PATRIARCH EVTIMII OF BULGARIA
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BIOGRAPHY: Patriarch Evtimy — Clergyman, Writer and Public Figure
by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Miliana Kaimakamova
Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"
The 14th c. is a memorable period in the history of the Bulgarian State and culture. Like in the reign of Prince Boris I (852-889) and King Simeon (893-927) Bulgaria was once again “a state of spirituality”.
Scholars and writers of the Turnovo School created the new Golden Age of Bulgarian culture, and the capital regained its status of centre of new ideas and great personalities. They gave impetus to the spiritual life of the Eastern Orthodox Slavic community. Serbia, Russia, Wallachia, and Moldavia adopted the Bulgarian model of cultural development in the 15th-17th c. The mission of Bulgarian culture goes beyond the boundaries of the country. The crown of this historical spiritual activity is the deeds and writings of Patriarch Evtimiy.
Evtimiy was born cir. 1332-1335 in Turnovo and his ancestry is related to the boyar family of the Tzamblaks. In 1350 he entered the Kilifar Monastery, recently founded by Theodosius of Turnovo. In 1363 Evtimiy went with Theodosious to Constantinople and spent some time at the Studite Monastery, known for its centre of learning and the rich library. There Evtimiy became well-known “among men who liked to reflect on things and to practice in spiritual perfection”, i.e. among the educated clergy.
In 1365 Evtimiy went to one of the greatest centres of the Eastern Orthodox Church – Aton. Many outstanding thinkers and scholars lived there in the first half of the 14th c. – Grigoriy Sinait, Grigoriy Palama, Calist Philotei, and John Kukuzel, the Bulgarian scholar John with his disciples. They all left their names in the cultural heritage of the Orthodox world as writers and reformers of spiritual life in the Balkans in the 14th c. Later on Evtimiy moved to the Zograph Monastery. It was there that he first reflected on the spelling reform and planned corrections in the translations of the sacred books.
In 1371 Evtimiy returned to Bulgaria and founded a monastery near Turnovo called “Holy Trinity”. The legacy of Evtimiy of Turnovo is of extreme importance for the Bulgarian people. He discarded the old translations of the sacred books, full of mistakes, and supplied the peoples of eastern orthodox faith, using Old Bulgarian, with new translations. Thus he also destroyed all motives for disputes among Christians and for heresies. Grigoriy Tzamblak compares Evtimiy’s work to the work of Moses the legislator and that of the Egyptian King Ptolomy, the lover of books.
In 1375 Evtimiy was elected Patriarch of Bulgaria. As head of the Church the eminent Bulgarian made legitimate “the correction of the books” in order to impose his linguistic, spelling and literary reform. Thus he set the foundation for a religious and national unity of the Bulgarians on the eve of the Ottoman invasion. Prof. R. Picio writes in this connection: “The participation of Patriarch Evtimiy in the initial stage of this international “philological revival” indicates that his efforts in the field of culture are akin to those of Petrarca and Boccaccio”.
In his “In Praise of Evtimiy” Grigoriy Tzamblak describes most accurately the authority of Evtimiy among his contemporaries in Bulgaria and the neighbouring Christian peoples: “His virtues attracted not only most of the people of Bulgarian origin whom he considered to be his fate as an apostle, but also all people in the North – up to the ocean, and in the West – as far as Ilirik. To set their eyes on him was for them a great privilege. And if they could listen to him, this was real salvation…”
The true greatness of the last Bulgarian Patriarch, as spiritual leader of his people, came after the conquering of the capital Turnovo by the Turks in 1393. The Turks destroyed the fruits of his work and endeavours in front of his eyes, says Tzamblak. But “like the heroic leader, who, defeated by his enemies, never despairs and summons his soldiers for victory”, the Patriarch of Turnovo summoned the people to the “Sts. Peter and Paul” church and started preaching the Bulgarian faith. The legend has it that the hand of the hangman went numb when he was trying to kill the holy Patriarch.
Patriarch Evtimiy was sent in exile to the Bachkovo Monastery. There he created a school whose fame quickly spread all over the Balkan Peninsula. Evtimiy of Turnovo convinced those who were forced to adopt the Islam “to reject the darkness of the Saracen disgrace” and till his death in 1402 he was making efforts to protects the people from Islamization.
The light of Evtimiy’s life and work still shines over neighbouring and far away countries. “For Russia the Turnovo School of learning played a decisive role for three successive centuries”, writes in this connection the eminent Russian scholar Acad. Dmitriy Lihachov.