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The election of the next Patriarch of Bulgaria – An insight into the process

The Church of Bulgaria should elect a new Patriarch within four months after the death of His Beatitude Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria.

The election of his successor will take place according to a specific procedure. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has 13 dioceses in Bulgaria and two abroad. The Church Statute regulates the election of the Patriarch and the conditions for his election.

Specifically, the Patriarch of Bulgaria and the Metropolitan of Sofia must not be younger than 50 years of age, must have served as a Metropolitan for at least five years, and must be distinguished by Orthodox faith and strict adherence to the rules of the Church.

The Patriarch is elected by the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical Council, which consists of:

  • Metropolitans and Bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • Five representatives from each diocese (three clergy and two lay) and ten representatives from the Metropolis of Sofia (six clergy and four lay).
  • One representative from the Stavropegian Monasteries (Rila, Bachkovo, Troyan), elected by the respective Monastery Councils
  • Two representatives from the Episcopal Monasteries of each diocese (one monk/nun designated by the respective Metropolitan and one representative from the Theological Schools designated by their administrations).

After the death of the Patriarch, the Holy Synod is temporarily chaired by the senior member of the Metropolitan Council in its reduced composition.

He notifies the local Orthodox Churches of the Patriarch’s death, as well as the President of the country, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Prime Minister, who manages the affairs of the Patriarchate until the election of the Vice-President, which must take place within seven days of the Patriarch’s death.

The elected Vice-President, together with the Holy Synod, takes all necessary steps to conduct the election of a new Patriarch, which must take place no later than four months after the death of the Patriarch. The exact date of the meeting of the Patriarchal Election Council is determined by the Holy Synod, which sends the Metropolitans to the regions to convene the electors in each diocese. All these persons participate in the Patriarchal Electoral Ecclesiastical Council.

At a meeting held at least seven days before the date set for the election of the Patriarch of Bulgaria, the Holy Synod, by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of its members, elects as candidates for the Patriarchal Throne three Metropolitans who meet the requirements.

The election of the Patriarch takes place in the Patriarchal Elective Ecclesiastical Council, which the Holy Synod convenes in the Synodal Palace on the day determined (which must be a Sunday).

After verifying the canonicality of the ballots of the elected and appointed members of the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical Electoral Council, and provided that at least three-fourths of the total number of members of the Electoral Council are present, the Vice-President of the Holy Synod calls the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical Electoral Council to order.

The Vice-President invites the Council to elect, by express vote, two clerics and two laymen as members of the Election Committee. The members of the committee are elected by a majority of more than half of those present. If this quorum is not reached, the Holy Synod schedules the elections for the Sunday immediately following.

At the beginning of the session, the Vice-Chairman announces the names of the three candidates for the Patriarchal Throne, as determined by the Holy Synod, and invites the members of the Patriarchal Election Committee to elect one of the three candidates by secret ballot.

The candidate who receives at least two-thirds of the votes shall be declared by the Vice-President of the Holy Synod to be the duly and lawfully elected Patriarch of Bulgaria and the Metropolitan of Sofia. If none of the candidates receives the required majority, the election shall be repeated with the two candidates who received the most votes. The one who receives the most votes is elected.

A decree on the election is drawn up and signed by the Election Office and the members of the Assembly. The Vice President then declares the end of the Patriarchal Electoral Ecclesiastical Assembly. A copy of the decree is given to the newly elected Patriarch. The Holy Synod offers a prayer of thanksgiving and proceeds with the enthronement of the newly elected Patriarch of Bulgaria.

The Holy Synod then announces the name of the new Patriarch to the heads of the local Orthodox Churches, the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister, and the people.