Patriarch Maxim: Church leader under communism

 

Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria was a priest who saw regimes come and go over his long tenure. From 1971 Maxim led the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgaria's dominant religion, claiming more than 80 per cent of the country's 7.4 million people.

Born Marin Naidenov Minkov, in Oreshak, a village in the Balkan Mountains, he was the second of the two children. After attending the village school, he became, probably under his mother's guidance, a novice monk in the nearby Troyan Monastery. Given the unrest in Bulgaria, it was one of the safest places for a teenage boy to be and also gave opportunities for further advancement. From the monastery he went to study Orthodox Theology at Sofia University in 1938.

King Boris III had established a military dictatorship in the early 1930s and aligned Bulgaria closely with Germany, its First World War ally, hoping to restore the territories it had lost. The Orthodox Church was closely linked to the regime and to Bulgarian nationalism. In April 1941, Bulgaria participated in the German-led attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. In return, it received most of Thrace from Greece, and Macedonia and parts of eastern Serbia from Yugoslavia.

As Czarist Russia and its Orthodox church had backed Bulgarian independence from Turkey, Bulgaria refused to join Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union in June 1941. Yet, unexpectedly, in September 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and Soviet occupation followed. By that time, Maxim was a 30-year-old priest having to tread cautiously.

From 1948, religious organisations were restrained or banned. The Orthodox Church continued functioning but under close supervision. The regime played cat-and-mouse with the churches, seeking to control rather than destroy. The Orthodox Church was deprived of jurisdiction in marriage, divorce, issuing birth and death certificates, and other functions. Religious studies were removed from curricula. Anti-religious propaganda was introduced and some church dignitaries were imprisoned or killed.

In March 1954, a year after Stalin's death, Todor Zhivkov took over the Communist leadership. He followed Moscow's line closely, at the same time playing to the patriotic fervour of his fellow Bulgarians. The Orthodox Church was given a role to play in this, and Maxim's star was rising. He became secretary general of the Holy Synod, in 1955, and titular bishop of Branit in December 1956. In October 1960 he was elected Metropolitan of Lovech. Despite the atmosphere of persecution, he was able to win enough recognition with the Politburo to secure election as Patriarch in July 1971 after the death of Patriarch Cyril.

With both infiltrated by the respective security services, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was urged to follow the lead of its Russian relative by joining the World Council of Churches and using it to promote pro-Soviet positions. This they did, and Maxim travelled widely on church affairs.

Once the Communist regime fell in 1989 it was remarkable how many regime-supporters seemed to find Christianity overnight. Yet in the early 1990s, a split in the Bulgarian Church occurred. Maxim was able to take control of the majority of the parishes but the opposing faction formed the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Alternative synod.

For more than a decade, the two synods existed side by side, with the dissidents claiming to have rallied 30 per cent of the country's 1,000 priests. The schism ended in 2010 when the head of the alternative synod, Metropolitan Inokentii, called for a healing of the division and the rival synod was dissolved. A panel reviewing Communist-era collaborators with the security services found no links to Maxim, though it said that 11 out of the country's 15 bishops had worked for the Communist regime.

Bulgarian President, Communist Georgi Prvanov, awarded Maxim with the highest order, Stara Planina, for "enormous efforts in the spiritual life of Bulgarian people and wise administering of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church."

Maxim died of heart failure. The Pope sent a message of condolence to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, while Benedict XVI, wrote that Maxim "dutifully served the Lord and His people… I thank the Lord for the good relations the Patriarch developed with the Catholic Church ... and I hope that this good rapport may continue …"

Marin Naidenov Minkov, head of Bulgarian Orthodox Church: born Oreshak, Bulgaria 29 October 1914; died Sofia 6 November 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea