Bulgarian Orthodox Church to Quit WCC

The Christian Century, August 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

Bulgarian Orthodox Church to Quit WCC


The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is to withdraw from the World Council of Churches, in the wake of criticisms it has made of the Geneva-based organization's style and direction. The WCC, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding this year, has more than 330 member churches, including virtually all the world's mainstream church bodies, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church.

But in recent years the Orthodox churches have grown impatient with what they see as the Protestant dominance of the WCC's agenda and preoccupation with developments seen as Western and liberal, such as women's ordination and the use of modern, ecumenical liturgy. The arrival of Protestant missionaries in Eastern Europe following the end of communist rule has also kindled hostility to Protestantism.

Said a spokesman for the Bulgarian church's synod: "We have no intention of ending ecumenical church contacts or cutting links with other Christian organizations. But our church took the decision to leave last April, and will circulate its explanation shortly. We have not consulted other Orthodox churches about this announcement and cannot comment on their intentions." The decision was confirmed by the church's synod in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, on July 22. According to the spokesman, the church will send a single delegate to the WCC's Eighth Assembly at Harare, Zimbabwe, in December, with a letter confirming its withdrawal.

The spokesman added that the criticisms underlying the move had all been listed in a statement after a meeting of Orthodox leaders at Thessaloniki in early May, which had voiced fears that WCC activities were contributing to what he described as "a dissolution of the truths of faith." In May 1997 the Georgian Orthodox Church became the first to confirm its departure from the WCC and another ecumenical organization, the Conference of European Churches.

Representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, whose 12 dioceses claim the loyalty of 87 percent of the country's 9 million citizens, indicated in May their intention to leave the WCC. In a statement on July 16 the Bulgarian church's diocese of Central and Western Europe argued that the WCC had failed to bring "satisfactory achievements" in Christian theological dialogue, and that Bulgaria had been overrun by a "swarm of proselytizing sects," acting with the protection of "long-established Protestant churches."

In other developments, a senior leader of Poland's 570,000-member Orthodox minority has denied press reports that his church is planning to withdraw from the WCC. Polish Orthodox Archbishop Jeremiasz of Wroclaw-Szczecin said that his church had decided to remain within the WCC after a debate late last year. He dismissed as "totally false" press reports that the church's new leader, Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw, is in favor of withdrawal. …

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