How ROC intruded into America: the 4th answer to Abp Chrysostomos, Part 1

Did the ROC really illegally found the Church in America? Photo: UOJ

We analyze the last thesis of the head of the Church of Cyprus, where he accuses the ROC of the "illegal foundation" of the Orthodox Church in America.

In November 2020, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus recognized the Ukrainian schism called the "Orthodox Church of Ukraine", which received a tomos of autocephaly from the Constantinople Patriarchate of (hereinafter – CP). The sudden metamorphosis of the position of Archbishop Chrysostomos, who in 2019 recognized the absence of apostolic succession of Ukrainian schismatics, caused division and deep conflict in the Church of Cyprus. Entering into heated polemics, even insults and threats, with some of his fellow Cypriot bishops, Cyrus Chrysostom went even further, choosing for himself the role of "information killer" of the Church of Constantinople. Having attacked the Russian Church with numerous very strange accusations, he turned out to be the first of the modern hierarchs-supporters of Patriarch Bartholomew who publicly voiced what the Phanariots have been accusing the ROC of behind the scenes for a long time.

We tried to carefully consider the accusations of Cyrus Chrysostom. Here is a quote with Abp Chrisostomos’s accusations:

 “... I know that today it (the Moscow Patriarchate – Ed.) took two dioceses from Georgia, two dioceses from Ukraine, it received more than half of Christians from Poland, it took dioceses from Romania. Who gave them the right to found an autocephalous Church in America? This interference of others in jurisdictions caused upheavals in the entire Orthodoxy."

Earlier, we have already answered the accusations about the alleged alienation of territories from the Georgian Church, the Polish Church, and the Romanian Church.

Regarding the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America by the ROC, we had to face a wide range of questions requiring an answer:

  • Whose canonical territory historically extended to North America?
  • Does the CP have the primacy of power in the Orthodox world?
  • Does the CP have the privileges of the higher ecclesiastical court in the Orthodox Church?
  • How does the canonical primacy of the CP's honour differ from the political privileges of the capital's Patriarchate in Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire?
  • Is America the "land of the barbarians" from the point of view of canon law?
  • Does the KP have a monopoly on the care of the "barbarian lands"?
  • When and under the influence of what historical circumstances did the above claims of the Phanar appear?
  • What was Patriarch Meletios of Constantinople and what is his role in the history of the Church?
  • What do the references to certain canons, cited by Phanariots in support of their claims, actually mean?
  • Who has the right to grant autocephaly?
  • How exactly did the OCA get autocephaly and what is the role of the Phanar in this process?
  • What and in whose favour did Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople testify in his polemic with the Russian Church?

So let's figure it out.

"Who gave them the right to found an autocephalous Church in America?"

According to the version, conventional to the Church of Constantinople, America is its canonical territory. However, this is far from a generally accepted point of view in the Orthodox world. Moreover, the Church of Constantinople itself did not always think so.

This claim of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to America is still, almost a hundred years after its appearance, not recognized by the Antiochian, Georgian, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish Churches. It was recognized only by the Greek Churches. Moreover, this process was difficult even in the Greek Churches: they previously had their parishes in the diaspora and were in no hurry to hand them over to Constantinople, which did not claim them until 1923. As we know, before the genocide of the Greeks in Turkey and their expulsion, the Church of Constantinople had enough of its parishioners. And the fate of Greeks, Serbs, Georgians, Bulgarians, Romanians and other Orthodox Christians who found themselves in Western Europe or America did not particularly bother the Phanariots.

They remembered them only when the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey itself was drastically reduced as a result of genocide and resettlement, and Orthodox dioceses outside its borders, in the former Ottoman possessions, either received autocephaly or proclaimed it themselves. For example, the Jerusalem Patriarchate agreed to transfer the parishes of its Vicariate of the Palestinian-Jordanian communities in the United States to Constantinople only in 2008. The Albanian diaspora in America also did not recognize the rights of Constantinople, first preferring jurisdiction to the Russian Church, and ultimately to the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (not recognized by Constantinople). The Church of Antioch retains its jurisdiction in America to this day, as many other Orthodox Churches do.

Moreover, we can say with confidence that even the author of these "ancient rights" Patriarch Meletios of Constantinople recognized them only when it was beneficial to him, denying them in other cases, including after their declaration ...

Many Churches now have their dioceses and parishes there, some of the Churches have recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, despite the position of Constantinople.

If we evaluate the practical consistency, then we can say that in about a hundred years from the moment of the Phanar's claims to America, it managed to achieve real solidarity of only four of the fourteen Local Churches. Five Churches (together with the ROC) recognize the autocephaly of the OCA. And four more, although they consider the OCA part of the ROC, do not recognize its autocephaly, but at the same time do not recognize the special rights of the Constantinople Church "to care of the diaspora in the barbarian lands", having their own parishes in America, or transferring them to the same OCA, not Constantinople. That is, the opinion of Constantinople is not accepted by the fullness of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church, no matter what the Phanar says otherwise.

The opinion of Constantinople is not accepted by the fullness of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church, no matter what the Phanar says otherwise.

At the same time, referring to the Orthodox Church in America, it is important to emphasize that if a significant part of the Churches did not recognize its autocephaly, then, nevertheless, any analogies with the Ukrainian schism of the OCU are inappropriate. In the case of the OCA, all (without exceptions) Orthodox Churches, including Constantinople, recognize its Sacraments, its episcopate and priesthood, have Eucharistic communion and joint concelebration with it. At the same time, some consider the OCA to be autocephalous, while others consider it part of the ROC. In the case of the Ukrainian schismatics, their "ordinations" and "sacraments" together with the "bishops" and "priests" are rejected by ten Churches, and even in the Churches that recognized them under pressure, many bishops and priests categorically refuse to serve with them, considering them self-ordained.

Orthodox discovery of America

As you know, the development of America by the Europeans advanced from two sides: from the east coast it was explored by the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British, and from the northwest – by the Russians who had сome to the American continent from Siberia. The Russian development of America began with the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and continued in California. Alaska was discovered by the Russian expedition of Semyon Dezhnev in 1648.

The first settlement of Russian colonists appeared on the Aleutian Islands in 1784. In 1794, the first Orthodox mission on the continent was founded there. It consisted of 8 monks and hieromonks sent from Russian monasteries: 6 people from the Valaam Holy Transfiguration Monastery and two from the Konevets Nativity-Theotokos Monastery. The mission was headed by Archimandrite Joasaph (Bolotov) (the future Bishop of Kodiak).

All the clergy, as well as new territories, were assigned to the Irkutsk diocese of the Russian Church, which was then in charge of all of central and eastern Siberia. The first church was built on Kodiak Island, and preaching among the local population of the Aleutian Islands began. During the first year and a half of its existence, the mission baptized 6,740 people and married 1,573 people. In addition, 2472 people were baptized on twenty-five islands with up to 50 settlements. By the end of 1796, the number of baptized Orthodox Christians in America had reached twelve thousand. In 1796, Orthodoxy in Alaska had its first martyr: Hieromonk Juvenaly was killed near Lake Iliamna (mainland Alaska) by pagans. Later he was glorified as a holy martyr. In 1799, the Russians founded the city of Novo-Arkhangelsk (now Sitka) in Alaska, where a church was also built. In 1802 the city was burnt by the Indians and rebuilt in 1804, becoming the capital of Russian America since 1808. In 1848, the first large Orthodox Cathedral of St. Michael was built there.

In 1812, a Russian settlement in California, known as Fort Ross, was founded. It was located 80 kilometers north of San Francisco, on the land purchased from local Indians. The location of Russian possessions there was the subject of constant disputes, first with the Spaniards, then with the Mexicans. Since the 1830s, Russians have been actively exploring the surroundings, creating agricultural farms there. Fort Ross had a church, which held services and did active missionary work. In 1841, Fort Ross was sold, but despite this, it is still a site of mass visits by Russian Americans.

In 1840, an independent Kamchatka, Kurile and Aleutian diocese was separated from the Irkutsk diocese, whose see was located in Alaska, in Novo-Arkhangelsk and whose jurisdiction extended to all American Russian dominions, in addition to Kamchatka and the Kuriles ... After the sale of Alaska to the USA, for parishes on this territory it was decided to separate out an independent diocese from the Kamchatka diocese in 1869.

A special clause was included in the agreement for the sale of Alaska, according to which all churches and land plots belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church in America were to remain the property of the Russian Church, for which complete freedom of activity was ensured.

A special clause was included in the agreement for the sale of Alaska, according to which all churches and land plots belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church in America were to remain the property of the Russian Church.

In 1872, due to the increase in the number of Orthodox parishes in the western states, the diocesan center was moved to San Francisco. Since 1905, the diocesan center of the Aleutian and North American Diocese (this name was given to the diocese in 1900) was based in New York. In 1907, under the chairmanship of Archbishop Tikhon, the future Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the first church Council of the diocese was held, which determined to call this diocese in America "the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America under the jurisdiction of the hierarchy of the Russian Church".

At the turn of the century, in addition to the converts to Orthodoxy of Native Americans, the number of parishioners was replenished by the mass emigration of Ukrainian peasants to the United States and especially Canada, from which numerous communities were formed. The first Divine Liturgy in Canada was celebrated in 1897 in the village of Vostok (Alberta province), at the home of one of the Ukrainian settlers.

The migration of the Carpatho-Rusyns from Austria-Hungary was also massive. In the period from 1891 to World War I, about 120 Uniate Carpathian parishes were reunited with the Russian Orthodox Church in America.

In 1918, the American Diocese, which by that time had united up to 300 thousand believers, had four vicariates – of Alaska, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and Canada, had three missions (Albanian, Syrian, Serbian), 271 temples, 51 chapels, 31 deaneries, 257 clergymen, about 60 brotherhoods, St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, an orphanage at the monastery, theological seminary, church schools; and its own printed editions.

These data are important for historical comparison since before 1918 there were no diocesan Greek structures in America at all.

In 1918, the American Diocese, which by that time had united up to 300 thousand believers, had four vicariates – of Alaska, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and Canada, had three missions (Albanian, Syrian, Serbian), 271 temples, 51 chapels, 31 deaneries, and 257 clergymen.

The spread of Orthodoxy in America and the Greek diaspora

There have never been any Greek colonies in America due to well-known historical circumstances. But the Greeks themselves, of course, actively migrated to America soon after the start of its colonization. In 1750, the first Greek chapel appeared in the town of St. Augustine in Florida. The first significant Greek community had formed in Louisiana by the middle of the 19th century and by 1866 it already had its own church in New Orleans.

Compare: in 1850, the North American and Aleutian Diocese of the Russian Church had: 9 churches, 37 prayer houses, 9 priests, 2 deacons and a full staff of clergymen, the flock numbered 15 thousand people. In 1844, a theological school was opened in Sitka, which was then transformed into a seminary and received the statute of the Russian Theological Schools, considering the specifics of ministry in this region. The curriculum of the new seminary was developed by Saint Innocent and approved by the Holy Synod.

In 1867, in San Francisco, Russian industrialists built an Orthodox parish, which united Russians, Greeks, Serbs and Syrians. In 1870, a parish of the Russian Church was opened in New York City, which unites Greeks, Serbs, and Syrian Arabs. Fr. Nikolai Bjerring, Professor of Philosophy and History, who begins publishing the "Eastern Church Journal", became its rector. “If in 1899 there were 29 parishes in the diocese, then in 1905 there were already 60. The number of parishioners during this time increased from 30 to 55 thousand” (“Patriarch Tikhon and Russian Orthodoxy in the USA”).

By 1890, before the start of the mass migration of Greeks to the United States, the Greek community already numbered about 15,000 parishioners. Some of them were pastored in the temples of the Russian Church, and some in their own churches, in which unorganized priests from Greece or Turkey, who did not have a diocesan structure, served. Even though such a ministry violated the canonical order of the Church structure, it had a certain spread.

Intensive emigration (including labor) of Greeks to the United States began after 1890 when immigrants from Greece and Turkey began to arrive in America.

What are we comparing?

Critics of the rights of the Russian Church in America rely on the thesis of the ethnic superiority of Greeks over Russians that arose in the United States at the end of the 19th century.

But since when have the jurisdictions and boundaries of the Local Churches been determined by the number of these or those diasporas of emigrants? Should the fact that at some point (at the beginning of the twentieth century) there were more Greeks in the United States than Russians indicate Greek rights in the United States? For example, before the mass emigration of Greeks to America, there were more Russians there. And at present (data for 2008-2010), 3 129 738 Russians live in the USA, and 1 316 074 Greeks. Does this mean that now special rights are returning to Russians? The logic of such discussions is deliberately vicious and has nothing to do with Orthodox Christianity: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col. 3:11).

In addition, it is worth pointing out that by the ruling of the Council of Constantinople in 1872, which was held with the participation of a part of the Eastern patriarchs under the chairmanship of Patriarch Anthimus VI of Constantinople, the ethnic nature of the formation of church structures was recognized as heresy:

“We saw, when comparing the beginning of tribal division with the Gospel teaching and with the constant way of the Church’s action, that it is not only alien to them but also completely opposite ... We decreed in the Holy Spirit the following:

1. We reject and condemn tribal division, that is, tribal differences, public strife and disagreements in the Church of Christ, as contrary to the Gospel teaching and sacred laws of our blessed fathers, on whom the Holy Church is established and which, decorating human society, lead to Divine piety.

2. Those who accept such a division by tribes and dare to establish on it hitherto unprecedented tribal gatherings, we proclaim, according to the sacred canons, alien to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and true schismatics."

What are the supporters of the rights of the Russian and Greek Churches actually comparing? With some, we see the systematic development of the church organization: the presence of a diocese established by the Local Church, with its ruling archbishop, two seminaries, a multinational composition of parishioners (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Syrians, Bulgarians), their publications and active missionary activities ...

With others, we observe the spontaneous self-organization of a part of the Greek diaspora, which neither wanted to enter the already existing diocesan jurisdiction nor received its own diocesan structure. That is, in fact, it came into conflict with the entire existing canonical order in the Orthodox Church.

It must not be forgotten that the church development of the "barbarian lands" did not take place for the first time in the history of the Church. It was in a similar way, historically, that the Church spread in the Roman Empire. Often the Jews were the first to adopt Christianity, sometimes the pagans did. But nobody formed ethnic hierarchies. And the canonical rules of the Church, starting with the apostolic rules, were formed precisely to determine the proper procedure for resolving possible disputes.

Church canons

So, on the territory of the United States and Canada, the jurisdiction of the Russian Church was already in force, and from 1840 there was its own episcopal see. Moreover, this diocese was not ethnically Russian. At the end of the 19th century, there were active Greek and Carpatho-Rusyn parishes, parishes made of the indigenous population of America, as well as Albanian, Syrian and Serbian missions. Among the parishioners were also Romanians, Bulgarians, representatives of the Anglo-Saxon and other migratory groups converted to Orthodoxy.

Actions on the territory of other Local Churches, without their consent, have been reprehensible since the time of the Apostles. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes: " It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation" (Rom. 15:20).

However, neither the apostolic instructions nor the canons of the Church stopped the expansion into the territory of another Church from the side of Constantinople.

Were there canonical grounds for the emergence of parallel jurisdictions on the territory of the Church in America? Constantinople says that this is the status of "barbarian lands". But Siberia, literally for a couple of centuries, was also a "barbaric land" inhabited by pagans, but no one disputes its status to this day ... As well as the status of all Orthodox jurisdictions since all of them were once created on pagan lands (except for the Jerusalem Church) and Christians were in the minority there.

If we consider Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council, we will see in it the division of the territories of the Local Churches and the prohibition of violation of their borders, as well as the "confusing onto the Churches”. We see the same thing in many other canons.

Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council says the same: the Fathers of the Third Council, having examined the case of the intervention of the Church of Antioch in the affairs of the Church of Cyprus, established the inadmissibility of this both for a specific situation and in general.

Canon 22 of the Council of Antioch, Canon 15 of the Council of Sardica, etc. testify to the same.

Special attention should be paid to the wording of the aforementioned Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council: "But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers." Canonist Joannes Zonaras (XII century) explains this norm in the following way: “The Holy Council allowed to act in accordance with the custom that had been established until that time”. The custom was more than understandable: for about a hundred years in America, there was only one Orthodox diocese. And this was the diocese of the Russian Church. And no other Church raised its claims to these lands during the 19th century.

The canonical norms of the Church speak no less clearly with regard to Greek and the other clergy who carry out their activities in America, on the territory of the North American Diocese, without the blessing of the ruling bishop and without participation in any diocesan structure of any Local Church.

Canon 39 of the Holy Apostles: “Let not the presbyters or deacons do anything without the sanction of the bishop; for it is he who is entrusted with the people of the Lord, and of whom will be required the account of their souls." The same principle is confirmed by Canon 31 of the Holy Apostles, Canon 8 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Canon 5 of the Council of Antioch, etc.

Tomos of diaspora

By 1908, the number of emigrants from Greece to the United States had reached an impressive number. The issue of their spiritual care could have been easily resolved through negotiations between representatives of the Churches and the creation of a special Greek vicariate or other subdivision within the Church in America. Instead, Constantinople preferred simply not to notice the existence of the Russian Church in the USA.

On March 8, 1908, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople issued a tomos transferring the Greek churches in America temporarily from his own jurisdiction to the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece:

“For, it is obvious that neither the Holy Church of Greece, having been granted by our Patriarchate the status of autocephality within strictly defined jurisdictional boundaries, nor any other Church or Patriarchate, could canonically extend its authority beyond the boundaries of its defined jurisdiction except our Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne; this both by virtue of the privilege accorded to it to ordain bishops in the barbarian lands which are beyond the defined limits of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and by virtue of its seniority to extend its ultimate protection to the said Churches in foreign territories."

Thus, for the first time in America, there is an appeal to "the privilege to ordain bishops in the barbarian lands". It is not clear what is the reason for such claims of Constantinople, just as it is not clear why the territory of the United States, on which at that time the Russian Church had been operating for more than a hundred years, was considered a territory "beyond the defined limits of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions".

But in any case, the claims made were clearly different from those that arose later in 1922 and those that exist now. In 1908, Constantinople still did not claim either the right to revise the existing boundaries of the Churches or the monopoly on guiding the Orthodox diaspora of all peoples. He claims only to resolve the issue of its Greek compatriots in the diaspora.

We dare to assume that Patriarch Joachim simply did not know that it was possible to act as his successors Meletios and Bartholomew later did ...

However, the fact of the “delegation” of care over the Greek diaspora of the Church of Greece suggests that in 1908 the Phanar had other concerns: the Patriarch of Constantinople was still an ethnarch in the Ottoman Empire, to whom all its Orthodox population was politically subordinate, had in its church jurisdiction many of its own parishioners and churches, nothing yet foreshadowed the shrinking of the Patriarchate, proudly self-named Ecumenical, to the size of a small deanery ...

As for the Church of Greece, which received new powers, it did not particularly care about the American parishes entrusted to it now for another ten years, until 1918, and perhaps it would not have happened further if it had not been for the bizarre course of historical events.

The figure of Patriarch Meletios

At the heart of the claims, first of the Greek and then Constantinople Сhurches, to parishes in America, is, no doubt, the personality of the first Greek Metropolitan, and then the Patriarch of Constantinople Meletios. It is his outstanding historical personality that is justifiably considered the founder of the doctrine of the exclusive right of the CP to pastor the Orthodox diaspora.

He ministered in six Local Churches, expelled from three of them, was a metropolitan in Cyprus, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch of Alexandria, who became the first Patriarch-Mason in the history of Orthodoxy ...

Tied by family ties with the Prime Minister of Greece Venizelos, who helped him to lead the Church of Greece in 1918, Meletios took on the expansion of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. As history has shown, this distinguished his ruling in all three Churches, where he happened to be the primate. So, on August 4, 1918, the Synod of the GOC decided to organize a diocese in the United States. Metropolitan Meletios appointed his representative in the United States – Bishop Alexander (Demoglou) of Rodostolou and spent three months with him in the United States, gathering both Greek parishes that were not subordinate to anyone, and negotiating with those that were under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church. This was done, naturally, without any coordination and agreement with the North American Diocese of the Russian Church. The Russian Church itself was going through hard times at this moment – there was a revolution in Russia, the Church was a target for persecution, the relationship and interaction of the North American Diocese with the Moscow Patriarchate was disrupted by the ongoing events. The Russian Church was simply incapable at this moment of decisive resistance to the violation of its canonical boundaries.

Metropolitan Meletios spent three months in the United States, gathering both Greek parishes that were not subordinate to anyone, and negotiating with those that were under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church. This was done, naturally, without any coordination and agreement with the North American Diocese of the Russian Church.

In 1920, by the decision of the Greek authorities and the Synod of the GOC "for non-canonical deeds" Meletios was expelled from his post of Metropolitan of Athens and sent to prison in a monastery on one of the Greek islands, while Archbishop Alexander was determined to return to Greece.

But at the beginning of 1921, Meletios escapes from prison and went to America, where he introduced himself as the Metropolitan of Athens, which in fact was no longer true. In this capacity, he began the formation of the Greek Archdiocese of the Americas with financial support from former Greek Prime Minister Venizelos and other Freemasons.

On December 29, 1921, the Holy Synod of the GOC decided to defrock Meletios for violating a set of canons, concelebrating with the Anglicans and perpetrating a schism. Archbishop Alexander (Demoglou) was also declared a schismatic, all their followers were given a warning.

However, while the Synod was preparing this decision, Meletios, with the help of the British, managed to take the throne of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Constantinople occupied by the Entente.

His election was invalidated by the majority of the bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (7 members of the Holy Synod and about 60 hierarchs), who gathered in Thessaloniki. The Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem supported the decision of the Constantinople episcopate. But despite this, Meletios was still proclaimed the Patriarch, having been stripped of the priesthood (!). Later, the decision to defrock him was overturned under political pressure.

Meletios was proclaimed the Patriarch, having been defrocked (!).

In February 1922, Meletios cancelled the "Tomos of Diaspora of 1908", announcing the return of the American Greek parishes to the jurisdiction of the Phanar from 11 May. The Church of Greece did not recognize this decision by Meletios, who had been defrocked, and appointed another bishop to take care of the American communities. As a result, the dual power in the Greek Archdiocese in the United States continued until 1931.

In March 1922, Meletios issued a tomos on the right of Constantinople to "direct supervision and management of all Orthodox parishes without exception that are outside the Local Orthodox Churches, in Europe, America and other places", substantiating it by Canons 9, 17, 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council analyzed further.

The other Orthodox Churches, including the Greek ones, did not recognize Meletios's claims to the Orthodox diaspora. The Phanar still has to squeeze out their consent, one by one.

During his reign, Meletius managed to support the Soviet renovationists, who declared him their head. He subordinated to himself the Orthodox dioceses in Finland and Estonia. In general, he managed to invade the canonical territory of the Russian Church four times, taking away its parts. Meletios created the Cyril and Methodius Archdiocese in Czechoslovakia, on the territory of the Serbian Church, trampling its boundaries. Later, this invasion became for the CP the basis for not recognizing the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, as the Phanar declared its territory its own ... Meletios also created the CP dioceses in Western Europe and Australia.

Expelled from Constantinople, Meletios, with the help of the British, became the Patriarch of Alexandria. In this post, contrary to his own decisions as Patriarch of Constantinople, he arbitrarily expanded the boundaries of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to all of Africa, creating new dioceses in Johannesburg, Benghazi, Tunisia, Sudan and Ethiopia. Though these were clearly "barbaric lands", he did not wait for the decision of their fate in Constantinople but reclaimed them himself. This proves to us that the initiator of the CP's claims to the "barbaric lands" did not perceive them as a kind of canonical truth, but only as a tool to expand his power.

Canonical grounds for Meletios' actions

As we promised, we will consider the canonical foundations, based on which Meletios declared his claims to the territory of North America. Let us recall that these were the canons of the IV Ecumenical Council, namely: 9th, 17th, and 28th. Let's start with the 28th canon, since it is logical to consider the 9th and 17th together. Earlier we examined it in the article “How the ROC took half of the Polish Church: the 2nd answer to Archbishop Chrysostomos”, but now we will approach it more comprehensively.

So, let's consider Canon 28 of the IV Ecumenical Council.

Phanar interprets this rule as an indication of the presence of a certain primacy of power in universal Orthodoxy. And also as an exclusive right to take care of "foreign" dioceses. However, if we look closely at the text of this canon, we will see the following:

First, the fathers of the Council refer to the third canon of the II Ecumenical Council: "The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome." As we can see, it clearly talks about the primacy of honor, but not about the primacy of power. If suddenly, contrary to the text of the canon, we admit that for some reason we are talking about the primacy of power, then after that we will have to admit that the Bishop of Rome possessed it, and therefore the claims of the popes to the primacy of power were justified, which was rejected by the Church, including Constantinople.

Second, the fathers of both Councils clearly define the reason for this primacy of honor: "because this city is the new Rome", "because it was the reigning city", "and the city received the honor of being the city of the king and the synclite." That is, a quite clear political reason for that time is given: the transfer of the capital of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople, which makes the See of the Constantinople Bishop as the capital one. Let us recall that during the times of both the Second and the Fourth Ecumenical Councils, all autocephalous Churches were located in the side-altars and at the borders of the Byzantine Empire. But in 1922 the Byzantine Empire no longer existed. Constantinople was no longer the city of "the tsar and the synclite". Moreover, it was no longer even the capital of Turkey, and in 1930 Constantinople disappeared altogether, being renamed into Istanbul.

Third, if you take the Phanar's point of view and consider that this canon is unchanged in its relevance regardless of the historical context, then this assessment will have to be applied to the entire text of the canon. Precisely to the entire text, and not only to that part of it that is fancied by the Patriarchs of Constantinople. But in the text of the canon, we see the definition of the boundaries of the CP, which do not include many of those areas that it has already managed to include in its domain. Moreover, if we consider this canon unshakable, we will see that in this case the boundaries of the Churches are determined not by the Synod of the CP (as is happening now), but by the Ecumenical Councils. Having adopted this point of view, we will have to return all Local Churches to the borders of the 5th century, since in none of the canons of the Ecumenical Councils can we find a mention of the "delegation" of their power to the Bishop of Constantinople, which is currently asserted at Phanar.

Having taken the position of the significance of the historical context of the canon and the decisions made on its basis, we will have to admit that it has lost its relevance. And to this day, the primacy of honor given to the Bishop of New Rome under this canon is nothing more than a tribute to church historical memory. Moreover, the Ecumenical Church itself rejected any doctrine about the primacy of power vested in anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Fourth, in 1848, the Encyclical of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to All Orthodox Christians was accepted by the Patriarchs and Synods of the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Although its main theme is Roman papism, the principles of the relationship between the Churches in general and the Church of Constantinople among them are quite clearly indicated. It clearly rejects both anyone's primacy of power among the Churches and anyone's right of supreme judicial power in the Church, which will be discussed below. The value of this definition lies precisely in the fact that it expresses the conciliar opinion of the entire Church, including Constantinople. And today, when the throne of Constantinople claims to the privileges of Rome ("since Rome fell away from the Church"), it is especially important to find out the ecclesiastic position on this issue. Due to the sizable volume, we do not quote it in full, but we will give a link to this framework church document, which asserts that neither the Roman throne nor Constantinople has "primacy of power":

As we can see, the Catholic (Ecumenical) Church not only rejects the supremacy of any of the patriarchates, but also gives a completely clear correct understanding of the meaning of the said canon of the IV Ecumenical Council, the preceding rules going with it.

Fifth, the Byzantine canonist of the 12th century Ioann Zonara gives his interpretation of this canon: “For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges (ἴσα πρεσβεῖα) to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her; so that, in the Pontic, the Asian, and the Thracian dioceses, the metropolitans only and such bishops also of the Dioceses aforesaid as are among the barbarians, should be ordained by the aforesaid most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople; every metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses, together with the bishops of his province, ordaining his own provincial bishops, as has been declared by the divine canons; but that, as has been above said, the metropolitans of the aforesaid Dioceses should be ordained by the archbishop of Constantinople, after the proper elections have been held according to custom and have been reported to him.” That is, we are talking about the advantages of honor due to the status of the capital, and not at all about expanded powers associated with some kind of supremacy. Moreover, the same rule limits the right of the Constantinople throne even in the regions subordinate to it, so that none of the Constantinople bishops appropriates the ordination of bishops to himself; for every metropolitan is entitled to these ordinations."

Sixth, with regard to the exclusive right of the Patriarch of Constantinople to ordain "barbaric" bishops, the text of the canon very clearly shows us its very meaning:

"… so that, in the Pontic, the Asian, and the Thracian dioceses, the metropolitans only and such bishops also of the Dioceses aforesaid as are among the barbarians, should be ordained by the aforesaid most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople..."

Seventh, the 12th century Byzantine canonist Theodoros Balsamon (later Patriarch of Antioch) tells us the same thing: “The barbarian bishoprics are understood to mean Alana, Rossa and others; for the Alans belong to the Pontic region, while the Rossi to the Thracian. Regarding the legates of the Pope, it will be said after the Council of Trullo’s welcoming message who they are and how he was granted the right to have our metropolitans as his legates.” As we can see, we are not talking about all "barbarians", but only about those who are "assigned" to the regions under throne of Constantinople in the 5th century.

Eighth, even before Balsamon, the most authoritative Ioann Zonara sets out the meaning of the canon more clearly: “The canon imposes on the Bishop of Constantinople the ordination of bishops for foreign peoples living in the indicated areas, those being Alana and Rossa; for the former belong to the Pontic diocese, while the Rossi to the Thracian. But no one should think that these holy fathers provide the Bishop of Constantinople with full authority in terms of ordination, so that he would have the power to do whatever he pleases; they added that the Bishop of Constantinople should not appoint those metropolitans whom he himself wants but ordain the one who is agreed on by the electorate during the elections, performed by the synod under his authority with submitting the results of the elections to the Bishop." 

In view of the aforesaid, canon 28 not only does not give the Patriarch of Constantinople the rights "to the entire diaspora", but, on the contrary, limits his power to specific boundaries.

Now let's consider Canon 9 of the IV Ecumenical Council and Canon 17 of the IV Ecumenical Council.

Both canons were selected by Constantinople not accidentally: both contain a mention of the ecclesiastical court before the throne of Constantinople as the highest form of ecclesiastical judicial power. And, based on this norm, Phanariotes over the past hundred years have made a number of decisions affecting their interests with rulings being given in their favor, of course. Let's consider the validity of the specified interpretation of these rules:

First, in the canons we can see precisely the judicial procedure as a way of resolving a contradiction. There was nothing similar to this in the events around the decision of the fate of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in America or in matters of deciding the fate of diaspora dioceses and parishes (as well as in general in most of the interchurch issues resolved at Phanar). The Russian Church did not participate in the discussion of the decision either as right or as wrong or as simply as a party entitled to express its opinion. The decision was made in absentia and without taking into account its existence in general. Moreover, there was no issue of the mutual election of judges, as it is envisaged in the 9th canon.

Second, the ninth canon clearly provides for the condition of the court in Constantinople: "to the throne of the reigning Constantinople". In 1453, the reign of the Byzantine emperors ended in Constantinople. The reign of the sultans ended in 1922, and the city itself ceased to be the capital of even the republic in 1923.

Third, both canons provide for a phased jurisdiction. It means that before considering a case in Constantinople, it must go through the lower instances at all levels of the hierarchy. And only then can it be considered in the highest instance. Was it the case with America? Unfortunately, no. Nor was it in many other histories.

Fourth, the 17th canon clearly defines the affiliation of parishes to the diocese to which they belonged for the last 30 years. 30 years is a period of incontestability of rights. By the time Metropolitan Meletios appeared in America in 1918, the Russian Church had had its presence in America for 124 years. And at the time of the statement of claims to the same lands by the same Meletios, but as the patriarch of Constantinople, the presence of the Russian Church in America was already 128 years old. The diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in America had already existed for 82 years. For 50 years, its center was located not in Alaska but in California, while its activities extended to New York. The application of the 17th canon to this situation by Patriarch Meletios involuntarily brings to mind the Gospel words: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Actually, this quote applies to most of the other Phanar arguments.

By the time Metropolitan Meletios appeared in America in 1918, the Russian Church had had its presence in America for 124 years. And at the time of the statement of claims to the same lands by the same Meletios, but as the patriarch of Constantinople, the presence of the Russian Church in America was already 128 years old

The Byzantine canonist Alexei Aristen also speaks about the 30-year term in his interpretations of the 17th canon: “And if a church has a dispute with another church, then both have equal rights; and if it did not start a dispute for thirty years, but was silent and after that initiates a dispute, then it loses her right by the statute of limitations." The canonist Balsamon writes about the same.

Fifth, it is absolutely not clear on what grounds America was classified as a "foreign" or "barbaric" land. For more than a hundred years there has been an Orthodox jurisdiction of one of the Local Churches. Isn't this an indicator that this definition is not acceptable to it? What criterion, according to the Phanariots, distinguishes "barbarian lands" from "non-barbarian"? Their being Greek and non-Greek? If so, does this mean the right of Constantinople to create now its jurisdictions in Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Poland? Or maybe in Syria? After all, the Antiochian Church is Greek only by name, but its hierarchy has long been composed mainly of representatives of other nationalities.

What criterion, according to the Phanariots, distinguishes "barbaric lands" from "non-barbaric"? Their being Greek and non-Greek?

Or, perhaps, the criterion of "barbarism" is when the majority of the population does not profess Orthodoxy? So the Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Albania, Poland, Czech Lands and Slovakia now fall under this definition (the Patriarchate of Constantinople tried to classify the latter two as "barbaric lands", subsequently, when substantiating its claims to determine their fate). Moreover and regrettably, the canonical lands of the Church of Constantinople are also currently inhabited by non-Orthodox mostly. 

Sixth, since the Ecumenical Council was held on the territory of the Church of Constantinople, and a significant part of its participants were member of this Church, it sometimes determined issues of not only an ecumenical, but also a local nature. Therefore, the designation of the See of Constantinople as the highest judicial instance primarily implies the Church of Constantinople itself, rather than other Local Churches. A number of Byzantine canonists speak about this, whose interpretations we will consider below. Nevertheless, the cases of the CP making court decisions outside the framework of its canonical territory are connected exclusively with either the voluntary choice of the parties to the dispute as a fraternal arbiter, or with the political privileges of the capital's Patriarchate, but they have no ecclesiastic grounds.

Seventh, even the advocates for the judicial privileges of Constantinople admit that these privileges were due solely to its capital status. So, defending the privileges of the CP, the historian A.V. Kartashov (who became an activist and apologist of the CP in exile) writes in his article defending the highest judicial law of Constantinople (“The Practice of the Appellate Law of the Patriarchs of Constantinople”): “Clerics from all over the East were reaching out to emperors with complaints and petitions. And the emperors referred these matters to the judgment of the metropolitan Bishops, around which episcopal conferences arose in the form of σύνοδοι ἐνδημοῦσαι. Thus, first of all, the judicial-appellate power and practice of the Bishop of Constantinople arose, and behind it the administrative power was wider than the narrow limits of Constantinople, stretching over the area of other dioceses, the power of the “all-imperial-ecumenical” nature. To which emperors (or sultans) now, after 1922, do clerics from other Local Churches turn for their cases to be submitted to the CP for consideration?

Indeed, in the vanished empires, the Patriarch of Constantinople had great powers. Moreover, his authority in the Ottoman Empire was even greater than in the Byzantine.

For the sultans, the system of conciliar decisions of independent Churches was too complicated and uncontrollable, therefore the ethnarch, endowed with the appropriate authority by the Ottomans, was responsible for all Churches before the Sultan. The Ottomans formed Rum-millet (autonomy on religious grounds) from their new Christian entities, which included all the Orthodox peoples of the empire. The head of Rum-millet, the ethnarch, was the Patriarch of Constantinople. The status of the imperial see was retained by Constantinople. It is important to consider that during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, under its rule (or under the rule of its vassals) were the canonical territories of all Local Orthodox Churches, with the exception of the Russian Church and partly the Georgian one. Serbian and Bulgarian Churches were part of the CP. The Churches of Cyprus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria were politically under the authority of the ethnarch, although formally and canonically they were not subordinate to him.

Despite the humiliated position of Christians in the empire, the ethnarch had enormous rights in it. The CP received a number of advantages from the Ottomans. It had the right to dispose of the property of both its own and other Churches. The Patriarchal Court settled all Orthodox cases: marriages, divorces, guardianship of minors, wills and inheritance. It also dealt with all financial disputes between the Orthodox. They could not sue in an Ottoman court. Only the Patriarchal Court had rights in relation to the clergy. This also applied to criminal offenses. The suspected cleric was imprisoned in the patriarchal prison and tried there. Even the Turkish authorities required permission from the patriarch to arrest a bishop (in practice, only the sultan could violate this rule).

Given such enormous powers, it is quite easy to find in history examples of the Patriarchate of Constantinople using its privileges. But the whole point is that these examples would bear testimony to the political and legal practice of the Ottoman (and before it Romei) empires, rather than the ecclesiastic-canonical Tradition.

Eighth, we should consider the testimony of most of the canonists. The very rare of them who assert the special rights of the CP, imply only the imperial practice in Byzantium. It is what Alexei Aristen writes about in his interpretation of Canon 9 of the IV Ecumenical Council: "This advantage, i.e. that the metropolitan, who is under the rule of one patriarch, is judged by another, is not given by either rules or laws to any of the other patriarchs except for Constantinople" ...

In his interpretation of the same rule, Ioann Zonara refers to canon 17 of the same Council and in his interpretation writes the following: “but the Patriarch of Constantinople cannot judge all metropolitans indiscriminately, but only those subordinate to him. For he cannot bring to his trial the metropolitans of Syria, or Palestine and Phenicia, or Egypt against their will; but the metropolitans of Syria are subject to the court of the Patriarch of Antioch, and the Palestinians are subject to the court of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Egyptians must be tried by the Patriarch of Alexandria, from whom they receive the ordination, and to whom they are subjected." The obvious contradiction is no longer a contradiction, if we recognize that Aristen speaks about the political legal system, whereas Zonara about the ecclesiastic one.

The canonist of the 18th century, the Monk Nicodemus of the Holy Mount, writes: “The Constantinople does not have the power to act in dioceses and boundaries of other patriarchs, and the canon hereby does not give him the right of last appellate court throughout the Church ... Constantinople is the only first and last judge for the subordinate metropolitans, but not for those subordinate to other patriarchs, because solely the Ecumenical Council is the last and universal judge of all patriarchs, and no one else."

Ninth, it is worth paying attention to the nuance in Zonara's interpretation, namely, the words "against their will". That is, giving the ecclesiastical interpretation of the canon, Zonara denies the rights of the CP to judge other Patriarchates, if this happens "against their will." Otherwise, if they so wish, the CP can be chosen as a fraternal arbiter in a dispute by mutual agreement of the parties. This is exactly what the District Epistle of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to all Orthodox Christians (1848) tells us about.

Tenth, it is the District Encyclical of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to all Orthodox Christians of 1848 that deserves special attention. Since it was quoted above in the interpretation of the 28th canon of the IV Ecumenical Council, it should not be quoted again, but it can be double-checked. It not only confirms our earlier stated conclusions, but also formalizes them. Unlike the opinion of the canonists, who are only authoritative witnesses of their era, this is an official document setting out the positions of the ancient Patriarchates, including the CP itself. Without any ambiguity, the Encyclical indicates that the judicial function of the Constantinople Patriarchate is possible only on fraternal basis, with the consent of the rest of the Churches, just like other Patriarchates had to consider cases against the Patriarchs of Constantinople.

Phanar does not even try to observe the principles of impartiality or equidistance from the parties to the dispute, as befits a true judge. By declaring itself a judge, it bluntly makes decisions in its favor


  1. The actions of the See of Constantinople in relation to America not only cannot be justified by the 9th, 17th, and 28th canons of the IV Ecumenical Council, but also directly contradict them.
  2. In the canons we do not find any grounds for recognizing the primacy of power of the patriarchs of Constantinople over other Churches, if we consider this issue outside the context of relations between the capital and the imperial provinces, outside the Roman and Ottoman legal practice.
  3. There are no privileges in relation to the Orthodox Diaspora or barbarian lands, save for certain dioceses in the text of Canon 28 of the IV Ecumenical Council. True though, these areas can be spoken only within the framework of the realities of the historical era when this canon was adopted.
  4. America's state in 1918-23 does not fall under the definition of "foreign (barbarian) lands".
  5. The principle of recognizing the throne of Constantinople as the highest judicial authority in the Orthodox world, as it was applied in relation to the issue of the Orthodox Diaspora, is actually a disguised papism. Phanar does not even try to observe the principles of impartiality or equidistance from the parties to the dispute, as befits a true judge. Having declared itself a judge, it bluntly makes decisions in its favor, without consideration, without taking into account the opinions of the parties, being itself a party to the dispute. This practice allows the Constantinople Patriarchate to take any action in the capacity of the Church and to recognize its rightfulness, acting in the role of the highest judge. This contradicts the church doctrine, the canons of the Church and the principle of church conciliarity.
  6. Constantinople can be an arbiter in inter-church disputes if the dispute is not resolved by the Churches on their own, subject to voluntariness and if the CP itself is not a party to the dispute. The canons provide for such an opportunity, but it is not obligatory.
  7. Canonical norms, which prescribe a 30-year limitation period for any territorial dispute between the Churches, have been grossly violated in American history.
  8. With the help of a strained and extremely dubious interpretation of the ancient canons, there was an actual invasion by one Church of the territory of another Church.

To be continued...

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