Encourager of Methodists in Communist Bulgaria
The following story is submitted by Rev. Keith Berry. Rev. Berry visited Bulgaria with his late wife Marcia in 1992 while a member of the World Methodist Council.
After a long and complex history, the modern nation of Bulgaria was established in 1870. The government declared that Eastern Orthodox Christianity should be their national religion. A small number of Muslims, Catholics, Jews and Protestants were allowed to live alongside the majority population, but their denominations were classified as sects.
In 1946 the Bulgarian Communist Party came into power. This tall building was their seat of government. The Communists confined the Orthodox Patriarch to a monastery, placed the Bulgarian Orthodox Church under state control, closed most church buildings and began imprisoning the clergy from most denominations.
Among the first pastors arrested by the Communists was a Methodist leader named Simeon Popov. In 1949, Mr. Popov was arrested for being anti-communist. He was sentenced to 6½ years of hard labor in a prison work camp.
When released, he began handwriting letters of encouragement to people who had lost their pastors. Each letter was filled with words of scripture and prayer to be read in the privacy of a home. During the 1960’s he wrote five times a year to people at 1,300 different addresses. In order to avoid being caught by the authorities, he and his friends mailed no more than one letter at a time in any one mail box. They walked countless miles at night to post these letters in distant places.
Then a friend gave Mr. Popov a copy machine. This was noticed by some Communist authorities, and they made him stop writing. He was sent to another location and forced to work packaging walnuts. But even in that job, Simeon Popov secretly included Christian literature in certain walnut bags, and labeled each one with the code word “Food!”
In 1990, the frail pastor died from an illness which he had contracted while in prison.