Bulgarian bishops galore

Regular readers of GetReligion will appreciate this story in today’s Toledo Blade concerning the consecration of an Orthodox bishop. The story entitled “Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop” by religion beat professional David Yonke is nicely crafted. It balances the news of the consecration of Dr. Alexander Golitzin with  just the right amount of human interest. It is a really good local news religion story.

It begins:

Nearly five years after the bishop’s chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today’s consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

“Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution,” said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. “Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful.”

The story presents some interesting bits about the new bishop’s background — studies at Oxford under Kalistos Ware, a year at Mt Athos, professor at Marquette University, and a touch of Hollywood (nephew of art director Alexander Golitzin — winner of Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.)

The article also gives background on the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America: its history, previous bishops and demographics. All in all a great local news story.

My question for GetReligion readers is whether it would have been appropriate to mention that there are two Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses belonging to two different churches in the U.S? The article states up front that this consecration is for the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). However there is also a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia that is part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.

The article states the:

Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The other diocese is based in New York and around 25 congregations and monasteries. There is a degree of bad blood between the two groups — and there is a rivalry between the OCA and the Sofia-based Bulgarian Orthodox Church (as well as with some of the other ethnic Orthodox Churches in the U.S.) This article from a Russian-based website claims that ethnic Bulgarians in the OCA’s Bulgarian diocese are upset with the influx of non-Bulgarian clergy and want to jump ship.

Bulgarians living in the U.S. and Canada are gathering signatures on the petition to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church. The letter will contain a request to the Synod about the transfer on Bulgarian parishes that are currently under the jurisdiction of the OCA, to the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. This jurisdiction, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, currently has 27 parishes and monasteries.

The petitions states that today 80 percent of the clergy in Bulgarian churches are not Bulgarian, do not celebrate the feast days of Bulgarian saints, or observe Bulgarian national holidays and traditions.

The Toledo Blade article does not mention the other diocese, and uses language that would lead someone not familiar with the Bulgarian Orthodox ecclesial scene to believe this is the only Bulgarian game in town. The article does speak to the transition from an ethnic to an American church — a point of contention for some in the church — but does not develop this angle.

My point, however, is not to play the game of spot the real Bulgarian bishop — but to raise the underlying journalistic question of how to deal with schisms and splits and multiple claimants to a church brand name. Who is the “real” Bulgarian bishop? It is the same question as “who is the real Anglican?”

While there are a plethora of Protestant denominations sharing a Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran or congregational background — the Orthodox Churches (as well as the Episcopalians) have an ecclesial self-identity that does not contemplate multiple expressions of a single polity. In the Orthodox polity — as well as Anglican polity — there is only one bishop in a city. Yet the reality is that there are overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions and with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America there is now a rival to the Episcopal Church.

Where does the reporter’s duty lie in explaining or articulating for his readers these schisms? In the Toledo Blade article highlighted in this story should there have been a line mentioning the other Bulgarian Orthodox body? In stories that reach a national audience, should the distinctions between rival claimants be noted?

How much information is too much? How little is too little? Does it make a difference to the story? And — if a distinction is made, is it proper for a journalist to separate Bulgarian sheep from Bulgarian goats? What say you GetReligion readers?

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  • MJBubba

    Thanks for this post. Yes, the article is very well done and informative. However, I learned more from your post.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    It seems to me that getting into the rivalries and controversies is probably too much information. I suspect the average reader will probably have enough to do in absorbing the mere existence of Bulgarian Orthodox Christians. It’s not as though that church were prominently on most people’s radar. If the disputes were the meat of the story, that would be different. But this is a feature piece about the local church.

    (I know I’m probably showing a double standard here vis-a-vis the Anglicans, but that’s a church ordinary readers at least have some familiarity with.)

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    “It is the same question as “who is the real Anglican?”

    Is it really the same? All the Bulgarian Orthodox are in communion with each other, but I don’t know that is the case with the various Anglican groups.

    As for the other question, I think the reporter should mentioned the other Bulgarian diocese and could have dealt with the fact that there are two Bulgarian dioceses in as many sentences.

  • http://lukereviewslit.blogspot.com Luke

    The reason for the insanity of the overlapping jurisdictions is that the problem should have been sorted out back in the 1920s. What happened is that Russia fell to the communists and the Russian church was not able to stop the situation that had taken root even though they definitely knew about what was happening.

  • RSG

    Posting here today as an Orthodox Christian and a member of that Diocese (Fr. Andrew Jarmus’ parish specifically). We’re glad to have Bishop Alexander, and I don’t think most readers (even members of those parishes) care a whole lot about the two Bulgarian churches.

    Our parish, which is the largest in the Diocese, is about 50/50 convert-other Slavic, Orthodox/Bulgarian-Macedonian.
    I am on the parish council, and was on the special congress that made it possible for us to get a Bishop who happened to not be Bulgarian (trying to find a Bulgarian-born bishop in America is, to put it mildly, difficult).

    Our Bulgarians are ethnic Macedonians. You get too far out into the weeds on this, you’ll have to explain why our Macedonians don’t speak to the Greeks and Greek-Macedonians 5 miles up the road. Then you have to explain Yugoslavia and you go on and on. Once upon a time, Fort Wayne had a Greek parish, an Antiochian parish, a Ukranian parish (they worked in our factories till the work went to China), a ROCOR parish and our Macedonian-Bulgarian parish. The Ukranian parish is now a part-time Romanian parish. I’m not sure what happened to the ROCOR parish and a split from the Antiochian parish is now worshiping in some schismatic group to the far right of ROCOR.

    The larger city of Fort Wayne doesn’t care. They just know my parish as the one behind the college with the round dome. The rest, well, it’s “weeds.” I’m betting the readers of the Blade don’t care either. And I don’t know that the reporter needs to mention every group or schism. Too much of that and it will start to look the Presbyterians in “Portofino.” PCCCCCCCCCCA, etc. :)

    Sorry so long.

  • Chris Jones

    I agree with Joel & RSG that there is no need for the article to go into the complexities of Orthodox jurisdictionalism. It is a fine article just the way it is.

    A bit off-topic, but forgive me for saying how delighted I am at Fr Alexander’s election and consecration. I studied theology under Fr Alexander’s tutelage for a couple of years back in the 1980s, and you could not ask for a better man to serve as a bishop. Axios!