Controversy Provoking John The Baptist Relics Displayed in Sofia
The relics, unearthed this summer off Sozopol on Bulgaria's southern coast and purported to be John the Baptist, will be displayed in the capital Sofia for three days as of November 12.
The relics are expected to arrive on Saint Alexander Nevsky square around 5 pm and will be welcomed solemnly by the clergy, politicians and citizens, according to a statement of the Holy Synod.
A mass will be served for the health and welfare of the Bulgarian people in fornt of the relics, which will be displayed at the patriarchal cathedral, giving opportunity to the faithful to take a glimpse of the relics.
The remains believed to be John the Baptist, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered at the end of July during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.
When Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery became the subject of huge interest, much skepticism and even scam allegations.
According to excavation leader Professor Kazimir Popkonstantinov the Greek inscription on the tiny sandstone box, reading "God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24", the date, celebrated by Christians as John the Baptist's nativity, is a very strong proof that the relics of John the Baptist are genuine, the key clue to their origin.
But the discovery on Sveti Ivan and the claims about the box-office draw of Sozopol as a center of religious tourism have been greeted with strong skepticism by some within Bulgaria's archaeological community.
Much of the criticism has been directed at Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov, whose confident claims about the relics and their potential for the county's economic recovery provoked criticism from leading archaeologists.
In response, Dimitrov made a vulgar expletive at the critics of what are believed to be relics of John the Baptist, prompting calls for his resignation,
While Popkonstantinov concedes that his case for the relics mixed fact with hypothesis, he enjoys the support of those experts, who say spirituality always rubs up against archaeology.
Bulgarian government plans to benefit from the box-office potential of the discovery, going as far as to say that Sozopol will be the new Jerusalem.
Officials of the recession-hit country believe that the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to this nearby resort town. They are looking at the relics to promote religious tourism, hoping for an economic salvation and miracle in polls.
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