Sofia-Moscow Tensions Surge Over St. Nicholas Church Crisis

Politics » DIPLOMACY | November 10, 2023, Friday // 09:12
Bulgaria: Sofia-Moscow Tensions Surge Over St. Nicholas Church Crisis Maria Zakharova

In a move that could further strain diplomatic ties, Russia has accused Bulgaria of demonstrating "open hostility" in the ongoing dispute over the Church of Saint Nicholas the Miracle-Maker in Sofia. The Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, labeled the perceived threat to the church as a violation of legal norms and an act of hostility, signaling potential consequences for Sofia's actions.

The conflict traces back to September when Russian (and Belarusian) priests were expelled from the church, prompting the Russian embassy to announce the cessation of the church's activities. The church, once a place of worship, has become a focal point of contention, symbolizing the deteriorating relations between the two nations.

Zakharova asserted that these alleged threats to usurp the church represent a blatant disregard for moral foundations and Bulgaria's obligations under the 1992 treaty on friendly relations and cooperation between Russia and Bulgaria. The Russian spokesperson cautioned that responsibility would be sought for what Moscow considers Sofia's illegal actions.

The tension intensified in November when Bulgaria's Chief Prosecutor, Borislav Sarafov, filed a claim seeking recognition of the state's ownership of the church. Sarafov's proposal, grounded in a 1997 notarial deed, recognizes the Russian embassy's ownership rights to the church and the land it occupies. However, the move contradicts earlier bilateral agreements between Bulgaria and the USSR for the free use of the church building by the Bulgarian state.

The dispute has unfolded against a backdrop of historical agreements, notarial deeds, and diplomatic complexities, complicating the resolution of the church's fate. The Russian Foreign Ministry contends that Sofia's actions are part of an externally inspired campaign to damage Russian-Bulgarian relations across various sectors, including religion.

In Sofia, citizens have gathered in front of the church, expressing support for its continued operation. The situation gained political attention when Delyan Peevski, co-chairman of the DPS parliamentary group, called on the Metropolitan of Sofia to restore services in the church. Peevski assured that legislative changes would be pursued to support "St. Nicholas the Wonderworker."

While the Russian Orthodox Church's role in the dispute remains uncertain, the Russian government's strong condemnation reflects broader geopolitical tensions. The church, once a symbol of spiritual unity, has now become a focal point for competing narratives, echoing the broader complexities of Russia's relations with Eastern European nations.

As the diplomatic wrangling continues, the fate of the Church of Saint Nicholas the Miracle-Maker remains uncertain, embodying the intricate interplay between history, law, and contemporary geopolitics.

Today the Russian church will finally reopen.

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Tags: church, sofia, Russian, Bulgaria

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