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Bulgarians are the most divided nation in Greece

25 November 2009 / 21:11:56  GRReporter
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Marina Nikolova

If I try to briefly present Father Athanasiy, I will start with the fact that he is an extremely active young cleric, who until now has managed to create a Bulgarian church in Athens, parallel to this he is writing a Masters in the Athens Theology School and he is intending to continue his education for a Ph.D. Here is how he describes himself and speaks through his own point of view about the Bulgarian community in Greece by noting that it is not one of the most united and that Bulgarians are extremely superstitious.

Father Athanasiy, tell me something more about yourself and how you decided to come to Athens?

I was born in 1983 in Yambol. I have graduated from the seminary “Saint Kiril and Methodiy” in Plovdiv in 2002. By the decision of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox church I was sent to continue my education in the Athens Theology School. On May 2, 2003 I became a monk in the monastery “Saint Athanasiy” near Zlatna Livada in Chirpan region. My spiritual mentor was the dean, back then, of the Plovdiv seminary and now – abbot of the Rila Monastery, Bishop Evlogiy. On the same day a year later I was consecrated in deacon’s rank and parallel to this I was continuing my education here in Athens. On September 4, 2005 I was consecrated as a priest in the cathedral “Saint Dimitriy” in Stara Zagora by the current Archbishop Dimotika, Orestiada and Soufli – Damaskin. I graduated in 2007 from the Theology School in Athens and after that I applied for a Master degree in the Theology Department of Athens University, majoring in Dogma History. The thesis I am working on is “Emergence and development of monarchy”.

I know you are the one responsible for the creation of the Bulgarian church in Athens. it must have been hard…

The church has been open for almost two years. We needed this church because as we know there are tens of thousands of Bulgarians living in Attica region. Some of them are here purely for economic reasons. It is hard for them keep their obligations as Christians. Even though Greeks are orthodox Christians, sometimes the language barrier is hard and priests cannot communicate freely with the people. I have been serving in a church in Athens for five years, where once a month we were gathering and performing a mass in Bulgarian. My experience shows me that many Bulgarians, who have sought help from Greek priests, have not been able to find it because of the language barrier. Many times Greek priests have called and asked me to translate—in other words, there is desire to help on the Greek side.

What exactly is this help?

It depends. But let us not start the financial help topic. Every church has a fund for the poor – I have received such calls…and they have told me such things over the phone (priests that I know and I know what they are) that I don’t want even to think about the fact that such things can be done. I have been trying to prove for years that there is Orthodoxy in Bulgaria but unfortunately some of our fellow men and women help in making this image darker. With pain in my heart I can say that our nation is very divided…

The church can provide spiritual help, to open an arm and help anyone in need.

The Bulgarian church here is in a suburb of Athens. Except for holidays do people come for masses or for other occasions?

Masses are served on Sundays and on big holidays. Many of our fellow countrymen work during the week and they can come to church only on Sundays. This is exactly why we decided to celebrate the Day of Saint Ivan Rilski on the closest Sunday after the exact date – October 19.

I believe that those celebrations should lift the mood of everybody. If people want to come, they will do it no matter how far away from the church they live. They say – if they gave us a church close to Omonia, if it was here or there – for me this is only an excuse not to go to church. People say the church is far away but no one thinks about how we got to here – to have this small church, even if it is a bit far away from the center of the city.

I have been down to the center and I have visited Bulgarian places – you will not be surprised that all bars and restaurants are filled with people. I have said many times that our people are not religious but traditional. I would also say they are very superstitious too. Some time back people started talking about a cleric in Salamina, who spoiled spells. Many people called me – “I have a spell on me and I went to Father Nektarious to take it away”. There they fall, scream, etc and after a while it came out that this Father Nektarious was a fraud, who is not even belong to the official Greek church. So with pain in my heart I can admit that Bulgarians do not hold dear to their hearts the church.

Here is the moment to express my gratitude to the Primate of the church I used to work in Iliyas Drosinos. Few years ago he gave us the church and the hall next to the church so we can gather after liturgies, but the need of our own church was evident. I shared this thought with the current Archbishop Dimotika Damaskin. He took it very closely. He is an open minded person, who loves the Bulgarian community and all foreigners – mostly Orthodox ones, who live far away from their home country.

Tags: Bulgarians in Greece Bulgarian church in Greece Christian Orthodox
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