Bulgaria has been traditionally a Christian state since the adoption of Christianity as state religion in 865, and therefore the dominant confession is Eastern Orthodoxy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. During the Ottoman rule of the Balkans, Sunni Islam established itself in the territories of Bulgaria; the Catholic Church has roots in the country since the Middle Ages, and Protestantism arrived in the 19th century.
The Constitution of Bulgaria designates Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion of the country, but guarantees the free exercise of religion. Bulgaria has not experienced any significant ethnic or religious confrontation, unlike the case in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The religious communities in the country coexist peacefully. In fact, the capital Sofia is known for its so-called Square of Religious Tolerance; the St Nedelya Church, St Joseph Cathedral, Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue are located within metres of each other in the very centre of the city.
|Bulgarian Orthodox Church||6,552,751||82.64||4,374,135||59.4|
|No religion or no answer||308.116||3.88||2,288,431||31.1|
The results of the Bulgarian census of 2011, in which the indication of answer regarding the question for confession was optional, are as follows:
|Group||Population||% of those who answered||% of the total population|
|Eastern Orthodox Church||4,374,135||76.0%||59.4%|
|None or unspecified||2,288,431||11.8%||31.1%|
|Oriental Orthodox Christianity||1,715||0.0%||0.0%|
|Figure of percentage||-||5,758,301||7,364,570|
The results of the Bulgarian census of 2001 by ethnic groups, the latest census in which the indication of identification (whether by confession or as irreligious) in the question for confession was obligatory, are as follows:
By far the dominant religion in Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, professed by the prevalent ethnic group, the Bulgarians, who are adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Other Orthodox churches represented in the country by minorities are the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox Church and Greek Orthodox Church.
Christianity was established in the First Bulgarian Empire under Boris I in the middle of the 9th century, although it has had its roots in the Balkans since the 1st century and the mission of Apostle Paul. The rise of the Bulgarian Empire made the Bulgarian Orthodox Church autocephalous in 919, becoming the first new Patriarchate to join the initial Pentarchy. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the oldest among the Slavic Orthodox churches and has considerably influenced the rest of the Slavic Orthodox world by means of its rich literary and cultural activity in the Middle Ages, as well as by the invention of the Cyrillic script in Bulgaria.
Catholicism has its roots in Bulgaria and the Middle Ages. It was spread among the Bulgarians by Bulgarianized Saxon ore miners in northwestern Bulgaria (around Chiprovtsi) and by missionaries among the Paulician and Bogomil sectarians, as well as by Ragusan merchants in the larger cities. The total number of the Catholics in the country is around 40,000.
Today the bulk of the Catholic population of Bulgaria lives in Plovdiv Province, centred on Rakovski, as well as in some villages in northern Bulgaria. The Banat Bulgarians are a Bulgarian minority in Romania and Serbia adhering to Catholicism. Besides Bulgarians, among the Catholics are also many foreigners.
The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, a Byzantine Rite church united with Rome, was formed in the 19th century as part of the Bulgarian church struggle in order to counter the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and has some 10,000 members today.
Protestantism in its various forms arrived in the 19th century because of missionaries, mainly from the United States. Today it is a quickly growing confession, with membership having doubled from 1991 to 2001. Half of the Protestants in Bulgaria are newly converted Roma, while the other half are for the most part Bulgarians. The Union of Evangelical Congregational Churches in Bulgaria is a fruit of American missionaries in the 19th century.
A 2015 study estimates 45,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in the country, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.
The majority of the 10,832 Armenians in Bulgaria are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has an eparchy in the country based in Sofia. Most Armenian Apostolics live in Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna or Burgas.
According to the 2011 census 21.8% of the Bulgarians did not respond to the question about religion, while a further 9.3% declared a strong stance of irreligion (atheism, agnosticism).
Islam is the largest minority religion in Bulgaria. It is professed by the Turkish minority, the Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks) and some of the Roma. The former two are concentrated in the Rhodopes, a massif in southern Bulgaria, but are present in clusters in other parts of the country, e.g. the Turks in the Ludogorie region and the Pomaks in the Rhodopes and some villages in northern Bulgaria.
Islam arrived with the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the Balkans in the 14th-15th century. Turkish notables settled in the larger cities (Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna, etc.), while peasants from Anatolia arrived in the Ludogorie and the Rhodopes. Many Orthodox Christians and Paulicians converted to Islam, often voluntarily due to the peculiarities of the Ottoman millet system, but sometimes forcefully. After the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 many of the Muslims left Bulgaria, but others chose to remain.
Despite its low number today (706), Bulgaria's Jewish population has exerted considerable cultural influence on the country in the past and is still of importance today. The Jews in Bulgaria are concentrated in the larger cities, mostly in the capital Sofia. It should be noted, however, that the present reported number of Jewish adherents in Bulgaria is not necessarily reflective of the actual number, given that over 1.6 million members of the population did not disclose religious affiliation.