Bulgarian Alternative Synod
The Bulgarian Alternative Synod, also Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Alternative synod, is a group in a schism with the Church of Bulgaria that after the fall of the Bulgarian communist government in 1989 claimed to be the sole legitimate Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.
After the fall of the communist government in Bulgaria, the new government, in 1991, established a Board of Religious Affairs that began to initiate reforms in the country’s religious institutions. In March 1992 the board ruled that the 1971 election of Patriarch Maxim was illegal because his appointment by the then communist government was uncanonical. This pronouncement created a division among the church hierarchy in which one group of three bishops led by Metropolitan Pimen of Nevrokop called publicly for Maxim’s deposition. By 1996 the dispute hardened into a deep division when Metropolitan Pimen was installed, on July 4, as a rival Patriarch of an alternative synod. This action was anathematized by the Holy Synod supporting Patr. Maxim.
When the Bulgarian President, Petar Stoyanov was sworn in, in January 1997, Metr. Pimen led the blessing, then in March 1997 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the registration of Maxim’s Holy Synod was invalid. To reconcile the schism, President Stoyanov, in January 1998, called for the resignation of both Patriarchs so that with the election of a single successor an end would made of the schism. But, this effort for reconciliation failed. In 1999, Pimen died and a successor was not immediately elected. In 2001, Pres. Stoyanov failed to win re-election.
Under the new socialist government the Religious Denominations Act of 2002 was passed by the government that attempted to end the divisions in the Church by prohibiting different church groups from using the same name for registration. After a complaint filed by Patr. Maxim against the alternative Synod, the Bulgarian authorities began eviction of persons "unlawfully occupying" church properties. On the night of July 20-21, 2004, priests of the Alternative Synod were forcibly evicted from about 250 churches and other properties that the Holy Synod claimed were illegally occupying, resulting in the clergy from the Alternative Synod holding religious services outside of the churches from which they had been evicted.
In 2008, the Alternative Synod held an election for the new leader, and Metropolitan Inokentii was elected as the ruling hierarch. In a suit by the Alternative Synod in 2009, the European Court of Human Rights found that the government of Bulgaria through the Religious Denominations Act of 2002 forced a predetermined solution to unite two groups under a single leadership that was unlawful and unnecessary and had gone against the organizational autonomy of the Church. In a second finding in 2010, the court also awarded damages of EUR 50,000 to the "Inokentii" synod.
In 2010, Metropolitan Inokentii called for a healing of the division between the churches.