“Bulgaria is a very delicious cake for the cults,” says Ben Peevi, a Pentecostal pastor from the north-central town of Russe. For most Bulgarians, anything from the West deserves attention, especially if it is slickly packaged. And that notion has opened the door to an influx of primarily American-made religious groups. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Children of God, and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon have found Bulgaria particularly receptive to their brands of belief. The Mormons have at least 14 centers throughout the country. Some 2,000 youth in the capital city of Sofia have joined the Children of God.

What is most disturbing to Peevi, however, is that evangelical Christians have not been immune to the message of such groups. “Most young Christians in our country are totally ignorant of our [church’s] distinction from cults,” he says. Denied biblical training under the Communists, today’s generation of church leaders generally cannot provide the teaching needed to build spiritual discernment in their congregations. Peevi recounts how a Unification Church leader from Great Britain recently found favor among evangelicals in his home town. The man was invited to speak at an evangelical church. “He introduced himself as a member of the Unification Church, and nobody knew what it meant,” Peevi said.

Though the Orthodox Church claims a following of some 60 percent of the country’s 9 million people (evangelicals make up less than 1 percent), the average Bulgarian has a rather unorthodox view of God. Informal surveys have found that the vast majority, particularly young people, believe that God is an abstract, impersonal force.

Located in Europe’s far southern corner, Bulgaria has long been fertile ground for mystical ...

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