Achrida, a titular see in Upper Albania, the famous metropolis and capital of the medieval kingdom of Bulgaria, now the little village of Ochrida, on the Lake of Ochrida, the ancient Lacus Lychnitis, whose blue and exceedingly transparent waters in remote antiquity gave to the lake its Greek name. The city was known in antiquity as Lychnidus and was so called occasionally in the Middle Ages. In the conflicts of the Illyrian tribes with Rome it served the former as a frontier outpost and was later one of the principal points on the great Roman highway known as the Via Egnatiana. Its first known bishop was Zosimus (c. 344). In the sixth century it was destroyed by an earthquake (Procop., Hist. Arcana, xv), but was rebuilt by Justinian (527-565), who was born in the vicinity, and is said to have been called by him Justiniana Prima, i.e. the most important of the several new cities that Bore his name. Duchesne, however, says that this honor belongs to Scupi (Uskub), another frontier town of Illyria (Les eglises separees, Paris, 1896, 240). The new city was made the capital of the prefecture, or department, of Illyria, and for the sake of political convenience it was made also the ecclesiastical capital of the Illyrian or Southern Danubian parts of the empire (Southern Hungary, Bosnia, Servia, Transylvania, Rumania). Justinian was unable to obtain immediately for this step a satisfactory approbation from Pope Agapetus or Pope Silverius. The Emperor’s act, besides being a usurpation of ecclesiastical authority, was a detriment to the ancient rights of Thessalonica as representative of the Apostolic See in the Illyrian regions. Nevertheless, the new diocese claimed, and obtained in fact, the privilege of autocephalia, or independence, and through its long and chequered history retained, or struggled to retain, this character. Pope Vigilius, under pressure from Justinian, recognized the exercise of patriarchal rights by the Metropolitan of Justiniana Prima within the broad limits of its civil territory, but Gregory the Great treated him as no less subject than other Illyrian bishops to the Apostolic See (Duchesne, op. cit., 233-237). The inroads of the Avars and Slavs in the seventh century brought about the ruin of this ancient Illyrian center of religion and civilization, and for two centuries its metropolitan character was in abeyance. But after the conversion of the new Bulgarian masters of Illyria (864) the see rose again to great prominence, this time under the name of Achrida (Achris). Though Greek missionaries were the first to preach the Christian Faith in this region, the first archbishop was sent by Rome. It was thence also that the Bulgarians drew their first official instruction and counsel in matters of Christian faith and discipline, a monument of which may be seen in the “Responsa ad Consulta Bulgarorum” of Nicholas I (858-867), one of the most influential of medieval canonical documents (Mansi, xv, 401; Hefele, Concilieng., iv, 346 sq.). However, the Bulgarian King (Car) Bogaris was soon won over by Greek influence. In the Eighth General Council held at Constantinople (869) Bulgaria was incorporated with the Byzantine patriarchate, and in 870 the Latin missionaries were expelled. Henceforth Greek metropolitans preside in Achrida; it was made the political capital of the Bulgarian kingdom and profited by the tenth-century conquests of its warlike rulers so that it became the metropolitan of several Greek dioceses in the newly conquered territories in Macedonia, Thessaly, and Thrace. Bulgaria fell unavoidably within the range of the Photian schism, and so, from the end of the ninth century, the diocese of Achrida was lost to Western and papal influences. The overthrow of the independent Bulgarian kingdom in the early part of the eleventh century by Basil the Macedonian brought Achrida into closer touch with Constantinople. At a later date some of the great Byzantine families (e.g. the Ducas and the Comneni) claimed descent from the Kings, or Cars, of Bulgaria. In 1053 the metropolitan Leo of Achrida signed with Michael Caerularius the latter’s circular letter to John of Trani (Apulia in Italy) against the Latin Church. Theophylactus of Achrida (1078) was one of the most famous of the medieval Greek exegetes; in his correspondence (Ep., 27) he maintains the traditional independence of the Diocese of Achrida. The Bishop of Constantinople, he says, has no right of ordination in Bulgaria, whose bishop is independent. In reality Achrida was during this period seldom in communion with either Constantinople or Rome. Towards the latter see, however, its sentiments were less than friendly, for in the fourteenth century we find the metropolitan Anthimus of Achrida writing against the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son (see The Blessed Trinity). Latin missionaries, however, appear in Achrida in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, mostly Franciscan monks, to whom the preservation of the Roman obedience in these regions is largely owing (see Albania). The Latin bishops of Achrida in the seventeenth century are probably, like those of our own time, titular bishops. The ecclesiastical independence of Achrida seeming in modern times to leave an opening for Roman Catholic influence in Bulgaria, Arsenius, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, had it finally abolished in 1767 by an order of Sultan Mustapha. At the height of its authority, Achrida could count as subject to its authority ten metropolitan and six episcopal dioceses.
THOMAS J. SHAHAN