Religions in Bulgaria

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Bulgaria is traditionally a Christian state since the establishment of Christianity in the country in the First Bulgarian Empire, under Boris I, in the 9th century. It did however have roots in the Balkans since the 1st century and the mission of Apostle Paul. It was influenced by the Khan´s changing political alliances with the kingdom of East Franks and the Byzantine Empire, partnered by his reception by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the oldest among the Slavic Orthodox churches and has largely influenced the rest of the Slavic Orthodox sphere, especially in its rich literary and cultural activity in the Middle Ages, as well as the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The dominant confession is Orthodoxy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Although other religions are also practiced, Bulgaria has not yet suffered any large scale ethnico-religious confrontation or outbursts. The religious communities of Bulgaria so exist in peace and the freedom to practice a religion of your choice, and religious equality are included in the constitution of Bulgaria, as a right for every citizen.

The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is known for it´s vast range of religions. The city has been labeled the Triangle of Religious tolerance, as the city houses the St. Nedelya Orthodox Church, the Sofia Synagogue and the Banya Bashi Mosque. These 3 buildings are located within metres of one another in the city centre. The synagogue and the mosque remain the sole in the city, whereas 96% of the population in Sofia are Orthodox, according to the 2001 census, so there are dozens of Orthodox churches spread throughout the city.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia.

Banya Bashi Mosque.

Sofia Synagogue.

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

Roman Catholicism also has its roots in Bulgaria and the Middle Ages. It was spread among the Bulgarians by Saxon ore miners in northwestern Bulgaria and by missionaries in the larger cities. The total number of Roman Catholics in the country is around 40,000.

Today the largest Roman Catholic population of Bulgaria lives in Plovdiv Province, centred around Rakovski, as well as in some villages in the north of Bulgaria. Many foreigners also make up the figures of the Roman Catholic population.

The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church (formed in the 19th century) a Byzantine Rite church united with Rome and has some 10,000 members today.

Protestant Christianity, in its various forms was introduced in the 19th century because of missionaries, mainly from America. Today it is a fast growing confession, with membership that has doubled between 1991 and 2001. Approximately 50% of all the Protestants in Bulgaria are newly-converted Roma, while the other half are for the most part Bulgarians.

Islam is the largest minority religion in Bulgaria. Islam was introduced with the Ottoman Turkish conquest in the Balkans in the 14th-15th century. The Turkish settled in the larger cities (Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna), while peasants settled in the Ludogorie and the Rhodopes. In 1878 many Muslims left Bulgaria after the Liberation of Bulgaria.

Islam is practised by the Turkish minority, the Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks) and the Roma. Most are concentrated in southern Bulgaria, but are also present in groups in other parts of the country, e.g. the Turkish in the Ludogorie region and the Pomaks in the Rhodopes and some villages in northern Bulgaria.

The smaller minorities, include the Armenian Apostolic Christianity, which includes most of the 10,832 Armenians in Bulgaria attending the Armenian Apostolic Church, based in Sofia.

The Jewish population of Bulgaria is quite low today at 1,363, however they have exerted notable cultural influence on the country which is still important today. Most of the Jewish population reside in Sofia.

Buddhism is another small minority religion in Bulgaria, with around 1,000 practioners. The Vietnamese community in Bulgaria traditionally practices Mahayana Buddhism along with Ancestor Worship. Some of the buddhist believers in Bulgaria are of Chinese descent, and a small number of native Bulgarians are converts to Buddhism. Shechen has a mountain retreat center not far away from Sofia; access is granted to members and it is not generally open to the public.

The following was taken from Wikipedia: According to the Bulgarian census of 2001 regarding ethnicity and religion the most numerous religious groups in the country are: