The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is an important part of Bulgarian
national identity. The church played a role in preserving Bulgarian culture during
Ottoman occupation as well as during the communist regime.
After the fall of communism in 1989, the Orthodox Church experienced a revival. The Church was divided along political lines during the 1990's, but reunited in 1998. Traditional church holidays are observed widely and Christmas is celebrated with great ceremony.
Baptism is considered the most important ritual in establishing
individual identity. It was so important to Bulgarians that the communists introduced
a ceremony called "civil baptism."
The Muslim population in Bulgaria consists mainly of the Turks, most of whom live in the northwestern regions and the Rhodope Mountains. Some Bulgarians converted to Islam during Ottoman rule. Towards the end of the communist period, the Muslims were pressured to conform to Bulgarian culture and adopt Slavonic names. Muslims have had greater religious freedom since the fall of communism in 1989. New mosques have been built in many cities and villages.
Roman Catholic missionaries tried unsuccessfully to convert
Bulgarians to the Catholic faith during the 9th century. They renewed their efforts
in the 16th century and converted small numbers of Bulgarians. Today, most Roman
Catholics live in Ruse, Sofia or Plovdiv.
Protestantism was introduced to Bulgaria by American missionaries in the 19th century. The Protestants established schools, clinics and youth clubs. Because of their American connections, the Protestants suffered more political persecution from the communists than any other religious group. All church property was confiscated and the churches' legal status was revoked. Protestantism has experienced a revival since the fall of communism.
Before the Second World War, Bulgaria had a Jewish population
of about 55,000 people. Tsar Boris III did not support Germany's anti-Jewish policy
and blocked orders to deport Bulgarian Jews. Bulgaria was the only country allied
with Germany that saved Jewish residents from the Holocaust. Many received transit
visas to safe places out of Bulgaria. Most Bulgarian Jews emigrated to Israel after