Bulgarian bishops galore

Regular readers of GetReligion will appreciate this story in today's Toledo Blade concerning the consecration of an Orthodox bishop. The story entitled "Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop" by religion beat professional David Yonke is nicely crafted. It balances the news of the consecration of Dr. Alexander Golitzin with  just the right amount of human interest. It is a really good local news religion story. It begins:

Nearly five years after the bishop's chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today's consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

"Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution," said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. "Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful."

The story presents some interesting bits about the new bishop's background -- studies at Oxford under Kalistos Ware, a year at Mt Athos, professor at Marquette University, and a touch of Hollywood (nephew of art director Alexander Golitzin -- winner of Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.)

The article also gives background on the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America: its history, previous bishops and demographics. All in all a great local news story.

My question for GetReligion readers is whether it would have been appropriate to mention that there are two Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses belonging to two different churches in the U.S? The article states up front that this consecration is for the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). However there is also a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia that is part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.

The article states the:

Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The other diocese is based in New York and around 25 congregations and monasteries. There is a degree of bad blood between the two groups -- and there is a rivalry between the OCA and the Sofia-based Bulgarian Orthodox Church (as well as with some of the other ethnic Orthodox Churches in the U.S.) This article from a Russian-based website claims that ethnic Bulgarians in the OCA's Bulgarian diocese are upset with the influx of non-Bulgarian clergy and want to jump ship.

Bulgarians living in the U.S. and Canada are gathering signatures on the petition to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church. The letter will contain a request to the Synod about the transfer on Bulgarian parishes that are currently under the jurisdiction of the OCA, to the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. This jurisdiction, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, currently has 27 parishes and monasteries.

The petitions states that today 80 percent of the clergy in Bulgarian churches are not Bulgarian, do not celebrate the feast days of Bulgarian saints, or observe Bulgarian national holidays and traditions.

The Toledo Blade article does not mention the other diocese, and uses language that would lead someone not familiar with the Bulgarian Orthodox ecclesial scene to believe this is the only Bulgarian game in town. The article does speak to the transition from an ethnic to an American church -- a point of contention for some in the church -- but does not develop this angle.

My point, however, is not to play the game of spot the real Bulgarian bishop -- but to raise the underlying journalistic question of how to deal with schisms and splits and multiple claimants to a church brand name. Who is the "real" Bulgarian bishop? It is the same question as "who is the real Anglican?"

While there are a plethora of Protestant denominations sharing a Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran or congregational background -- the Orthodox Churches (as well as the Episcopalians) have an ecclesial self-identity that does not contemplate multiple expressions of a single polity. In the Orthodox polity -- as well as Anglican polity -- there is only one bishop in a city. Yet the reality is that there are overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions and with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America there is now a rival to the Episcopal Church.

Where does the reporter's duty lie in explaining or articulating for his readers these schisms? In the Toledo Blade article highlighted in this story should there have been a line mentioning the other Bulgarian Orthodox body? In stories that reach a national audience, should the distinctions between rival claimants be noted?

How much information is too much? How little is too little? Does it make a difference to the story? And -- if a distinction is made, is it proper for a journalist to separate Bulgarian sheep from Bulgarian goats? What say you GetReligion readers?

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