Prominent Bulgarian priest’s grave found in Edirne after years

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A tomb of a Bulgarian priest has been discovered in the northwestern province of Edirne amid strife between the Fener Greek Patriarchate and the Bulgarian religious authorities.

Conducting various studies and field works on Thrace’s history in Edirne, Mustafa Gültekin, a local historian, photographed and registered tombstones during his research in the Catholic Cemetery in the city’s Karaağaç neighborhood.

Later, it was revealed that one of the gravestones photographed by Gültekin belonged to Rafael Popov, a top clergyman and one of the important figures in the history of Bulgaria.

The discovery of the tomb of Popov, one of the most significant names of the independent Bulgarian church movement launched against the Fener Greek Patriarchate, once more coincided with a period of conflict between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarian religious authorities.

Claiming to represent all Orthodox Christians in Istanbul, the Fener Greek Patriarchate recently appointed Haralambi Nichev – who was excommunicated as a priest from the Bulgarian church for disobedience – when the priest of St. Stephen Church, Angel Velkov, who has been serving the Bulgarian community in Istanbul for 15 years, asked for his retirement for personal reasons.

Parts of the Bulgarian community in Istanbul and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church consider this move as a sanction.

“Popov was one of the 744 people at a council held in the Vatican. These councils are not very gathered in history. They have gathered only twice in the Vatican,” Gültekin said, adding that the discovery is seen as “very important.”

The discovery to which Rumen Ivanov, an academic from Plovdiv University, made great contributions, also aroused great interest across Bulgaria.

“An episcopal crown is depicted on the tombstone, indicating that the buried person was a high-ranking church official. The full name of the deceased is partially preserved. It can be seen that the tomb belongs to Rafael Dobrev (Dobryov) Popov, a Bulgarian revivalist who participated in the struggle for the independent Bulgarian church,” Ivanov said, noting that the revivalist took the name Rafael Popov after he was appointed as bishop.

Hristo Kopano from the Bulgarian community in Istanbul and a member of the board of the Bulgarian Exarchate Foundation described Popov as one of the pioneers of a movement that emerged in the 19th century for the establishment of an independent Bulgarian church against the Fener Patriarchate’s policies of Hellenizing the Bulgarian people.

Stating that Popov passed away in 1876, Kopano underlined that Popov was the founder of the Edirne Bulgarian Uniyat Church and the Edirne Bulgarian University Priest’s School.

“The rediscovery of the burial place in Edirne reminds us of a person who has sunk into oblivion in Bulgarian history and his period,” Kopano said.

Hurriyet Daily News

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