The Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, has decided to include a blessing for Simeon Saxe-Coburg as “His Majesty Simeon II, Tsar of the Bulgarians” in public and private worship.
The proposal was made to the Holy Synod by Nikolai, Metropolitan of Plovdiv.
Born in 1937, Saxe-Coburg became king of Bulgaria in 1943 after the sudden death of his father, Boris III.
Because he was a minor, there was a regency of three. On the communist takeover in Bulgaria at the end of World War 2, a “People’s Court” process was initiated which led to thousands of deaths, including the execution of the regents.
Saxe-Coburg and his family went into exile. A referendum in 1946, under communist rule and with Soviet troops still present in Bulgaria, was said officially to have produced a result of 97 per cent in favour of the abolition of the monarchy.
Bulgaria’s current constitution, approved in 1991 after the fall of communism, makes no reference to the monarchy. Bulgaria has a head of state elected by popular vote, a President with a two-term limit.
After the end of communism, Saxe-Coburg returned to the country. Reports that he would seek the presidency came to nothing, apparently as the result of machinations against him by the centre-right government of the time.
However, with a political party formed around him, the National Movement Simeon II, Saxe-Coburg won a landslide victory in scheduled parliamentary elections in 2001. He formed a government with himself as prime minister.
Disillusionment led to a much-diminished performance in subsequent 2005 elections, in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party won the largest single share of votes. Saxe-Coburg took his party into the BSP-led tripartite coalition that had stewardship of the country for the ensuing four years.
Subsequent electoral defeats saw Saxe-Coburg step down as leader of the party, renamed the National Movement for Stability and Progress.
Regarding relations with the church, it has been the practice of Saxe-Coburg not to sit in the seat set aside in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral set aside for Bulgaria’s monarch.
However, it was known that at the time that he was head of government, Saxe-Coburg preferred being addressed as “Your Majesty”.
Defenders of the monarchy also cite the custom that a monarch who has not abdicated remains a monarch. In the Bulgarian context, the referendum that ousted the monarchy is suspected, at very least in the extent of its result, as having been fraudulent.
The April 2015 decision by the Holy Synod spells out when Saxe-Coburg (“His Majesty Simeon II, Tsar of the Bulgarians”) should mentioned, in a number of liturgies important in Bulgarian church ritual.
Dveri, a website specialising in coverage of Bulgarian church affairs, said that one the reasons for the decision was the questions raised in some media about the attitude of the church towards Saxe-Coburg, with some church leaders who had felt accused of inconsistency.
However, the website also noted that the decision on honouring Saxe-Coburg had been posted on the Holy Synod’s website and then removed a few hours later, with the reasons why remaining to be clarified.
Bulgarian media reports said that on May 2, in the great basilica of one of Bulgaria’s ancient former capitals, Pliska, the head of the church, Patriarch Neofit, would confer on Saxe-Coburg the church’s highest honour, the St Ivan Rilski Medal.
The news has not been received with univeral enthusiasm. Some scathing Bulgarian-language media reports said that it seemed that the church had decided that Bulgaria had two heads of state, elected President Rossen Plevneliev and former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg.