Bulgarian Metropolitan Kiril of Varna and Pereslavl has been found on the Black Sea beach near Varna, the national radio reported today.
A medical examiner has already established Metropolitan Kiril’s identity.
An investigation is under way and the version of a violent death is not excluded.
Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that it was investigating the “cause and circumstances of death”, but had no reasons to believe foul play was involved.
The body was found at about 8 a.m. and was reported to the 112 emergency hotline; the deceased was later identified as Kiril, the prosecution statement said. An autopsy was ordered to establish the cause of death, prosecutors said.
News agency Focus reported, quoting the Varna district prosecutor’s office, that the cause of death was ruled to be drowning.
Kiril was wearing a diving mask and a snorkel. According to Bulgarian National Television, which quoted local residents, he was a good swimmer and was often seen swimming on the beach were his body was found.
Bulgaria’s Holy Synod is expected to meet on July 10 to name an interim metropolitan of Varna, while Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit cancelled a scheduled trip to Rousse, Bulgarian media reported.
Metropolitan Kiril was born on 8 June, 1954. He was named metropolitan in 1989. Since the death of Patriarch Maxim in 2012, Kirill has been the acting chairperson of the Patriarchal Throne.
The death of Kiril would have a significant implication for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, because it would create another vacancy on the Holy Synod.
Pro tem, Neofit has held on to the diocese of Rousse but a Metropolitan would have to be elected in his place. In June 2013, the Holy Synod accepted the resignation of Simeon, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe, on the grounds of serious ill-health.
A third vacancy in the church’s governing body creates wider possibilities for changes in the balance of the power in the running of the church. Census results and surveys indicate that a majority of Bulgarians declare themselves to be adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.