The Orthodox Chapel of the Vrana Palace was consecrated on May 2/15, 1914 by His Eminence Metropolitan Parthenius (1845-1918) in co ministration with the Clergy, and with the prayerful participation of King Ferdinand, Queen Eleonore, Princes Boris, and Kyril, Princesses Eudoxia, and Nadezhda, and Metropolitan Basil, the spiritual mentor of the Heir to the throne, and the palace retinue. Worship services were held in it every Sunday and holiday, during which the Royal Family is in the palace. Otherwise, the court Ephemerius served in the Royal Chapel of St. Apostles Peter and Paul in the Sofia Palace or the Chapel in Tsarska Bistritsa.
The Chapel in Vrana is dedicated to the heavenly patron of the Crown Prince Boris of Turnovo – St. King Boris Michail the Baptiser, Equal to the Apostles. After the palace is seized by the state, the chapel is entirely ended, in compliance with the atheistic kind of the new communist occupants.
At the end of 1946, Exarch Stefan sent a church commission to list and collect the altar accessories, utensils, icons, etc.
On June 14th, 2017, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of King Simeon II, for the first time since September 14th, 1946, His Holiness the Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte and the Synod Metropolitans offered a Prayer of thanksgiving. The Patriarch returned the delivered altar icon of St. King Boris the Baptist, presented to Prince Boris by the Bulgarian Orthodox Clergy for his anointing in 1896.
Aiming to restitute the spiritual life in this historic home of the Royal Family, the King Boris and Queen Giovanna Royal Heritage Fund try to restore the Orthodox Chapel, so this House of the Lord be live again and open doors to visitors and worshipers.
According to the preserved historical data, the longest-lived palace priest is the Ieroeconomos Staurophor Raphail Aleksiev, born in 1881, in Gorno Kyusileri (today Karavelovo, Karlovo municipality). He graduated from the grammar school in Karlovo while working as a farm-hand to help his family.
Later he studied at the Theological School in Samokov. He graduated with distinction, and due to his marvelous voice, he soon received an appointment as a kliros chanter in the newly consecrated Church of the Seven Saints in Sofia. While attending a feast service, King Ferdinand was much impressed by the voice of the young cleric. So, he offered Raphail to be ordained a priest and appointed a court Ephemerius in the Royal Chapel at the Sofia Palace. Later, when the Chapels opened in the Palaces of Tsarska Bistrica (1904) and Vrana (1912), Father Raphail took over their spiritual care and remained on service until the expulsion of the Royal Family on September 16th, 1946.
In 1924, along with his service in the palace, Father Raphail was appointed Chairman of the Ecclesiastic Board of Trustees of the Sofia Cathedral Church of St. King (presently – the Church of St. Nedelya), where he served until his retirement. It was during his ministry that the church, heavily devastated by the assassination attempt on April 16th, 1925, was restored, in the shape we know today.
As a court priest, Father Raphail took part in the solemnization of King Boris III and Queen Giovanna’s wedding in 1930, in the baptism of Princess Maria Louisa in 1933, and the Crown Prince Simeon of Turnovo on July 12, 1937. He performed together with Sofia Metropolitan Stefan the rite of the King Simeon II’s Royal Anointing in 1943.
In the time of King Unifier’s disease, he never left his bedside and administered his last communion to the Holy Sacraments of Christ in the late afternoon of August 27th, 1943. Next day at 16:22 o’clock, the King surrendered his spirit to God. After the monarch’s funeral, Father Raphail continued his ministry, together with the young priest Ivan Sungarski, appointed by Her Majesty the Queen Mother as a spiritual mentor of a special duty.
Father Raphail also performed the last prayer in the palace, on the name-day of King Simeon II – September 14th, 1946. Two days later, the Royal Family left the Vrana Palace and went into exile.
Father Raphail is a holder of four royal honors: the Commander’s Cross of the Royal Order of St. Alexander received on the occasion of the Orthodox baptism of Prince Simeon, the Knight’s Cross of the same Order, the Knight’s Cross of the National Order of Civil Merit, and the Medal of Merit. For his long-standing and dignified ministry, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church promoted him to “Ieroeconomos Staurophor” rank. He died on January 22, 1956. Bishop Parthenius of Leucadia officiated his funeral service. Nine years later, the same Bishop Parthenius administered the baptism of two of the four sons of King Simeon II and Queen Margarita, Prince Kardam (1962-2015) and Kyril. Prince Kyril is currently the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of King Boris and Queen Giovanna Royal Heritage Fund.