- Bulgaria is relatively close to the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople (Istanbul), and the Orthodox Church came to dominate its Christian community. Its position was shaken during four centuries of ottoman Turkish rule, but reinforced with independence in 1878 under a king related to the Russian czar. Communist rulers (1945-91) tended to persecute Catholics and Protestants more than the orthodox.The Muslims allowed Orthodoxy to stand during the centuries of Turkish rule, but approximately 11 percent of the public today are Muslim believers. Periodically, Roman Catholicism attempted to gain a foothold, the majority of present-day Catholics deriving from a Franciscan mission set up in the 18th century.Protestants began their mission in 1850 with the arrival of Congregationalists from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Methodists soon followed, but their work was small compared to that begun by Baptists (1865), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1891), and Pentecostals from Russia (1921). By World War II, the Pentecostals had become the largest segment of the Protestant community.Like the Catholics, the Protestants suffered greatly during the years of Communist rule, though the situation improved some in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the coming of a post-Marxist government in 1991, a spectrum of conservative Protestant churches have initiated evangelistic activity. Pentecostals remain by far the largest of the new groups, with the Pentecostal union of Bulgaria and the Church of God claiming the allegiance of almost 50 percent of the Protestant community between them.Protestants number several hundred thousand, as compared with the 6-million-member Bulgarian Orthodox Church. In the face of charges that they constituted a cult (in Europe a "sect"), in 1993 a number of the Protestant and Free Church groups banded together as the united Evangelical Churches. The government accorded them some recognition and allowed members to take official days off on several church-designated holidays. Some of the more conservative churches and organizations formed the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, which is aligned internationally with the World Evangelical Alliance.Further reading:■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ P. B. Mojzes, A History of the Congregational and Methodist Churches in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia (Boston: Boston University Ph.D. dissertation, 1965)■ P. Stoynov, Churches and Religions in the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria (Sofia: Synodal Publishing House, 1975).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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