- Archpriest Anastasios Gkotsopoulos [Translation by Orthodox Synaxis]
November 25, 2020
The Synodical Praxis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1686) and the Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine
1. The Canonical Affiliation of Ukraine
In his work The Synodical Praxis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1686) and the Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine, Prof. Fidas refers to Ukraine’s violent annexation to the Church of Russia, to the Metropolitan of Kiev’s anti-canonical participation of the Patriarchal Synod of Moscow and that the Church of Ukraine has always belonged to the See of Constantinople. The professor states the following verbatim:
a. “With this Synodical Praxis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1686), not only were the eastern eparchies of Ukraine and Belarus not fully and permanently transferred to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow, as the theological advisors of the Patriarchate of Moscow dubiously assert, but to the contrary the inviolability of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s jurisdiction in Ukraine was declared throughout the territory of the Metropolis of Kiev,” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, p. 5).
b. “Following the decisions of the Synodical Praxis of Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysios IV (1686), “Little” (Ukraine) and “White” Russia came under the direct canonical jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Kiev, which depended on the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, p. 22).
c. “The Patriarchate of Moscow has struggled for five centuries forcibly and with purely political or ethno-phyletistic criteria to subordinate the Church of Ukraine to its dynastic jurisdiction and for this reason the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the sacred Clergy and pious laity of Ukraine always refused to accept this dependency,” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, pp 35-36). The professor’s claim is completely arbitrary and inaccurate. In fact, to the contrary, “the [canonical] ecclesiastical hierarchy [of about 90 hierarchs], the sacred Clergy and the pious laity of Ukraine” counts 12,000 parishes and 5,000 monks who remain in the canonical Church despite the persecution and state and para-state terrorism exercised against them.
d. “Of course, this unique, substantial independence is enshrined in its Charter, since the Holy Synod of the Church of Ukraine elects and ordains not only all the hierarchs of Ukraine, but also its Primate, the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine. Nevertheless, this regime of the Church of Ukraine’s substantial independence is relativized and weakened by the Patriarchate of Moscow’s anti-canonical claim that the Metropolitan of Kiev is also a regular member of the Holy Synod of Moscow, apparently to express the arbitrary claim of its full dependency on its jurisdiction” (p. 37). Where did the professor realize that the “Patriarchate of Moscow’s claim that the Metropolitan of Kiev is also a regular member of the Holy Synod of Moscow” is “anti-canonical”? He had previously written the complete opposite of this (see paragraph e. below). The participation of the Metropolitan of Kiev in the Holy Synod of Moscow is provided by her statute in a decision of the Council of 1945 which, indeed, had inter-Orthodox participation (including from Constantinople)! So now the professor recalls that it is an “anti-canonical claim”!
A most complete refutation of the new opinions of the professor above has been provided by the professor himself in his previous publications. In a whole series of scholarly publications over a period of forty years (1966-2005), Prof. Fidas has written the following, which makes it the full, canonical jurisdiction of the Church of Russia in Ukraine absolutely clear:
a. Fidas, Ecclesiastical History of Russia, pp. 273-274: “Dionysios of Constantinople placed the Metropolitan of Kiev under the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow (1687).”
b. Fidas, Ecclesiastical History of Russia, pp. 317-318 and idem, “The Russian Church,” ΘΗΕ 10 (1965), p. 1055: “The Metropolitan of Kiev participates in the Synod of the Church of Russia as one of three permanent members (along with those of Moscow and Saint Petersburg).”
c. Fidas, Ecclesiastical History of Russia, pp. 301-304: The Theological Academy of Kiev is one of the four most important academies of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
d. Fidas, Ecclesiastical History of Russia, pp. 335: The Metropolitan of Kiev served as president of the All-Russian Council of 1917 at which the patriarchal institution was reestablished in Russia.
e. Fidas, Ecclesiastical History of Russia, pp. 348-349 and idem, “The Russian Church,” ΘΗΕ 10 (1965), p. 1077: Of particular importance and, indeed, with inter-Orthodox participation is the Council of 1945, which drafted the administrative regulation of the Church of Russia. Prof. Fidas writes, “Taking part in the Synod of 1945 were Patriarch Christophoros of Alexandria, Patriarch Alexander of Antioch, the ‘Patriarch-Catholicos’ of the Church of Georgia Kallistratos, the representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Metropolitan Germanos of Thyateira, the representative of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Athenagoras of Sebasteia, the representative of the Serbian Church, Metropolitan Joseph of Skopje, Bishop Joseph of the Church of Romania, etc. … The Synod also drafted the “Administrative Regulation of the Church of Russia.” According to Article 19 of the Regulation, the Metropolitan of Kiev participates as a permanent member of the Standing Synod! Does there exist the slightest reservation in good faith that the Metropolitan of Kiev does not depend on the Church of Russia, according to the unanimous decision of the Churches above?
f. Fidas, “The Russian Church,” ΘΗΕ 10 (1965), p. 1077: among the eparchies of the Church of Russia is Kiev and all Ukraine, as well as all the monasteries of Ukraine!
From the above historical facts cited by Prof. Fidas himself, it is clear that in recent centuries the Orthodox in Ukraine have participated in all facets of the ecclesiastical life of the Patriarchate of Russia (monachism, theological schools, administration, including the Holy Synod, persecutions, etc.) and not in that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the works: Nicephoros, Metropolitan of Kykkos and Tellyria, The Contemporary Ukrainian Question and its Solution according to the Sacred Canons (Nicosia: Study Center of the Sacred Monastery of Kykkos, 2020), p. 34ff; Priest Anastasios Gkotsopoulos, Ukrainian Autocephaly: A Contribution to Dialogue (Thessaloniki: To Palimpsiston, 2019), pp. 15-36; idem, “Ukrainian Autocephaly: An Invitation to Ecclesiastical Unity or an Invitation to the Unity of the Church?,” homily given on January 1, 2020, available as a pdf in Greek here, pp. 4-7, there are many facts (most of which from Constantinople!) that demonstrate the fullness of the canonical jurisdiction of the Church of Russia in Ukraine.
In any case, however, apart from the documents and facts, the pan-Orthodox ecclesiastical consciousness, which for 332 years has considered Ukraine to be part of the Church of Russia, suffices on its own.
Moreover, we should not forget the fact that it is without any Tomos or Praxis, but rather solely on the basis of longstanding ecclesiastical consciousness and practice that Eastern Illyria belongs to the See of Constantinople and not that of Rome.
The transfer of Eastern Illyria (Crete, Achaia, Thessaly, Albania, Macedonia) from the Patriarchate of Rome to the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not take place with the issuance of a Tomos, as would be normal, but on the basis of ecclesiastical custom.
Until 731, Eastern Illyria canonically belonged to the jurisdiction of the then-Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome.
In 731, the Iconoclast Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, against the emphatic protests of the Orthodox Pope Gregory III, by imperial decree seized Eastern Illyria and transferred it to the Patriarchate of Constantinople with the aim of punishing the Pope of Rome, who was Orthodox and did not agree with the destruction of icons!
Consequently, just as Eastern Illyria belongs to Constantinople because of ecclesiastical custom, despite the fact that there does not exist any ecclesiastical praxis (“Tomos”) transferring jurisdiction from Rome, all the more so the Metropolis of Kiev belongs to the Patriarchate of Moscow, since there exists the Patriarchal and Synodical decision of 1686, which ecclesiastical consciousness both in Constantinople and at a pan-Orthodox level has interpreted as having created an ecclesiastical custom for 332 continuous years.
2. Misinterpretation of the Praxis of 1686
The misinterpretation and manipulation by Fidas of the texts relating to the Synodical Praxis of 1686 is obvious. For a concise review of the interpretation of these texts, see Priest Theodoros Zisis, Ukrainian Autocephaly: The anti-Canonical and Divisive Intrusion by Constantinople (Thessaloniki: To Palimpsiston, 2018), pp. 75-95.
Besides, the consistent, stable and uninterrupted ecclesiastical consciousness of three centuries creates an ecclesiastical custom that authentically and authoritatively interprets the Praxis of 1686 as the full and canonical transfer of Ukraine to the Patriarchate of Moscow.
3. Regarding the Right to Hear Appeals
For a thorough refutation of Mr Fidas’ views about whether Constantinople has the right to receive the appeals of clergy from other Orthodox jurisdictions, see Nikephoros, Ukrainian Question, p. 86ff.
The professor refers to Filaret’s appeal on pp. 65-71. But Mr Fidas artificially conceals the fact that Filaret appealed to Constantinople in 1992, as soon as he was condemned (June 11, 1992) and the Ecumenical Patriarch immediately rejected his appeal in his letter of August 26, 1992, accepting the condemnation by the Church of Russia as canonical.
The appeal was already heard and conclusively rejected in 1992! For this reason, all the Churches accept Filaret as deposed and anathematized! (See Nikephoros, Ukrainian Question, pp. 110-113; Gkotsopoulos, homily, pp. 9-14; idem, Ukrainian Autocephaly, pp. 55-60).
Mr Fidas writes with regard to Filaret’s deposal: “In the same spirit, the Patriarchal Synod annulled the anti-canonical and unjustly-imposed deposal as canonically unjustified and abusive, as can be deduced from the reasoning of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is, moreover, widely-known that the deposal of Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev by the Patriarchate of Moscow took place unjustly and anti-canonically… In the same spirit, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate annulled the anti-canonically imposed penalty and restored the unjustly-deposed Metropolitan of Kiev to his episcopal dignity,” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, pp. 68, 70).
With these unsubstantiated allegations, the professor directly insults the Ecumenical See:
Did it take 26 years (1992-2018) for the Patriarchate to understand that Filaret’s deposal was “canonically unjustified and abusive”?
Did it have to leave the “unjustly-deposed” Filaret, an elderly person (today he is 91) under the “anti-canonically imposed penalty” for 26 years? Completely unreasonable!
And most importantly: the professor forgets that Patriarch Bartholomew himself noted regarding Filaret’s deposal: “Our Holy Great Church of Christ, recognizing in full the… exclusive competencies of the Most Holy Church of Russia under You, receives that which was synodically decided regarding the person in question, not wishing at all to cause any difficulty for Your Sister Church” (Letter of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Patriarch Alexei of Moscow, protocol no. 1203/26.8.1992). Regarding the anathematization of Filaret (1997), the Ecumenical Patriarch states in his letter to the Patriarch of Russia: “Taking cognizance of the above decision, we share it with the Hierarchy of Our Ecumenical See and impel it henceforth not to have any ecclesiastical communion with those mentioned” (Letter of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Patriarch Alexei of Moscow, protocol no. 282/7.4.1997).
Finally, when the Ecumenical Patriarch stated in writing that the Patriarchal Synod “receives that which was synodically decided regarding the person in question, not wishing at all to cause any difficulty,” did he mean that it recognizes it as “canonically unjustified and abusive,” as Mr Fidas writes later?
Mr Fidas only refers to the appeal of Filaret. Does he once more keep silent about the shocking case of Makary and the fifteen “bishops” with him? Why?! Obviously, he cannot justify unjustifiable things. The professor understands that Makary, with his band, is not entitled to exercise an appeal because he was never deposed since he is completely unordained! He draws his “consecration as a bishop” from the charlatin and imposter Chekalin. So what “restoration to hierarchical dignity” is the Patriarchate talking about? This is an absurd and impractical legal position.
Unfortunately, however, the Patriarchal Declaration of October 11, 2018 also refers to the appeal of Makary! “Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Filaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church.” What appeal? Against what judgment was it made?
4. Procrustean Scholarship…
Professor Fidas refers in his work to the very important letter of Patriarch Jeremias III (September 23, 1723) which was issued in response to a request from Tsar Peter the Great. It makes the grievous impression that he is hiding some very critical phrases of the letter that completely subvert his argument!
The professor’s citation (in Fidas, Synodical Praxis, p. 28) is as follows: “Our mediocrity… confirms, concludes and declares that that which was established by the most pious and serene autocrat… is and is called the sister in Christ Synod in the great and holy Russian Kingdom by all pious and Orthodox Christians… And it has the right to perform and institute that which the four most holy Apostolic Patriarchal Sees do. [Our mediocrity] councils, motivates and prescribes it to preserve and secure inviolate the customs and canons of the holy Seven Ecumenical Councils and all else that the holy Eastern Church holds and remains steadfast in all things unto the ages. (K. Delikanes, Patriarchal Documents, vol. 3, 234-235.”
The full letter to Peter the Great is as follows: “Our mediocrity, by the grace and authority of the most-holy life-giving and sacredly-governing Spirit, confirms, concludes and declares that that which was established by the most pious and serene autocrat, the holy king of all Muscovy, Little and White Russia, and all the Northern, Eastern and Western [lands] and all the many parts of the dominion of kyr kyr Emperor Peter Alexievich, very beloved of [our mediocrity], is and is called the sister in Christ Synod in the great and holy Russian Kingdom by all pious and Orthodox Christians, clergy and laity, rulers and ruled, and by every personal dignitary. And it has the right to perform and institute that which the four most holy Apostolic Patriarchal Sees do. [Our mediocrity] councils, motivates and prescribes it to preserve and secure inviolate the customs and canons of the holy Seven Ecumenical Councils and all else that the holy Eastern Church holds and remains steadfast in all things unto the ages.”
From the letter it is clear that the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Church and of her Synod extends to the territorial authority of the Russian Empire, namely: the territory of “all Muscovy, Little and White Russia, and all the North, East, West and all the many parts”! In other words, Patriarch Jeremias III of Constantinople recognizes the canonical jurisdiction of the Synod of the Church of Russia over “Little… Russia,” that is, Ukraine! It is obvious why the professor concealed the clause that describes the limits of Russia’s jurisdiction. This amounts to a falsification of historical events.
Moreover, in the letter of Peter the Great to Patriarch Jeremias III, Mr Fidas adds in parentheses the word “(= appeal)”, which serves his argument. Unfortunately, however, Peter the Great did not write this word:
The professor’s quote is as follows (in Fidas, Synodical Praxis, 27-28): “So if ever they ask Your All-Holiness for any good advice for the benefit and stronger economy of the Church (= appeal), in such circumstances please do not deprive them of this, for the common interest of the Orthodox… (K. Delikanes, Patriarchal Documents, vol. 3, 231-234).”
The letter as it is written: “So if ever they ask Your All-Holiness for any good advice for the benefit and stronger economy of the Church, in such circumstances please do not deprive them of this, for the common interest of the Orthodox…”
The professor deliberately added the non-existent word (“= appeal”) to the letter, however it is not included in the original text.
5. When the scholar chooses not to have contact with reality...
Mr Fidas writes, “Therefore, the only canonical path to resolving their longstanding and sharply irreconcilable differences is the immediate proclamation of the autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine, which will satisfy a persistent and just demand of the great Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
The professor conceals the fact that not only did there not exist any “demand of the great Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, p. 38), but to the contrary, the request of Hierarchs, the other clergy and the faithful laity was not to receive autocephaly. Proof of this is that the faithful people remained on the side of the canonical Church and refused to join the autocephaly.
And naturally, “the immediate proclamation of autocephaly” did not bring about the “resolution of their longstanding and sharply irreconcilable differences” that the professor assumed. To the contrary, indeed, it increased the violence.
Finally, the degree of seriousness of the study (corresponding to that of its author’s broader scholarly contribution) is demonstrated in its conclusion: “Therefore, the only canonical path to restoring the internal unity of the divided ecclesiastical body of the severely-tested Great Orthodox Church of Ukraine is, as in all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches of modern times, the immediate proclamation of autocephaly, which will prove to be particularly beneficial not only for the restoration of the internal unity of the ecclesiastical body, but also for the strengthening of the Patriarchate of Moscow’s fraternal bonds with the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (Fidas, Synodical Praxis, p. 71).
Inferring from what has been mentioned above, the “immediate proclamation of autocephaly” proved neither “to be particularly beneficial not only for the restoration of the internal unity of the ecclesiastical body,” nor “for the strengthening of the Patriarchate of Moscow’s fraternal bonds with the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” nor for pan-Orthodox communion!
Violence, state action against the faithful, schism within schism and all the unrest in worldwide Orthodoxy prove that Constantinople and its fellow-travelers in Ukraine had no contact with Ukrainian reality when they planned Ukraine’s “autocephaly,” which proved to be a headache.
And the most tragic thing: they turned the problem of one local Church into a pan-Orthodox problem with unforeseen consequences for the unity of Orthodoxy.
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The Original English Source:
Many thanks to Orthodox Synaxis for this translation: https://orthodoxsynaxis.org/2020/11/25/archpriest-anastasios-gkotsopoulos-examines-prof-vlasios-fidas-claims/