The See of Kyiv never transferred to Moscow, Constantin Vetochnikov says
The relations between the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine in 2016 could not be called simple. And the scope of the conflict is such that it became the focus of major attention of historians and theologians outside Ukraine. The history of the accession of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Russian Church in 1686 is shrouded in many myths and manipulations. RISU has interviewed Constantin Vetochnikov about the canonical consequences of this act, in connection with which events and under which conditions it occurred, the occurrence of any similar precedents, and the potential settlement of Ukrainian interchurch conflict. He is Doctor of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), Doctor of History (Practical School of Higher Studies, Sorbonne, Paris), Fellow of the Byzantine library (Collège de France, Paris). In August 2016, Constantin Vetochnikov participated in Byzantinist Congress in Belgrade, where he made a report themed “Transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686: a canonical analysis.”
- Constantin, how comes that you took interest in the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarchate?
- I am studying the acts of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of the Byzantine period regarding the Kyiv Metropolis, and the issue was the theme of my doctoral thesis in France. In addition, the focus of my interest also includes internal acts of the Kyiv Metropolis, which has survived only from the time when bishops moved to Muscovy but continued to be Metropolitans of Kyiv. This topic was offered by one of the organizers of the roundtable at Byzantinist Congress in Belgrade, and I immediately agreed. This issue is very important, and it is more important to interpret it not only in historical terms, as is often the case, but in terms of canonical implications of the transfer of governance of the Kyiv Metropolis.
- In your report presented in Belgrade, you have termed the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis as granting to a concession. How multiple are the precedents of granting the metropolises and even certain canonical territories to concession? Can you clarify this term?
- It had never been a case before Kyiv, at least I know any precedent. I tried to find itbut found none. There was another precedent – the transfer of Aleppo Metropolis, but it happened later (this Metropolis was returned to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1792). A similar precedent was even later, when, after the liberation of a part of modern Greece, the orthodox Church of Greece was formed. As you know, this Church unilaterally announced itself autocephalous in 1833, and later, in 1850, its canonical autocephaly was proclaimed by the Ecumenical Throne. Further, the territory of Greece gradually increased, and every time the new territories were added, a separate act for their accession to the Church of Greece (in 1866 and 1882 respectively) was issued. This happened to a certain point and when it came to the modern Northern Greece, Macedonia, and Western Thrace, Constantinople said, “Stop. We will not fully give it to you. This will be the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but under the control of the Church of Greece” (now called “Metropolis of the new territories” under the Patriarchal Act of 1928).
- That is also the process. Are there any similar circumstances that would allow comparing the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Aleppo precedent?
- The case of Aleppo was due to the fact that the Patriarch of Antioch failed to adequately govern the Metropolis – for a variety of reasons, and Constantinople, at the request of the laity and clergy of the Metropolis of Aleppo accepted it in its jurisdiction. This continued for some time, and when the situation in the Patriarchate of Antioch stabilized, Constantinople returned this throne to Antioch stressing that no patriarch or church can seize one another’s areas.
- What were the external circumstances of a concession of the Kyiv Metropolis?
- The external circumstances mentioned in the texts of official acts are as follows. They reckon the impossibility of the ordination or appointment of the Metropolitan of Kyiv by Constantinople because these territories became a part of Muscovy, which then was at war with the Ottoman Empire. And it was problematic to travel between the two countries to maintain some contact. In addition, there were internal problems: the population of western Ukraine started accepting the Union. According to many historians, one reason for this was the unwillingness of the population to get into submission to Muscovy. One should not forget that the Kyiv throne remained vacant for a long time because of an intervention of the Moscow government and the hetman, who agreed to the submission to Muscovy (both political and ecclesial).
- In other words, the election of the Metropolitan of Kyiv depended on the will of state officials and the government? Was it the Moscow government, in contemporary terms, which interfered in ecclesial life?
- Yes, it was interference in ecclesial life. A metropolitan had been elected to the Kyiv See for a long time, and this election was only approved in Constantinople. He was ordained if only he was not a bishop. But in general bishops at that time were elected from bishops.
- How do you assess the quality of the documents that have survived from that era? Do they present a fair view of all the circumstances of this transfer?
- As a matter of principle, I only worked with the acts of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to study canonical consequences of what happened, not the historical context. For this reason, I have worked with the published texts instead of originals, because I was only interested in a legal context. All these acts were issued (the so-called “Archive South-West of Russia”, published in Kyiv in 1859).
- If the documents were issued by Constantinople, can they be considered authentic documents?
- There is a whole detective story. Only one original act has survived, but I have not seen it. Professionals who are working with the originals argue that the document bears the signature of Patriarch Dionysius, and say they have compared the signature on other documents and have found that it is his signature, his authentic signature. I am not an expert in handwriting, but this document is 100% sure to be authentic: the document is written in Greek at a very high level. Other documents of that age have survived only in Russian translation, and there already there is a problem with the signatures. For example, in three documents, called Synodical letters and dated by the same year and month (the date is not specified), three different names metropolitans of Chalcedon were recorded. And some other signatures do not match. This is a big problem and a topic for another article. I made comparative tables and made the comparison with other Synodical documents of that era, which I managed to find. And the first thing that catches your eye is a huge variety of signatures compared to that I found in other documents of that age. They are much more than usual.
- Can the risk of counterfeiting be excluded?
- Not at all. There is a proven fact concerning the ratification of the Patriarchal charter of 1561 that granted the king’s title to Moscow Prince Ivan the Terrible. The first publisher of this act (Analecta Byzantino-Russica, ed. W. Regel, Petropoli, 1891, pp. LIII-LVII - Ed.) already mentions that only two signatures of the document are authentic: of Patriarch Joasaph II and Metropolitan Joasaph of Euripius. The Patriarch wrote the letter himself, the Metropolitan copied it, and after their authentic signatures, all the other signatures were forged by the Metropolitan.
- Did it have to be a conciliar document?
- Yes, this is a document of the Council of Constantinople. And this act was simply forged.
- The document on a concession of the Kyiv Metropolis does not contain a provision that in case that the circumstances, which led to the current situation, are eliminated, the history should return to its original course. That is, canonically it must be a priori that any temporary state should be removed if the cause of its occurrence is eliminated.
- This was not directly mentioned, but first of all, the Patriarch of Constantinople did not have much choice. On the one hand, the de facto seizure of the Kyiv Metropolis by the Patriarch of Moscow had happened already when the Russian territory belonged to the king, and here the patriarch could not and did not change the situation. He just put the situation in a canonical shape and tried to save the honor and rights of Constantinople. He could not openly declare that this situation was temporary. On the other hand, as I said in my report, all the acts of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in case there was some aggressive action, state that it is “forever and to the end of the time” and that it will permanently continue and no change should take place, or the period for which this resolution applies is indicated. Even a clause was added that if someone tried to change this situation, let him be accursed. But in this case, we see nothing of the kind.
- However, even such acts “in perpetuity” were repealed.
- Such acts were repealed, indeed. By the way, I can refer to one act issued to Metropolitan Alexius of Kyiv (1354-1378, a Muscovite by origin - Ed.). He probably asked to give permission to transfer his residence and, most likely, even the See to Moscow, but this permission was not granted. In addition, a lot of metropolitans had lived in Moscow prior to him, and previously in the city of Vladimir, which is in principle prohibited by the canons: a bishop must permanently reside in his cathedral city.
- Except for cases of barbarian invasions ...
- Except for the cases of invasion.
- But when the barbarians left – he ought to have returned.
- Right. This edition, which in Russia is called an act of transfer of the Metropolis to Moscow, states that Vladimir had to be the second residence of the Metropolitan of Kyiv, who might receive revenue from this diocese for subsistence and administration of the metropolis. And when Kyiv returned to its original state, the Metropolitan would be able to get back and live, but Vladimir would still remain “in perpetuity” his second residence, to which the Metropolitan of Kyiv might come and serve, and enjoy all the benefits.
- Is the transfer of residence and transfer of the See identical concepts?
- No, they are not.
- What happened in 1299 under the Metropolitan Maxim’s tenure, when there was a “transfer of the See?”
- He just moved, leaving his See.
- That is, there was no transfer of the See?
- No, it never took place. All bishops, even those who lived in Vladimir and later moved to Moscow, no matter how hard one might try to call them Metropolitans of Moscow, were not those in fact. Because Moscow was not even a regular canonical episcopal see. A cathedral city, to which Moscow belonged, was most probably the city of Vladimir. There was also an indication that the Metropolitan of Kyiv retains “in perpetuity” the See of Vladimir. This is his second diocese. Moreover, the document states that he is not a diocesan bishop there and has no right to ascend to the throne on high and sit on it. Such restrictions were imposed on bishops who ruled the dioceses that did not belong to them. Only a legitimate local diocesan bishop traditionally sits on the throne on high. For example, even when a patriarch or a senior bishop came, they either both stood below or a local bishop sat on the throne on high. In other words, it was noted that it was not his diocese. His diocese was the diocese of Kyiv.
- Regarding the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis in 1686, there is at least a document even though its authenticity is challenged. Are there any precedents where a certain canonical territory was passed without any acts of transmission, for example, as a result of conquest?
- In this context, we can state as follows. Sometimes Russian historians speak of the Church of Constantinople imperialism in relation to the Serbian or Bulgarian Churches. However, these Churches had always belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and later they were granted a certain autocephalous status. However, at that time, the term “autocephaly” meant something quite different. A bishop was called autocephalous if he was exempt from the authority of his metropolitan and was directly subordinate to the patriarch. I can give an example that I know well – the Crimean dioceses. Initially, all Crimean archpriests were bishops and further the Metropolis of Gothia was formed. Rather, it was only on paper: certain thrones were indicated, but no bishop to serve these thrones is known. At the same time, other Crimean bishops became archbishops, and in the diptychs, they are referred to as “archbishops” or “autocephalous.” That is, they were autocephalous in relation to their metropolitan and were directly subordinate to the patriarch. Later they all very quickly became metropolitans, but the honored ones – they had no subordinate bishops, with an only exclusion – but most likely it was the auxiliary bishop of Kherson metropolis.
- Speaking of the Crimean metropolis. Crimea was annexed to the Russian Empire as a result of the Russian-Turkish war, but it formally belonged to Constantinople. Are there any documents on its transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church?
- I searched for it carefully in the archives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and found no relevant documents about it. Nearly ten years after the accession of the Crimea to the Russian Empire (1783) an encyclical of the new martyr Patriarch Gregory V was issued calling on the hierarchs and the faithful to remain faithful to the dominant state and not to change for Russian citizenship, “as some people did” (the text, most likely, remains unpublished published, I read it in the Patriarchal archive). I suspect that it referred to Ignatius, Metropolitan of Gothia and Cafffa who brought the Christian population – the Greeks, and Armenians in the outskirts of modern Mariupol. But I found no canonical act on this issue. Maybe they are stored in Moscow archives, but so far nothing has been submitted or published, and also I found no links.
Incidentally, the Tomos of autocephaly in 1924 provided to the Polish Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, appealed the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis. I just literally quote: “For it is recorded that the first separation from our See of the Kyivan Metropolia and the Orthodox Metropolia of Lithuania and Poland, dependent upon it, as well as their incorporation within the Holy Moscovite Church was accomplished contrary to canon law, as also all that which was agreed upon regarding the full church autonomy of the Kyivan Metropolitan, who at the time had the title Exarch of the Ecumenical See.”
- We in Ukraine like to refer to the canonical rule that if nobody challenges a temporary canonical order for over 20 years, it is fixed forever. Can I use this canon in relation to the concession of the Kyiv Metropolis?
For the record. Canon 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon
As touching rural parishes, or country parishes, in any province, they shall remain in the undisputed possession of the bishops now holding them, and especially if they have held them in their possession and have managed them without coercion for thirty years or more. But if during a period of thirty years there has arisen or should arise some dispute concerning them, those claiming to have been unjustly treated shall be permitted to complain to the Synod of the province. But if anyone has been unjustly treated by his own Metropolitan, let him complain to the Exarch of the diocese, or let him have his case tried before the throne of Constantinople, according to as he may choose. If on the other hand, any city has been rebuilt by imperial authority, or has been built anew again, pursuant to civil and public formalities, let the order of the ecclesiastical parishes be followed.
- This canon - and it obviously refers to canon 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon – refers not even to the dioceses, and especially not to the metropolises, but to the villages located on the border between the dioceses. The three Byzantine commentators also interpret this canon this way.
Previously, there were no permanent administrative boundaries even in secular areas, as cartography was poorly developed. But if a village suddenly emerged, and one bishop said: “This is my village,” and another one said: “No, this is my village,” then an investigation began. Even in the history of Kyiv Metropolis, there was a dispute between the bishop of Suzdal and the Metropolitan of Kyiv, who already lived in Moscow, and they had had a dispute for many years who possessed that controversial settlement. But this canon applies to towns or villages that have not been specifically placed in someone's jurisdiction, that is, at best, it refers to parishes.
All dioceses were distributed by the diptych: this one is subject to this metropolitan bishop, and this metropolitan obeys this patriarch. No contention can emerge here in principle. The question at issue arises if something was not provided in advance, or if there is a new frontier village. And here the principle applies that he who had possessed it for the last 30 years, should continue doing so.
But in relation to a diocese, and all the more so, to a metropolis, especially the largest metropolis in the world (most seem to not exist) this canon cannot be applied.
- In the report you indicate that the concession of the Kyiv Metropolis was carried out on three specific conditions - the first commemoration of the Patriarch of Constantinople, preserving the privileges of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and the right of assembly of the clergy and laity of the Kyiv Metropolis to elect the Metropolitan. What risks arise from the failure to abide by these conditions by the party to whom the Metropolis was transferred? By the way, can you tell about the benefits of the Metropolitan of Kyiv?
- The benefits include, first of all, his title - Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus (now Metropolitan of Kyiv has the title only “of all Ukraine” - etc.). These rights were restored after the Ukrainian exarchate of the ROC emerged. But this law is incomplete because he has also other rights – to convene his own synod to elect bishops and ordain them without contacting the Patriarchate.
- But it now exists on paper.
- Formally it has been restored, but the Ukrainian exarchate was deprived of these rights, as well as after joining the MP. But it was the case in all metropolises of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as long as there were real metropolises.
- Which conditions are not met?
- The condition of retaining the right of the Metropolitan of Kyiv to the jurisdiction over the whole metropolis, because the bishops were very soon elected not in Kyiv at the Synod of Bishops of the Kyiv Metropolis, but at the Synod of the Russian Church. Although it was expected that the Metropolitan should be elected, as the Greeks called it, at the gatherings of clergy and laity. In the Slavic tradition, this is called a council. In addition, the Metropolitan lost his jurisdiction, he retained jurisdiction only over the Diocese of Kyiv. He was banned from bearing the title of the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and All Rus. This title is his legal privilege.
- Remembering the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the first place – what does it mean in the canonical aspect?
- In the canonical tradition – the most canons do not reflect it well enough – every priest remembers his hierarchical superior. A deacon or a priest remembers a diocesan bishop, and only him because we have a bishop who is head of his Church, which is both local and catholic. The bishop remembers his Metropolitan (in the metropolis system, such as Kyiv Metropolis, which was part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a priest remembers the bishop, the bishop remembers the metropolitan, the metropolitan remembers the patriarch). And the patriarchs as a sign of unity of the Church remember primates of the churches and all the Orthodox episcopate.
- That is, as long as this condition was observed, the Ecumenical Patriarch was deemed to be the head of the Kyiv Metropolis?
- When they stopped to remember him, under what circumstances?
- I have not seen direct information, but most of all, it stopped immediately after the accession, and I do not even exclude there was a ban.
- Thus, imperceptible to the eye, the Patriarch of Moscow was turned into the head of the Kyiv Metropolis?
- Quite so.
- And now about the consequences. In terms of the canons, the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis from hand to hand is a temporary act and is not that undisputed?
For the record. Canon 8 of the Third Council of Ephesus
... The same rule shall be observed in the other dioceses and provinces everywhere so that none of the God-beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors. But if anyone has violently taken and subjected [a Province], he shall give it up; lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed, or the vanities of worldly honor be brought in under the pretext of sacred office; ... And if any one shall bring forward a rule contrary to what is hero determined, this holy and ecumenical Synod unanimously decrees that it shall be of no effect.
- Basically, canons do not provide for remaking church boundaries. If you follow the canons, the things established must remain so. Even, for example, the emergence of new autocephalous churches is not provided by the canons, they were established on the basis of oikonomia. Ecumenical Councils formed five patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and the Church of Cyprus.
- Could you give more detail? We now say that it was the first wave of autocephaly. But this is quite different autocephalous churches in quality than we currently commonly believe.
- First, every bishop was autocephalous, he had no metropolitan above him. Then gradually, as the Church began to pour into the Roman state after Constantine the Great, the Roman administrative system had had a strong impact and the metropolises started to emerge. The metropolises emerged in the first place, where the administrative center of the empire was located. And the first stage – they were autocephalous not on the principle of separation, but on that of association. The bishop was independent, and this can be seen even in the canons that say that when a bishop is to be elected, the neighbor bishops must come, elect and consecrate him. It is not the case that someone must be the first to do something. When the metropolises were formed, a metropolitan was not a dictator in his metropolis, he had no right to settle the matters of his metropolis, not in his personal diocese but in the entire metropolis. He had to address these issues only jointly with the bishops of his metropolis. They had to settle together all the matters.
- In fact, a Metropolitan was master of his diocese, but in the metropolis, he was part of the “collective reason,” so to speak?
- Yes, he was chairman of the local synod. And neither the bishops could do anything outside their dioceses nor metropolitan could do anything on his own outside his own diocese. To cite one example, which was used by the Greek-Catholic bishop at a conference. One just has to separate jurisdictions, the rights of every bishop. For example, the Pope of Rome is the Bishop of the city of Rome, Metropolitan of Lazio, Patriarch of the West and the Supreme Pontiff. In terms of the Orthodox canon law, his functions include: he is a valid bishop in the Roman bishopric, the first bishop in the Metropolis of Lazio, where he chairs the Synod, and governs in line with the Orthodox canons, in agreement with the bishops, not alone. At the level of the Patriarchate of the West (they have now abandoned this title) the management is also effected jointly with metropolitans if they were there, and on a global level – together with other bishops, patriarchs, etc. This is also the case in the Orthodox Church, just the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople had never been a metropolitan, he was a bishop, who was vested with special rights, elevated on the same level with the Pope and called “second after him.” And the Bishop of Constantinople is a bishop of his bishopric, which is located within the medieval Constantinople and even does not fully cover the modern city of Istanbul because in the city there are already other metropolises, such as Chalcedon. He does not possess a Metropolis He is the bishop of the city of Constantinople, and in the second place he is a Patriarch – the first bishop of his patriarchate, and then he is also the first bishop of the Orthodox Church.
- That is, with the increase of his title, his right to rule alone is reduced?
- Right. A bishop is a local prince in his diocese. Metropolitan is a local prince in his own diocese, but not in the metropolis. And the patriarch is a local prince in his diocese but in accordance with the canons, he cannot decide anything alone – only jointly with the Synod or Council.
- The Russian Church has accepted the interpretation of hierarchical subordination, in which there is a head of the Church and the vertical of power descends from him. And the higher is the title - the higher is the autocratic authority. Is not it the situation which was in III-V centuries?
- It is not quite a canonical phenomenon, although some of the Ecumenical Patriarchs claimed to absolute power. However, this power is always limited by the Synod or a Council. The patriarch alone cannot decide in cases involving even his own patriarchate - only jointly with the Council and Synod. It was approved by the canons under which the patriarch has no right to go travel into another diocese without the consent and permission of the local bishop. I can cite a simple example: Patriarch Athenagoras, even though that was a very strong personality, could not go to his native village for a long time to visit his parents’ tombs because local metropolitan would not like to see him there.
But the statutes of some churches, I will not mention them, say that the patriarch has the right to visitation of any diocese either with or without the local bishop’s consent. This is contrary to the canons. For example, the awarding of a clergyman, or ordaining him in the holy order, such as archpriest, is the prerogative of a local bishop, the synod but not the patriarch. Clergy shall obey only their bishop, while a metropolitan or a patriarch have no right to interfere in the affairs of their subordinate diocesan bishop if everything runs in line with the canons and teachings of the Orthodox Church. But if there is something wrong, he is not only able but must intervene, but not alone, but jointly with the Synod. And, on the other hand, if the clergymen have any problems with their bishop, for example, the bishop has applied some canonical prohibition, such clergymen can appeal to a higher-rank bishop – metropolitan or patriarch – with a request to consider their complaint, but again not individually but in a conciliar manner.
Thus, at the time of the first autocephalies, there was a certain regrouping. Initially, there were some bishops, then metropolises, then super metropolises, then they were united in exarchates, some exarchates became patriarchates, some were abolished and joined to a patriarchate – such as the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
- So, the first autocephalous churches emerged with a purpose of enlargement?