Circumspection Regarding Russian "Celebrations..." (and Reminder of Certain Historical Events)




“The soul of history is the truth,” G. Pachymeres 


Aristeides Panotes,

Grand Hieromnemon of the Great Church 

For the, August 4, 1013

 In Moscow, Kiev and Belarus a multi-day celebration was held for yet another “anniversary,” of the “Baptism of the first Russian state of Kievan Rus 1025 years ago, under the monarchy of Prince (Kniaz) Vladimir.” The Church in Russia, after the Second World War, when it regained for the Soviets a patriotic profile, began in the summer months to invite leaders of fellow Orthodox Churches to “celebrations” designed to rekindle the memory mainly of old and new events of Russian church life. These “celebrations” comprised concelebrations of “barbaric opulence” and Abrahamic (lavish) hospitality, which aimed at extolling the “love-for-primacy” of the Primus of the Russian Hierarchy, cultivating false hopes of change of the Order of the Diptychs (Seniorities) and “commemorating” events that coincide with the particular goals of “ecclesiastical tactics” of the rulers of the country. They have now invoked the Christianization of the Rus, which rather seems to be related to the “Kievan Exarchate” which they persistently maintain.

This is again an attempt to reverse the historical reality. The History of the Church teaches that the Apostolic Cathedra of New Rome established the Church of Kiev, and, indeed, as one of the Metropolises of its Constitutional Charter. That See was moved in 1299 to the north and ended in Moscow to facilitate the coexistence of the ecclesiastical authority with the monarchical rule of the Tsar so that the peoples of “all Russian Lands” may be ruled. Later on a unilateral Exarchy was sent to Kiev, which today, since the statehood of the Ukraine has been instituted, causes a “three-fold schism” among the Orthodox there, and its maintenance by the Patriarchate of Moscow is detrimental to the Orthodox Church in that country.

The historical course of the evangelization of the peoples of Russia is not as easy as the staff officers of the Moscow Patriarchate think. The Baptism of the Rus in 987 is not an isolated event, independent of the Christianization of Kiev. We know how the missionary care of the Mother Church for Russia started in the Crimea under Photius in the second half of the 9th century and that in Kiev only the Church of Constantinople solidified the religious and cultural ties of the local Church with the Byzantine tradition. This sealed the work of the Saints Cyril and Methodius in Moravia and of their disciples who took refuge in Bulgaria and afterwards in Southern Ukraine. It was there that, according to Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the Church “in barbarian lands” was organized with the establishment, either in 885 according to some, or in 1037 according to others, of the 60th Metropolis of the Throne of Constantinople with 12 Dioceses eastwards and 7 westwards. The Metropolis in the city of Kiev which was then the crossroads of communications was secured with the labors of the Metropolitans Michael and Leo, and their successors who from 989 to 1237 were elected and ordained in Constantinople as Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne. This continued happening until the many ills of the Mongolian invasion came to Russia.

In 1445 Gregorios III, Melissenos, was elected as Patriarch, and served an anomalous patriarchal term of office due to the “Unionist problem,” which ended with his leaving his cathedra in August 1451. At that point, Jonah, the new Metropolitan of Moscow, visited Constantinople, but was prevented by the “Anti-unionists” from meeting the Patriarch and discussing matters related to the Church in Russia. Thus, the independence of the Church in Russia constitutes an historical and intractable problem, since the split of the ecclesiastical body was contrary to the canonical customs of both the East and the West, even for the additional fact of the presence there of Isidore of Kiev. It is no coincidence that the Russians place their “autocephaly” during the troubled days before the Capture of Constantinople. In the vacuum of those tragic days, and after their liberation from the Mongols, they began to build up their entire autonomy, supporting it with “apocalyptic” obsessions on the Byzantine heritage, the most important of which is that of the monk Filotheos of Pskov, that: “the two Romes fell, the third stands upright and there will be no fourth.” These “pious wishful thoughts” changed over time into a diachronic Russian psychosis of Tsardom after the marriage of Ivan III to Sophia Paleologina, with the involvement of the Imperial Church. Nevertheless, in difficult times the Patriarchate enlightened the Russians again with its theological and ecclesiological heritage through important personalities, such as Maximus the Greek, Meletius Syrigos, the Athonite Dionysios, Paisios Ligarides and others.

When, again, political and ecclesiastical pressures from the West that threatened the Orthodox consciousness and national integrity of Russia increased, and there was need of a strong pole of directing the consciences of the peoples “of all the Russian Lands,” Tsar Theodore asked Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople in 1589 to grant patriarchal status to Metropolitan Job of Moscow. The Patriarch then granted the patriarchal status to the Metropolitan of Moscow, having secured in 1590 the approval of the other venerable Patriarchs, on the fundamental condition that the latter would never disturb the Diptychs of the Church (i.e., the order of seniority of the Patriarchal thrones) nor claim the Primacy against Constantinople, as is evidenced by the two Metropolitans who were present at the granting of the patriarchal status, Dorotheus of Monemvasia and Arsenius of Elasson.

However, when the Patriarch acquired great power in Russia and became a threat to the authority of Tsardom, Peter the Great, taking advantage of his program of “reform,” abolished the patriarchal institution and recommended Synodical administration, a system of Protestant inspiration, as the highest authority of the Church in Russia (1721-1917), thereby making the Church a handmaid to each tsarist policy. Since then, a lot of harsh exchanges between the Russians and the Ecumenical Patriarchate occurred, because the tsarist secular power despised the Canon Law of the Church.

The first examples of this are the Orlof cases: that of 1771, when the Russian fleet occupied the Cyclades, and Admiral Spyritoff forced local bishops to “commemorate” the Synod of Petersburg; and that of 1774, when the Treaty of Kaiinartzi was signed and local hierarchs were abandoned to the mercy of Kapudan Pasha, while those who never left for Russia were hanged!

Since September 1815, Tsar Alexander I became the main leverage of the Holy Alliance which did not favor the freedom of our nation. After the revolution of 1821, only England protected the establishment of the new Greek state and did that for its own interests. The Slavophile patriotism was transformed in 1841 into unhealthy nationalism known as “Panslavism” which hid behind it the “Bulgarianism” that caused the schism and the conciliar condemnation of “Ethno-phyletism” in 1872. Tsarist diplomacy, finding it hard to erode the Greek consciousness in Thrace and Macedonia, tried to approach Constantinople through the war of 1875-1878. However, the British detected the Russian plan and preempted it by means of the Treaty of Berlin. Then, Panslavism turned to building infrastructure on Mount Athos for the future landing of a crowd of monks and gaining sovereignty over the whole territory of the Holy Mount; and it also turned to boosting Arabic-speaking nationalism in the Middle East which resulted in the full Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Missions that were concealed by Tsarist diplomacy emerged as the Orthodoxy of the future, after Asia, in America and in Western Europe. In 1908, the Patriarchate, to avoid conflict with the Imperial Church of the Russians and to protect the Greek Diaspora, transferred its stewardship to the Church of Greece. In 1913 Russians and Bulgarians took the lead on the Internationalization of Mount Athos! This was rejected, and the self-governed state of the Monastic Community within Greece was established as an integral part of the national backbone. In 1914 at the start of WWI, Tsarist diplomacy concluded in London a secret deal with the Allies of the Entente for Russia's participation in their side. "In return" Russians would gain, in the event of winning, the territories of Thrace and Constantinople! The next step would be the handing-over of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Slavophone Orthodox!

Nonetheless, the fact is that “man proposes but God disposes” (i.e. human beings can make any plans they want, but it is God who decides their success or failure)! The sinful give-and-take transactions of the Tsarist regime collapsed, and the Russian people indeed paid dearly with the 80-years submission to relentless persecutors of the Church!

When it was decided, in view of the future, to reconstitute the old Russian Patriarchate, Patriarch Germanos V approved the return of patriarchy to Russia and included in the diptychs, for the sake of protecting him, Patriarch Tikhon, who was to meet the diverse affliction of movements in the Church favored by the Soviet regime. Also, when White-Russia collapsed, the enormous volume of opponents to the Bolsheviks from the Russian South escaped through Constantinople. Then, many and long were the narratives that emerged on what the Patriarchate and the Greek Homogeneia offered to the escaping Russian bishops and priests and to the thousands of Russians who sought refuge abroad. I will mention only one: that dozens of Russian orphans were housed and fed in the halls of the Theological School of Halki! Especially, when the Bolsheviks separated religion from the state and the missionaries no longer enjoyed the protection of the Tsar, then, their hierarchy turned to the source of their high priesthood, the Mother Church of Constantinople, in order to regain their Orthodox status and to enjoy protection. So, Alexander from the U.S.A, Evlogios from Western Europe and Innocent from Beijing sought to be in communion only with the Phanar, although Anthony of Kiev moved to Karlovic, the path towards his isolation. This act during the period of persecution in Russia is a historical confirmation of the canonical consciousness of the Russian hierarchs. On Archbishop Alexander before 1917 and after 1918, I have written irrefutable facts in the Second Volume of my Synodikon.

Now, 90 years later, Moscow has tried to tarnish this canonical decision of expatriate Russian hierarchs with an uncanonical and sly intrusion in the liturgical concelebration of its recent celebratory event, namely, the participation in it of Bishop Tikhon from America. This is to create a fait accompli, and indicates the ethnophyletist intentions of the current ecclesiastics who are again attempting to bring about Panorthodox unity.

The Church, in order to survive in Russia during the period of persecutions, had to work with the mobilization of the whole army of the Russian people against the Nazi invaders. This showed the vigor of patriotism of the members of the local Church which was rewarded by Stalin with a moderate supervision of ecclesiastical matters by the KGB. The new maneuvers appeared at the selective call of those who would participate for the first time in the election and enthronement of the Patriarch of “All Russian Lands.” On January 31, 1945 Metropolitan Alexios Simansky of Leningrad was elected as Patriarch. An attempt was then made to present this election domestically as an Inter-Orthodox event, which had the “consent” of all the Orthodox, and abroad, as an awakening from hibernation of the entire Church in Russia and so its involvement in ecclesiastical developments now has more gravity. Indeed, to secure the sovereignty of the Russian Church in Eastern Europe, pro-Soviet governments began to dethrone the Primates of the Orthodox Churches who were in communion with the Church of Constantinople and to grant new acts of autocephaly to daughter Churches of Constantinople. Apart from being sacrilegious and uncanonical, these actions were brutally insulting to the sacred institution of the Mother Church! From this rage not even the martyr Archbishop Savvatios of Czechoslovakia was exempted, who, shortly after his release from the camp of the Nazis, literally disappeared, since he remained faithful to his Canonical Ecclesiastical Authority, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and refused to succumb to the Stalinist-inspired design of subservience of his Church to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Then, to show how the new center of Orthodoxy is in Moscow, they convened arbitrarily in 1948 a unilateral “Pan-Orthodox Conference,” which promulgated new “canons” of operation for the Inter-Orthodox “communion!” It was that occasion that determined to restrict Orthodoxy within its walls lest it comes into any contact with the “capitalist” religious world of the West. A little later, however, this was improved with the creation of the “Peace Movement,” – a Soviet construction that was moving mainly within the pro-Soviet ecclesiastical space! But the extreme outcome of this “Conference” awakened the Churches and the governments of the free nations to collaborate in placing at the sacred center of Orthodoxy a personality capable to resist the advancing Soviet domination of Orthodoxy. And this person was marked out in the U.S. It was Archbishop Athenagoras, who excelled there in pastoral ministry, and who in November 1948 was elected Ecumenical Patriarch.

In the 1950s, Athenagoras tried to highlight the apostolicity of the Church of Constantinople in order to revive Pan-Orthodox unity. However, the political oppositions over Cyprus had very painful consequences for the Orthodox Homogeneia of Constantinople and immobilized the continuing activity of the Patriarchate. In 1953 Stalin dies and his successors try to disengage from the isolationism which had been imposed by the hard Stalinist regime. The Moscow Patriarchate supports this policy and in 1960 Alexis of Moscow visits the Phanar. He requests Patriarch Athenagoras to open the doors for Russian representatives to be accepted by international church organizations, such as the WCC, etc., so that the Moscow Patriarchate may participate in inter-church activities. And the Phanar advocates the case of the Russians and succeeds.

In the autumn of 1961 Patriarch Athenagoras makes use of his canonical privilege and begins to convene Pan-Orthodox Conferences. Then, in 1963 he makes his first outing from the Phanar in order to preside in the “Celebration of the Millennium of the Holy Mountain” and from there he visits the Greek territories of his jurisdiction from the north of Greece and as far as Crete to the south. In November 1964, during his stay in Rhodes, Nicodemos Rotov of Leningrad visits one night the chairman of the Conference, Meliton of Elioupolis, and in a crisis of self-consciousness reveals much about the Soviet intervention in the Church in Russia – an experience which became mine, too, since I was present there as an assistant near the president. Nicodemos was the elder of the current patriarch Cyril!

The rapid improvement of relations between the Old and New Rome (1964-1967) reinforced the Inter-Orthodox interest in Dialogue, and peaceful visits of Patriarch Athenagoras to the daughter Churches of Constantinople were organized. Indeed, for this visit even a special medal was struck in 1967. The only ones who refused such a visit were the Russians, apparently fearing the presence of Athenagoras among the impressionable crowds of Russians who honor by tradition the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Thus, the return of the visit of Patriarch Alexios by the Patriarch of Constantinople was 17 years later, when in 1987, Patriarch Athenagoras’ successor, Demetrios, went to Russia at the dawn of “Perestroika,” on which occasion I, too, went there.

Meanwhile the Church in Russia did not cease from seeking opportunities for summer meetings of “celebrations” in order to attract Inter-Orthodox interest. In 1988 they celebrated the millennium of the conversion of the Russians to Christianity. Now, they cobbled together again 1025 years from the baptism of Rus', i.e., the once upon a time barbarous besiegers of Constantinople.

Now the priority of Moscow against Kiev is highlighted and a reversal of history is attempted in order to create the impression that the Mother Church of the Kievans is Moscow! The impartial history, however, testifies to the opposite, which has been recently noted in the message of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Ukrainians, namely, that the Mother Church of the Orthodox Christians in Russia is the Church of Constantinople and not Moscow! The greatest Byzantine historian, and sometime hieromnemon of the Church, George Pachymeres (1242-1310), wrote in the XIIIth century that “the soul of history is the truth, and what projects lies on its face is sacrilege” (Migne P.G. 143, 444A, 445A), which cannot last diachronically.

Mixing nationalism and “love-of-primacy” in ecclesiastical affairs has painful consequences and disrupts the unity of the body of the Church. In the past there have been several tragedies in the Church due to worldly Panslavist ideas of the Imperial Church. Let these be an instructive lesson to the newer generations because for decades they were very dearly paid for in Russia. Events are not adorned with musical notes  without the key of gratitude to the Mother who is the sole donor of the ecclesiological identity of the Church in Russia. When the Church leadership of a daughter Church minimizes the labors of the Mother Church the result is that it is haunted by the megalomania of love-of-primacy: i.e., “who would be the greatest” (Luke 9:46). –