Bulgarian authorities have compelled the prior of the Russian Orthodox Church mission, Archimandrite Vassian (Zmeyev), to leave the country. This directive, issued on September 21, 2023, also applies to the mission's staff. The Bulgarian government stated that the presence of Russian Church clergy in Bulgaria poses a threat to the country's national security.
The official announcement was made by the Synodal Department for External Church Relations (SDCECR). The authorities have given the prior and staff twenty-four hours to leave Bulgaria.
The agency maintains that these measures were imposed due to activities deemed detrimental to national security and the interests of the Republic of Bulgaria. They assert that the actions of the individuals involved are linked to the implementation of various elements of the Russian Federation's hybrid strategy aimed at exerting targeted influence on socio-political processes in Bulgaria in favor of Russian geopolitical interests.
In response, the Moscow Patriarchate condemned the expulsion of the clergy as a "disturbing act driven by Russophobic motives and a desire to negate glorious chapters of our shared history." The Russian Orthodox Church expressed a strong protest against the unjustified expulsion of its representatives from Bulgaria.
Earlier, the Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, reported that the clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church were summoned to the migration service, after which they were placed in a police vehicle and taken to their residences to gather belongings. They will then be transported to the church and subsequently to the Serbian border.
The Russian Embassy stated that "the Bulgarian authorities have taken gross and outrageous actions to expel from the country the prior of the branch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Archimandrite Vassian, and two servants of the Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker."
"The rough measure of police arbitrariness undertaken by the Bulgarian authorities is aimed at undermining the traditionally friendly relations between the two sister churches and intends to set brotherly nations against each other, bound by common history and faith. We are confident that the plans of the initiators of this offensive act will fail. The Moscow and Bulgarian Patriarchates will maintain their centuries-old commonality and will not sacrifice the historical memory of our peoples," the statement from the Russian embassy emphasized.