THE RUSSIAN CANONICAL TERRITORY
A text has circulated over the Internet, through which there was an unsuccessful attempt to show that the Patriarchate of Moscow has worldwide canonical jurisdiction. In order to support this position or attempted perspective, this text projects recent unecclesiastical theories, which are political, primarily animated by ethnophyletism, and which have no relation to Holy Scripture, although there is an effort to refer to it, but instead contradict the sacred cannons-decisions of the Ecumenical Synods which, as known, are obligatory in terms of their application by the local Orthodox Churches, in order for these to be Orthodox. These positions also contradict the ecclesiology and tradition of the Orthodox Church.
From the outset, it may be said that even the title of this text (“The Russian canonical territory”) is inappropriate from a canonical and ecclesiological perspective. Nowhere in the sacred canons and in the Orthodox patristic theology is the canonical jurisdiction – “territory” defined with criteria which are not ecclesiastical or spiritual but instead ethnophyletic, political, cultural, linguistic, and so forth, which betray, as it appears, a nostalgia for secular expansionist, and imperialistic objectives characteristic of former periods and circumstances.
Furthermore, that which is formulated in the introduction of this text, namely that only few people are suitable to define the concept of “canonical territory” signifies, if nothing else, at least ignorance. The canonical territory and canonical jurisdiction of each local Church, including that in Russia, are clearly defined by the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods which are obligatory for everyone, as well as by the ecclesiastical institutional decisions of universal validity and authority. These are contained in the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomes of the local and greater synods presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch, through which the more recent local Churches were proclaimed autocephalous or elevated to Patriarchates.
Also from the outset, it must be understood and emphasized that the Church was revealed in the world by God through Jesus-Christ for the salvation of all people and the world, irrespective of race, and not for the benefit of ambitions or political and other objectives. The Orthodox Church is one ; one, too, and common is the Orthodox faith ; the same sacraments sanctify the faithful in it ; the same sacred canons regulate the affairs of its life and order. It is neither Russian nor Greek nor Serb nor Romanian etc. but it is the Orthodox Church in Russia, in Greece, in Serbia, in Romania and so on. As for the boundaries of the local Churches and the eparchies, these are geographical and have been defined not by ethnophyletic, but by administrative criteria which normally follow the political administration (St. Photius) and by spiritual criteria in order better to serve the shepherded people of God in order for it to be led to salvation in Christ. In addition, it must be clarified from the outset and underlined that, in the sources and generally prior to the 18th century, namely before the French revolution, the concept of nation did not have the ethnophyletic meaning attributed to it today. In classical times and until the 18th century, the nation was primarily defined by religion and not by race. Such was the politico-religious theory of the Persians, of the ancient Greeks, of the pagan Romans (Byzantines), of the Hebrews (it is the same to this day), of the Muslims. The last of these, Arabs and later Ottomans, in occupying the Roman (“Byzantine”) land and namely according to religious communities and not according to race, and the religious leaders were ethnarchs of their communities. Thus the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was until 1923 the ethnarch of the Orthodox Nation within the Ottoman Empire, irrespective of race, or language, or other Patriarchs, Metropolitans, and local Bishops ; the Sultan-Caliph was the ethnarch of the Muslims, irrespective of local or other differences ; the Rabbis were the same for the Jews, irrespective of particular races, and so on. The ideas of the French revolution (1789) and of the Enlightenment created a new political theory, which ignored religion as a formative element in communities and administrative units. Henceforth the nations were formed on the basis of ethnophyletic criteria, which were discovered of politically created with the consequences that we know to this day (racial purging etc.). However, for Christ and His Church “there is neither Jew nor Greek … for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3 : 28).
In the above text being commented upon, there is mention of “canonical territories.” Yet those references by way of examples from the Old and the New Testaments bear no relation to the formation in the Church of canonical administration and canonical jurisdiction, or their ecclesiological and Eucharistic presuppositions. For instance, that which is said that Abraham and Lot, relatives and leaders of families, shared grazing grounds in order to avoid disputation, or that the allocation of land performed by Joshua among the tribes of Israel, namely its families, constitute an Old Testament type of canonical Christian Episcopal jurisdiction cannot stand as arguments. Clearly, these examples refer to a distribution of animal and agricultural lands, namely to a regulation of matters pertaining to circumstances of property for the produce and cultivation of the land, and not to the shepherding of the reasonable flock of God. Moreover, what is written, that “the principle of canonical territory begins to be revealed as an element of the Church founded by the Lord” and that “the mission of the Disciples” was separated into many categories based on ethnophyletistic (sic !) differences which characterized the early Church” do not correspond to the biblical, but even more general historical reality. In this respect, we also have in this text a projection of recent and contemporary narrow ethnophyletistic political theories back upon the early Church, where they were unknown.
On the contrary, Jesus-Christ, before His Ascension, commanded all of the Apostles, Peter included : ” … go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28 : 19-20). The commandment was given to all of the apostles without exception, that they might make disciples “of all nations”, namely all people generally, without any boundaries and restrictions. In this, the Apostles differ from their successors, the Bishops, the apostolic office from the Episcopal office. The Apostles preach and celebrate the Divine Eucharist everywhere and to all, but the Bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, only do so in their particular and named, geographical Diocese : Timothy in Ephesus, Titus in Crete, Polycarp in Smyrna, Ignatius in Antioch and so on. Their flock further includes Christians converted from Judaism and those converted from the Gentiles, “for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3 : 28-29), ” … in the one Spirit all were baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor. 12: 13).
Paul was, by preference, the Apostle to the Nations ; yet wherever he went, no less did he preach first in the Synagogue, and when he was not welcomed there, then he turned to the Gentiles. Whereas Peter was, by preference, the Apostle “for those circumcised,” although not exclusively. These are the canonical jurisdictions during the apostolic and post-apostolic period, without racial or other distinctions.
In the early Church, each city had its own Bishop, the President of the Eucharistic assembly and the person responsible for the pastoral ministry in all its expressions. Even small cities or regions had sees of Bishop, each of whom exercised a particular Episcopal jurisdiction dependent on the Bishop of the city. In fact, on account of the persecutions, it was necessary to have the presence of the Bishop in each place to unite the people. And on account of the problematic conditions and the problematic situations, it was also difficult for the Church to define the boundaries of each Episcopal territory where the Bishops were obligated to exercise their jurisdiction. Thus confusions and conflicts often arose in the ecclesiastical administration, in the ordination of clergy, in the dependence of presbyters on two Bishops, since many times there were two Bishops in one and the same place. When the persecutions of the Christian Church within the Roman Empire ceased, the legal authority of the Church was able to define with precision the boundaries within which the Bishop could exercise the affairs of his Episcopal power. This is how the canonical eparchial Episcopal administration was shaped.
To begin with, the first ecclesiastical communities were established in the large cities of the Roman Empire, with their own Bishops. Rapidly, however, Christianity spread also to the smaller cities and areas where the Bishop of the city, on which the smaller cities depended politically, would send clergy to perform the affairs of their ecclesiastical jurisdiction, until permanent clergy settled also in these small cities and local ecclesiastical communities were formed, like the ones we know today, which in the canonical sources are called “local” or “rural” or “solitary see”. Over many of these parishes, there was a bishop who presided, and who depended on the permanent Bishop of the city. This person was called “chorepiscopos”. All of these parishes together comprised a small ecclesiastical territory, which depended on the bishop of the local city, which to this day is called eparchy or Episcopal eparchy, and which only had geographical boundaries. This Bishop also mediated for the spiritual communication of the bishops of the eparchy with the Bishops of other Churches. Consequently, it was natural for the Bishop of the capital or Metropolis (the Metropolitan) to acquire supremacy of honor and of coordinating values in relation to the other Bishops of the eparchy. The term “metropolitan” appears for the first time in the 4th canon of the 1st Ecumenical Synod (“the authority in matters should be given in each eparchy to the Metropolitan”). The Metropolitan was also called “first” or “acting leader” (of 34th Apostolic canon ; canon 23, 39, 59 and 98 of the Synod of Carthage ; canon 16, 19, 20 of the Synod of Antioch, etc.).
The 1st Ecumenical Synod (325) defined more precisely the organizational affairs of the eparchy or metropolitanate, conforming solely on a geographical level the eparchial or metropolitan organization according to its administrative and spiritual needs, as well as in accordance with the political organizational structure.
In his eparchy, the Bishop is entirely self-sufficient, administering his Diocese by virtue of his own right which is acquired during his ordination to a particular diocese with geographical boundaries alone, and no person can interfere in the internal matters of the administration of the Diocese : “No Bishop should dare to ordain outside of his own boundaries in the cities or towns which do not lie in his jurisdiction. If it is ascertained that this has occurred, without the approval of those responsible for those cities or towns, both he and those he has ordained are to be defrocked” (35th Apostolic Canon). Further, only the Bishop possesses and manages the archiepiscopal authority in his diocese, and so for this reason it is not possible for two bishops to have then see in one and the same city : “There should not be two bishops in the same city” (8th canon of the 1st Ecumenical Synod).
Consequently, in accordance with the above, the head of the Church in Moscow, as the Metropolitan Bishop of Moscow, but also as Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, cannot interfere or settle in dioceses outside his own diocese (Moscow), or as Patriarch do so in Patriarchates and other local Churches outside his own Patriarchate on the basis of criteria or problems of language, culture, ethnophyletic etc. which are unknown to Holy Scripture and the early Church, the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods. If he should desire to do such a thing, he would be committing the canonical offense of “transgression” into a foreign eparchy with canonical consequences foreseen by the sacred canons : “No bishop should dare to move from one eparchy to another, and to ordain persons in the Church for the sake of ministerial promotion, nor should he take others with him for this purpose, unless he arrives at the written invitation of both metropolitan and the Bishops who are with him in the region through which he is traveling. If, however, without invitation he proceeds in disorderly fashion to the ordination of any, and creates a situation in ecclesiastical affairs that are not proper to him, then his acts are considered invalid, while he is responsible for his disorder and unreasonable actions for which he deserves to be punished with defrocking by the holy synod” (13th canon of the Synod of Antioch. Cf. also 35th Apostolic Canon, 22nd canon of the Synod of Antioch. In Rallis-Potlis, Constitution of the holy and sacred canons, vol. 3, and pp. 450-451).
During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Metropolitans of the large cities in the Roman Empire, which in modem times is called Byzantine Empire, namely the Metropolitans of the capital administrative cities, acquired even greater power and the significant ecclesiastical matters were dealt with in these cities. The Metropolitans of the five most important cities in the Christian world were named Patriarchates, and the Metropolitans of the smaller cities in time lost their self-sufficiency while retaining their former titles, just as their Metropolitanates retained theirs. The significant matters of their ecclesiastical territory were now determined by the Patriarchal Synods, which also elected the Metropolitans who were ordained by the Patriarchs.
The Patriarchal Synods, under the presidency of the Patriarch, were originally constituted by the Metropolitans, and later by the Bishops of the Patriarchal territory. The eparchial metropolitan Episcopal synods under the presidency of the Metropolitans were preserved and determined the eparchial matters, while lying under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchal synod and lying, as the Metropolitans themselves, and depending canonically on the Patriarchs and the synods around these, in which they also participated. The boundaries of the Patriarchates are geographical alone and not ethnophyletic, “cultural” or otherwise. They have been defined by the Ecumenical Synods through the sacred canons and ecclesiastical constitutions according to Christian doctrine, Orthodox ecclesiology, and Canon Law.
The 6th canon of the 1st Ecumenical Synod as well as later canons seek to “maintain the ancient customs”, namely the conformation of the geographical boundaries of the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Antioch, and the Bishop of Rome. “The ancient customs should be maintained, those in Egypt and Libya and Pentapolis, so that the Bishop in Alexandria should have authority over all of these, for this is customary also for the Bishop in Rome. Similarly, the primacy as it is observed in Alexandria should be preserved also in the other eparchies….” Thus, the Bishop of Alexandria “has authority over those eparchies in Egypt and Libya and Pentapolis,” of Africa in general, ” the Bishop of Antioch likewise, of Syria, of Koile in Syria, of Mesopotamia, and of each side of Cilicia (perhaps Sicilia ?) …” namely of the administration of the East, “and the Bishop of Rome has authority over the Western Eparchies”. *[[Commentary by Balsamon on the 6th canon of the 1st Ecumenical Synod. Cf. Rallis-Potlis, vol. 2, and p129. ]]
The Bishop of Jerusalem, on account of the sacredness of the city, was elevated to Patriarch by the 4th Ecumenical Synod, and extends his canonical jurisdiction over the three eparchies of Palestine, which are called the three Palestines (Mansi 7, 179). ** [[Ibid. * The Bishop of Jerusalem has primacy over “the eparchies in Arabia, in Phoenicia…”]] As Patriarch, the Bishop of Jerusalem occupied the fifth position after Antioch (cf. 36th canon of the Ecumenical Synod in Trullo), while after the schism of the Bishop of Rome, Jerusalem occupies the fourth position. In this case too, the boundaries and criteria of canonical jurisdiction of territory, as defined by the 1st Ecumenical Synod, are solely geographical.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, occupies the first position in the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. This position, as well as the canonical jurisdiction territory have been defined by the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Synods*** [[3rd canon of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod, 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Synod, and 36th canon of the Synod of Trullo.]], as well as by other ecclesiastical constitutions and laws.
As known, according to Orthodox Canon Law and Orthodox ecclesiology, the sacred Synodical canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods may not be ignored or transgressed by any person in the Orthodox Church, no matter what high office that person may possess as Patriarch, metropolitan, bishop or local synod, much more so any secular authority for its own benefit.
As far as concerns the primacy of honor of Constantinople, the 2nd Ecumenical Synod (3rd canon), the 4th (28th canon), and the Ecumenical Synod in Trullo (36th canon) have legislated. Thus it is ecclesiastically legislated with ecumenical validity and authority, that “the Throne of Constantinople enjoys equal primacy with the presbyter Throne of Rome also in ecclesiastical matters, just as the former has been magnified in affairs, being second to the latter…” (36th canon of the Synod in Trullo). **** [[Cf. 131st Novel of Justinian, in Ceremonies, Book 5, and title 3.]] Following the schism of the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Constantinople holds the primacy of honor and jurisdiction in the Orthodox Church.
In regard to the canonical jurisdiction and territory of the Ecumenical Throne, the 4th Ecumenical Synod validated, by law and decision (its 28th canon) with ecumenical validity and authority, a long tradition of the Church. The geographical extent of this eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate reaches the then administrations of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace in the Roman Empire, as well as the “barbarian” lands, namely those lands which lie outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire: ” … the Metropolitans alone of Pontian, Asian, and Thracian administration, as well as the bishops in the barbarian lands of the aforementioned administrations should be ordained by the said Most Holy Throne of Most Holy Church of Constantinople … .”
The adjective “barbarian” defines the noun “nations” which is omitted in the text of this canon, but nevertheless is understood ***** [[Zonaras on the above canon.]] as being the barbarian nations or lands ; the eparchies are, as already observed, those lying outside the Roman Empire at the time of the 4th Ecumenical Synod : ” … The Dioceses in the barbarian lands include Alania (Albania perhaps ?), Russia, and others….” ****** [[Commentary of Balsamon on the 28th canon.]]
The other barbarian lands, beyond Alania (Albania perhaps ?) and Russia, are in general the “barbarians” in accordance with the interpretation of a Christian in the 28th canon : “the [Bishops] of Pontus and Thrace and Asia and the Barbarians, who are ordained by Constantinople….”
From the 8h century, all of the eparchies of the Illyricum, which broke away from Rome, namely the geographical area of the Balkans from Thrace to the Adriatic, were placed under the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople.
The more recent lands and eparchies of North and South America, Australia, the Far East etc., as well as those in general which lie outside set geographical boundaries of the local Churches in the sacred canons and decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, as well as the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomes are theoretically included in the canonical terminology of the 4th Ecumenical Synod and the other synods as being the “other” barbarian lands. Not in an ethnological or modem cultural sense of the term, but in a geographical sense, inasmuch as they were not included in the geographical the Ecumenical Patriarchate, through the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomes and Acts, certain geographical areas, particular Metropolitanates, archdioceses and dioceses were conceded to the more recent autocephalous local Churches, together with the autocephaly itself through which these autocephalous Churches acquired canonical administrative jurisdiction. Any exercise of spiritual work and administration by these autocephalous Churches among Orthodox who are outside and beyond their defined geographical boundaries, on the basis of criteria which are ethnophyletic and linguistic or “cultural”, constitutes an act “beyond boundaries” and a “transgression” into a foreign eparchy, contradicting, as known, fundamental principles of the canonical teaching and tradition of the Church.
The history of the spread of Christianity from Constantinople to Greater and Lesser Russia (in the 10th century) and its incorporation from the beginning within the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople are well known.
According to the “Gegonnian” Formulation, or Charter, namely the catalogue of Metropolitanates, archdioceses and dioceses that are subject “to the Patriarch of Constantinople”, commonly attributed to the person of Leo the Wise but dating no less than to the 11th century, the metropolis of Russia (Kiev) occupies the 61st place *8 [[In Rallis-Potlis, Constitution, vol. 5, p. 474. [[[*7 On the term “barbarian”, see Metropolitan Maximos of Sardis. The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church.]]] ]].
Subject to this metropolitanate in Greater Russia are the following dioceses : 1.- Great Novgorod ; 2.- Chernikov ; 3.- Souzdal ; 4.- Rostov ; 5.- Great Vladimir ; 6.- Hmelninskii ; 7.- Bielkorod by Kiev ; 8.- Yiuriev by the Rus River ; 9.- Polotsk ; 10.- Riazan ; 11.- Tvev ; 12.- Sarai.
Subject to the Metropolitanate of Kiev, in Lesser Russia (the western regions), are the following dioceses : 1.- Galicia ; 2.- Bolynia ; 3.- Peremysl ; 4.- Lutsk ; 5.- Turov ; 6.- Holm ; 7.- Smolensk.
The Metropolis of Kiev (Russia) under the Ecumenical Patriarchate has geographical boundaries that cover Greater and Lesser Russia, in accordance with canonical order, so that the peoples dwelling in the area, without any discrimination, may be served evangelically, administratively, and pastorally. The historical developments and events brought about changes in regard to the see of the Metropolitanate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as in its geographical boundaries, until the political and ecclesiastical center was established in Moscow by virtue of the imposition of the latter upon the other hegemonies in the region which also secured for Moscow the appointment to metropolis of Russia.
In the year 1459, on account also of the difficulties in communication with Constantinople, following the occupation of the latter by the Ottomans (1453), the Metropolitan of Russia declared himself independent of the Ecumenical Patriarch in terms of his election, while the Metropolis itself was divided into two, namely into the Metropolitanate of Moscow and the Metropolitanate of Kiev.
In the year 1588, Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople traveled to Moscow and accepted to elevate the Metropolis of Moscow to Patriarchate, being forced to ordain (sic !) Metropolitan Job of Moscow to Patriarch on the 26th January 1589.
A local synod convened in Constantinople in the year 1590 under the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah, and reconvened in 1593, in order that, following the desire of the Tsar, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Meletios Pigas, may also attend. The Synod validated the establishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow, which occupied the 5th position in the Diptychs, which it retains to this day, namely after the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Patriarch of Moscow would be elected by the Archbishops of the Patriarchate of Moscow. According to the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of this Synod : “the throne of the most pious and Orthodox city of Moscow both is and is called Patriarchate on account of the fact that this land was worthy of a kingdom by God, and all Russia and the far northern parts should be subjected to the Patriarchal throne of Moscow and all Russia, while its place is after his beatitude the Bishop of Jerusalem in the sacred diptychs as well as in the ecclesiastical assemblies, so that we may preserve inviolable the mentioned canons of the Holy Fathers … being and recognized as the head of the Church of Moscow and all Russia and the far Northern areas in accordance with the 34th canon of the holy and all-praised Apostles …” *9 [[In Rallis-Potlis, vol. 5, and p. 141.]]
Thus, according to this founding Patriarchal and Synodical Act about the Patriarchate of Moscow, validating what occurred in Moscow (1589) by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II, the Patriarch of Moscow, fifth in line in the Diptychs, after Jerusalem, has canonical jurisdiction in Moscow, as its bishop, and as the first in all Russia and the far northern parts within the Russian dominion. The Patriarchate of Moscow, as the local Church and in accordance with its official founding ecclesiastical Acts, also has its canonical jurisdiction with geographical boundaries and geographical restrictions, according once again to the canonical teaching and ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church.
Its canonical jurisdiction – “the territory” – extends “to all Russia”, namely as noted also above, within the boundaries of the Russian dominion and not beyond these.
Consequently, even the “missionary territory” of the Patriarchate of Moscow reaches within the boundaries of the Russian dominion and not beyond these. After the storm of a seventy-year imposition of an atheist state and a persecution of the Church, it becomes a great and imperative need to perform a ministry of mission and re-evangelization of the peoples of the Russian dominion, and especially to catechize the young people. Such a ministry and activity on the part of the Patriarchate of Moscow, within the canonical structures of the Church, would render it most respectable and acceptable throughout the world.
The exercise by some of its members of a missionary ministry outside the geographic boundaries of the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow is anticanonical. It can be rendered canonical and ecclesiologically acceptable only following invitation by the local Church of persons missionaries from the Patriarchate of Moscow, while their missionary work should certainly be placed under the local canonical bishop whose name alone they should commemorate during the divine services and in whose name alone should they perform their ministry, in order that this may be canonical, authentic, and blameless. Otherwise, it will be a matter of interference “beyond boundaries” and a “transgression” into a foreign eparchy, which are explicitly disallowed by the sacred canons and decisions of the Ecumenical Synods. “No Bishop should dare to ordain outside of his own boundaries in the cities or towns which do not lie in his jurisdiction. If it is ascertained that this has occurred, without the approval of those responsible for those cities or towns, both he and those he has ordained are to be defrocked.” (35th Apostolic Canon).
“No bishop should dare to move from one eparchy to another, and to ordain persons in the Church for the sake of ministerial promotion, nor should he take others with him for this purpose, unless he arrives at the written invitation of both the metropolitan and the Bishops who are with him in the region through which he is traveling. If, however, without invitation he proceeds in disorderly fashion to the ordination of any, and creates a situation in ecclesiastical affairs that are not proper to him, then his acts are considered invalid, while he is responsible for his disorder and unreasonable actions for which he deserves to be punished with defrocking by the holy synod.” (13th canon of the Synod of Antioch) * 10 [[Cf. also the 6th and 150th canons of the 1st Ecumenical Synod, and the commentary by Zonaras, Balsamon and Aristenos. See the 8th canon of the 3rd Ecumenical Synod and their commentary. Further, see the 13th canon of the Synod of Antioch.]]
Therefore, according to Orthodox canonical teaching and ecclesiology : “Each of the Patriarchs should suffice in his own privileges, and none of these should take by force another eparchy which was not given from above and from the beginning into his hands ; for this is the arrogance of secular power….” *11 [[Commentary by Aristenos on the 6th canon of the 1st Ecumenical Synod. See also commentaries by Zonaras, Balsamon, and Aristenos on the 8th canon of the 3rd Ecumenical Synod.]]
The cultural roots of a Russian Orthodox Christian who has emigrated and lives within the geographical boundaries of the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow do not offer the right to the latter to extend its canonical territory beyond and outside its geographical boundaries by transgressing into a foreign eparchy. Surely, using the cultural origins of the orthodox all over the world is helpful in the pastoral ministry. However, this must occur within the canonical structures of the Church and with respect toward the geographical canonical boundaries of each of the orthodox eparchies, and not by “transgressing” into the canonical territory of another Church.
The application, nevertheless, of the canonical order in the local Churches throughout the world, wherever there live and work many Orthodox who originate in different countries and who have different cultural roots, does not mean uniformity in parishes by obliging everyone to attend the Divine Liturgy, for example, in only one language. The Greeks, for instance, or the Serbs or the Romanians etc. who live and work in Moscow may have a grecophone or Romanian-speaking Church-community, but they must lie within the canonical jurisdiction of the local bishop, namely of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Russians who live and work in Athens have their own Church community where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in Slavonic. However, they are under the canonical jurisdiction of the local bishop, namely of the Archbishop of Athens. The same holds true for the Churches in Alexandria, Damascus, and elsewhere.
As far as concerns the matter of the autonomous Church of Estonia, which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a matter referred to in the text being commented upon, this is a particular issue with its own sorrowful story.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate granted to the Orthodox Church of Estonia and autonomous ecclesiastical status through the Patriarchal and Synodical Tome under the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV in the year 1923. This status remained undisturbed and recognized by all until 1940. Autonomy was requested by Estonian Church as well as by the Estonian State itself through its President and Government. As known, Estonia, like the other Baltic nations and even Finland itself until the end of World War 1 (1918), comprised a portion of the Russian Empire. After this was, all these countries become independent and consequently also requested and ecclesiastical status of autonomy, for until then they were ecclesiastically under the Patriarchate of Moscow, since they were on Russian territory.
The Baltic nations, during World War 2 and following the attack of Germany on Russia, found themselves under German occupation. After the defeat of Hitler’s Germany, Russia, as the Soviet Union, took over these nations which it incorporated into its dominion forcibly, namely without their consent.
This unilateral and by arms forceful abolition of the independence of Estonia in 1945, and its incorporation into the then Soviet Union, resulted in a simultaneous abolition (again forceful, namely without the agreement with the canonical order, but unilaterally and without the consent or even the knowledge of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) also of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in Estonia which was turned into a mere Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Moscow. After this, the canonical and rightful primate of the autonomous Church of Estonia, Metropolitan Alexander, together with many (23) clergy and thousands of orthodox faithful escaped to Sweden where he died in 1953, while another 45 clergy were murdered or displaced.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, “as the guardian of canonical precision”, did not accept these anticanonical occurrences (namely, that which occurred “by force and tyranny”) and continued for a long time to regard the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in Estonia as existing, and recognized its then primate as the canonical head of the refugee Orthodox Estonians living in exile and who had formed the “Autonomous Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church”, as this had unofficially been entitled from the year 1935. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, responding in the year 1978 in fraternal, affectionate, and protective manner to the persistent request of the Patriarchate of Moscow through a Patriarchal and Synodical Act simply rendered inactive the Patriarchal and Synodical Tome of 1923 on the basis of the argument that, owning to the political change, the Church of Estonia could no longer have any power except within the nation of Estonia which lay within Soviet occupation, and not among the Estonians of the Diaspora. The validity of this Tome was simply suspended, without this being proclaimed invalid or abolished.
In the year 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Estonia was again restored to an independent nation and sought to be restored to its autonomous ecclesiastical status, which was abolished by the State. It requested that the suspended Patriarchal and Synodical Tome of 1923 might be reactivated, since the Estonian Orthodox Apostolic Church, which had lived in exile, had now returned to Estonia. The request was formulated, and indeed in a persistent manner both by the Estonian Republic, as well as by the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox parishes in Estonia with a categorical statement that, in the case of denial by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to accept their request, these parishes would in no way remain with the Patriarchate of Moscow.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate applied the relevant sacred canons (9th and 17th of the 4th Ecumenical Synod) accepted this common petition of the Estonian Orthodox Church (56 out of 80 parishes), which it described as “just”, and fully restores (1996), namely proclaimed active the Patriarchal and Synodical Tome of the year 1923.
The responsibility of all before the Orthodox Church and before all people who look to it for spiritual guidance in the way of salvation, demands unity of mind, fruitful cooperation, and sincere Christian love, together with respect for Canon Law and Orthodox Ecclesiology. Political theories, foreign to the spirit of Christianity and of Orthodoxy, such as ethnophyletism which, as known, constitutes heresy (Synod of Constantinople 1872) do not serve the Church and the people of God, but only political objectives and interests. There is a vast territory and the needs today are immense for a re-evangelization of the Russian people, and especially of its youth, as well as of the intellectuals, within the canonical geographical boundaries of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The disposition of the few spiritual forces and economic means toward a worldwide expansive political vision does injustice to the pious Russian people and wounds the unity of the Orthodox Church.