Вторник, 29 Декември 2015 06:14

The Invention of Orthodox Traditions: Religiousness in a Post-socialist Context*

Galina Goncharova, Teodora Karamelska

Abstract: Has Bulgaria experienced a religious revival since 1989? Have new bearers of religious values emerged, or have we witnessed a liberalization of the “spirituality” market in which urges for the canonization of prophetess Vanga, launched by the intellectual milieu around Lyudmila Zhivkova, circulate as successfully as the “discoveries” of John the Baptist’s relics or of the remains of “Bulgarian vampires”, made by former minister Bozhidar Dimitrov? What is the role of imagination in the visions of “Orthodox faith”? To what extent does imagination maintain or undermine the boundary between canonical truths and religious practices? Is Orthodox Christianity trying to compensate for the enormous vacuum of meaning and motivation, brought about by the collapse of the homogeneous ideological language of socialism? Or, has it remained in the marginal position of a nationalist platform and an escapist mode of behavior?

Key words: Orthodox identity, mass religious experts, new theological elites


Since 1989 the former Soviet Bloc countries have witnessed a boom in scientific studies of Orthodox Christianity. Undoubtedly, these have been influenced by Western approaches to religious studies. The reasons to incorporate Orthodox Christianity in the Balkan and East European field of humanities seem obvious: along with the intensive development of sociology of religion, the collapse of the communist regime opened up new spaces for reflection on religious identities from a post-totalitarian perspective. They are interpreted from various points of view – as a “haven” for traditionalist and nationalist visions of social development, as a stronghold against the atheist social engineering of the regime, and, last but not least, as a longing for stability and support in the contemporary hyperdynamic world, influenced by globalization and secularization. Thus, researchers such as Inna Naletova and S.B. Filatov focus their studies of the relationship between state and church in Russia on the political uses and the specific inter-institutional interactions.[1] Another aspect, also provoking an enormous scientific interest, is the so-called modernization of Orthodox Christianity and its various manifestations – the expansion of religious markets, media representations of religious communities and events, adaptation of local religious practices to the new post-Soviet realities.[2] The modernization of religion is a topic, much preferred by Greek researchers too, who tend to define it predominantly through the concept of globalization and civil society achievements. As Victor Rudometoff points out, this is not a simple encounter between religion and European democratic values but a complex result of the re-negotiation of tradition, and an effect of glocalization.[3]

Not surprisingly, another major focus of studies of Christianity on the Balkans is the issue of the intersection and alignment of Orthodox and national identity. It is not only in Greece but also in Romania and Serbia that scientists focus on the state policies towards various religious and ethnic minorities, on the strong chauvinist discourse inside and outside the church in the (post)socialist period. The topic gained extreme importance in view of the war in Serbia and the public speeches of late Patriarch Pavle.[4] This line of studies shares the reasoning behind the general thesis of the “religious revival”,[5] observed in the former Soviet Bloc countries after 1989. Characteristic for this “revival” is the increased interest in the prospects of faith in the present as opposed to the scarcity of “spiritual alternatives” in the recent past.

What is the place of Bulgaria on the religious map of Europe and how can it be defined from the point of view of local and foreign historians, sociologists, and anthropologists? In spite of setting as its priority the interdisciplinary analysis of Islam and Islamism, the Center for the Study of Religion, established at the Sofia University in 2008, pays special attention to Christian denominations too. Specialists, as well as the general public, demonstrate a growing, although somewhat belated, interest in the history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the fate of Orthodox Christianity during the communist regime and during the still ongoing democratic transition. Daniela Kalkandzhieva and Momchil Metodiev are among the researchers who trace the documents which provide evidence on the repressions against the church and the clergy committed by the totalitarian authorities for decades, which had remained hidden from the sight of ordinary laymen.[6] Petar Kanev’s writings and research project on the role of the priest in the formation of solidarity and socially-active communities in the context of the democratization of Bulgarian society and the globalization effects are also of key importance.[7]

Last but not least, worth mentioning are the quantitative sociological surveys that measure the trust in the Orthodox Church and faith. For the most part these surveys show that Orthodox Christianity in Bulgaria is considered to be the denomination of the majority of Bulgarian citizens although the percentage of those who associate their religious identification with regular participation in religious rituals is small. Thus, the data of EVS 2008 shows that 58,6% of the Bulgarians define themselves as Orthodox, but the vast majority go to church, if at all, only on big religious holidays or because of transition rituals (baptism, wedding, funeral service). Nevertheless, the church is expected to be more active in its charity and humanitarian deeds; it is supposed to give answers to “the country’s social problems of the day” (69.5% of the polled), as well as to use a more comprehensible language in the explanation of theological concepts and relations.[8]

In view of the data, it comes as no surprise that many Western researchers of religion consider the Bulgarian Orthodox Church an institution with decorative functions. It is deemed inadequate to the new publicity forms; it does not affect the Bulgarians’ everyday way of living as its impact is limited to the reproduction of a “quotidian” or “folkloric” Christianity, lacking in existential aspirations.

On the whole, we can hardly say that the church institution provokes any interest among the foreign scientific community. It is referred to only in relation to Orthodoxy in general, which Western researchers see as a hypertrophied version of Christianity due to its combination of nationalistic and quasi-religious messages. Ethno-phyletism and neonationalism, typical of East-European societies, are often pointed out as some of the main instruments used after 1989 to overcome the collapse of the united national identity (see Woodhead, 2007: 223). Orthodox Christianity is also interpreted as a resource that is deployed to compensate for the vacuum of meaning and motivation, which came about after the delegitimation of the homogeneous ideological language of socialism. Even a brisk look at the patriotic narratives shows that Orthodox Christianity has its strong presence there, including in the nationalist parties’ platforms and in their escapist models of social development. The political programmes of parties such as VMRO or Ataka, or the content of SKAT TV channel, provide shining examples. SKAT is the TV channel that for years has been running shows with rather telling titles such as “On Bulgarian Faith” or “The Church of Silence”.[9]

In this essay we will attempt to challenge the stereotyped “view of the outsider” and to draw a more differentiated picture of Orthodox Christianity by joining the efforts of Bulgarian researchers to include religion in various areas of academic interest. Our focus, however, will not be the policies of repressions of the socialist state against the religious communities in the country but the construction of Orthodox identity in the post-communist period. We will focus on questions such as: What does Orthodox Christianity look like through the eyes of the insiders – the eyes of the believers, with their new material and spiritual needs in the epoch of decommunisation and growing globalization effects? Is the Western perception of Orthodox Christianity really well-founded? Is Orthodoxy really a rigid and pre-modern version of Christianity which is now publically deployed for nationalist purposes or for traditionalist conservation of the customs of our ancestors?

Our point of departure is the argument that post-1989 Orthodox Christianity should be examined as a highly differentiating symbolic space – not only as far as beliefs are concerned but also in view of its institutional organization. What is occurring there is a huge exchange of traditions, superstitions, media clichés, (un)canonic prescriptions, and religious goods.[10] All of these transform it into a dynamically developing denomination, in which examples of tradition revivals and tradition inventions, as well as of various forms of “imagined” participation in the doctrine, are abundant. Regularly described as “conservative” and “overinstitutionalised”, the Orthodox community in reality consists of numerous, often contradicting, discursive practices – from the church expert saying “That’s the way to do it” to the theologically tempted elites living “Christianity as culture”. These two extremes and the ordinary parishioner do not simply embody the opposition between the reflexive and the naïve perception of the truths of faith. They also demarcate the deep and unsurpassable differences between the lifestyles of the “church-going granny” and the “religious intellectual” – differences that an outsider would hardly notice. Our argument is that these varying (over)interpretations of religious rituals and contents are possible thanks to the shaft between the requirement for a strict and stern observation of church canons, which excludes any ambiguities and ambivalences (the so-called akribeia), and “the spirit of Orthodox housekeeping”, which presupposes lenience towards believers, takes into consideration their individual religious experiences, and allows for some diversions (the so-called economy).[11] Along with the multiplication of lifestyles and the emergence of new sources of knowledge, also in the field of Orthodox Christianity, typical of the post-socialist period, this neutral space, belonging to no one, generates, even within the same religious community, a “sense of distinction” (Bourdieu), which enables the appearance of complex, eclectic and unfamiliar modes of religious expressions and individual contextualizations of religious experiences.

The Orthodoxy of the “good Christian” or of the “church expert”

The Orthodoxy of the so-called “ordinary churchgoer” emphasizes phyletism, seen as adherence to practices rather than comprehension of content. As a rule, people’s religiousness comprises two basic elements: on the one hand, a confirmation of one’s belonging to the community of believers by strict observation of liturgical rituals, and, on the other hand, an expressed focus on the priests’ specific competences, expert functions and monopoly over the management of “the sacred” (Bourdieu, 2012: 80).

After 1989 regular churchgoers strived to prove their “religious qualification” mostly by demonstrating competences regarding Orthodox Christian rituals. Parishioners of this type projected their experience of the sacred on the level of bodily practices. Participation in rituals and church life follows strict regulations and involves certain bodily dispositions during liturgy. A “church expert” must by all means light a candle, write the names of those for whose health he will pray, and the names of the departed for the peace of whose souls he will pray; he makes a certain number of steps in the temple, then he bows before particular icons, makes the sign of the cross, without any hurry bows three times before the throne – often the bows are so deep that he touches the ground (the so-called down-to-the-ground bows, a manifestation of complete humility). There are detailed descriptions of how these actions should be performed. Here is one of them: “When we make the sign of the cross, we also make a small bow. If our prayer is more zealous, the bow is deeper – waist-low; if our prayer is repenting, imploring or despairing, the bows should be even deeper – knee-low. In those bows the forehead should touch the ground”.[12] It is not uncommon that we see kneeling believers in churches – they embody the image of absolute closeness to the sacred and the ideal of the “good Christian”, always humble and always repenting. Such conduct is typically seen in the weekends, when liturgies are attended by more people. Rarely, however, do these bodily codes give a meaningful explanation of the significance of the performed actions and their genuine Christian content. Many “church experts” do not know that Saturday and Sunday are respectively a pre-holiday and a holiday, i.e. days for spiritual joy, not for repenting. Although the motoric of religious self-expression often gives no clues why exactly this or that should be performed, regular churchgoers recognize it as an infallible marker of belonging to the expert community of “good Christians” or to “the truly pious and faithful”. Thus, the expressivity of religious behavior, which is typical of religion in late Modernity (Taylor 2007), is manifested here rather as an expressivist automatism. The formality and ritualistic reproduction of this body language can to a great extent be explained with the fact that, as a rule, believers are not allowed to speak in the church. “You do not speak in the church! If it happens so that you are spoken to, answer briefly, without entering into conversation. If you want to greet a person, do it with a silent bow“.[13] The bodily behavior in the church can also signal that certain aspects of the liturgy are overstressed. We can see such shifting of the focus from the transsubstantiation (the mystical transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood), which goes along with chanting “We Hymn Thee”, to the more familiar Lord’s Prayer. As mentioned earlier, although the rule does not prescribe making bows during the Lord’s Prayer on Saturday and Sunday, it is precisely then that many churchgoers bow the most, ecstatically bending forward, drawing closer to the altar, etc.

Of course, believers strive to give an outward expression of their “piousness” on many occasions; not only do they want to distinguish themselves from those who have come to the temple by chance – the neophytes, the inexperienced, those not integrated in the church, but they also want to demonstrate their due respect to the parish priests and particularly to the bishops. The attitude to the clergy is again strictly regulated and confirms the perception of the priest as somebody between a fatherly figure of the supreme leader and a moral example. “This morning I met Father Biser (the name means pearl). He is marvellous, he really is a pearl among Bulgarian Christians. He graduated in Theology in Sofia. So I immediately kissed his right hand, and the woman I was with at the memorial service said: ‘Wow, Danche, you were so quick, it immediately came to your mind what you should do, whereas I forgot.’ And I told her: ‘Yes!’ And now let me get back to your question: I was 6 years old when I started going to this church with my grandmother… I was baptized in the ‘Assumption of Mary’ Church – this happened in 1937. And when I came here with my granny, she’d tell me – she had a chair here, on the left, on the side of Mother Mary, where she is standing in the church – and she’d tell me: ‘When you meet a priest in the street, wearing priestly garments, you must kiss his right hand and he’d give you his blessing’. So when he came to deliver a sermon this morning, as soon as I saw him at the door, I went to kiss his right hand” (research archive, woman, 75 years old, from the town of T.). This attitude of church experts legitimizes the priests’ monopoly over the instruments for saving souls – the power to consecrate, to interpret the Holy Scripture, to administer the sacraments.

Another important topic for most regular churchgoers is the salvation of the soul. Strangely, they often relate this issue to explicitly secular regimes for healthy lifestyle. The Orthodox breviary contains a number of prayers (for all kinds of occasions and uses) but the most popular ones are those for “health and healing”. They are usually accompanied by lighting candles and automatically reproducing explanations of the sort: “Our daughter has had poor health recently, we hope our prayers will help her”. “After I pray, I’ll be healthy and happy”. “We mainly prayed for our youngest son, to grow up without falling ill, to have a fortunate life“.[14] The care for the healthy body is often related to the apotropaic power of certain objects to fight back the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6: 12). Such are, for example, the well-known prayer ropes[15] (in some forums users even discuss their  expiry dates); cotton buds that have been in contact with a saint’s relics, key holders with images of saints, laminated icons or icons that the vivid Orthodox creativity paints on tree stumps, stones, bells or even on ostrich eggs. „People mostly want to get Virgin Mary with Jesus and the three-handed Virgin Mary. They also order icons of St. George, St. Dimitar and St. Menas depicted on ostrich egg shells. These are mostly in demand around Easter. We offer a wide range of images since we take our clients’ demands into consideration. Our hottest sale for connoisseurs are the so-called home chapels. When the little ostrich comes out of its egg, the shell is broken into two, so we use the pieces to paint icons on them and we put a candle at the base. It’s impressive!“.[16]

D   A

Fig. 1 and 2. A reading of Cyprian’s prayers and adoration of the relics of 14 000 martyrs, killed by King Herod in Bethlehem (Plovdiv, 2012). 

The good Samaritan type of story about an icon of Christ with opening and closing eyes is by no means less intriguing: “In the church in our neighbourhood there is a small icon of Jesus. After praying to Him, when you look up on your way out – if the icon is with eyes closed, it means your prayer has been heard. Everybody who goes to that church knows it.[17] Another manifestation of the imagination of church experts is their determination to show overcompetence regarding the ways of saving your soul and the prescriptions on how the departed should appear before the Lord on Judgment Day: „The candles are prepared; when I got retired, I bought two packs of candles, for my funeral, not to burden my daughter with these things… I’ll go and I hope it’ll be the angels not the devils who will take me. That’s what I hope. What will really happen, I don’t know… I’ve described everything, how it should be done – the frankincense, the candles, how the body should be washed. Some wine and a bunch of basil are needed. One should spread a white piece of cloth at the front and at the back – down to the knee. That is how the departed will appear on Judgment Day. But it needs to be incensed, everything needs to be incensed – the clothes that will be put on, the sheets, the coffin. That’s what I’ve learned from my grandmother, that’s what I remember from my mother. You never do the laundry on Saturdays and on the day when the person died, you don’t do these things” (research archive, woman, 94, the town of V)

The strict observation of fasting is also considered to be a means of “healing your body and soul”. Although according to the general Orthodox rules “bodily fasting that is not accompanied by spiritual fasting does not lead to salvation,[18] the valorization and classification of food types, as well as the strict prescriptions about their consumption are the most commonly instrumentalised means for body (self)control of the church experts. Redemption after careless consumption of forbidden food often leads to (self)exclusion from Communion and even stricter fasting. In such cases carelessness is interpreted as a sign of Orthodox degradation and as a dysfunction of faith self-expression.

Against this background it is clearer why some of the most adored saints are St. Menas (curing infertility), St. Cyprian and St. Justina. More and more people go to church to attend the so-called Cyprian’s prayers. Their growing popularity in the recent years shows that this peculiar Christian Orthodox exorcism not only rules the imagination of regular churchgoers but also convinces them that there are practical steps to counteract “black magic, spells, bad rumours, illness and negative influences”. Of course, all this has its explanation – before converting to Christianity, St. Menas from Antioch was a magician (Hagiographies 1991: 484). Cyprian’s prayers are read every Thursday in one of Sofia’s central churches – St. Nedelya Church, every Wednesday in St. Kliment Ochridski Church in Sofia’s Lyulin residential district, every Wednesday in St. Paraskeva Church in Plovdiv, etc. In internet forums one can get advice on how to additionally intensify the power of the prayer: “I forgot to say…when you read the prayer, make sure you’ve got a glass of water, so that it gets coded and becomes holy… then you sprinkle this water all over your house“.[19] Another saint that church tradition associates with fighting evil spirits is St. Basil the Great; yet, he is less popular among regular believers as he is a theologian, which makes him less comprehensible to the imagination of regular churchgoers.

Here we will not go into details by listing all the natural sights that were proclaimed sacred or wonder-working after 1989; neither shall we describe the search for and the revival of run-down and neglected monasteries, the “discoveries” of people endowed with the gift of healing, or visions and dreams about saints, particularly popular among ordinary Christians. Let us just mention that Virgin Mary appeared even to the former minister Bozhidar Dimitrov to warn him about the explosions in the village of Chelopechene in 2008: “He dreamed about going to work in the National Historical Museum a bit earlier; so he decided to have a walk in the museum’s garden. Then in a corner, he saw a woman, dressed in a white robe, washing her feet in the dew. I approached and asked her: “Young lady, how did you manage to get in through the high fence?”, the historian explained. She turned around that answered quickly: “I am Virgin Mary. I can appear everywhere. Go into the museum and open all doors and windows. In a little while Sofia will be struck by a big misfortune”. The historian headed for the museum. Then he heard the words of the woman from behind: "Nobody will get killed, because my three icons are on their way to Sofia. There are many sinners in Sofia, but this time I’ll forgive you. It will be for the last time“.[20]

Theologically tempted elites

If we continue our observation on the internal segmentation of the Orthodox field, we will notice that many, unknown by then, participants appeared after 1989. This “new religious public” (Habermas) consists of highly educated and predominantly urban elites, tempted to gain religious knowledge. Rather than demonstrating their religious dexterity through faith and bodily expressions, they manifest it by emphasizing the contents of Christian rituality and symbols. As a rule, these believers show disdain for the Orthodoxy of regular churchgoers, their formalism, moralism and the profane manipulation of the sacred. Staying within the church (that is, participating in the mysteries and practices of the church), these educated Christians direct the power of their imagination to the interpretation of various issues, important for contemporary Orthodox theology. Not only do they seek, but they also provide competent interpretations of the meaning of the mysteries and prayers through a wide range of forms – from Sunday schools, lectures and catechism courses to internet reading rooms and informal discussions in forums.

The sense of distinction, however, gives rise to demarcation lines within the theologically-educated elites too. The most important ones emerge around the issues of the calendar reform, the regularity of receiving Communion, the figure of the priest as a holder of a “special blessing”, and modernism in religious art, literature, lifestyle, etc. Thus, we can outline two separate groups – more conservative and more liberal elites. One of the prominent examples of the anti-modern and apocalyptic rhetoric of the conservative group is the website “Be faithful” (a website which promotes Holy Fathers’ Orthodoxy, which has not been corrupted by modernism and oikumenism). The website is run by a former rock musician, currently a priest, Bozhidar Glavev. It represents Glavev’s version of Christianity, strongly influenced by asceticism and apocalyptic eschatology, and urging for a return to the practices and language of Ancient Christianity:

F   Е

Fig. 3 and 4. Father Bozhidar Glavev “before” (second, from right to left) and “after” his return to Christianity.

Liberal Orthodox elites, on the other hand, strive to create a new communication situation that will allow for the normalization of Christianity by dissociating it both from the piousness of the “good Christian” and from the fundamentalist propensity of the conservative elites. For years the Omophor publishing house, as well as Christianity and Culture journal have been trying to introduce and popularize contemporary Orthodox writers, not only clerical but also secular ones. These circles demonstrate readiness for a dialogue with influential Catholic and Protestant theologians, as well as ambition to rationalize theological language. They aspire for philosophical argumentation, search for new iconographic and photographic religious scenes; they openly discuss the political instrumentalizations of religion. They are explicit in their criticism to clergy, using not only electronic media but also the internet. Fine examples in this regard are the forums of the website “Gates of Orthodoxy”, that has gained international popularity and is well-visited not only by lay people but also by priests. It informs about events in the Orthodox Church, new publications that have come out, as well as news about international religious life. The website publishes highly analytical and theologically learned commentaries in Bulgarian, as well as translated ones.[21] What is more, the editors prove to be aware of the incongruity of the Orthodox experience in today’s world, as they often publish jokes and cartoons along with ironical comments.

B      C

Fig. 5 and 6. Cartoons from the website “Gates of Orthodoxy” (Fig 5. The rage of piety: “Wow, it’s true, those caricatures in the Orthodox websites are appalling!”; Fig 6. Driving the merchants back to the temple: “Merchants back to the temple!!”)

Thus, the already traditional first-of-April issue of “Church Egotist – a journal for humour and Orthodox lifestyle” provides pieces of advice on “how to find a pious wife” and whether “jeans hamper salvation” (http://egoist.dveri.bg/), as well as on how “MP3 doxa preserves the purity of Orthodox music”.

So, we could keep adding more and more examples which represent Orthodoxy as a heterogenic cultural field and challenge the clear-cut schemes and theoretical models of secularization and desecularization in late modernity. All these examples, however, would only support our initial argument that the attempts of the believers to imagine a “genuine Orthodoxy” lead to an overinterpretation of Christianity at a local level. These localizations run in different, often opposing directions. What’s worth mentioning, however, is the freedom and the politics of representation believers have at their disposal either to maintain or to subvert the border between canonical truth and religious practices. This, in itself, is already a sign of the dynamic development in the field of Orthodoxy, as well as a reason for further scientific inquiry in a broader European context.


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Metodiev, Momchil. 2010. Mezhdu vyarata i kompromisa. Balgarskata pravoslavna tsarkva I komunisticheskata darzhava (1944-1989) [Between faith and compromise: the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the communist state (1944-1989]. Sofia: Institut za izsledvane na blizkoto minalo/Ciela.

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* The paper was presented at the Imagination Today Conference, organized by the Cultural Centre at Sofia University (Sofia, Apriltsi, 7-9 December 2012).

[1] E.g. Naletova, I. 1999. Orthodoxy beyond the Walls of the Church: A Sociological Inquiry into Orthodox Religious Experience in Contemporary Russian Society. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Boston: Boston University; Filatov, S. B. (ed.) 2002. Religiya I obshtestvo: Ocherki religioznoy zhizni sovremennoy Rosii. Moskva; SPb: Atlas sovremennoy religioznoy zhizni Rosii, T. І, ІІ и ІІІ, 2005 2006, 2009. Otv. red. M. Burdo I S. Filatov: SPb. 

[2] See Naletova, I. N. 2004. “’Novye Plavoslavye v Rosii’: tip ili stereotip religioznosti”, Sociologicheski izsledvaniya, 5, 130-136; Yakunun, V. I et al. 2009. Sociyalnoe partnerstvo gosudarstva i religioznayh organizatsii. Moskva: Nauchnay Ekspert.

[3] See Roudometof, V. 2008. „Greek Orthodoxy, Territoriality, and Globality: Religious Responses and Institutional, University of Cyprus“, Sociology of Religion, 69(1). 67–91; Roudometof, V. 2001. Nationalism, Globalization and Orthodoxy: The Social Origins of Ethnic Conflict in the Balkans. Westport, CT: Greenwood; Roudometof, V., A. Agadjanian, J. Pankhurst (eds.) 2005. Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the 21st Century. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.

[4] See Blagojevic, M. 2003. “Current Religious Changes in Serbia and Desecularization”. In: Filozofija i drustvo3, 239-253; Orthodoxy from an Empirical Perspective. 2011. M. Blagojevic, D. Todorovic (eds.) Belgrad, Niš: Sven; D. M. Jerolimov, S. Zrinščak, I. Borowik (eds.). 2004. Religion and Patterns of Social Transformation. Institute for Social Research – Zagreb; Jaksic, B. 2001. „Nacionalna drzava i drzavna crkva“. In: Religion of the Minorities and Minority Religions. Niš: Junir and Zograf.

[5] Tomka, M. 2006. “Is Conventional Sociology of Religious able to Deal with Differences between Eastern and Western European Developments”, Social Compass, 53. 251–256.

[6] Kalkandzhieva, D. 1997. Balgarskata pravoslavna tsarkva I darzhavata 1944-1953 [The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the State 1944-1953]; Metodiev, M. 2010. Mezhdu vyarata i kompromisa. Balgarskata pravoslavna tsarkva i komunisticheskata darzhava (1944-1989) [Between Faith and Compromise: the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Communist State (1944-1989]. Sofia: Institut za izsledvane na blizkoto minalo.

[7] Kanev. P. 2002. “Religion in Bulgaria after 1989: Historical and Socio-cultural Aspects”, South East European Review, vol. 5, N1, Baden-Baden: Hans-Bökler Stiftung.

[8] An analytical overview of the topic – see Karavalcheva, Z. 2012. “Glasat na tsarkvata mezhdu imperativa na ideologiyata I svidetelstvoto na sreshtata [The voice of the Church: between the Ideological Imperative and the Evidence of the Encounter]”; http://dveri.bg/xxd8p.

[9] Here we will not expand on the nationalist aspect and ethopyletism; they form a separate field of study, characterized by further multiplications of languages and discursive practices. 

[10] Our paper is based on two main sources of information: (1) in-depth biographical interviews, conducted in the course of two projects: “The social role of the Orthodox priest in Bulgaria and in South-East Europe – parishes, social practices, open religious discourses“ (2007); „Marking Transitions and Meaning Across the Life Course: Memories of Religious and Secular Ceremonies in Eastern and Western Europe“ (2010–2012) and Microcon („A Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict“(2008–2011); (2) Christian websites and internet forums („Dveri na pravoslavieto“ [Gates of Orthodoxy] (http://dveri.bg/), „Pravoslavie.bg“ (http://www.pravoslavie.bg/), „Badi Veren” [Be Faithful] (http://budiveren.com/), „Pravoslavna mladezh“ [Orthodox youth] (http://www.pravmladeji.org/).

[11] ἀκρίβεια (Greek) exact meaning; strict following of the letter of the law; the principle of strict and unambiguous resolution of church matters according to the Christian dogmas.

οικονομια (Greek) housekeeping; the principle of decision-making based on the specific living conditions and cultural contexts; breaking the letter of the law is allowed, provided the spirit of the law is kept.

[12] Sliven’s Bishop Joanikii: “The Cross Foretoken – an outward expression of the prayer”, In: Precepts for Spiritual Life, http://mitropolia.sliven.net/index.php?page=krystnotoznamenie.xml

[13] http://sveta-troica-plovdiv.com/verouchenie/index.php?go=articles&view=74.

[14] http://www.plovdivmedia.com/47964.html.

[15] Prayer ropes are not only the most demanded church items, but also sources of artistic inspiration (quoted in: http://c-dikovski.blogspot.com/2010/08/blog-post_2190.html):

[A marvellous, small, black prayer rope,

made by the fingers of a monk,

it burns my hand, and quietly,

reminds me of my sins].

[16] http://bnr.bg/sites/radiobulgaria/Lifestyle/Life/Pages/090211_ostrich_eggs.aspx.

[17] http://forums.pravoslavie.bg/viewtopic.php?p=39272.

[18] General rules for fasting: http://www.pravoslavieto.com/docs/post/postite_v_BPC.htm. The order of the liturgy on all days and holidays is explained in the so called Tipik (Church Rules).

[19] http://www.astroseer.net/forum/index.php?topic=143.0.

[20] „The Icons saved Sofia”, http://paper.standartnews.com/bg/article.php?article=238880.

[21] An average of 60 000 people visit the website monthly. http://bgcounter.com/?sts,summary,,,,dveri.


About the authors

Galina Goncharova holds a PhD in Theory and History of Culture; a chief assistant professor at the Department of History and Theory of Culture, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. Her research interests focus to oral history, social history of medicine, theory of religion, youth cultures.

Teodora Karamelska holds a PhD in Philosophy; a chief assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Sociology, New Bulgarian University. She is an assistant editor of Sociological Problems Journal. Her research interests are related to sociology of religion, qualitative methods in social sciences, and biographical research. 

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