Πέμπτη, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2019

FROM CONCILIAR ECCLESIAL OTHERNESS AND COMMUNION TO TWO SYMMETRICAL DEVIATIONS: THE NATIONAL CHURCH AND THE ECCLESIAL ABSORPTION


Prof. Hdr. Archim. Grigorios D. Papathomas

From conciliar ecclesial otherness and communion to two symmetrical deviations:
The National Church and the Ecclesial Absorption

(The case of the Ecclesial Absorption in the Baltic Countries, Estonia and Latvia,
in the name of “uniformity” of the National Church)[1]




When the IVth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), intending to oppose monophysitic heresy, formulated its well known “definition of the faith”, known throughout History as the “definition of Chalcedon”, it also expressed an antinomic reality concerning (and which would concern) the “quod est” (the mode of being-hypostasis) and the «“without confusion and without division” being» of the locally established Churches throughout the Universe. The antinomic reality of the “quod est” of these Churches had to perichoretically pass through two theological, ecclesiological, but also canonical categories and realities, otherness (alterity) and communion. More specifically, the existence of local or locally established Churches relies on both the affirmation of their geo-ecclesiastical alterity and on the preservation of unity and communion among them. In other words, the vision of the Council of Chalcedon was to demand the simultaneous existence of ecclesial alterity and ecclesial communion as a clearly antinomic realisation of the mode of the Trinitarian existence of locally established Churches.

Throughout the centuries, this Chalcedonian vision of “being ecclesially in concrete ontological alterity and in total ecclesial communion” underwent a double alteration, so much so that in recent years, even today, the Orthodox Church has never ceased being tempted by an isosceles and symmetric deviation: on one hand the autonomisation of otherness, whose consequence is the depreciation of ecclesial communion and of ecclesial isolationism, and on the other hand the alteration of communion into confusion, whose consequence is the annihilation of alterity by absorption. More analytically:

-          This deviation is made up, on one hand, of a monistic anchorage of a locally established Church in the principle of ethno-ecclesiastical alterity – rather than geo-ecclesastical – of the people it represents and which has received the honor of the Patriarchy-Autocephaly-Autonomy, as applicable. This priority results in a total indifference for ecclesial unity and communion.
-          On the other hand, this deviation intentionally and excessively promotes ecclesial communion in a country (of orthodox majority), doing so in the name of an essentially ethno-phyletic form of unity, hidden behind the authority of the Church. This has the immediate consequence of annihilating and absorbing the ecclesial alterity of another neighbouring people – albeit an alterity already guaranteed through canonical ecclesiastical jurisdiction – and, then, the provocation of an anti-canonical incorporation of a locally established Church by another, and, by extension, thereby causing the absoption of a locally established Church by another, causing confusion (cf. canon 2/II) between the two locally established Churches.

While the first kind of ecclesiological deviation, in relation to the “definition of Chalcedon” can be observed in the modern “National Church” which, today, prospers – and undermines – the Orthodox Church, the second kind of ecclesiological deviation, i.e. the absorption of ecclesial otherness in the name of a broader mono-ethno-ecclesial unity, is fully applied since 1945 in Estonia, in the Autonomous Church of Estonia (1923-1945) and her relation to the Autocephalous-Patriarcal Church of Russia, but also in Latvia by the Autonomous Church of Latvia (1936-1945) and her relation to the same Church of Russia.

The first deviation, that of the “National Church”, is certainly present and visible today principally in the anticanonical and ecclesiologically unacceptable claim of an ecclesial body with a national tendency within the borders of the National State and, at the same time, outside the National State, by exercising a global ethno-ecclesiastical jurisdiction, on behalf of every Orthodox National Church across the world. This is from where the recent contestation of the historical and canonical title of “Ecumenical” – as applied to the “Ecumenical Patriarchate” of Constantinople – stems, since these claims, devoid of all ecclesiological and canonical foundations, lead to the overturning of canonical order delivered unto us (cf. Canonical Tradition) and inherited by us to this day, with sole purpose of creating an multiple equi-jurisdictional regime across the Universe for national(istic) profit. The result of this is well known. In the whole Orthodox “Diaspora”, we find the ecclesiologically grotesque phenomenon of the coexistence of (up to) eight orthodox ethno-ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the same place and in the same city (cf. Paris, among others), completely undermining Chalcedonian orthodoxy of (ecclesial) unity for each ecclesial locally established body.

And despite the blatancy of the problem, known to all orthodox people across the world, they all exhibit a common weakness: although all agree the situation is “ecclesiologically and canonically unacceptable”, they all cling to their “asset” of hyperoria ethno-ecclesiastical jurisdiction as well as to its expansion, utterly indifferent to the realisation of the Church herself in one given territory. It suffices to carefully read the Statutory Charters of the National Orthodox Churches[2] to confirm that, what here is clearly considered ecclesiologically inadmissible by everyone, appears there – in the Baltic Countries – as an obvious statutory conviction of the Church of Russia, and everything it entails, and even more so when this supposed “asset” is established statutorily. One statutory example is necessary here. The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church shall include persons of Orthodox confession living on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Estonia, and also Orthodox Christians living in other countries and voluntarily joining this jurisdiction[3].

As a little commentary to this statutory text, according to the Statutes of the Church of Russia, we can say that Estonia (and Latvia) is not an independent State, and consequently part of the “canonical territory” of the Russian Orthodox Church. That means that other Orthodox Churches beside her do not exist and do not have right to exist there any more. Through this position we can understand the problem we have in Baltic Area, as the Orthodox Church of Russia does not recognise as a religious entity any other Orthodox Churches and, by extension, Catholic nor Protestant Churches in this region. All these Churches exist certainly, but on a Russian “canonical territory”. Also, it seems that it is a problem from the point of view of the international public law, as these Russian Statutes do not recognise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as independent States, because they constitute part of “all Russias” of the ecclesiastical domain. In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognise the independence and self-government of these States as the Russian State do. And this is recorded within her Constitution. In this case, how it is possible to have a National and Autocephalous-Patriarchal Church who declares the territories of different independent States as her “canonical territory” and uses official constitutional Statutes to claim these territories and to refuse at the same time the existence of the other indigenous homodox Churches? Does an Autocephalous and National Church have such a canonical or another similar right?

The reactivation of the Autonomy of the Orthodox Church of Estonia in 1996 resulted in a temporary break of ecclesial communion between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of Russia. It was solved by the Zurich agreement on April 22, 1996, by which the existence of the Autonomous Orthodox Church of Estonia as well as the Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Russia in Estonia were mutually recognised. However, the Orthodox Church of Russia has never applied this agreement until today. This inconsequent behaviour from her part reminds us the fable about the Big People and Little People (see infra) – the big ones may disregard any agreements. As the Autonomous Church of Estonia does not exist for the Russian Orthodox Church, the agreement counts for nothing (nihil factum).

The Orthodox Church of Estonia exists as an Autonomous Church since 1923, having been granted Autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1923[4], after the ratification of the treaty of Tartu (2 February 1920), through which Russia recognised Estonia’s independence. But subsequently, recently even, the Russian authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical, orchestrally, never ceased to openly object. According to them, the Estonian state exists only since 1991, and Stalin’s army never occupied the country. Rather, it even liberated it from Nazism, and Estonia continues to be canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow, despite the fact that the Church of Estonia was never included within the borders of the Tomos of Autocephaly (1589/1593) of the Church of Russia. It should be emphasised here that according to the Tomos of Autonomy (1923), from 1923 to 1945, all the Estonian Orthodox people, both Estonian and Russian, formed a unique Church – that of EAÕK. Likewise, the Church’s Tomos of Autonomy was reactivated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in February 1996, after the troubled Soviet period. Thus, it has now been ten years that the Orthodox Church of Russia fails to recognise this Autonomous Church, according to her Statutes and canonisprudence, since Estonia is considered to belong to her “cultural canonical territory” (sic). All the above was presented here as a historical-canonical parenthetical commentary on the constitutional text (2000) of the Russian national Church.

And despite all pre-conciliar theological declarations – of ecclesiological nature –, the National Church continues to create dioceses everywhere, on the canonical territory of other locally established Churches, not based on canonical arguments – for there are none – but on arguments which are ethno-cultural, statutory and of sentimental nature, creating the anti-ecclesiological theory, elaborated by herself, the theory of “cultural canonical territory” (2000). Ultimately, what politics is no longer in a position to carry out, due to international political engagements, is instead assumed by the National Church under the cover of religion, by leading a purely political activity, despite their distinct roles (ecclesiastical and political) having always been clearly defined. A recent example amply highlights this: “In the frame of the close collaboration between the Church and the ‘exterior political services of Russia’, officially instated after the year 2000, as acknowledged by the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the patriarch of Moscow Alexis II, to the ministry of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation during a reception on March 6th 2003: “We work hand in hand”[5], he had said. This was confirmed on February 15th 2006 by the minister of foreign affairs, Serge Lavrov, during a trip to Vienna: “We are directing common actions with the Patriarchate of Moscow, in order to advance the interests of Russia on the international scene”[6][7]. And the above occurs while blaming ‘Pre-Chalcedonian Churches’ for not accepting the “definition of Chalcedon” while we, true to tradition… have… accepted and adopted it completely! We do not realise that with such behaviour, not only do we remain Pre-Chalcedonian ourselves too, but we even become anti-Chalcedonian!…

The second deviation however, the assimilation-incorporation-merging-absorption of ecclesial otherness of a people in the name of an incoherent and fictive ecclesial unity for clearly ethnocentric priorities and purposes, remains hidden and unnoticed to this day, as if bearing out the words of our wise ancestors, that “truth is difficult to perceive”. Who, today, clearly understands the hardship undergone by the locally established Orthodox Churches in Estonia as well as Latvia the last fifty years, when the intervention of Stalin’s troops (1944) brutally and anti-canonically abolished the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia (1923-1945) and the Autonomy of the Church of Latvia (1936-1945) through coerced incorporation and conscious absorption? And all this with the complicity (Acts 7, 60) – if not under the direction – of the Patriarchate of Moscow, which claims to adhere to Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. This purely political attempt of nationally assimilating (russification) Orthodox Estonians and Latvians and enslaving them to the Russian Patriarchate, an attempt done in the name of ecclesial unity despotically ‘proposed’ by the Russian multi-ethnic Church, is therefore responsible for the absorption of the Autonomy of a Church and of the ecclesial alterity of a small people in its first steps of geo-state emancipation in Estonia or in Latvia (1920-1945). The weight of a large people, putting in work an ideological and strategic mechanisms and using violence for domination, imposes the conditions of public order and public life. And so the smaller people lose its valuable and barely obtained rights, one at a time (freedom, civil and state emancipation, ecclesial alterity and Autonomy). It is then the justice of the strong which writes History. And now, in all our tolerance, the aforementioned History teaches us the “justice” of the strong… leaving the weaker people in the wrong, victims of injustice… but in this way, are we not “accomplices in crimes” (Acts 7, 60) done to a small and weak people?

In the Baltic countries, this situation reminds us of the Hellenic “myth of the weak and the powerful”. Politically, this myth finds its counterpart in History; indeed, this is why it came to be.

(This is also what Greece lived through during its turbulent history, when a handful of Greeks rose against the Ottomans to achieve much sought-after freedom, i.e. same freedom which was unattainable for Estonia and Latvia during fifty years of soviet occupation. At that time (19th c.), the Austrian Metternich and the three great powers (England, France and [not accidentally] Russia) used the same argument: the large and powerful, though “feeble”, is just, since he is large and has the majority on his side. The small and weak is the ill-willed rebel, who upsets the status quo, and is thus by definition unfair. And so, by letting things be, we accept that only the powerful have the right of living, while the weak must be incorporated, assimilated and must disappear!...).

Despite the fact that this tenacious myth is not theologically in conformity with the Eschatological nature of the Church. But finally, this myth finds applications within the space of the Church. Indeed, on an ecclesiastical level, according to ethno-ecclesiastical arguments, the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia – and that of the Church of Latvia – never existed in the first place, for the same reasons that “the Baltic states did not exist” (sic) and therefore it is not possible to speak of the abolishment and the absorption of the ecclesial Autonomy, simply because Estonia has always been the Russian Church’s canonical territory (sic). “For this reason, everything established by Estonian orthodoxy in its fertile years of free existence and of the Autonomy (1923-1940) had to by russified and be entered into the “Mother Church” (sic), which proclaimed – with no circumlocutions: “Everyone who is Lutheran is Estonian; Everyone who is Orthodox is Russian”… In this phrase implicitly lies the dogma of the russification of the Orthodox Estonian people, but also the betrayal of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. Consequently, according to this dogma, Orthodox people in Estonia[8] are only (can only be) Russian or, more precisely, for one to be Orthodox there, one must be Russian. The Estonian people[9] therefore had to renounce their national identity to become, or at least to appear, Russian”[10]. And for a long time, an unrelenting struggle took place to russify the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia and as far the Autonomy of the Church of Latvia, led mainly by ecclesiastical personalities. In the process it destroyed, along with the Autonomy, anything locally established by Estonian and Latvian Orthodoxy, and endeavours, even to this day, to complete what it has begun, to claim all that remains from those dark years of ideological servitude and of ecclesiastical alienation and ecclesial absorption… And so, the Church of Russia liquidated and absorbed, abolished and assimilated the Autonomous Churches of the Baltic countries, Churches which belong, canonically, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and which from it received their Ecclesiastical Autonomy (20th c.). This is also the reason, beside all other canonical reasons, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has received into his ecclesiastical jurisdictional competencies – by reactivation of the Tomos of Autonomy (1996) – the Orthodox Estonians who, themselves, were not accepted the prolongation of the political domination through the submission of their Church to the Church of Russia. Today, this Church openly protests that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is intervening in the Baltic territories, territories which were justly returned to the Autonomous Churches (Estonia) to which they belonged before the military soviet occupation, and under whose jurisdiction they belong ecclesiastically.

Obviously, the relation linking Russia to the Baltic Countries predated the Soviet Union. Thus the Soviets of the 20th century certainly never forgot the two centuries of the tsar’s dominion in these countries; in any case, they were always seeking to extend their influence towards the west. And in spite of internal ideological differences between the two diachronic political tendencies, the ambition of expanding their influence towards the west remains a common denominator for both.

However, recently a new element has arisen which changes things significantly and makes a decisive difference. From 1991 onwards, no Russian politico-institutional claim to the Baltic territories can be justified whatsoever, since these now permanently constitute independent states, officially recognised by the global community and the European States. Therefore, there is only one possibility left for exerting influence towards the west: a Russian Orthodox Church!…, conforming to the actual model which has a particular resounding within the Orthodox world of the post-soviet epoch, the model of the National Church and its consequences. Here is why it is now necessary to adopt the new ecclesiastical theory of “canonical cultural territory” – precisely because, due to political conjunctures, what the state is no longer able to carry out on an international level through its ideological mechanism, is now carried out by the homonymous National Church…

Returning to the myth of the “weak and the powerful”, though it has political resonances, how far can it be related to the Church and her Ecclesiology? What is the relation between this political myth and Chalcedonian orthodoxy? For indeed there is one, as even in the ecclesiastical sphere itself it would seem that the political argument of majority has a significant weight – a founder characteristic of the theory of the Third Rome[11]. However, as far as the definition of Chalcedon is concerned, otherness (alterity) is an ontological category, whilst majority is clearly a political and an eonistic category, confined to the created and its ephemerality. This is why the essential priority of Chalcedon, for the founding of a Church, is alterity and not majority, while for the Patriarchate of Russia, as it is obvious by now, the majority (of political or ecclesiastical power) decides the fate of a Church and not synodal alterity. To further prove the point, the absolute priority of alterity as a prerequisite condition for communion was institutionalised, after Chalcedon, by the subsequent Quinisext Ecumenical Council in Trullo (691, canon 39). And so today, in reality, Chalcedonian conciliar truth as well as Quinisext canonical ecclesiality has, consciously or unconsciously, volentes nolentes, been essentially overturned and abolished.

A historical detail deserves to be told here. Despite all these, the Orthodox Church of Russia did not attain to shatter everything, which was substituted of the EAÕK. Indeed, in 1978, the actual Patriarch Alexis II (who was baptised within this Autonomous Church of Estonia), at that time Metropolitan of Tallinn chef of the Diocese of Estonia of the Patriarchate of Russia – and not the Patriarchate of Moscow as the deliberate anticanonical theory of the “Third Rome”[12] would have it –, addressed himself to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to ask for the suppression of the Tomos of the Autonomy of 1923 for reasons of… ecclesial unity (sic). But the Patriarchate of Constantinople, due to the political situation at the time, and only for the Orthodox Estonians living into the Country and not for those who were in exile, simply suspended[13] – not suppressed – the Tomos, which he once again puts into effect shortly after, in 1996, after public civil order has been completely restored in Estonia (since 1991). However, his recourse to the Patriarchate of Constantinople signifies that he recognised that jurisdiction over the Church of Estonia is held by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Secondly, this act confirms the whole prior grotesque attempt to assimilate and ecclesially absorb Estonia and, by extension, the Baltic States. And thirdly, if the Metropolitan Alexis of Tallinn had obtained the ‘benediction’ of the competent jurisdictional entity – he went as far as using this means –, this benediction would have ‘facilitated’, in the eyes of the Estonians, the process of russification which had begun in 1945… After all this, how can one say that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Estonia and the Baltic countries? And the Primate of the Church of Russia himself, still the same now as then, twenty years after 1978, seems surprised and perplexed that it should be possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reactivate the Autonomy (1996) of the Orthodox Church of Estonia[14], “invading on canonical territory” (sic) of the Church of Russia…

To avoid overextending this text, a comparison here is pertinent. Despite the brutal dissolution and anti-canonical absorption of the Church of Estonia in 1945, she has never ceased to exist historically and canonically, for the same reason that this did not happen to the Church of Albania. Violence and anti-canonicity can never destroy a Church locally established, much less her otherness. Everyone applauds the rebirth of the Autocephalous Church of Albania. In the case of the Church of Estonia, however, some are apprehensive, for the previously mentioned reasons, although the two cases appear to be the same – yet there is a small difference. In Albania, the abolishers were atheists, so it was easy to blame them. In Estonia, the abolishers were our Russian orthodox brothers so, by definition, they… have justice on their side and we are loath to blame them. At this point, the people of the whole Europe can really comprehend the problem…

Finally, to illustrate the extent to which truth can be twisted, it is necessary to make a remark. In 1923, the procedure leading to the international community’s recognition of Estonia as an independent state was accomplished. This process took practically three years (1920-1923): from the ratification of the treaty of Tartu (2 February 1920), which was also signed by Russia, to 1923, the year when the United States are the last country to recognize Estonia as an independent state. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, in the same year (1923), granted Autonomy – as for Estonia, immediately after its recognition by the United States – to two locally established Churches, both following the same historic course in relation to their neighbouring country, Russia: the Church of Finland, and the Church of Estonia – followed by the Church of Latvia a few years later (1936). In fact, looking back in time, the Byzantine people[15], considering the northern European territories from a geographical perspective, called the Baltic Countries as “the north ‘beyond Russia’”, a fact which also determines jurisdictionally (canonically) Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. Consequently, these countries, apart from the period of forced military occupation by the Russians, were never part of Russia’s territory historically, and certainly not part of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Russia.

So, here is a question. Why, then, is there no question posed about the jurisdictional presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Finland, which is even further away, beyond the Baltic Sea and the gulf of Bothnia, but there is one for the Estonia and the Baltic Countries? Knowledge of a particular detail is the key to understanding this difference. In Finland, there was no successful Russian invasion, despite attempts, and Stalinism was never imposed and did not create a new order of things, by spreading russification… Furthermore, the Archbishop of Finland did not become… Patriarch of Moscow to call for the annexation of Finland into the Church of Russia, with all the ensuing manifestations of sentimentalism and emotion seen after the reinstatement of the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia (1996). And finally, why should the Church of Finland have the canonical right to exist as an Autonomous Church and not the Church of Estonia? Why is there no issue of submission to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the Church of Finland, but there is one for the Church of Estonia? Why today the Church of Russia recognises the Autonomous Church of Finland (even if she did only since 1958…), but she do not recognises the Autonomous Church of Estonia? This is why all the aforesaid can be applied here; today we are reading the history of Estonia as written by the “righteousness” of the powerful, the conqueror – who is now re-offending… Again and again today (2007), the non-recognition of the Autonomous Church of Estonia by the Patriarchate of Russia, with giving the exclusivity of ecclesial existence of the Russian Diocese of Tallinn of this Patriarchate, is effected in the same perspective: the absorption of the Autonomous Church of Estonia nowadays (new effort which dates from 1996), as well as it was exactly at the Soviet epoch (since 1945). Furthermore, the whole issue has instilled a procedure determined more by sentimental and historical reflexes and an underlying nostalgia for dominion, than by current geo-ecclesiastical conjuncture. It is about time for the Patriarchate of Russia – after its failure finally of the ecclesial absorption – to put an end to its unfair and unjustifiable aggressive stance of colonialistic nature and anticanonical perspective against the Orthodox Autonomous Church of Estonia, which bears no relation to Ecclesiology and the Canonical Tradition of the Church. And now, given the Patriarchate of Moscow’s ecclesial absorption of Church of Estonia, which lasted 50 years (1945[16]-1995[17]), the former must now answer to the ecclesial pan-orthodox conscience, and to the whole of Christianity, indeed to all of the history of humanity, for this anti-conciliar, anti-chalcedonian and anti-canonical act…

To conclude, in 1991 Estonia once again recovers its political independence. The Tomos of Autonomy is reactivated on 24/02/1996. However, at the same time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, by economy, grants the Orthodox Church of Russia the possibility of continuing to maintain her own ecclesiastical jurisdiction (treaty of Zurich, 22/04/1996), in the hope that one day there would be only one Orthodox Church in Estonia, as was the case before the brutal dissolution and absorption in 1945.

For more on all which has briefly been discussed here, and for other important matters which piece together the puzzle of the ecclesiological issue in Estonia and the Baltic Countries, we refer the reader to – let us be forgiven for it – a small bibliography:

-          A special book in Greek, the first of this kind, of Nicholas I. Dovas, The Estonian ecclesiastical Question as an Inter-orthodox Question, Thessaloniki, ed. “Brothers Kyriakidis”, 2000, 106 p., in which we see for the first time the publication of official documents concerning this profoundly theological problem in the Baltic Countries.
-          A bilingual book (English-French) published in Greece four years ago entitled: Archim. Grigorios D. Papathomas - R. P. Mattias H. Palli (under the direction of), The Autonomous Orthodox Church of Estonia/L’Église autonome orthodoxe d’Estonie, Thessalonica-Katerini, ed. Epektasis (coll. “Nomocanonical Library”, no. 11), 2002, 460 p. In this book one finds thirty-five (35) documents and texts which reveal the truth outlined above, from 1923 until 2002, as well as self-contained seven (7) scientific studies (by two professors from Estonia, two from Finland and three from Greece) about the Estonian ecclesiastical problem.
-          A recent special issue of the famous French theological periodical, Review of Istina, centred exclusively on this thorny issue, with a precise and impressive analysis: “The defence of the Orthodox Church of Estonia’s Autonomy against the Patriarchate of Moscow” (“Le plaidoyer de l’Église orthodoxe d’Estonie pour la défense de son autonomie face au Patriarcat de Moscou”), in Istina, vol. 49, no. 1 (2004), p. 3-105.

All of these specialised and scientific ad hoc studies have not as yet been contested by the Russian ecclesiastical side, neither in their basic historical and canonical approach, nor in their more specific aspects.

* * * * *

(N.B. Just prior to sending the present text for publication, an official public declaration was made by the Church of Russia about the Autonomous Church of Estonia, during the meeting of the “Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church” on the 9th of October in Ravenna, by her delegate Mgr Hilarion (Alfeyev), before leaving the hall of the reunion. This declaration was subsequently reiterated in an interview broadcast over the internet on the 18 October[18]. The author of this study was eyewitness to this statement (it was not the Primate of the Church, Metropolitan Stephan of Tallinn and of all Estonia, as the press reported erroneously) which was subsequently diffused through the Russian news state agency InterFax, on 10 October. Thus statement included two crucial elements: “[…] [1] The so-called Autonomous Church of Estonia only exists since 1996 and [2] this Church was founded by the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow”[19]. Conforming to what has been said herein, and as everyone can check, this declaration has no historical or principally canonical basis, and puts in doubt the credibility of the position held by the Church of Russia towards the Church of Estonia, and of the various unofficial declarations the ecclesiastical authorities have made until now. It is evident that the delegate of the Church of Russia confuses two canonical realities which are chronologically and canonically clearly distinct: the “Tomos” (1923) and the “Reactivation of the Tomos” (1996). The Tomos proclaiming the Church of Estonia indeed dates back to 1923, whilst the reactivation of the Tomos, suspended in 1978, dates back to 1996. It is clear that the reactivation of a Tomos does not canonically create a locally established Church. It is the promulgation of the Tomos which exclusively grants such a status of Autonomy. And the Tomos historically and canonically dates back to 1923, as was the case of the Autonomous Church of Finland. After all, an army does not create canonical territory…

The famous Russian theologist G. Florovsky pertinently said that “he who knows not History, cannot practice Theology”. Next to Theology, I would personally add Canonical Tradition. Moreover, one could wonder about the importance the uninterrupted Ecclesial Praxis in the comprehension of Canonical Tradition; the Church of Russia, Christianised at the end of the first Millennium (from 988), has inherited this Tradition, but was relatively late in following its teachings. Numerous events in the history of the Church of Russia show that the assimilation of this Great Tradition is not fully achieved[20]. This fact also explains the flagrant political implications of the Church of Russia and the anti-Chalcedonian confusion of the state policy with the ecclesiastical domain. This remark is also explained by Mgr Hilarion’s contention that the meeting of Ravenna (8-14 October 2007) was a failure, because the Church of Russia, who is “majoritarily the largest” (sic) was not present. And this, despite the positive conclusions of the work of the Joint Commission, already highlighted in the final communiqué issued jointly by the two delegations, Roman Catholic and Orthodox (14 October). If we remind ourselves of certain declarations on behalf of certain Russian ecclesiastical authorities about the caducity of Ecclesial Canons, which, seemingly, no longer correspond to the modern age, we observe that the Church of Russia’s lack of experience of the ecclesiastical and canonical praxis of the first millennium risks deforming the integrity and the coherence of the one and unique orthodox presence, by gradually introducing the idea that Orthodoxy may be a sort of Confederation of Ethnic Churches, and no longer an Ecclesial Body spread across the Universe. Such a vision and such a federative realisation of the Church will one day lead each Orthodox National Church to fatally develop its own theology at the peril of permanently shattering the two millennium old theological and patristic heritage of the Orthodox Church. In face of this risk, which is becoming increasingly evident, the Orthodox theologians present at Ravenna, unanimously, were not swayed by the attitude of the Patriarchate of Russia with regard to the Autonomous Orthodox Church of Estonia. And for this reason, the bilateral dialogue really unfolded under normal and positive conditions, despite the departure of the Russian delegation, and the excused absence of the Bulgarian delegation).

* * * * *

Europe has always been sensitive to issues which it itself has suffered throughout history. This sensitivity concerns the historical existence of small people and, by extension, minor Churches. Every time that this existence and its historical foundation are jeopardised, the question of freedom and of communion simultaneously, i.e. the Autonomy, in other words, the Chalcedonian affirmation of alterity, will always and in all places remain inseparable from the revendication of truth, both human and theological. Orthodox people, but also Christians in general, have a taste of this experience. However, the voice of the Estonian peasant to the French Catholic missionary Charles Bourgeois in the spring of 1946, i.e. one and a half year after the invasion of Stalin’s troops in Estonia, saying:

«We are such a small country which owes nothing to anything or anyone, and which asks for nothing more than to remain free […] So please, when you see these free people, tell them how much we suffer here. We were happy, free, and asked for nothing from anybody. And now they have taken away everything, and there is no way for our voice to be heard»[21],

has a timeless weight both in Estonia, this great small land, and in the Baltic countries, as well as in Europe and the whole world, and one needs Salomonian discernment and Chalcedonian presuppositions for this voice to be heard, and much more so to be understood…


Conclusion


The present testimonial, with the help of the systematic and canonical theology of the IVth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), takes a closer look at the problem of ecclesial absorption – occurring in the Baltic Countries – of the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia and Latvia in the name of the “uniformity” of the National Church, and in our case of the Russian National Church. For fifteen years now, this situation places a burden on inter-orthodox relationships on a global level. The problem is approached and analysed through two theological, ecclesiological and canonical categories, alterity (otherness) and communion, which are based on the antinomical conciliar formula of a union “without confusion and without division”. More precisely, the ecclesiological vision of the Council of Chalcedon was the simultaneous coexistence of ecclesial otherness and communion as clearly antinomical accomplishment of the mode of Trinitarian existence of locally established Churches. It naturally emerges that the existence of locally established Churches is realised through the acceptance of their geo-ecclesiastical otherness and the preservation of unity and communion among them.

The depth study of this question leads to the observation that, in general, a double symmetric divergence occurs: on one hand, the autonomisation of otherness leading to the minorisation of communion, and on the other hand, the alienation of communion causing confusion, and leading to the absorption of otherness – following an anticanonical incorporation of one locally established Church within another. In other words, in the first case, priority is given to being “without confusion” at the detriment of being “without division” (communion), whereas in the second case, most prominent and blatant in the Baltic Countries (the case of the Autonomy of the Church of Estonia in 1923, and the Church of Latvia in 1936), we observe the predominance of “without division” and the total abolition of “without confusion” (otherness-autonomy). From a theological and ecclesio-canonical perspective, it is precisely this latter point that describes, within the Orthodox Church across the Universe, today’s double problem, which appeared – and continues to develop – during the 20th century in the north of Europe (on the noetic vertical line between the western borders of the ex-USSR and the European Union: Karelia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldavia).

Summary


In this paper, the author provides a theological analysis of the relationship between the Orthodox Church of Russia and the Orthodox Church of Estonia (into which, as he points out, Patriarch of Russia Alexis II was originally baptised). Taking as his starting point the Chalcedonian formula regarding the dual nature – in one person – of Christ, he argues that the Church, as the Body of Christ, enshrines in its very nature a combination of otherness (alterity) and communion, and that these essential characteristics are equally and symmetrically undermined by the twin distortions of ecclesiastical nationalism and ‘ecclesial absorption’. Special reference is made to the cases of Estonia and Latvia, where ‘ecclesial absorption’ has taken place in the name of the uniformity of the National Church (of Russia). The paper was given at the Sixth International Colloquium, held in Höör, Sweden (25-27 August 2006) with central theme ‘The notion of the National Church in Scandinavia and the Baltic Countries’. It has been edited for publication in the Review L’Année canonique [Paris], t. 48 (2006), p. 125-133.




[1] Paper presented at the 6th International Colloquium, held in Höör, Sweden (25-27 August 2006) with central theme “The notion of the National Church in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries”. Text published in L’Année canonique, t. 48 (2006), p. 125-133, in Épiskepsis, t. 38, n° 680 (30/11/2007), p. 5-21 and 4-19 (bilingual: in Greek and in French respectivelly), in Synaxis, vol. 104 (10-12/2007), p. 25-36 (in Greek), in The Messenger [London], n° 5 (2/2008), p. 30-47, in Koinonia [London], n° 55 (2009), p. 42-58, in Usk ja Elu, t. 5 (1/2008), p. 23-43 (in Estonian), and in Inter [Cluj-Napoca], t. II, n° 1-2 (2008), p. 484-495.
[2] See our analysis published in the Review L’Année canonique, vol. 46 (2004), ch. III, p. 88 onwards (in French), as well as in Synaxis, vol. 90 (4-6/2004), p. 37 onwards (in Greek).
[3] Article I, § 3, Statutes of the Orthodox Church of Russia-2000 (Italics added by us).
[4] Despite repeated affirmations on behalf of representatives from the Church of Russia, it should be pointed out that Patriarch Tikhon of blessed memory only granted Estonians a larger internal autonomy of diocesan form mainly in the domains of pastoral, education and economic administration, but never promulgated a Tomos, and never granted a real and canonical Autonomy. The only Tomos of Autonomy is thus the one of 1923. Finally, if, just for a moment, we assume that the Russia’s recent tenacious claims that canonical Autonomy was granted by Patriarch Tikhon (1920) are true, then clearly a new question has to be asked: Why, after the invasion of Stalin’s troops (1944), was Autonomy dissolved so violently and brutally and, immediately, the Autonomous Church of Estonia absorbed and replaced by a Russian Diocese under the name “Russian Orthodox Diocese” (9 March 1945)? And if we presume that all this happened purely from a political perspective and manu militari, why then was Autonomy not restored after 1991 by the Patriarchate of Russia, having as Patriarch Alexis II, who, ecclesiastically, originated from Estonia? Instead, in order to recover ecclesiastical proprieties and to convince Estonian authorities – without success however – that this Diocese was the natural successor of the EAÕK, he proclaimed in 1993 a new “autonomy” still of diocesan form, which was even more restrictive than that of Patriarch Tikhon.
[5] SOP, no. 277 (4/2003), p. 19; SOP, no. 314 (1/2007), p. 17.
[6] Quoted from the information agency Itar-Tass; SOP, no. 306 (3/2006), p. 9, and SOP, no. 314 (1/2007), p. 17.
[7] SOP, no. 314 (1/2007), p. 17.
[8] See also, “In the Baltic Countries”.
[9] See also, “Orthodox people of the Baltic Countries”.
[10] Extract from the article by the Metropolitan of Tallinn and of all of Estonia Stephanos, “Our relation to the Patriarchate of Moscow” in weekly Newspaper To Bhma [Athens], no. 14706/5-3-2006, p. A44/88 (in Greek).
[11] See below.
[12] The canonical order of the Church does not enumerate locally established Churches in her Diptychs, and places the locally established Church of Alexandria after New Rome-Constantinople [and by no means Second Rome-Constantinople, as it is repeatedly and erroneously labeled], and not a hypothetical “Third Rome” (sic) as a “historic cure” of the previous two – which in this logic could be relieved by a Forth or a Fifth Rome… Ultimately, this poses a question: Why the obsession – and this is a unique occurrence – to use the name of a city in the title of the Patriarchate of Russia and not the title which derives from the name of the country in which the locally established Church is found, as is the case with other new Patriarchates (e.g. Patriarchate of Romania and not Patriarchate of Bucharest, Patriarchate of Georgia and not Patriarchate of Tiflida, etc); The Patriarchate of Russia, however, is the only one which has adopted, at a given time, this type of designation – for reasons which are by now understood – and persistently insists on its use.
[13] See the Patriarchal and Synodal Act of 13 April 1978, deciding the momentary suspension of the Tomos of 1923, in Istina, vol. 49, n° 1 (2004), p. 95.
[14] Cf. Metropolitan of Tallinn and of all of Estonia Stephanos, “Our relation to the Patriarchate of Moscow”, op. cit.
[15] The Byzantine people are the “christener” of the geographical name of the northern region (Baltic region, Baltic sea), identifying it by its geomorphologic situation: in Greek, “baltic” land signifies the land composed of “baltos” (= marsh), because of its numerous shallow lakes on territorially flat land. As an example, in the whole world, Estonia is the 3rd country, after Sweden and Finland, having most marshland (“baltos”), thereby earning the Greek (Byzantine) name of Baltic. This information is eloquent, and if we “keep quiet, the marshlands will cry out” (cf. Luke 19, 40). Indeed, conforming to the Estonian national and historical Archives, a Byzantine missionary activity has been confirmed in 1030 (just 40 years after the baptism of the Russian) in the Baltic countries, notably in Estonia.
[16] The year of the violent, arbitrary and anti-canonical dissolution of the structure of the Autonomous Church of Estonia (9 March 1945), with the support of political power, and, in its place, the establishment of a Diocese directly dependent on the Patriarchate of Russia.
[17] Year of the last Orthodox Estonian appeal to the Patriarch of Russia Alexis II, to recover their absorbed ecclesiastical autonomy, before finally turning to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I who canonically reactivated the Patriarchal and Conciliar Tomos of 1923 (24/02/1996).
[18] See www.orthodoxie.com, 18/10/2007.
[19] Ibid.
[20] One must remember the unrelenting fashion with which the Church of Russia bargained for the patriarchal title of her Primate, or how it extended her jurisdiction over all of Ukraine in the 17th-18th centuries, soon after the annexation of the whole Ukrainian territory by tsarist Russia (this question could in itself be the subject of an appropriate ecclesiological and canonical study), before arriving at the anti-chalcedonian dissolution and absorption of the Baltic Orthodox Churches, etc…
[21] Vassily (Hieromonk [Charles Bourgeois, s.j.]), Ma rencontre avec la Russie (Narva-Esna-Tartu-Moscou) 1932-1946, (My encounter with Russia (Narva-Esna-Tartu-Moscow) 1923-1946), Buenos Aires 1953, p. 101 and 146 respectively.