The spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, endured a tempestuous three-day visit to Bulgaria after he called on authorities in Sofia to return Byzantine relics taken from churches and monasteries in northern Greece during the First World War.
Vartholomaios, whose trip ended on Tuesday, asked for the return of the antiquities at a ceremony where he received Bulgaria’s highest state order, the Stara Planina. During the ceremony he called on Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev to help open “a new page in the relations between Bulgaria and the Orthodox community” by ensuring the artifacts’ return.
“We were surprised by the demands of the ecumenical patriarch,” said Plevneliev, who made the award.
“These issues are solved in diplomatic ways and in the development of bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Greece. Bulgarian politicians and diplomats have been aware of the problem for a long time and, in my opinion, it was solved a long time ago,” Plevneliev added.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov canceled his meeting with Vartholomaios, while Socialist Party leader Mihail Mikov told Focus News Agency that the patriarch’s behavior had been “insulting to Bulgarian citizens and Christians.”