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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.

With his help we found the old parish church of the Parish “Saint Mironosizi” in Anakasa, Agii Anargiri. After that we spoke with the former consul Mr. Nikolai Karaivanov, who is a great patriot, so he took the idea very personally as well. With his help we spoke with the ambassador of Bulgaria in Greece Mr. Andrei Karaslavov and so we filed a request to the Bishopric of Athens, so that we can get the church. The governor of the Bishopric of Attica, Bishop Nikolai was happy to give us the church. The municipality of Athens helped us a lot too and especially mayor Mr. Nikolaos Sarandis. With the help of the Directorate of Religious Affairs and the Director back then Prof. Ivan Zhelev we were granted financial aid, with which we repaired the temple, because it was not used for almost ten years. We set the opening day of the church to be March 9, 2008, because then we celebrate the honor of the 40 Martyrs. Then it was also the start of Lent and we know that it is a new beginning for every Orthodox Christian.

The way Lent is a new beginning, we decided to set a new beginning for the Bulgarian community in Greece. On March 9 we served the first Holy liturgy and named the church after Bulgarian patron Saint Ivan Rilski – not only that he is the highest Bulgarian Saint but we also wanted to popularize his honor on Greek soil, because as we know his right is kept in Greece on Tinos island in the Kehrovounio monastery. It got here in an unknown way – there are many versions and in the future we plan to bring it to the church so people can pray to it.

How did your neighbors accept you?

Many of our neighbors come to confess here and I often ask them about the language barrier. They tell me “we like coming here, because this is our Bishopric church”. They were very happy when they learned that their old Bishopric church is opening doors again. Otherwise, there are negative people everywhere but they are much less than the ones who wish good to the church. There are many people in the neighborhood, who will help me whenever I knock on their door.

Not too long ago you celebrated the second anniversary of the church “Saint Ivan Rilski” in Athens. How did it go?

The Bulgarian church “Saint Ivan Rilski” celebrated its church holiday on October 24 and 25, for the second time after its foundation. Despite the rain our fellow countrymen and women filled the church, many of them even stood in front of it, because there was no room inside.

Have there been changes in the Bulgarian community for the past few years?

This is a very strong word. The only thing I have noticed – it was harder before…there were many legal problems, people couldn’t go back to Bulgaria often, there were even people who haven’t gone back in years. Now it is easier – there are so many busses leaving for Bulgaria daily.

You know that now at the border we only show our ID. Back then people needed many cultural events in comparison to now. I am very happy that the Bulgarian school here is becoming bigger. It employs many decent people – teachers, who do not waste time, because the Bulgarian community here is about to get even bigger. All those children should not be born here and left without knowing their native language. I have even heard many Greeks say – how is it possible for your children not to speak your native language?!?! So we can learn some national dignity from them. When we need to, to be able to say proud that we are Bulgarians. And not just to wave flags. This is how changes happened – borders opened and people can move freely.

I believe it is bad that people pay too much attention to everyday life. I would recommend to everybody to spend one hour per day for themselves, because some people have taken the road to somewhere and they have even forgotten that they exist. And a person is not a robot. And sooner or later something can bring the fatal end. So I believe every person should separate some time for him or herself – to relax, because with the rhythm “Go fast” we will not get anywhere.

Are there plans to create a cultural center in Athens?

The church, school and the cultural center are the three main factors, which keep up the Bulgarian spirit in Athens and if you wish – in Greece. When you asked me this question I remembered the fable by Petko Rachov Slavejkov “Eagle, crab and pike*”. Here everybody pulls to wherever they like. We will not achieve anything this way. We have made some gatherings. I would like to take the occasion and thank the Bulgarian school for their trust in me. But if we do not unite, nothing will happen. There are so many associations – you pay in court, gather 20 people, sign and you have an association. But the association needs to be one – a Bulgarian community (I do not mean the Rosen Hristov association) and that’s it… Everybody here wants to distinguish him/herself – the personal ego has gone above and beyond…

There are alternatives to everything – to the Bulgarian church, to the associations, newspapers, radios and to whatever… This speaks very badly about us. We are the most divided of all nations.

It maybe because there are too many Bulgarians in Greece?!

I do not believe this is the reason. There are many Albanians too. It is all about consciousness. To dull the ego and all personal interests. The embassy helps as much as it can but there is a proverb that says “God helps you but cannot get inside a cage”.

* Eagle, crab and pike fable by Petko Rachov Slavejkov

Eagle and crab and pike

I don’t know for what fluke

Such work they had to do

To pull together a car

And so they start

They pull and pull

And they will burst from pulling

But the car does not move.

They could move it easy

But the eagle has wings

And he pulls up high

The crab – pulls back

And the pike – down deep.

Who is right and who wrong – I don’t know.

The car is still there.

Divided company – they cannot help each other.


Tags: Bulgarians in Greece Bulgarian church in Greece Christian Orthodox
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