops’ Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church did not accept this separation and condemned the act. At the Second Clerical Congress on October 4-6, 1958 in Ohrid, a decision was taken for the restoration of the ancient Ochrida Archbishopric, and it was decided that it would be called Macedonian Orthodox Church. Right after that a Macedonian bishop was elected, who was to be the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and he received the title of “Archbishop of Ohrid and Skopje and Bishop of Macedonia”. After a series of developments it was on the Third Clerical Congress in July 1967 that the Macedonian Orthodox Church was proclaimed autocephalous. The independence was recognized neither by the Universal Greek Partiarchy in Constantinople, nor by the autocephalous orthodox churches, including the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. In spite of that, for a number of decades this national church has been leading an independent clerical life and is being established firmer. Unfortunately the isolation of the Macedonian Orthodox Church is still a fact even today. This church did not participate in the celebrations organized in June 2000 in relation to the 2000-year anniversary of the birth of Christ. There was even a division in 2002, when one of the bishops (Yoan of Veles and Vardar) returned to the Serbian Orthodox Church and was proclaimed as an Exarch of Ohrid.

Ïðåâîä íà àíãëèéñêè åçèê:
Àíè Áàõ÷åâàíîâà

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]