Most citizens of Bulgaria are associated — at least nominally — to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It was founded in 870 AD under the Patriarchate of Constantinople from which it obtained its first primate, its clergy and theological texts. It has been autocephalous since 927. The Bulgarian Patriarchate was established in Sofia after the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate, in 1870. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the independent national church of Bulgaria like the other national branches of Eastern Orthodoxy and is considered an inseparable element of Bulgarian national consciousness. The church became subordinate within the Greek Orthodox Church, twice during the periods of Byzantine (1018 – 1185) and Ottoman (1396 – 1878) domination but has been revived every time as a symbol of Bulgarian statehood without breaking away from the Orthodox dogma. In 2001, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had 6,552,000 members in Bulgaria (82.6% of the population). However, many people raised during the 45 years of communist rule are not religious, even though they may formally be members of the church.
Despite the dominant position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgarian cultural life, a number of Bulgarian citizens belong to other religious denominations, most notably Islam, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Islam came to Bulgaria at the end of the 14th century after the conquest of the country by the Ottomans. It gradually gained ground throughout the 15th and 16th centuries by the introduction of Turkish colonists and the conversion of native Bulgarians. At the time of Liberation (1878) no less than 40% of the population was Muslim, but emigration was a key factor in reducing this percentage. In 2001, there were 967,000 Muslims in Bulgaria, accounting for 12.2% of the total population.
In the 16th and the 17th century missionaries from Rome converted Bulgarian Paulicians in the districts of Plovdiv and Svishtov to Roman Catholicism. Today, their descendants form the bulk of Bulgarian Catholics whose number stands at 44,000 in 2001. Protestantism was introduced in Bulgaria by missionaries from the United States in 1857. Missionary work continued throughout the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. In 2001, there were some 42,000 Protestants in Bulgaria.
According to the most recent Eurostat "Eurobarometer" poll, in 2005, only 40% of Bulgarian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 40% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force", 13% that "they do not believe there is a God, spirit, nor life force", and 6% did not answer.
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