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Religion in Bulgaria
 

Bulgaria has been a traditionally Christian state since the adoption of Christianity in 865, with the dominant confession being Eastern Orthodoxy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. During the Ottoman rule of the Balkans Islam established itself in Bulgaria, while Roman Catholicism has roots in the country since the Middle Ages, and Protestantism arrived in the 19th century.

Despite this plurality of religions, unlike the Western Balkans Bulgaria has not experienced any significant-scale confrotation between Christianity and Islam (as was the case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia in the 1990s and 2000s). The religious communities in the country coexist peacefully. The freedom of religion and the religious equality are included in the Constitution of Bulgaria as inalienable rights of every citizen.

In fact, the capital Sofia is known for its so-called "Triangle of Religious Tolerance": the St Nedelya Church, Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue are located within metres of each other in the real centre of the city.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia is among the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria

Demographics

The Rila Monastery has been a centre of Bulgarian Orthodoxy since its establishment in the 9th century
The 15th-century Banya Bashi Mosque, the last remaining active mosque in Sofia
Rousse's Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Paul
The Evangelical church in Varna
The Sofia Synagogue

Orthodox Christianity

By far the dominant religion in Bulgaria is the Orthodox Christianity, professed by the prevalent ethnic group, the Bulgarians, who are adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Other Orthodox churches represented in the country by minorities are the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox Church and Greek Orthodox Church.

Christianity was established in the First Bulgarian Empire under Boris I in the middle of the 9th century, although it has had its roots in the Balkans since the 1st century and the mission of Apostle Paul. The rise of the Bulgarian Empire made the Bulgarian Orthodox Church autocephalous in 919, becoming the first new Patriarchate to join the initial Pentarchy. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the oldest among the Slavic Orthodox churches and has considerably influenced the rest of the Slavic Orthodox world by means of its rich literary and cultural activity in the Middle Ages, as well as by the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria.

Islam

Islam is the largest minority religion in Bulgaria. It is professed by the Turkish minority, the Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks) and most of the Roma. The former two are concentrated in the Rhodopes, a massif in southern Bulgaria, but are present in clusters in other parts of the country, e.g. the Turks in the Ludogorie region and the Pomaks in Pirin and some villages in northern Bulgaria.

Islam arrived with the Ottoman Turkish invasion of the Balkans in the 14th-15th century. Turkish notables settled in the larger cities (Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna, etc.), while peasants from Anatolia arrived in the Ludogorie and the Rhodopes. Many Orthodox Christians and Paulicians converted to Islam, often voluntarily due to the peculiarities of the Ottoman millet system, but sometimes forcefully. After the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 many of the Muslims left Bulgaria, but others chose to remain.

Today, Muslims form the majority in Kardzhali Province and Razgrad Province (mainly Turks) and Smolyan Province (mainly Pomaks).

Catholic Christianity

Roman Catholicism has its roots in Bulgaria and the Middle Ages. It was spread among the Bulgarians by Bulgarianized Saxon ore miners in northwestern Bulgaria (around Chiprovtsi) and by missionaries among the Paulician and Bogomil sectarians, as well as by Ragusan merchants in the larger cities.

Today the bulk of the Roman Catholic population of Bulgaria lives in Plovdiv Province, centred around Rakovski, as well as in some villages in northern Bulgaria. The Banat Bulgarians are a Bulgarian minority in Romania and Serbia adhering to Roman Catholicism. Besides Bulgarians, among the Roman Catholics are also many foreigners.

The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, a Byzantine Rite church united with Rome, was formed in the 19th century as part of the Bulgarian church struggle in order to counter the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and has some 10,000 members today.

Protestant Christianity

Protestantism in its various forms only arrived in the 19th century thanks to missionaries, mainly from the United States. Today it is a quickly growing confession, with membership having doubled from 1991 to 2001. Half of the Protestants in Bulgaria are newly-converted Roma, while the other half are for the most part Bulgarians.


Armenian Apostolic Christianity

The majority of the 10,832 Armenians in Bulgaria are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has an eparchy in the country based in Sofia. Most Armenian Apostolics live in Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna or Burgas.


Judaism

Despite its low number today (1,363), Bulgaria's Jewish population has exerted considerable cultural influence on the country in the past and is still of importance today. The Jews in Bulgaria are concentrated in the larger cities, mostly in the capital Sofia.