Lasting treasure in Panagyurish
In the central Sredna Gora mountain range and the valley of the southbound Lounda Yana river lies Panagyurishte – the town that played a key role in one of the most poignant moments of Bulgarian history. This was the April 1876 uprising during the Bulgarian struggle for national liberation, after five centuries of Ottoman oppression.
The town and surrounding area played a significant part in ancient history too. Various archaeological monuments have been discovered in its vicinity, including several dozen Thracian burial mounds.
One of them, the Mramor Mound, revealed the burial of a Thracian war-lord from the late fourth or early third century BC. Nearby, construction workers discovered in 1949 what has now become the world-famous Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, a rare archaeological find from the Hellenic Age (fourth-third century B.C.).
This unique golden table-set, a replica of which is on show at the Panagyurishte Historical Museum, is the most interesting cultural artefact that Thrace has yielded so far.
But to turn to more lasting treasure, the first to sow the seed of the gospel during the nineteenth century was the Bulgarian Evangelical Pavel Cacev. He brought in Christian books and the Bible. Soon after him, American missionaries came to Panagyurishte and conducted evangelistic meetings in the town. Through their ministry, the Lord saved several families.
Growth and persecution
Ivan Seichanov, who had just graduated from the evangelical seminary in Samokov, came as pastor to consolidate the work in Panagyurishte. He was a good preacher and the church grew. Because of that, the people from the Orthodox Church began a severe persecution against the church.
All the evangelical Christians were arrested, locked in a public school and pressed to deny the Lord. Some of the believers were bitten by the mob. One Christian lady was bitten, stripped naked and thrown out of the town. The persecutors took all the Christian literature and destroyed a thousand Christian books and Bibles in the town centre.
But the Lord’s work flourished and in 1884 the Panagyurishte church was established with 61 members. Two years later the Lord blessed the church with a building in the town centre.
In 1930 this building had to be enlarged. During these years American missionaries were working alongside Bulgarian pastors to spread the gospel and harvest the fruit the Lord was pleased to give.
During the communist era, the church of Jesus Christ in Bulgaria experienced intense trials and severe persecutions. This period began with the arrest of almost all evangelical ministers in 1948, on the accusation that they were American spies. They were given prison sentences ranging from several years to life.
At the same time other Christians were sent directly to the communists’ prison camps without any court trial. The church in Panagyurishte was not spared the fiery persecution which the Lord sent to test every church and Christian in Bulgaria.
The final persecution, in 1984-85, was crucial for Panagyurishte. The minister, Nicola Raychev, was dismissed by the communists and not allowed to minister to the church because he would not compromise and co-operate with the authorities.
Once again the church was without a pastor, but the secret police sent a puppet minister from the Pentecostal church in Plovdiv. Soon the sheep scattered, because they found out that their ‘pastor’ was actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing; and the church ceased to meet.
After the fall of Communism, Emanuel Tinev, who had been in the United States, was sent to search for believers, and to start a Bible-study group in Panagyurishte. In 1997 one of the two remaining church families opened their home for prayer and Bible study.
For some years Emanuel did not see any results and was discouraged, even though he faithfully visited every Wednesday night to teach the Bible. But then God blessed his Word, the group flourished, and the room for meeting in became packed with people.
During the last three years, God has added twelve new Christians including three new families to the church. So there is a small Evangelical church in Panagyurishte once more. There are only seventeen members but we trust God to add new believers according to his will. This church is a special testimony to God’s promise to keep and preserve a faithful remnant for himself.
With kind permission of Congregational Concern