A Small Note on Dating the Eastern Schism

Traditional Catholics can’t always be blamed for tripping up on “things Eastern,” what with being panicked over the third Confiteor at Mass or decrying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. It’s distracting stuff. So imagine my surprise when several traditional Catholics, including the historian Roberto de Mattei, started combating the media-spread exaggeration that the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope of Rome have been estranged for 1,000 years. While some Orthodox contest the dating, there is a strong case to be made that the Patriarchate of Moscow came officially into being in 1589, with its Metropolitan status originating a century early in 1448 when it, arguably, inherited the lineage of the See of Kyiv, albeit without canonical approval from the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Although Mattei identifies the beginning of the East/West Schism as 1054, he takes note of the reunion Council of Florence in 1439 and the sad reality that that the fall of Constantinople in 1453 effectively dashed all hope of a permanent end to the rending of Christendom. However, Mattei’s suggestion that the Rome/Moscow split should be dated at the founding of its patriarchate is rather questionable. There should be no doubt that by the time the Russians had imprisoned and illegally deposed Metropolitan Isidore in 1441 for accepting the Council of Florence and illicitly replaced him in 1448 with Jonah of Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church became officially estranged from the See of Rome.

With respect to the Kyivan Metropolia, while it is well known that a number of its bishops reestablished full communion with Rome in 1596, there was a period of separation between Rome and Kyiv that some date to the end of Metropolitan St. Macarius the Hieromartyr’s brief reign in 1497 or Joseph II in 1501. There can be no doubt that by the time Jonah of Kyiv ascended the throne in 1503, the Metropolia was no longer in full communion with Rome, choosing instead to realign with the Eastern Orthodox who had rejected Florence. This period of estrangement between Rome and Kyiv thankfully came to an end less than a century later, though Russian aggression in the region during the 17th Century, which included Moscow’s imperial claim over the See of Kyiv and its Orthodox adherents, severely undermined Brest and the Greek Catholic Church, along with the rights of Ukrainian Orthodox to this day.

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.

Fortescue on the Eastern Schism

Certain traditional Catholics are in a tizzy right now about “things Orthodox,” piously accusing their separated Eastern brethren of being “schismatics” and “heretics.” (“Behold, how they love one another.”) For the record, here is what the late, great Fr. Adrian Fortescue had to say on the matter in his 1912 entry from The Catholic Encyclopedia entitled, “The Eastern Schism.” If only present-day traditionalists could exhibit such care when approaching one of the most complicated and tragic situations in Christian history.

In this deplorable story we notice the following points. It is easier to understand how a schism continues than how it began. Schisms are easily made; they are enormously difficult to heal. The religious instinct is always conservative; there is always a strong tendency to continue the existing state of things. At first the schismatics were reckless innovators; then with the lapse of centuries their cause seems to be the old one; it is the Faith of the Fathers. Eastern Christians especially have this conservative instinct strongly. They fear that reunion with Rome would mean a betrayal of the old Faith, of the Orthodox Church, to which they have clung so heroically during all these centuries. One may say that the schism continues mainly through force of inertia.

In its origin we must distinguish between the schismatical tendency and the actual occasion of its outburst. But the reason of both has gone now. The tendency was mainly jealousy caused by the rise of the See of Constantinople. That progress is over long ago. The last three centuries Constantinople has lost nearly all the broad lands she once acquired. There is nothing the modern Orthodox Christian resents more than any assumption of authority by the oecumenical patriarch outside his diminished patriarchate. The Byzantine see has long been the plaything of the Turk, wares that he sold to the highest bidder. Certainly now this pitiful dignity is no longer a reason for the schism of nearly 100,000,000 Christians. Still less are the immediate causes of the breach active. The question of the respective rights of Ignatius and Photius leaves even the Orthodox cold after eleven centuries; and Caerularius’s ambitions and insolence may well be buried with him. Nothing then remains of the original causes.

There is not really any question of doctrine involved. It is not a heresy, but a schism. The Decree of Florence made every possible concession to their feelings. There is no real reason why they should not sign that Decree now. They deny papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception, they quarrel over purgatory, consecration by the words of institution, the procession of the Holy Ghost, in each case misrepresenting the dogma to which they object. It is not difficult to show that on all these points their own Fathers are with those of the Latin Church, which asks them only to return to the old teaching of their own Church.

That is the right attitude towards the Orthodox always. They have a horror of being latinized, of betraying the old Faith. One must always insist that there is no idea of latinizing them, that the old Faith is not incompatible with, but rather demands union with the chief see which their Fathers obeyed. In canon law they have nothing to change except such abuses as the sale of bishoprics and the Erastianism that their own better theologians deplore. Celibacy, azyme bread, and so on are Latin customs that no one thinks of forcing on them. They need not add the Filioque to the Creed; they will always keep their venerable rite untouched. Not a bishop need be moved, hardly a feast (except that of St. Photius on 6 Feb.) altered. All that is asked of them is to come back to where their Fathers stood, to treat Rome as Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom treated her. It is not Latins, it is they who have left the Faith of their Fathers. There is no humiliation in retracing one’s steps when one has wandered down a mistaken road because of long-forgotten personal quarrels. They too must see how disastrous to the common cause is the scandal of the division. They too must wish to put an end to so crying an evil. And if they really wish it the way need not be difficult. For, indeed, after nine centuries of schism we may realize on both sides that it is not only the greatest it is also the most superfluous evil in Christendom.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript on the Francis/Kirill Meeting

There has been so much excellent commentary on the recently concluded meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow that it seems unnecessary to add too much more to the pile. Clearly an event like this—and the Joint Declaration which emerged from it—wasn’t going to sit the same with all people. Although Eastern Orthodox commentary has been fairly sparse thus far (at least in English), there appears to be a fair amount of discontent floating around traditionalist Orthodox circles (the “pan-heresy of ecumenism” and all that jazz), prompting some to either declare that the sky is falling or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, that neither the meeting nor the Joint Declaration mean a whole heck of a lot. To some extent the latter view is correct. The meeting, in and of itself, won’t amount to a hill of beans unless the Moscow Patriarchate is committed to ongoing theological dialogue and rapprochement. However, as numerous commentators have already highlighted, the Russian state under Vladimir Putin has a definite geopolitical interest in keeping close ties with the Vatican, which may have had more to do with the meeting taking place than any desire to mend the Great Schism.

Pope/Patriarch Joint Declaration – Further Commentary Roundup

With 48 hours behind us since the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a large number of (mostly Catholic) voices are sounding off on both the encounter itself and the Joint Declaration which came out of it. I have already posted the reactions of Patriarch Sviatoslav and Fr. Peter Galadza of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), along with a brief collection of pre-meeting commentaries here.

Patriarch Sviatoslav on the Joint Declaration

Update 2/14: A full English translation of Patriarch Sviatoslav’s response to the Joint Declaration (sans Scriptural references) is now available from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s website here. My thanks once again to Fr. Athanasius McVay for allowing Opus Publicum to host his partial translation of the Patriarch’s words.


His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, has issued an official statement on the Joint Declaration signed yesterday by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba. The full text of the Patriarch’s statement — in Ukrainian — is available from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s official website. While Sviatoslav offers words of praise for the Joint Declaration, that praise is tempered by the fact that he was not consulted on the text despite being a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Fr. Athanasius McVay, a Greek Catholic priest, has kindly granted Opus Publicum permission to post his translation of the final three paragraphs of his Beatitude’s statement. He also added in Scriptural references at the end. Hopefully a full translation of Patriarch Sviatoslav’s words will be available in short order.

Undoubtedly, this text has caused deep disappointment among many of the faithful of our Church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. This day, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truths in this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See of Russian aggression against Ukraine. I can certainly understand understand those feelings.

Nevertheless, I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this declaration and not to exaggerate its importance to Church life. We have experienced more than one such declaration, and will survive this one as well. We need to remember that our unity and full communion with the Holy Father, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, is not the result of political agreement or diplomatic compromise, or the clarity of a text of a joint declaration. This unity and communion with the Peter of today is an essential characteristic of our Faith. It is to him, Pope Francis, and to each of us today, that Christ says in the Gospel of Luke: “Simon, Simon! Satan would sift you like wheat, but I prayed for you, so that your faith is not weakened, and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren.”

It is for this unity with the Apostolic See [of Rome] that the martyrs and confessors of the Faith of the Church of the twentieth century gave their lives and sealed their blood. Precisely commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-Synod, we share their strength of witness, their sacrifice which, in our day, often appears to be a stumbling block – the stone which the builders of international relations often rejected. But it is the Christ Stone of Peter’s faith that the Lord made the cornerstone of the future of all Christians. And it will be “marvellous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22; Mt 21:42; Lk 20:17; Act 4:11; Ep 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7)

Galadza on the Joint Declaration

I fully expect a flood of commentary on Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s Joint Declaration in the coming days. A brief scan of the Inter-webs reveals a noticeable number of traditionalist Orthodox and Catholics rending their garments over it. Greek Catholics have also started to express mixed feelings, including Fr. Peter Galadza, Director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa, Ontario. Here are his (brief) thoughts:

The inability to get any kind of reference in the joint statement to foreign aggression in Ukraine is a major flaw in an otherwise decent statement – Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed. And Antonii Pakanych’s (metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate) prominence in the Moscow Patriarchate delegation without anyone even remotely representative of Eastern Catholicism (not to mention Ukrainian Greek Catholicism) is also very unfortunate.

It’s debatable whether or not the absence of “foreign aggression” language constitutes a “major flaw” given that the central purpose of the Declaration — at least as advertised — is to rally support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. I would argue that the absence of stronger language condemning the role of Islamic extremism in these persecutions (and the persecutions of other religious minorities in the region) represents a bigger flaw in the document. After all, consider paragraph #26:

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

No, the paragraph does not “name names,” but that’s a prudent gesture considering the circumstances. While Russia’s activities in Ukraine are undoubtedly immoral and certainly illegal from the perspective of contemporary international law, the cost of the Declaration saddling Russia with a bulk of the blame far outweighs the benefits of bringing the Pope and the Russian Patriarch together with an eye toward real reconciliation between East and West.

Where I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Galadza is with respect to the lack of representation from the Greek Catholic Church at the Pope/Patriarch meeting. It seems that Rome is once again treating its Eastern Catholic brethren as second-class citizens whose existence is merely tolerated rather than celebrated. No doubt Moscow requested that no “Uniates” be on sight during the get-together.