Chirovsky on the Pope/Patriarch Meeting

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.


  1. His history is rather disingenuous. The metropolis of Kiev was relocated to Vladimir in the 13th century after the Mongol invasion; it was then moved to Moscow in 1325. It was this see which eventually became the Moscow Patriarchate. A see continued to exist in Kiev but it was not the same.

    1. I don’t see how that is being disingenuous at all, and it’s not correct to say “a see continued to exist in Kiev” as if it didn’t matter. Moreover, you are leaving out the return of Kiev to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the 15th C., which preceded the Union of Brest.

      So again, I don’t see anything disingenuous here except maybe your attempt to act as if Kiev somehow ceased as a see at some magic point in history when Russia took the helm.

  2. The Moscow Patriarchate is the descendent of the Kiev see of 988. Again, the see of Kiev was moved to Vladimir and then Moscow. The fact that it didn’t have the ~title~ of Moscow Patriarchate until 1589 doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before then.

    The see created by the EP, which then went under Rome, was a new see created in the 15th century.

    1. Regarding the first Metropolitan of Moscow being in 1488: Again, this was only a name change. The see had retained the title “Metropolis of Kiev and all Rus'” through its relocation to Vladimir and then Moscow. The see was simply retitled to reflect the historical reality. It would be like of the Patriarchate of Antioch started calling itself the Patriarchate of Damascus- this would in no wise diminish the fact that the see originated in Antioch.

    2. Following your logic, the Moscow Patriarchate has only been around since 1917 since it was abolished in 1721, and thus has no legitimate connection to anything which preceded it.

      So why does the See of Kyiv lose all of its lineage because war and invasion forced a transfer but Moscow retains its lineage despite the abolition in 1721?

  3. The Kiev see was not abolished and it did not lose its lineage; that lineage was moved to Vladimir and then Moscow. So Moscow IS the see of Kiev from 988. Again, the Patriarchs of Antioch all live in Damascus now- does that mean the see of Antioch was abolished? No. It just moved. If you want to believe that the current see(s) in Kiev are also legitimate descendants of the 988 see, more power to you, but there is no grounds for denying that the MP carries this lineage or to say that it was created in 1589 just because it happened to be elevated from metropolis to patriarchate in that year.

    1. The nature of Moscow’s elevation is something that most Orthodox don’t normally brag about, nor do they go into what happened in the 15th Century. Also, let us not forget that when Jonah was elected metropolitan in 1448, it was without the consent of Constantinople, which had proper canonical jurisdiction at that time. So to state that Moscow clearly and unambiguously retains the lineage of Kyiv is, at best, questionable and, more accurately, playing with history.

      While I won’t go so far as to deny that Moscow has some connection to the lineage of the Kyivan Church, from the 15th Century onward, Moscow acted unilaterally (and, later, by coercion) to establish itself as an independent church. Meanwhile, the legitimate line of bishops from Kyiv entered into communion with the Roman Church in 1596 and those who refused were — again through questionable tactics — brought under Moscow’s control only in 1686.

      1. So, to be clear, what you’re saying is that, when the Moscow metropolitans defied the proper canonical authority (Constantinople) to become autocephalous, they therefore lost their legitimacy as successors of the Kiev see; whereas, when the Ukrainian bishops did the same thing to form the Union of Brest, they maintained their legitimacy somehow.

          1. See, I said nothing about the guilt/not-guilt of the Greek Catholics. This is solely Moscow’s behavior that is being questioned here in order to clarify a point you object to, namely the relatively recent vintage of its see.

            This is classic Ortho-speak: bait and switch and complain. Come on. You’re better than this.

            1. Okay, seize on a marginal aside I made to avoid the main point. Your arguments for the illegitimacy of the Moscow see apply equally to the bishops of the unia, if not more so. If you want to play the canonical jurisdiction game, then I would say joining an entirely different communion under a different patriarch would break the rules. Also, whatever you might think of Metropolitan Jonah and his autocephaly, Metropolitan Maximus was duly consecrated in 1283 and accepted by Constantinople, and he was the one who transferred the see from Kiev (which was devastated first by the Mongol invasion in 1240, and then subsequent internecine strife in the horde) to Vladimir. So, again, there is no question that the see of Kiev was moved from Kiev to Vladimir, while retaining the title “Metropolitian of Kiev and all Rus’.” It was Metropolitan Peter- again duly consecrated and recognized by Constantinople- who moved the see from Vladimir to Moscow. The title was still “Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus'” and recognized as such by Constantinople. This was more than a century before Moscow’s autocephaly, so, even by your standards, the legitimate see of Kiev resided in Moscow. If that bothers you, then you’ll have to also account for the See of Rome moving to Avignon around the same time. And if you really think the de facto autocephaly of Moscow (when Constantinople was on the verge of collapse and her church was submitting to Rome) is some grave irregularity which interrupts episcopal succession- even though the autocephaly was eventually recognized- then one has to ask where the see of Kiev went? Today’s Kiev see (whether Orthodox or Catholic) was established by Constantinople in the 15th century.

            2. Ryan,

              No one said anything about “legitimacy.” Again, go back and read the original article excerpts and my comments. The whole point is to put to bed the myth that Rome and Moscow have a 1,000-year estrangement. And even if you want to hold that Moscow maintains a perfect lineage with Kyiv, then you still can’t hold that the estrangement occurred until the illegal deposition of Isidore of Kyiv and the installation of (St.) Jonah of Moscow in the mid-15th Century.

    1. Faced by overwhelming evidence of the superiority of the Byzantine rite to everything else, Dale finally gave in and was received into ROCOR last month. His book ~The Glory of Greco-Russian Orthodoxness and Why It’s Awesome” is set to come out from Jordanville press this coming Fall.

  4. The State of Arizona has existed longer than the current iteration of the Moscow Patriarchate. Interesting.

    1. If you want to argue that the abolition of the Patriarchate by Tsar Peter makes the current MP a new see, then the same logic would apply to the current Kiev metropolitanate since it was re-established in Kiev in the 15th century 150 years after it had been moved to Vladimir. So if you want to say the MP was founded in 1917, then you would also have to say that the Kiev metropolitanate was created in 1458, and that there really is no successor anymore to the 10th century Metropolitanate of Kiev and all Rus’ .

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