Fr. Andriy Chirovsky, Director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, has a new piece up at First Things reflecting on the recent meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The article provides some much needed historical context to the meeting and corrects a number of errors floating around in the mainstream and Catholic press, including the idea that the Moscow Patriarchate is 1,000 years old (it was established in 1589). Here are some excerpts.
The spin will be important to watch because much of the world press is hopelessly confused in its reporting about the historic meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow. Endless references to the thousand-year estrangement between Rome and Moscow display ignorance of the fact that 1,000 years ago the Patriarchate of Moscow did not exist. It was created in 1589. Even the position of Metropolitan of Moscow goes back only to 1448. The creation of the Moscow Metropolitanate was a direct reaction to the fact that the Church of Kyiv (Kiev) had re-established full communion with Rome at the Council of Florence through Metropolitan Isidore. The Metropolitan of Kyiv, Petro Akerovych, had attended the First Council of Lyons in 1245. Moscow cannot claim the history of the Kyivan Church as its own and simultaneously ignore such momentous moments in that history. Furthermore, the Kyivan Church re-established full communion with Rome in 1596 through the Union of Brest, an explicit revival of Florentine models of unity, only to be beaten back by rivals who did not accept this Union. Even so, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, Petro Mohyla in the 1640’s, made contacts with Rome and was the author of yet another proposal for renewing communion with Rome, on what he considered slightly better terms. Now, either the history of the Church of Kiev is a separate reality from that of Moscow, or it is part and parcel of Russian Orthodox identity. Moscow cannot have it both ways. Alas, Moscow does do its best to obfuscate matters. The Moscow Patriarchate (founded 1589) claims to be the Mother Church for the Church of Kiev (founded 988). George Orwell would smile at this sort of Double-speak. That is why Moscow does not correct commentators who talk about the thousand-year estrangement. It all makes Moscow look more exotic, more like a great prize to be wooed at all costs.
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In paragraph 25, the Moscow Patriarchate finally acknowledges that Eastern Catholics actually have a right to exist and to minister to their flocks, something the Joint Orthodox-Catholic Balamand Declaration in 1993 clearly stated. Twenty three years later, all of the Eastern Catholic Churches can breathe a sigh of relief that the Church that co-operated in the destruction of Eastern Catholic Churches under the Czars and under Stalin, has finally come into line with world Orthodoxy and no longer denies their very right to live. Interestingly, this paragraph does not mention Eastern Catholic Churches, but only “ecclesial communities.” Anyone versed in Catholic ecclesiological and ecumenical vocabulary will be alarmed at this, since this signals something less than full stature as a Church. There is no doubt at all that Rome views the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches precisely as a Church. In fact Rome refers to 22 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, a term that means “of their own law” or self-governing. How, then, did this anomalous terminology creep into the document? There is only one answer, I believe. It was inserted by Moscow and Vatican ecumenists either missed it or knowingly made a concession in order to please Moscow.
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The definition of uniatism given by paragraph 25 is rather ambiguous and thus (and I’ll say this with a smile) it appears not to apply to the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. The text says: “It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity.” Apparently, Ukrainian Greco-Catholics can sigh a great sigh of relief, since this Church came into being through the decision of the bishops of the Orthodox Metropolia of Kiev, and not through “the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church. This was an action of the whole Kievan Church. Ironically, the two last bishoprics to join the Union (a hundred years later) were those in Westernmost Ukraine, today the region in which Ukrainian Greco-Catholics still constitute a majority of believers. The 1596 Union of Brest was precisely a corporate union of one Church with another, not some peeling off of communities from another Church. Of course, the faithful of this Church have paid a very high price for their choice of unity with Rome, openly persecuted by Russian imperial governments, whether czarist or Bolshevik, whenever they acquired another slice of Belarusian or Ukrainian territory. The narrative presented by most Orthodox authors is that all of this was a plot by Polish Jesuits against the Orthodox Church. Such a narrative denies subjectivity to the Orthodox bishops of the Metropolia of Kyiv. In fact, they were shrewdly acting against plans that many Poles had for turning the Orthodox into Roman Catholics and Poles. None of this is to say that the Union of Brest is a model for Orthodox-Catholic unity in the future. It had numerous flaws, on the side of the Orthodox architects of the union as well as on the side of Rome. A good number—but not all—of them have been corrected. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church does subscribe to the Balamand Statement of 1993. It has from the beginning.