Obituary: Metropolitan Pymen

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The Independent Culture
A MEMBER of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church episcopate for almost the entire period of Communist rule, Pymen surprised everyone in post- Communist Bulgaria by siding with a dissident faction that was seeking reform in the Church. The rebels were particularly gunning for Patriarch Maxim who, they said, had been appointed by the Communist government in 1971 rather than being freely elected according to church canons.

Pymen, who had worked closely with the Communist regime himself and had been one of Maxim's closest colleagues, was an unlikely leader for the rebel faction, but in May 1992 he formed a "renewed synod" consisting of 12 bishops who rejected Maxim. The rebels took over the Church's headquarters in central Sofia. In July 1996 the dissidents names Pymen as their Patriarch in Maxim's place, a decision not recognised by the majority of the Church within Bulgaria or by the Orthodox Churches in the rest of the world.

The unseemly schism also had political overtones: Maxim and his supporters had the backing of the Socialists (the reformed Communists), while Pymen and his supporters received the backing of the Union of Democratic Forces.

Although the Bulgarian Church has not traditionally enjoyed such fervent support as the national Churches in other Orthodox countries, this dispute did nothing to raise its prestige. The sight of robed clerics coming to blows over church premises disgusted many people.

Born Enev Nedelchev in Chirpan, not far from Plovdiv, he took the religious name Pymen on becoming a monk in July 1933. The following year he was ordained a monastic priest. In December 1947 he was consecrated bishop and assigned to Stobi. He was transferred to become Metropolitan of Nevrokip (based in Blagoevgrad) in 1953, and it was there that he remained until 1992.

When the dispute arose in 1991 as to how far the Church should repent for its Communist-era collaboration, the dissident faction was led by a monk priest, Father Hristofov Subcv. A number of bishops threw in their lot with him, but few thought that Pymen would be among them. But when he did so the synod loyal to Maxim removed him as Metropolitan of Nevrokop and the diocese was temporarily put in the hands of Bishop Ioan of Dragovista, the head of the Rila Monastery.

When Pymen was proclaimed patriarch in 1996, Maxim promptly excommunicated him. But Pymen was unbowed, continuing to rule his rump of the Church despite his failing health. In March 1998 he even consecrated an Archbishop of Montenegro.

Hope of resolving the schism came in October 1998, when a pan-Orthodox synod was held in Sofia, bringing together the Ecumenical Patriarch, six other patriarchs and 20 metropolitans. A formula was worked out whereby Pymen and his supporters formally repented to the synod, the anathema on Pymen was lifted and he and his supporters were restored to full communion and he was granted the title "former Metropolitan of Nevrokop".

Pymen did not himself attend the synod, but accepted the compromise. Maxim for his part gave to understand that he would resign soon afterwards and retire to a monastery (he was approaching his 84th birthday), but the deal soon unravelled when he announced that he had no intention of going.

Neither Maxim nor Pymen enjoyed widespread support in the Church and many believe Pymen was chosen to head the rebel faction merely as a figurehead. Having moved from active collaborator with the Communist regime to leader of a schism, he did little to endear himself to the long-suffering Bulgarian Orthodox faithful.

Felix Corley

Enev Nedelchev (Pymen), priest: born Chirpem, Bulgaria 13 June 1906; clothed a monk as Pymen 1933; ordained priest 1934; Bishop of Stobi 1947-53; Metropolitan of Nevrokop 1953-92; named rival Patriarch 1996; died 10 April 1999.