Drowned bishop a symbol of Bulgaria's blurred loyalties

Tue Jul 16, 2013 2:59pm EDT
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By Tsvetelia Tsolova

VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) - The death last week of one of Bulgaria's most senior bishops, found floating in the Black Sea wearing a snorkel and flippers, was mysterious in its own right, but it was only the final chapter in an enigmatic life.

In the days after Bishop Cyril of Varna, 59, was found dead, a picture emerged of a man respected by many but who had also spied for the communist-era secret police, brokered land deals that raised questions and driven a luxury Lincoln sedan given to him by a local businessman.

Through it all, he was never investigated or disciplined, making him a kind of symbol of modern Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member, where graft and organized crime often go unpunished and where many people feel public institutions - from the Church to the government - have betrayed their trust.

The funeral of the Orthodox Christian clergyman last Thursday in Varna, on the Black Sea coast, was attended by hundreds of mourners, including the Bulgarian president.

Also among the mourners was 72-year-old Ginka Petrova. Her memories of Bishop Cyril were tied in to the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid he drove around in. The car's price is listed now at $35,000, or five times the annual wage of the average Bulgarian.

Petrova, who sings in a Varna church choir, recalled the bishop's appearance in the car on Epiphany, a holy day in the Orthodox faith celebrated on January 6 each year.

"It is a pity," she said. "He did not get out of the car but sprinkled people with holy water ... through the car window."

His death caused speculation in Bulgaria's media about possible foul play - not surprisingly in a country where mafia-style hits were for years commonplace. An autopsy concluded he had died of drowning and found no signs he had been attacked.   Continued...

People pray during a funeral mass for Bishop Cyril at a cathedral in Varna, some 450 km (280 miles) northeast of Sofia July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov