Particle from Newly Found St. John the Baptist Relics Stolen from Church in Bulgaria’s Sliven
A particle from the relics of St. John the Baptist, which were discovered during archaeological excavations in an early Christian monastery on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island near Bulgaria’s Sozopol, has been stolen from a church in the city of Sliven.
In August 2010, during excavations of an ancient monastery on the Bulgarian Black Sea island St. Ivan (St. John) near Sozopol, Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov discovered a reliquary containing relics of St. John the Baptist.
The relics consist of of small bone particles from a skull, a jaw bone, an arm bone, and a tooth.
(*Update as of 2015: Subsequently, scholars from Oxford University tested the relics and concluded and found evidence that they could have indeed belonged to St. John the Baptist.
Radiocarbon and genetic testing revealed that the human remains in question did belong to a Middle Eastern man who lived at the time of Jesus Christ.)
The discovery of the St. John the Baptist relics in the Early Christian monastery on the Black Sea island off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol made global headlines and has generated huge international interest.
The relics are presently kept at the St. George (St. Georgi) Church in the Black Sea town of Sozopol where they can be viewed by tourists. Their permanent home is the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Church in Sozopol.
However, the St. John the Baptist relics were recently taken for worship to the St. Dimitar (St. Demetrius) Church in the city of Sliven in Northeast Bulgaria. Sliven is the seat of the bishopric of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church which also includes Sozopol.
One of the particles from the holy relics, however, has gone missing, Sliven Bishop Yoanikiy has told the media.
One of the particles from the relics of St. John the Baptist has gone missing even though the relics were kept in transparent box for viewing which was closed off with a seal. The theft was discovered shortly because the relics had to be sent back to Sozopol.
The brazen theft may have occurred on the evening of April 2, 2012, the bishop believes, as cited by Nova TV.
The St. Dimitar Church in Sliven has no CCTV cameras, and the police have only just been informed of the theft of a particle from the relics of St. John the Baptist.
The relics were in Sliven for worship from March 29 until April 2 when thousands of people from the city and the region came to see them.
Thus, the night on April 2, after the vespers, the priest went inside the altar for a while, and when he came back the red seal on the box containing the relics was found broken. Up until today, however, April 11, the Sliven Bishopric had not notified the police, somehow hoping that the particle from the relics of St. John the Baptist would be discovered or returned.
Apparently, their logic has been that the involvement of law enforcement would scare away the thief rendering impossible the voluntary return of the relic particle.
Also, the local bishopric has a story about a theft of a holy robe from 15 years ago, when the robe was returned by whoever took it, and the theft was kept secret, and the police were never notified.
The bishop and the priests in Sliven have called upon the thief to return the relic particle promising them anonymity.
“The thief is not going to find peace neither in this world, nor in the other world. That is why I am asking them [to give the relic back]. This is a very severe sin, very very severe. God’s justice might now be delayed but it will be done sooner or later,” Sliven Bishop Yoanikiy has said.
“If this person reports, they should come to some of the preachers in the temple here, and their anonymity will be guaranteed,” a local priest, Evgeni, is quoted as saying.
The Sliven Bishopric is sending photos to archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the discoverer of the holy relics, so he can determine precisely which particle from them is actually missing.
“The professor yelled at me over the phone because we didn’t provide reliable security. Everybody who came to worship the relics knows that there were at least two people right next to the relic box the entire time: the priest and his aide,” says Valkan Yanev, secretary of Sliven Bishopric, bewildered at how the theft might have occurred.
As soon as they heard about the theft, the local police initiated an investigation.
The relics of St. John the Baptist were discovered in the St. Ivan (St. John) Island on the Black Sea coast near Sozopol back in the summer of 2011 by Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov in the ruins of an Early Christian monastery from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century AD, around the time of the division of the Roman Empire.
The relics were inside a marble reliquary which was 18 centimeters long and 14 centimeters wide.
Popkonstantinov has been categorical that the relics belonged to St. John the Baptist judging from an inscription in Greek on the reliquary mentioning “Yoan” (John), and reading, “God, help your slave Thomas who carried on June 24….” – June 24 being the birth date of St. John the Baptist.