Breaking Down Barriers in Bulgaria

BY llewis | 31 May 2013 |

Breaking Down Barriers in Bulgaria

by Tiffany Randall & Ian Shaw, Langham Scholars

Kameliya Slacheva defending her thesis.

Kameliya Slacheva defending her thesis.

In Bulgaria, 76% of the population belongs to the Orthodox Church, and Protestant evangelicals are generally viewed with suspicion. None of the evangelicals who had applied to the University of Sofia Orthodox Theological Faculty (the only PhD programme for theology available in Bulgaria) had passed the entrance exam. That is, until lawyer and theologian Kameliya Slavcheva made the attempt. She says about this experience:

‘From the beginning I was assured in God’s guidance and in the fact that He made things to happen. I knew that I was not accidentally in the Orthodox Theological Faculty. To be able to take the required exams, I had to learn Orthodox theology and understand and use Orthodox terminology. It was hard, but now it helps me a lot. First, because now I have many friends among my colleagues and teachers with whom I was for four years. Second, the Orthodox theology expanded my knowledge.’

During her studies, Kameliya consulted closely with another Langham Scholar, Dr Parush Parushev, who is the Academic Dean of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. As a result of her doctoral studies, she has become one of the premier experts on human rights and religious freedoms in her region, a vital topic where the religious rights of minorities are often ignored. God has opened amazing doors through her study. Kameliya now has opportunities to teach Church law within the Theological Faculty of Sofia University, as well as teaching on Masters-level courses at the New Bulgarian University. She also serves as Dean at the St Trivelius Institute, where she teaches her students ways to defend their religious rights and freedoms.

She says about her support from Langham,

‘a major difficulty was finding the time and resources to be able to read and do my research related to the doctorate. I had to work all day to take care of my family, take the time for the children and read at night. It was really difficult. Then Langham decided to support me. This gave me the opportunity to travel to find the literature that I needed and participate in various conferences, and to meet with different theologians.’

On April 10, 2013, after her public defence Kameliya received a unanimous vote by her doctoral committee to award her the degree, making her the first Protestant student to receive a PhD degree in Theology from a Bulgarian university, and the youngest Bulgarian Protestant to hold a PhD. Her public defense in Sofia was attended by people from Protestant, Orthodox, and Armenian churches, as well as the Union for Interreligious Dialogue and the Department of Ecclesiastical Matters.  Following in her footsteps are ten more Protestants who are now enrolled at the Theological Faculty of Sofia University. Dr Slavcheva has helped to build a bridge between Orthodox and Evangelical churches in her country, and to deepen understanding of religious freedoms and human rights, all to the glory of God.

 

Kemeliya Slavcheva with her husband Ivo and one of their sons.

Kemeliya Slavcheva with her husband Ivo and one of their sons.