Christian schism encourages historians to dig deep into the past

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Nearly three and a half centuries have passed since a prelate of the Eastern Christian church, living under the Ottoman Muslims but still exercising great power over his co-religionists, wrote these remarkable lines in Byzantine Greek:

……That the most holy Eparchy (province) of Kyiv should be under the control of the most holy patriarchal throne of the city of Muscovy that God saved, by which we mean that the Metropolitan (archbishopric) of Kyiv should order there…. Nevertheless, when this Metropolitan of Kyiv celebrates the holy, holy and bloodless sacrifice (the Eucharist) in this diocese, he should remember among the first name venerable Ecumenical Patriarch (of Constantinople) as source and authority, and as supreme authority. to the bishops and churches everywhere…..

As we write here, the Eastern Christian world is in shock as a bitter split opens between two poles of authority: the Ecumenical Patriarchate based in Istanbul, which has “primacy of honor” in Orthodoxy, and the Moscow Patriarchate, which is the largest of the 14 churches that are mutually recognized as Orthodox. The theme is the reassertion of the previous institution’s authority over religious matters in Ukraine, and its plan to bless the establishment of an independent church.

On both sides, church historians are going deep into dusty archives as well as combing the canon law with which the ancient centers of Christianity (Antioch, Alexandra and Jerusalem, as well on Constantinople and Rome) governing their relationship in the first Christian millennium.

At the heart of the dispute is the letter of 1686 mentioned above, in which the Patriarch Dionysius of Constantinople delegates authority over Kiev to the Patriarch of Moscow. As Constantinople sees things, this was a temporary measure and he was supposed to reverse it, as he formally did, on October 11. From the point of view of the Muscovites, their spiritual authority over Kiev is so established by practice that it cannot be changed. And this is not the first time that the agreement of 1686 has been disputed. In 1924 the Ecumenical Patriarch blessed the establishment of an independent Polish Orthodox church, using arguments based on his continuing responsibility for the neighboring Ukraine hand Moscow, of course, rejects these arguments.

In truth, the controversy over exactly what happened in 1686 cannot be separated from differences over what happened over the previous seven centuries.

Everyone agrees that the Eastern Slavs brought their religion from Constantinople about 1,000 years ago. At that time Kiev was the main center of political and religious authority. Over the following centuries the center of earthly and religious power among the eastern Slavs moved eastward to Moscow. From the middle of the 15th century there was a period when two different prelates (one based in Moscow, another further west) claimed the title of Metropolitan of Kiev. There were stages when the “western” Metropolitan passed (from an Orthodox point of view) into Catholicism.

But on certain points, the historical advisers of the Patriarch of Constantinople are very firm. In 1589, when the see of Moscow was elevated (with Constantinople) to the status of Patriarchate, its authority did not include Kiev. And in the early 17th century, patriarchs based in Istanbul worked diligently to build Ukrainian Orthodox authority in Kiev, resisting Papist pressure from the west and Muscovite pressure from the east. The struggle to maintain an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church continued after 1654, when Ukraine was politically yoked to Moscow. In 1685, the prelate of Kiev agreed under great pressure to be sent by Moscow, against the authority of Constantinople. The following year, Constantinople reluctantly (and temporarily, he insists) accepted that fact.

From the point of view of the Moscow Patriarchate, the letter of 1686 marked the long-awaited reunion of two groups (largely, Moscow and Kiev) that naturally belonged together. “It ended the 200-year period of forced division in the centuries-old history of the Russian church which, despite the changing political conditions, completely recognized itself as one body. ”

Constantinople (and its Ukrainian friends) remember things differently. As a document published by the Ecumenical Patriarchate puts it, there was pressure from 1654 on to merge the spiritual authorities of Kiev and Moscow, but “the metropolitans, bishops, clergy, nobles and people of Ukraine refused to unite them this is very…”

As any diplomatic historian will attest, one of the ways to analyze the meaning of a controversial text is to see how it was interpreted by third parties at the time. Regarding the Act of 1686, one of the best observers was the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Dositheos, who participated in the previous negotiations.

Dositheos described the treaty of 1686 in detail as an agreement that the see of Kiev “should be an eparchy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in trust administered by the most holy Patriarch of Moscow…” The concession, he noted, to do “because of their virtue, until the day comes for a divine reckoning.”

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