Canonical Territory of the Moscow Patriarchate
an Analysis of Contemporary Russian Orthodox Thought
Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora
Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora
Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora
Behind the Curtain of the Moscow Patriarchate Ideology
In the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica (March 16, 2005), Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, accused the Moscow Patriarchate of ecclesiological heresy by defining the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate based on the principle of cultural and ethnic identities. According to Cardinal Kasper, behind this controversial theory of canonical territory is another substantially hidden ideological reality. Since those very harsh accusations made by Cardinal Kasper and because of the importance of this theory in the ecclesiological and canonical life of the Orthodox Church, the theme of “the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church”, also known as “the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate”, becomes one of the most controversial and often discussed subjects in contemporary Orthodox theology.
The analysis of this concept concentrates not only on its theological significance in the life of the Orthodox Church, but also on a growing concern about the political and ideological implications of this theory in the life of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union and their local Orthodox Churches. These multiphase implications are especially important in the perspective of our post-modern globalized world and especially in the development of today’s Europe. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, an increased emphasis is seen on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate to continue to develop the theory of “canonical territory” for strategic, political, and ideological reasons. One very important element of the development of the theory of the “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” is the emergence of the new independent states within the borders of the former Soviet Union, especially independent Ukraine and Estonia with their own aspirations for their independent Local Orthodox Churches. The reactivation of the 1923 autonomy of the Estonian Orthodox Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople on February 20, 1996 and the active presence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the affairs of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine infuriated the ideological strategists of the Moscow Patriarchate to the point of bitter accusations and acrimonies directed towards Constantinople. In addition, the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora in Western Europe and North America makes the situation even more difficult.
The present analysis is not to be considered complete as the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate embraces the entire spectrum of ecclesiological, theological, historical, and political perspectives. As the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate has been just recently elaborated, there is a need to further continue to study this “ecclesiological phenomenon”. In order to analyse this theme in the perspective of the Moscow Patriarchate in the last decade, I am going to analyse it based on the official documents of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the writings of contemporary Russian Orthodox theologians. By using the official statements and documents of the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as the crucially important statements of Russian Orthodox theologians and analysts, I can’t be accused of bias. It is my hope that this analysis will contribute to the understanding of this contemporary ecclesiological “anomaly” that emerged in its ideological forms after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As we analyse the time and the circumstances of the creation of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, we must not be overwhelmed by the complexity of the issue to be discussed. Since ideological and political elements are part of it, it is almost impossible to analyse the theory of the “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” only from the ecclesiological perspective.
The Russian Orthodox Church After the Collapse of the Soviet Union
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the enormous political changes in Eastern Europe, and the emergence of new independent states on the territory of the former Russian Empire can’t be seen as evidence of the end of the imperialistic ideology of the Kremlin. Even after the disappearance of the Communist Block many ideologists of the post-communist system maintain a strong feeling for the revival of the greatness of Russia. The nostalgia for the great past of imperial Russia is known among analysts as post-Soviet xenophobia. This xenophobic posture is especially applied to Russian Orthodoxy that has locked itself to the defence of isolationism and fundamentalism. The notion of the “golden age”, which is the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire before 1905, is mainly preserved in Russian Orthodox fundamentalism. There are many organizations in the Russian Federation that take the principle of the revival of the “greatness of Russia” as the foundation of their existence. Among them are: the Orthodox Brotherhoods, the very influential “societies”, “the Union for Christian Revival”, the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers (Khorugvennostsev- UOBB), the Congress of Russian Communities, Black Hundredism, among others. One of the most known forms of Russian Orthodox fundamentalism is exemplified in the Russian Union of Orthodox Citizens (UOC). This organization maintains one fundamental notion important for our analysis. According to UOC:
“The boundaries of Rus’ extend as far as the boundaries of the Russian Orthodox Church”.
This statement made by UOC is a very expansionistic and imperialistic notion that introduces the Russian Orthodox Church as the carrier of an imperialistic ideology and national Russian identity. The Russian ideologists need the Russian Orthodox Church to carry and to legitimize their policy. In the above statement, religion is being used as the catalyst to achieve “other” objectives. It introduces the interdependency between the boundaries of the Russian Church and the objectives of UOC. The boundaries of the Moscow Patriarchate, which we can understand as the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, are intertwined with the ideological concept of a party for the purpose of carrying forth the national Russian interest. This concept is affirmed by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, according to whom the Orthodox Church was always an instrument of Russian national identity. The statement made by Metropolitan Kirill is not different from the one made by Vladimir Zhirinovsky (leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) who looks upon the Russian Orthodox Church as a major source of Russian national thinking. We can’t forget about the prominent social manifestation “Pamyat”, founded in 1986 and led today also by Zhirinovsky, that extols Russia’s imperial past, propagates submission to the Russian Orthodox Church and targets ethnic minorities. Only according to this concept can we understand and comprehend the fundamentalism of Metropolitan Ioann who identified Orthodoxy with the ideology of the Russian State. If the ideology of UOC and the Moscow Patriarchate is strengthened by the concept of pan-Slavism then it has very dangerous connotations for the stability of Orthodoxy in the world.
One characteristic of the Russian Orthodox Church that is often used in the analysis of the Moscow Patriarchate is its acquiescence to the return to an authoritarian political system with a controlled economy where the Russian Orthodox Church would occupy a privileged position in state and society. Emblematic of the cooperation between the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate was an agreement signed on November 17, 2004 between Patriarch Alexy II and the Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev outlining the cooperation between the State and the Russian Orthodox Church. The agreement declares the intention of both parties to find a joint solution to terrorism. Another very interesting example is Primakov’s foreign policy doctrine of a “multipolar world that was loyally advocated by nobody else but Metropolitan Kirill himself. According to some political analysts of Russia, because of the very strong ties between religious leaders and the government, it is inconceivable for religious leaders to issue any kind of statement about public policy without prior approval from the Kremlin. This is one of the reasons why the Russian Orthodox Church, because of its established position in Russian society and its support from the government, remained silent on issues such as the alleged Russian military atrocities in Chechnya and the brutal treatment of the homeless in Moscow. The Moscow Patriarchate remains silent even though she contradicts her own document: “Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”. According to this document, the chapter on “Church and State” clearly states that the canonical church structures can’t support or cooperate with the government if the government is “waging civil war or aggressive external war”. A very strong condemnation of the Moscow Patriarchate’s policy of silence was issued by the Metropolitan of West Europe Avraam Garmeliia (Georgian Orthodox Church) who in his letter to Patriarch Alexy II accused the Russian Orthodox Church of conspiracy with the leadership and the military of the Kremlin. According to Metropolitan Avraam, behind the silence of the Moscow Patriarchate on the subject of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Georgian people in Abkhasia and South Ossetia, there lies an aggressive imperial policy of the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate. In response, the Vice-Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, defended the Moscow Patriarchate’s silence and the work of law enforcement agencies as a defence against terrorists and armed bands. A history of strong criticism of the cooperation of the Church leadership with the Communist Regime of the USSR goes back to 1927, when the imprisoned 17 bishops in Solovki (Russian Orthodox Church before the Revolution) signed a letter in which they denounced those of the Russian Orthodox Church who collaborated with the Russian Communist State. The signatures put under the letter were a distinct reaction to the shameful compromise of the Church leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Kremlin. This compromise is also known as “Sergianism”.
The “greatness” of Russia’s past locked in the xenophobic fundamentalism of the Russian Orthodox Church, together with the political aspirations of the Kremlin, creates within Russian society an image of an expansionist Russia where “Russian Orthodoxy is the greatest Christian confession”. We have to take notice that according to political analysts, the Moscow Patriarchate is the most Soviet institution in Russia today, with a top leadership that has not changed since the collapse of Communism. This image has tremendous implications on the expansionistic tendencies within the strategists of the Moscow Patriarchate. The strong alliance of the Kremlin with the Russian Orthodox Church is crucial in a pan-Slavic mission that could become a vehicle of influence of the Russian Federation in the former republics of Soviet Russia: mainly Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Estonia, etc. In the words of the Russian Minister of the Exterior lgor Ivanov, the Russian Orthodox Church is the connecting link among all the Slavic Churches. It is exactly this pan-Slavism that became the basis for Patriarch Alexy II’s appeal letter to the pastors and the flock of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine just before the election on December 2004:
“…Today any false move made under the influence of emotions and passions can destroy that what has been built for centuries, namely, ‘unity of spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4.3) of the fraternal Slavonic peoples bound by one faith, one destiny and one history”.
The developed theory of the “pan-Slavic” identity that preserves a strictly Russian national character and tradition has as its main objective the restoration of the former “natural” borders of the Russian state that is, the borders of the USSR. From another perspective, the restoration of the Russian identity is the restoration of the imperial ideology so characteristic for the theory of “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate”. This is one of the main reasons why the Moscow Patriarchate opposes the independence succession of the local Churches in the new independent states; it would substantially weaken the imperialistic ideology of the Russian Orthodox Church. It would also infringe on the medieval theory of Moscow as the “third Rome”. In effect, the Russian Orthodox Church, for reasons of an imperial ideology, defines itself as the defender of a distinctive Slavic Orthodoxy.
In order to comprehend the theory of the “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have to investigate the usage of the theory of “pan-Slavism”. This concept has fundamental implications for the strategy of the Russian Orthodox Church both abroad and on her own territory. From one perspective, this theory could be applied only to Eastern Europe where the history of the Slavic nations is intrinsically intertwined. But from another perspective, we have to consider the migration of populations in the globalized world. Because of globalization and the migration of millions of people from Ukraine, Estonia, Moldavia, and elsewhere to Western Europe and North America, the theory of pan-Slavism assumes a global connotation. The term becomes an international slogan under which the Moscow Patriarchate is attempting to create a new concept of transnational political influence in the context of its ecclesiological realm. A unique concept of pan-Slavism is proposed by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk. In his interpretation, the Moscow Patriarchate is “trans-national”. In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church is the Orthodox Church not only of Russia, but also of Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Estonia. In addition to this, Alexy II confirms the above by stating that because the new Baltic countries joined the European Union and because of the new immigrant communities in Western Europe, the territory of the Moscow Patriarchate will increase substantially. The statement made by Bishop Hilarion corresponds to the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate. The Statute says:
“The Russian Orthodox Church is a multinational Local Autocephalous Church in doctrinal unity and in prayerful and canonical communion with other Local Churches”.
It is very interesting to note that the official document of the Moscow Patriarchate defines the Russian Orthodox Church as a local Church but of a multinational character. Therefore, the locality of the Moscow Patriarchate is being defined by the multiplicity of ethnic local Churches of other independent States. In effect, according to Bishop Hilarion, the local Church of the Moscow Patriarchate assumes the boundaries of former republics of the former USSR. The boundaries of the local Russian Orthodox Church are defined not by the territorial principle of the Russian state, as it is traditionally defined by ecclesiological principle, but by the multinational boundaries of other independent states. Remarkable also is the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate defines its own local Church as not only Russian but also embracing within its boundaries the other national local Churches. If the local Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is defined as Russian, then the other Orthodox Churches of other independent countries are still Russian Churches even though the local Churches find themselves in sovereign and independent countries. Obviously, the term “Russian” has the “other” ideological connotation and reason mentioned earlier in our analysis that supersedes the basic principles of Orthodox ecclesiology. It is puzzling to observe that the government of the Russian Federation indisputably recognizes the independence of Ukraine and Estonia, while the Moscow Patriarchate refuses even to consider the possibility of giving complete independence-autocephaly to the local Churches of those countries. What is even more remarkable about the Moscow Patriarchate is the fact that it doesn’t follow and even contradicts its own statements and beliefs. On the occasion of the visit of Mr. Igor S. Ivanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, to the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Budapest, Bishop Hilarion stated:
“…The Russian Church, on the contrary, believes that each country and people have the right to have their own Orthodox Church in which the faithful can hear the services in their native tongue. Moreover, we believe that local Churches have the right to become independent and to administer themselves. This is why the Russian Metropolia in North America was recognized as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, and the Russian Metropolia in Japan as the autonomous Japanese Orthodox Church.
Definitely, the statement made by Bishop Hilarion in Budapest is a politically correct version of what the EU wants to hear. In reality, the words of Bishop Hilarion are in contradiction to the policy of the Moscow Patriarchate that can be seen on the basis of the situation in Ukraine. As sad as it is, only because of the fallacy of the Moscow Patriarchate’s ideological doctrine, this Church loses its reputation and dignity among the local Orthodox Churches in the world. Because of this opposition by the Moscow Patriarchate to the idea of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, there is a strong criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate regarding this issue. According to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an independent race-nation, according to the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles, has the right to constitute its own Church:
“In no way are You justified, Beatitude, in condemning the Orthodox Estonians of helotism. They, as a race themselves, have the right, in accordance with the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles, to constitute their own Church, having the bishops in their Church and the first among them from among their own race, especially since they constitute a sovereign and independent nation”.
Indisputably, the Ukrainian nation is a separate national entity and as an independent and autonomous country, according to the established ecclesiological norms, deserves its own independent local Church. The other question would be the fact that according to the document
“Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church: III Church and State”, “God blesses the state as an essential element of life in the world distorted by sin…”.
If the official document of the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the state of Ukraine as an essential element of life of the Ukrainian people and if the boundaries of the local Churches are defined by the geographical criteria that follow the political administration of the particular state, we cannot but strongly criticize the Moscow Patriarchate for continuing to control the local Church of the Ukrainian nation. We have to recall the fact that the Council held in Constantinople in 1872 condemned philetism as a negation of the catholicity of the Church. Obvious disregard for the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology as well as the imperialistic notion of the Moscow Patriarchate create an image of the Russian Orthodox Church as the most powerful ecclesiological entity within the Orthodox Church. It is not surprising then that based on such an expansionistic notion, Metropolitan of Smolensk Kirill stated:
“The Russian Orthodox Church holds de facto first place among all of the other Orthodox Churches because of her great spirituality, her ethics and virtue, her tradition, and her political influence; as such she speaks for over 350 million Russians throughout the world. Moreover, she exercises influence in all of the other Orthodox Churches of the Balkans, as well as in those countries where Orthodox faithful represent a minority. We are rightful heirs of Byzantium”.
The statement made by Metropolitan Kirill is a continuation of the outdated “3rd Rome theory” that is very dangerous for society, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox World in general. The self-expressed influence of the Moscow Patriarchate on the other Orthodox Churches mentioned by Metropolitan Kirill creates a direct interference in the affairs of the Local Churches of independent countries. One of the best examples in the history of the direct interference of the Moscow Patriarchate in the life of a particular Local Church is the second autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Poland and the direct interference of the Russian Orthodox Church in the life of the local Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia. After the Second World War in 1948, following the takeover of Poland by the Soviet Army and the deposition of the Orthodox Metropolitan of Warsaw because of his opposition to communism, the Moscow Patriarchate, disregarding the first autocephaly given to this local Church in 1924 by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and neglecting all the ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church, granted a second autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Poland. This act happened not because of the geographical changes in borders of the Orthodox Church of Poland, but because of the politics of that time and the communist aggression on Poland. The most tragic and intriguing event in this situation was the naming by the Moscow Patriarchate of a new Metropolitan of Warsaw and all Poland – Archbishop Makary Oksaniuk of Lviv, who was a member of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is not surprising that this act was strongly criticized by the leaders of the Orthodox Church to the point of condemnation. This example of the ideology of power of the Moscow Patriarchate is already seen on the international scene, when the same Metropolitan Kirill articulates and expresses the view of the Russian Orthodox Church towards a document that will determine the life of many countries in Europe. The statement made by Metropolitan Kirill corresponds to the policy of one of the most xenophobic and chauvinistic Russian organizations mentioned before – “Pamyat”, which advocates submission to the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. ln response, the expansionistic notion of the Moscow Patriarchate represented by Metropolitan Kirill and analysed in our presentation, was strongly criticized by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who described it as:
“foolish, hubristic, and blasphemous, … because it resounds with the spirit of caesaropapism and vaticanism; something totally unacceptable to the Orthodox Church”.
We shall be analyzing the response of the Throne of Constantinople in the second half of our presentation. The ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate follows its own path which contradicts the ecclesiological nature of the Orthodox Church that is being analysed in this presentation.
Before going into further analysis, we have to mention one other very important reason why the Moscow Patriarchate is not allowing for the peaceful succession of the Local Churches in the new and independent countries. According to the research project: “Religion and Values after the Fall of Communism”, which was carried out in 199l-1999, post-Soviet Russia remains a profoundly secularized country where despite the fact that 82 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox, only two to three percent are serious, practising Orthodox. This shocking statistic has an immediate effect on the Moscow Patriarchate’s ideology of power, which is being preserved mainly in the imperialistic Moscow ideology and in popular slogans and claims. The Russian Orthodox Church has at the present time over 26,000 parishes in its so-called “canonical territory”. Out of those 26,000 parishes over 50% (14,700) belong to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. On the territory of the Russian Federation there are only 12,600 parishes that belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. As a consequence, the Moscow Patriarchate, in losing the parishes in Ukraine, would be numerically smaller than the Orthodox Church in Romania. In the perspective of this evidence, it seems logical to say that it is evident why the Moscow Patriarchate can’t allow for the independent state of Ukraine to have its own autocephalous Church. It is not an ecclesiological reason, but a strictly imperialistic motive to control the oppressed. As shocking as it is, there is an offensive propaganda directed by the Moscow Patriarchate to divert the attention from this reality to the canonical status of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Because of this imperialistic ideology, the presumed primacy among the world’s Orthodox faithful and its presumed leadership in the ecumenical movement, Ukraine, as a consequence, then becomes a battle ground for the Moscow Patriarchate’s hegemonistic survival.
The above analysis was fundamental for a proper investigation of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. Without this introduction it would be almost impossible to comprehend the entire spectrum of the theory of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church that was developed for reasons mentioned above. We have to recognize the limitations of this analysis due to the limitations of sources. But even based on the presented and analysed material it is evident that the imperialism of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire before 1905 emerges once again with unprecedented power and sophistication. The political aspirations of the Moscow Patriarchate are only the medium to achieve its final expansionistic goal. The issue of the cooperation of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Kremlin, mentioned in our presentation, begs for vigilance and a further analysis of the subject.
II. The Canonical Territory of the Moscow Patriarchate
As we have just analysed the subject of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate from the ideological point of view, it is important for us to make certain distinctions in the discussed subject matter. It is correct to state that we have to make a differentiation between the recently developed theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate and the canonical territory of the local Church according to Orthodox ecclesiology. Ideologically, these two concepts are dissimilar as they represent two different points of departure. The lack of separation of those two ideologies creates an ecclesiological anomaly as it is presented by the ideological statements of the Moscow Patriarchate.
It is recognized that the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate was formulated by the anti-liberal ideologist Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg and Ladoga
(Snychev). It was Metropolitan Ioann, a very controversial Russian ultra-nationalist, who with this created theory of canonical territory became the chief strategist of the Russian Orthodox Church. In certain circles of political analysts of contemporary Russia, the theory of the “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” is also known as the “Doctrine of Metropolitan Ioann”. Based on our previous analysis of the Russian Orthodox Church, after the collapse of Communism, it would not be a mistake to assume that this theory was formed right after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the border of the USSR. As a result of political changes in Eastern Europe and the emergence of an ideologically political vacuum in the post-Soviet Eastern Block, the created theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate would become a mechanism by which the imperialistic ideology of imperial Russia would be maintained and rebuild.
From the very beginning of our analysis, we are facing a very peculiar problem. Although in the official documents of the Moscow Patriarchate we meet the phrase “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” quite often, the Russian Orthodox Church failed to provide an adequate elaboration this concept. There is a certain puzzling silence on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate on the elaboration of this concept or even on an introduction of it in any written official document. A very helpful although not an official document of the Russian Orthodox Church is a text circulated over the Internet under the title: “The Russian Canonical Territory”. It appears to be an attempt to circulate a text among Orthodox Christians in order to justify and project this recent un-ecclesiological theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. Based on our initial analysis, this text has some commonalities with statements of Russian Orthodox representatives and the ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate. Some of the points of the text are identical to the official statements of the Moscow Patriarchate officials that will be presented and analysed in our presentation. Because there is no authorship attached to the document we can’t base our further analysis on its essential ecclesiological elements.
Basic Characteristics of the Canonical Territory of the Moscow Patriarchate
In the internet-conference held by the Lutheran Church in Russia, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, articulates in an abbreviated form the Moscow Patriarchate’s position on the theory of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. In his interview Metropolitan Kirill defines the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate based on three major principles/peculiarities: territorial, ethnic/national, and pastoral. In a very short way he refers unsuccessfully to the concept of canonical territory in St. Paul’s letters, but immediately after this he bases the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate on external “peculiarities” of canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is doubtful that the peculiarities presented by Metropolitan Kirill are original to St. Paul’s letters and do constitute the original parameters of the Eucharistic ecclesiology of the early Church. As presented by Metropolitan Kirill, they represent later developments of Russian theological thought that compromised the essential ecclesiological elements of the Orthodox Church with the ideologically different peculiarities of the Russian Empire. Based on those external “peculiarities” mentioned by Metropolitan Kirill, we shall continue our analysis.
According to Metropolitan Kirill, the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate embraces the whole of Russia:
“…where the word of God was preached by the Orthodox and where she existed from the very beginning as a Local Church that is the Church of this place, is considered to be the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate”.
Although the statement made by Metropolitan Kirill sounds quite credible and theologically articulated, it contains a controversial ecclesiological ambiguity. For Metropolitan Kirill all the historical facts of Rus’, obviously, do not have any substantial ecclesiological or historical value. The historical local Church, as it was initially founded in Kievan Rus’- Ukraine by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and rightly recognized by Metropolitan Kirill as Local- “mysteriously transformed itself”, in the words of Metropolitan Kirill, into a Local Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In the centuries from 988 to l686 – the beginning of the annexation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Metropolis of Kiev prospered as a local Church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We have to remember that it was the Metropolis of Kiev, not Moscow, that was placed by Emperor Leo the Wise in the constitutional record of metropolises, archbishoprics and bishoprics “to the Patriarch of Constantinople”, in the 61st position. This document, dating from the 11th century, categorically defines the Metropolis of Kiev as a separate ecclesial entity that in no possible way can be identified with the Moscow Patriarchate, which at this time was not even on the map of Europe. The fact that the local Church of the Metropolis of Kiev was independent was so strong in the mind of the ecclesial life of the 15th century that even the autocephaly of the Metropolis of Moscow was defined in terms of separation from the Metropolis of Kiev. Even the “Golden Seal Certificate” of the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II in the year 1591, validating the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate, defined the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church as the Church of Russia and the far northern parts within the Russian dominion, excluding the Metropolis of Kiev and Lesser Rus’:
“…the throne of the most venerable and Orthodox city of Moscow is and shall be called Patriarchate’ .. and all Russia and the Far-Northern Territories shall be subject to the Patriarchal Throne of Moscow and all Russia… It has its place after His Beatitude of Jerusalem in the sacred diptychs … it is the head of this region of Moscow and all Russia and the Far-Northern territories…”.
We have to emphasize that the definition of the boundaries of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, according to this document, follows a territorial, and more accurately, administrative description of the boundaries of the Russian Empire. It is the same principle that is redefined once again by modern Orthodox theologians. We have to recall that the Czar of the Russian Empire at that time: Theodore, had the title: “King of Moscow and all Russia and of the extremely Northern territories”. The definition of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church presented in this document is clear and unambiguous. The exclusion of the Metropolis of Kiev and Lesser Rus’ from the edict was based on the territorial principle that Ukraine was not part of the Russian Empire and the local Church in Kievan Rus’ was not an integral part of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. The obvious omission of these very essential historical facts by Metropolitan Kirill creates an impression of non-existence of the local Church of Ukraine. It is a convenient and misleading way of avoiding and misrepresenting the historical and ecclesiological facts that are fundamental to the analysis of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is essential to mention that the “Golden Seal Certificate” of 1591 is the primary source of definition of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. The document articulates the establishment of a Patriarchate in the Orthodox World and coordinates the life of this ecclesiological entity according to the existing practice. In no way does this document limit the missiological character of the local Church of Russia. It essentially coordinates the life of this Orthodox entity among the other local Churches in this part of the world. Without this document and its ecclesiological clarification, an ecclesiological chaos would reign in the region.
We have to clarify an important ecclesiological principle that is strictly defended by Orthodox canonical and patristic teaching. One ecclesial body can’t be identified or manifested in another ecclesial body: one local Church can’t be in the territory of another local Church, because there is only one Body of Christ and not many. It is according to Orthodox ecclesiology, in the One Body of Christ, that the Church emphasizes the unity of all faithful in the same place under one Bishop in one ecclesial Body: “there is neither Greek nor Jew… but Christ is all and in all” (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). According to St. Paul, the followers of Jesus Christ create one Body of Christ and as one Body it can’t be divided as Jesus Christ is not divided. It is exactly this principle that is safeguarded in this document. We have to see this document as a magnificent presentation of the Orthodox ecclesiology that follows the doctrine of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this fundamental ecclesiological principle in the history of the Moscow Patriarchate was never truly validated and understood. The most recent and most characteristic example is the autocephaly given to the Orthodox Church of America by the Russian Orthodox Church. Based on the Tomos of autocephaly of 1971, the Orthodox Church of America received full independence while in the same ecclesial entity over 43 parishes continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. This action of the Moscow Patriarchate was strongly condemned by the majority of the Orthodox World as contrary to the ecclesiastical order in Orthodoxy. If a Eucharist doesn’t transcend divisions in the Local Church it is not a true Eucharist. As harsh as these words are, they can’t be taken lightly without any implications on ecclesiology. The rupture in the unity of the Church is a rupture in the essential Eucharistic elements of ecclesiology. Further analysis of this non-ecclesiological venture on the part of the Moscow Patriarchates should be studied separately in a different context of the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church.
Another very important ecclesiological principle that we have to analyse is the existence of the Metropolis of Kiev and Lesser Rus’ under the canonical jurisdiction of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate until 1686 under the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council. Until this date, the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine functioned as a local Church of Kievan Rus’ and independent from the Russian Orthodox Church. The presently disputed 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council was maintained until then by all the local Churches in all its legality. This is the canon that strengthened the ruling system of the Church in the Orthodox world and the canonical rights of all the local Churches of this area were secure. The contemporary debate about the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council is in fact a debate about the existence of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine until 1686. Although the debate consists mainly of the issue of the Orthodox Diaspora in Western Europe and North America, historically this was the case with the local Church of Kievan Rus’. Therefore, it would be advisable to analyse this canon in the context of the contemporary situation in Eastern Europe and particularly in the context of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It is surprising and ironic to see a statement made by Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia in his letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch where he, using the phrase of Archbishop Paul of Finland, defines the “barbarian lands” of the 28th canon as an “anachronism”. Definitely, the interpretation of the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council by Patriarch Alexy II is substantially different from the one that regulated the internal life of the Orthodox Church for so many centuries. If this principle was maintained until then and if it was supported by the “Golden Seal Certificate” in 1589, there is no legal or ecclesiological principle that would justify the annexation of the local Church of Kievan Rus’ by the Russian Orthodox Church. It is remarkable to note that the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council coordinates the ecclesiological principle of the life of the Church and can’t be analysed in a historical perspective. Because of the validity and importance of the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council in the Orthodox Church, the characterization of this canon as an “anachronism” is equal to ecclesiological absurdity. Ecclesiological norms are characterized not by historical evaluation and change, but by the eschatological principles of Eucharist that are incarnated in the structure of the local Church. The Church can’t be assimilated nor modeled on fading political powers and modern systems of democracy. The Church has only one model to follow: the pattern of the Kingdom of God. If this eschatological reality changes its nature and becomes an “anachronism” then the nature of the local Church loses its original reality. A local Church, in this case, becomes a historical entity that is being submerged under the political, sociological, historical and other changes. The local Church then becomes an obscured entity that, by its character, is identified by the change, and by nature it becomes a shadow of an eschatological reality. The annexation of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686 was a blatant violation of basic ecclesiological principles and the canons of the Orthodox Church. The second canon of the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople categorically forbids this kind of action:
“Bishops should not invade Churches beyond their boundaries for the purpose of governing them, nor should they mingle the Churches.. .”.
Historically, this canon is based on the earlier Apostolic Canons 14 and 34 which states that: “… no Bishop is permitted to pass over into the Province of another”. Because of the illegality of the annexation of the local Church in Ukraine in 1686 by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchate of the Ecumenical See of Constantinople never accepted this action and never acknowledged the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine as a part of the Moscow Patriarchate. What is even more important, following the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council, the Patriarchate of Constantinople still recognizes the local Church of Ukraine as an integral part of its Canonical jurisdiction. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is continuously identifying herself as a “tender Mother” of all Orthodox Christians of Eastern and Central Europe. In addition to the above, in a letter of Patriarch Athenagoras to Patriarch Pimen, all areas of Ukraine, which previously belonged to the local Church in Poland and were detached from this Church, are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:
“…And this act of the Russian Orthodox Church was done by exceeding her jurisdictional rights, since after the end of World War II, the territories of Ukraine and Byelorussia, which previously belonged to the Church of Poland, were detached from this Church; and the areas included in these detached Churches reaching westward as far as the Baltic Sea, and being from times past outside the boundaries of the Patriarchate of Moscow, are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchal Throne ”.
Because the local Church of Ukraine until 1686 was under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and there is no ecclesiological or canonical justification for the action of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686, the matters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are the matters of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The claim of Patriarch Athenagoras was reinforced just recently by Archbishop Vsevolod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. In his statement, Archbishop Vsevolod once again strengthened the position of the Patriarchate of Constantinople saying:
“The position of the Mother Church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, is that her daughter – the Moscow Patriarchate – consists of that territory, which it encompassed to the year 1686. The subjection of the Kyivan Metropolia to the Moscow Patriarchate was concluded by the Patriarch Dionysius without the agreement or ratification of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Great Church of Christ”.
Before our further analysis of the subject, we have to mention a very interesting argument used by the Moscow Patriarchate against the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council. In the earlier mentioned letter of Patriarch Alexy II to the Patriarchal See of Constantinople, Patriarch Alexy II emphasizes the fact that the autocephaly received by the Russian Orthodox Church from Constantinople in 1459 followed a general principle that acquired the condition necessary for autocephaly and it could not be applied to the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council. If we follow this line of thought, even though it is strongly disputable, we can be justly astonished that the same principle is not applied to the contemporary situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and that autocephaly is not granted to this Church. The lack of consistency on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding certain ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church could no doubt amaze and infuriate even the most patient and humble Christians.
In the establishment and validation of the Moscow Patriarchate by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, there is one very important element that is fundamental for our discussion. In the quoted document “Golden Seal Certificate” from 1591, the Moscow Patriarchate operates in certain and defined ecclesiastical territory. One of the fundamental Orthodox ecclesiological principles of a local Church is its territorial canonical limitation. According to the canons and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, the boundaries of every local Church, including the Patriarchates, are strictly defined. The belief in the “limitlessness” of the jurisdiction of one of the Patriarchates can’t stand scrutiny. It is because of this reason that the Moscow Patriarchate operates as an ecclesiological territorial entity defined by the patriarchal document. The validity of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate is based on the defined ecclesial reality that prohibits the territorial expansion to the territory of other local Orthodox Churches based either on political interference or military measures:
“…The same rule shall hold good also with regard to other diocese and churches everywhere, so that none of the Bishops most beloved by God shall take hold of any other province that was not formerly and from the beginning in his jurisdiction, or was not, that is to say, held by his predecessors. But if anyone has taken possession of any and has forcibly subjected it to his authority, he shall re-give it back to its rightful possessors, in order that the Canons of the Fathers be not transgressed, nor the secular fastus be introduced, under the pretext of divine services…” (Canon 8 of the 3rd Ecumenical Council).
In the definition of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, from one side there is a definite limitation of the territory, but from the other side, the patriarchal document opens the door for mission in the northern territories of the Russian Empire, where there was no local Church. Therefore, from one side, there is a defined canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church that does not allow for the expansion of its border towards the existing local Orthodox Churches, but from the other side, the document allows for mission towards the Northern territories of the Russian Empire where the existence of the Church was required.
Based on the above analysis of the territorial-geographical “peculiarity” of Metropolitan Kirill, we have to emphasize that the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate has canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church that was defined and limited to the territorial borders of the Moscow Empire before 1686. Because of this fundamental ecclesiological foundation and the canons of the Holy Fathers, the local Churches of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Estonia, Baltic countries… are not the integral parts of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. The military annexation of those countries by the Russian Empire and later by the Communists and the Soviet army can’t be the basis for the occupation of the local Churches by the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, the canonical territory defined by the by-law of the Russian Orthodox Church contradicts the ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church and goes against the territorial norm defined by the “Golden Seal Certificate”. The imperialism of the Russian Empire with the expansionistic ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate, as it was presented in the first part of our analysis, creates an ecclesiological anomaly that weakens the credibility of the Russian Orthodox Church in the World and paralyses the spiritual development of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine and elsewhere.
The second essential element for the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, according to Metropolitan Kirill, is the ethnic-national peculiarity:
“Since the Baptism of Russia, Russian Orthodox missionaries became enlightening pioneers who played a key role in the Christianisation of the country and the development of the national identity of the people to whom they brought the word of God”.
According to Metropolitan Kirill, the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate is defined by the national identity even of those to whom the missionaries brought the word of God. Therefore, the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate is expandable, according to Metropolitan Kirill, to the limits of the boundaries of missionized nations. The use of the national principle as a basis for the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate by Metropolitan Kirill is in accordance with the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church which in the general provisions states:
“The Russian Orthodox Church is a multinational Local Autocephalous Church in doctrinal unity and a prayerful and canonical communion with other Local Orthodox Churches”.
In the other websites of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church is presented as a multi-ethnic local Autocephalous Church.
It is very interesting to note, that the term “Russian” which is applied to the local Orthodox Church in Russia is nowhere seen in the “Golden Seal Certificate” of 1591. The language of the certificate is precise and strictly ecclesiological. The certificate avoids any ambiguity of defining the Orthodox Church in the Russian Empire according to the geographical and territorial principle. We may assume that the contemporary definition of the local Orthodox Church in Russia as Russian is a consequence of a process which took place after the French Revolution. The nation, up to the French Revolution, was defined not by the ethno-phyletic concept, but by the religion itself. This is a main reason why the document “Golden Seal Certificate” operates in this framework. The naming of the local Orthodox Church as Russian by Metropolitan Kirill is contrary to the original document of 1591 and finally it is a deviation from the original Orthodox ecclesiology. If the Moscow Patriarchate wants to emphasize the multi-national or multiethnic character of its nature, this Church cannot define itself in the first place as Russian and then include in the definition a multinational component. In effect, the second part of the definition is ecclesiologically mutilated and subjected by the first part with the emphasis on “Russian”. The way in which the Moscow Patriarchate portrays its national identity supersedes all other national cultures and identities, damaging, in effect, its own ecclesiology. In effect, Russian exclusiveness, as it is presented by the Statute, contradicts the basic notion of the Kingdom of God, where all the segregations are transcended. We have to categorically state that Orthodox ecclesiology forbids exclusivity of the local Church of a specific territory to a particular nation or national ideology. It has to be remembered that the Church and its ecclesiology must apply theological criteria which are not identical with political, economic, nationalistic, or cultural dimensions. In fact, the definition used by Metropolitan Kirill and the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church to characterize the local Church of Russia as Russian contradicts the principle of locality of this ecclesial entity as a self-governing, hierarchical unity that embraces all Orthodox Christians living there. According to the statement made by Metropolitan Kirill, the local Church of Russia is not only exclusive, but also discriminatory to the existing reality of the multinational dimension of the local Churches. The absolute denomination of the Russian nationalistic element in the Statute creates a Russian cultural monopoly that imposes its superiority over other cultures and ethnic identities. It is also wrong, according to Orthodox ecclesiology, to use missionaries in order to subordinate the missionized territories under its own control. The emphasis on the Russian ethnic and nationalistic element in the definition replaced the territorial or the geographical principle of the original Orthodox ecclesiology. This can be seen then as the secularization or politicization of the Church. The only logical conclusion for such an ideology is the preservation of an imperialistic ideology of a great Russia and the recovery of a lost Empire. There is no ecclesiological justification for the Moscow Patriarchate to emphasize Russian nationalism in the by-law of the Russian Orthodox Church and in the theory of its canonical territory. The ethnic or national elements are not and cannot be an ecclesiological principle upon which we can build the entire theory of the canonical territory.
What is even more remarkable in the statement of Metropolitan Kirill is the use of Russian nationalism for the purpose of defining the ecclesiological principle of a local Church. According to Metropolitan Kirill’s statement, the local Church in Russia is not only defined by the national criteria, but also dependent on this foundation. It is remarkable to hear those remarks from a church statesman who can so easily compromise the basic ecclesiological principle of the Orthodox Church with the ideological imperialistic tendency of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is just incomprehensible for any Orthodox theologian to compromise the eschatological vision of the Church with the nationalistic and xenophobic element of the Russian hierarchy. As a consequence, the Church, as is represented by the Moscow Patriarchate, loses her salvific direction and Divine character. As a consequence, the Patriarchate of Constantinople can’t stand on the side and be uncritical of the ideology of the Russian Orthodox Church. Because the Ecumenical Patriarchate refuses to accept the events caused by un-canonical force and tyranny, it is commendable to see the Ecumenical See taking action to defend the weak. The comments made by Patriarch Bartholomew and mentioned in the first part of our presentation are courageous and consequential to the historical duty of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. When it comes to the point of betrayal of its ecclesiological direction by the Moscow Patriarchate, the words used by Patriarch Bartholomew are harsh but necessary in order to defend the nature of the Church. From the other perspective, as we analysed the ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate and the other official statements of Metropolitan Kirill, we should only conclude the inevitable. The ecclesiological nature of the Church is subordinated to the “higher” Russian imperial ideology. We should only add that the territory of the local Church is defined not by the national, racial, or ethnic criteria, but by the geographical and administrative parameters that identified the local Orthodox Church from the very beginning.
There is also another reason for defining the local Orthodox Church of Russia as Russian with a multinational character. By defining the local Church of Russia as Russian, the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church and consequently Metropolitan Kirill defend the universal national jurisdiction. If by definition the local Church is defined as national, this particular national local Church enjoys universal national jurisdiction that includes within jurisdiction all members of the same political conviction. In a sense, a local Church becomes a source or a vehicle of universal ideology discussed in our previous analysis. As a consequence, the ethnic-national particularity used by Metropolitan Kirill carries an ethno-phyletic ideology that corresponds with a heresy. The accusations made by Cardinal Kasper in our introduction are ecclesiologically warranted and justified. The local Church of Russia is not a nationalistic entity that can be subjected to the external imperialistic ideology of Russian nationalists. From the other side, the ethno-nationalistic peculiarity used by Metropolitan Kirill is a consequence of an established agenda of Russian imperialism. The infiltration of ethnophyletism into the ecclesiology of the Church creates out of her a subservient entity that carries the ideology of nationalism. The ideology of phyletism, which can be seen in the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church and in the statement made by Metropolitan Kirill, causes ecclesiological chaos not only in internal affairs of the local Orthodox Church of Russia, Ukraine, and Estonia, but also in the life of the Orthodox Church in North America.
Another very important element of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, briefly elaborated by Metropolitan Kirill, is the pastoral “peculiarity” that embraces in its definition some external pseudo-ecclesiological elements. According to Metropolitan Kirill:
“Our Church feels that great responsibility for her members, that is, for those who received from us the sacrament of Baptism, which we believe makes a person a member of the Church”.
In our first evaluation of this statement, we have to emphasize the very wide concept that can be interpreted in various ways. One striking characteristic of this comment is the fact that it is not limited to any ecclesial body or to any particular territory. It is an open concept that transcends all the known ecclesiological norms. In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church considers itself responsible for all her members in whatever territory they are. Because of the Sacrament of Baptism, all her members are in the pastoral care and at the same time in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. According to this comment, any member of the Russian Orthodox Church, regardless of where in the world he/she lives, even if that be within the territorial borders of any local Orthodox Church, is still a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, the Sacrament of Baptism of every member of the Russian Orthodox Church supersedes all the established ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church, including the quoted canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In its foundation, this kind of interpretation even supersedes the condemned phyletism of 1872. This kind of interpretation is supported by other representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. In affirmation of this interpretation, Patriarch Alexy II without hesitation confirmed the presence of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe because of the thousands of faithful who emigrated Western Europe or because of the enlargement of the European Union towards Eastern Europe. The presence of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe is possible, according to Patriarch Alexy II, thanks to the application of the pastoral “particularity” mentioned by Metropolitan Kirill. The new wave of emigrants from the former Soviet Union is considered by the Moscow Patriarchate as a carrier of the Moscow Patriarchate’s canonical territory. The statement made by Patriarch Alexy II, regarding the presence of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe, definitely counteracts the established norms and parameters of Orthodox ecclesiology. Once again, the same statement is reiterated by Alexy II in his letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in which the Moscow Patriarchate considers the parishes in Western Europe as part of its canonical territory:
“… The desire for the restoration of the spiritual unity of our people is reflected in the declaration you have mentioned, which was made by the Holy Synod on I November 2000, where it is a question of those children “who live beyond the limits of the Russian State” (not “outside the limits of the Russian Church”, as is incorrectly stated in Your letter”).
As we see in the document, the statement follows the same strategy of the Moscow Patriarchate ideology of universal power without any concern for the ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church. This kind of strategy presents classical Russian chauvinism that will trample any established norms in order to achieve its final goal. There is no other principle that would lead us to a different conclusion. It is only for this reason that there are some parishes in Western Europe composed of the Russian emigrants that the Russian Orthodox Church feels obliged to embrace in its canonical territory. At this moment, this is a simple application of the analysed phyletic principle and “pastoral” particularity that allows in a non-ecclesiological way the enlargement of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate.
This kind of interpretation of the “canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate” has even larger global implications. According to Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarchate in London, England, even the normalization of the Eucharistic unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Communities in the United States and Canada was interpreted by the Moscow Patriarchate as offensive. A very strong condemnation of this kind of interpretation of the basic principles of Orthodox ecclesiology comes from the participants of the International Congress of Canon Law in Budapest, who precisely clarified this situation. According to participants of this Congress, any member of the Local Church who emigrated to another country and resides there becomes a member of the Local Church that is established in that particular country. In fact, the pretension of the Moscow Patriarchate has an even larger context than we can imagine. The members of the Russian Orthodox Church who emigrated to Western Europe and parishes in Western Europe with contingents of the Russian emigration provide opportunities for the Russian Orthodox Church to contest the 28th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council. The aspiration of the Moscow Patriarchate to dominate the Orthodox world is a constant “work in progress”.
In conclusion, it is essential for us to emphasize the need to discuss the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate in a variety of perspectives that are constitutive to our analysis. A proper examination of the analysed subject asks all those who will continue to analyse this theme to extend the parameters of their analysis to other fields: history, politics, sociology… As it is a complex subject, it is almost impossible to discuss the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church only from the ecclesiological perspective without discussing the historical and political/ideological data. For this reason, in the first part of our analysis we discussed the contemporary ideological background of the Moscow Patriarchate that infiltrated the ecclesial life of the Russian Orthodox Church. Without this introductory analysis of this ideological trend in the Russian Orthodox Church it would be almost impossible to comprehend the genesis of the theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. As we concluded, the manner in which the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate is presented by Russian Orthodox ideologists is only a theory without ecclesiological and historical support. This is one of the reasons why, in the second part of our analysis, we had the responsibility to address this question in the historical perspective that is constitutive for the ecclesiological understanding of the boundaries of the Moscow Patriarchate. Based on the analysis, we have to state that the present universal imperial ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate is a historical continuation of the processes of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries that saw the Russian Orthodox Church nationalized and secularized. The process of secularization of the Russian Orthodox Church continues even today, as it absorbs the old nationalistic ideas in a revised edition.
As we have discussed in our presentation, the ecclesiology of the Church can’t be subjected to any ideology of any time or in any place. The Church patterns itself on the image of the Kingdom of God which provides the Church with the eschatological vision. Because of the eschatological vision, the local Church functions within the ecclesiastical norms that regulate its life among the rest of the local Churches. As the essential ecclesiological elements that regulate the life of the local Churches are contained in the historical life of the Church, we had to analyse the origin of the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate in order to present the fundamental ecclesiological parameters of canonical boundaries on which this Patriarchate was established. This is our main reason for taking we took so much time to analyse the document of 1591: the “Golden Seal Certificate”, wherein we find the validation of the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate and its territorial coordinates. According to this document, we concluded that the ideological aspiration of the Moscow Patriarchate presented in the period of the last four centuries is nothing other than political machinations on the part of the state to justify and maintain its original aspiration. The infiltration of state ideology into the ecclesial life of the Russian Church was so immense that the present ideological life of the Moscow Patriarchate is a consequence of that infiltration. At the present time, this ideology is even more sophisticated and academically saturated with a new methodology and a form of ecclesiological creationism. In order to strengthen its own case, the Moscow Patriarchate is not afraid to challenge the fundamental ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church that regulated the life of the local Churches until the present. The examples of the Orthodox Church in Poland and the USA are its best expressions. As we analyse the ecclesial situation in Ukraine and Estonia, we might be just as astonished at the behaviour and attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate. The local Churches in Ukraine and Estonia are treated by the Moscow Patriarchate as political institutions and properties to be given away or subordinated at the right time. This typical imperialistic approach to the Church destroys the genuine life of Orthodox Christians. In effect, the Moscow Patriarchate developed an ecclesiological theory that in itself betrays not only the Eucharistic life of a local Church but also its own identity. We may assume that being aware of this betrayal of the essential Orthodox ecclesiology, the Moscow Patriarchate fails to introduce its official teaching on its interpretation of the canonical territory. The only evidence of this theory is found in the statements of the Russian Orthodox Church leaders who, together with the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, give us evidence of the real ideology of the Moscow Patriarchate. Only in this perspective can we approach and comprehend the recently developed un-canonical theory of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. We can only hope that at this time, when the Orthodox Church in Russia can speak freely, it is time to direct more of the attention of Russian theologians to the eschatological reality of the Church that is never too old or anachronistic. The Orthodox Church is a living Divine Body that incarnates itself in the local Church presided over by a bishop. Only in this parameter is it possible to find a genuine Orthodox ecclesiology that overcomes all ideological trends and political agendas. This should be the direction of the Moscow Patriarchate in the future. An honest discussion of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate could resolve so many burning issues in this part of the world and in the Diaspora. As long as this discussion is not addressed by the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate in a constructive way, ecclesiological chaos in the Orthodox world will continue.