The destiny of the Macedonian dioceses of the Bulgarian church (after 1913)


After the Allies’ war of 1913, Bulgaria underwent a national catastrophe and the big exarchic diocese in the Macedonian and Thracian region was almost destroyed. The Macedonian eparchies (nine tenths of Macedonia) were plundered by the Serbian and Greek conquerors, who expelled Bulgarian bishops and dispersed Bulgarian church communities. 

When World War I started a year after that, Bulgaria entered the war as a part of the Central Forces, as their diplomats offered Bulgaria to help it return the whole region of Macedonia. After Vardar Macedonia was liberated and Eastern Serbia was occupied, the Bulgarian exarchate hurried to found its own office and build an ecclesiastical network. The bishops and priests who had been expelled in 1913 returned to their canonical eparchies and parishes. Other bishops and priests were sent to the free parishes.

 The exarchic work was sponsored by the state budget until the autumn of 1918. In 1918, Bulgaria underwent its second national catastrophe. According to the Peace Treaty, it lost the Western outlying districts and the Struma region. Therefore, after World War I the Bulgarian Exarchate was again limited within the country’s political borders, with the only exception of Istanbul’s exarchate. Vardar Macedonia and its eparchies became a part of the newly founded Kingdom of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians. Within the kingdom, the Serbian Patriarchate was renewed in 1920, where the ex-Macedonian eparchies entered, having been bought by the Istanbul’s Greek Patriarchate. At the beginning of World War II there were some possibilities again for the Bulgarian exarchate to receive back the Macedonian parishes it had lost. Macedonia was at the time occupied by Bulgaria’s allies Germany and Italy, who turned it on Bulgaria for administration. Temporary eparchies were again established, and they were governed by Bulgarian bishops. Hundreds of priests were sent to the newly annexed regions. 

In the autumn of 1944, the Bulgarian army had to withdraw from the newly annexed regions in Vardar and Aegean Macedonia, and the civil and church administration left with the army. It was in fact the end of the Bulgarian exarchate’s active participation in settling the Bulgarian national issue, meaning, in the particular historical period under discussion, the unification of Bulgarian ethnic territories and communities into one nation’s country. In October 1944, a committee was founded in Vardar Macedonia with the aim of organizing church life in Macedonia. 

During the First Ecclesiastical Popular Council on March 4 and 5, 1945 in Skopje, a resolution was adopted for the Ohrid Archbishopric’s renewal by the name of Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Serbian Orthodox Church’s Bishops’ Synod did not officially recognize this separation and condemned the adopted act. During the Second Ecclesiastical Popular Council on October 4 to 6, 1958 in Ohrid a decision was taken to renew the ancient Ohrid Archbishopric under the name of Macedonian Orthodox Church. Immediately after that, a Macedonian bishop was elected to be the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, who received the title of “Ohrid and Skopje’s Archbishop and Macedonian Bishop.” 

After many vicissitudes, on the Third Ecclesiastical Popular Council on July 1967 the Macedonian Orthodox Church was proclaimed independent. This independence was recognized neither by the Istanbul’s Ecumenical Greek Patriarchate, nor by the other independent orthodox churches, including the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

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