Reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate With the Russian Church: How Did it Happen and Why

The Orthodox Encyclopedia Religious Scientific Center has published a unique collection of works entitled, The Reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate with the Russian Orthodox Church. 1676–1687. Research and Documents. It includes many new important archival documents that contain additional information on the circumstances of this reunification. We are discussing the immediacy of this book and its irrefutable conclusions with Sergei Leonidovich Kravets, the director of Orthodox Encyclopedia Center.

The first page of the letter of monarchs Ivan Alekseyevich and Pyotr Alekseyevich to hetman Ivan Samoilovich, mid-November 1685. © Orthodox Encyclopedia The first page of the letter of monarchs Ivan Alekseyevich and Pyotr Alekseyevich to hetman Ivan Samoilovich, mid-November 1685. © Orthodox Encyclopedia     

Sergei Leonidovich, allow me to congratulate you for completing such a unique research project and publishing a massive 900-page volume that was prepared, as far as I know, in a very short period of time. Why was this book published and what questions does it answer?

—Thank you very much. Indeed, the timing of this publication was critical for us. We started working on the book in the fall of 2017. A lot of time was dedicated to locating the materials in various archives, including the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents, the State Historical Museum, the Manuscript Department of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, and some others.

A unique team was assembled to work on the volume. The team was headed by Boris Nikolayevich Florya, Doctor of Historical Sciences, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Other members of the team included Dmitry Evgenyevich Afinogenov, Doctor of Philological Sciences, priest Mikhail Zheltov, Candidate of Theological Studies, and K.A. Kochegarov, N.P. Chesnokova, and M.R. Yafarova (all Candidates of Historical Sciences).

The Reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate with the Russian Orthodox Church. 1676-1687. Research and Documents. – Moscow, Orthodox Encyclopedia Religious Scientific Center, 2019. – 912 pages. ISBN 978–5–89572–074–5 The Reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate with the Russian Orthodox Church. 1676-1687. Research and Documents. – Moscow, Orthodox Encyclopedia Religious Scientific Center, 2019. – 912 pages. ISBN 978–5–89572–074–5 The book contains a total of 246 documents. About 200 of them have never been published before. The continuum of documents regarding the background, circumstances and details of the mission sent to Istanbul to negotiate the reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate1 with the Russian Orthodox Church has never been analyzed in its entirety before. This book provides a daily and sometimes even hourly breakdown of certain related processes and events. These detailed, heretofore unpublished reports contain many materials, and all the conclusions that we reached in the course of studying these texts can be backed up by dozens of other documents written by various people in various locations and sent to various addressees.

As to the reasons for publishing this book, it can be said that its publication is a proper historical and canonical response to the Constantinopole Orthodox Church’s decision to grant the so-called Tomos2 of Autocephaly3 to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and to rescind the Synod’s resolution of 1686 on the transfer of the Kiev Metropolitanate to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. When we began working on this book a year and a half ago, our goal was to find the documents in the Russian archives that would shed some light on the true background, circumstances and reasons for adopting this decision. Our research exceeded our expectations as we found a great number of never-before-published documents on the subject.

We found a great number of never-before-published documents.

What did you discover in the course of working on the book?

—Studying the documents that we found, we undeniably established several important facts. I will briefly list them first and then discuss them in greater detail.

First, the decision to transfer the Kiev Metropolitanate to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church was the only possible solution at that time to ensure preservation of Orthodoxy in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Second, this transfer was initiated by the Ukrainian clergy, nobility and the hetman.4

Third, the Russian government understood the enormous responsibility of making a commitment to protect the Orthodox Christians in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was fully aware of the associated political and financial risks and costs.

Fourth, the tomos did not have any scope or time limitations. As such, any attempt to debunk or somehow undermine it is premised on present-day political trends rather than historical or canonical criteria.

We needed to make these facts public and substantiate them. That was why we prepared this 900-page book, 700 pages of which contain documents that irrefutably prove our conclusions.

When did the matter of reunification become critical?

—In the early seventeenth century. It should be mentioned, though, that initially the position of the Russian government was, “We would rather not do it”, because its relations with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Turkey were very complicated. The reunification would imply assuming additional responsibility for the Orthodox people in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which consequently meant that the Commonwealth would have another tool to exert pressure on Russia.

The reunification idea was revisited after the Pereyaslav Council,5 but the Russian government still thought that although the idea was good and we didn’t resign from the responsibility to protect the Orthodox people all over the world as we were the only Orthodox country at that time, and our Tsar was the only Orthodox monarch in the world, there were some circumstances that had to be taken into consideration.

For a long time, the situation was very tense, yet nothing much was happening. Therefore, when we were working on this book our goal was to figure out and explain to our readers what had happened and why the issue of reunification had become critical again. It had become so urgent, that the decision had to be made in a hurry, so to say. It was indeed made in a hurry, which is evidenced by the fact that only one emissary was sent to Constantinople to resolve this matter.

Why did they send only one emissary instead of organizing a full-blown diplomatic mission? This was done because preparing a mission would have been a lengthy process, which would have involved gathering many people and traveling for a long time in a formal way and many other complications. During the time when the decision on reunification was being made, an unusual political situation developed. Russia and Turkey had reached a temporary truce, which was about to expire. In the spring of 1686, Russia was going to enter into an anti-Turkish treaty with Poland. Consequently, it was expected that Russia might begin military operations against Turkey as early as the summer of 1686. In other words, the window of opportunity was very narrow as the reunification document had to be received from Istanbul before the war with Turkey began. In the meantime, another opportunity popped up: A provision entitling the Russian Monarch to protect the Orthodox people in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth could be incorporated into the Russian-Polish Treaty of Perpetual Peace. Before that, all our efforts to ensure protection of the Orthodox people in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were always met with the same answer: “This is not your business, because these people are not your subjects, they are the subjects of the King of Poland. This is not your Church, so you have no right to interfere in these matters.”

Sergei Kravets Sergei Kravets   

From whom or from what did we need to protect the Orthodox people of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth?

—We needed to protect them from being forced into the union with the Catholic Church, which up to the 1670s had been happening on the quiet. However, in early 1670s, Poland adopted a state political program with respect to the new Unia. This program had the unequivocal objective of destroying the core of the Orthodox Church in the next few years, initially targeting its archbishops and bishops and eventually moving on to clergy to make sure that there wouldn’t be any Orthodox priests left in this area.

Why did they need to do that?

—It was done so that nobody could get baptized, wedded, etc. Nowadays people may decide to have a church wedding or not at their own discretion; but the situation was different back then, and if you weren’t wed in the church, your children were considered illegitimate and had no rights of inheritance. To have a civil status, one had to be baptized and relevant records had to be made. The goal of the new policy was to deprive the Orthodox of this right.

To have a civil status, one had to be baptized and relevant records had to be made. The goal of the new policy was to deprive the Orthodox of this right.

It was a devious policy on the part of the Polish state. Its first edict banned any contact with the Constantinopole Patriarchate. As a result, the Orthodox were separated from their central authority which, most importantly, had the power of appointing bishops. According to the King’s decree, any contacts with the Constantinopole Patriarch were punishable by death and confiscation of property, because Poland was at war with Turkey, and any communications with the Constantinopole Patriarchate were considered espionage and hostile acts.

The expulsion of the Orthodox bishops from Western Ukraine began. Numerous complaints about that were received and many requests were sent to Russia asking for help and protection. People started leaving those areas, and not just common people, but the Orthodox nobility, the supporters who maintained Orthodox churches, monasteries and convents. The situation was getting worse day by day. Meanwhile, the King of Poland began appointing the priests who secretly accepted the Unia with the Catholic Church to act as the leaders of Orthodox organizations. One of them, Joseph Shumlyansky, was appointed the metropolitan of the Kiev Orthodox diocese.

The last straw was when the last Orthodox hierarch was forced to flee to Russia in 1684. The King sent him a letter threatening to imprison him for life if he didn’t join the Unia with the Catholic Church. After that, not a single Orthodox bishop was left in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This meant that soon there would be no priests left either.

Why did the matter of reunification of the Kiev Metropolitanate and Russian Church have to be resolved with the Ottoman government?

—Posolsky Prikaz’s6 perception about the situation in Constantinople was fairly idealistic at the time. We thought that all we had to do through the government channels was to make sure that the vizier who represented the Ottoman government didn’t impede the Constantinopole Patriarch or put up unsurmountable obstacles for him. We also believed that the negotiations would be only be conductecd with the Constantinopole Patriarch; for how could an Orthodox Patriarch’s Church-related decisions depend upon an infidel?

However, when our emissary arrived in Istanbul, he was told that the Patriarch wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting with the vizier. At that time, the Constantinopole Patriarchs were fully dependent on viziers. As a rule, a new Patriarch would be appointed whenever a new vizier came to power. This was a good moneymaking enterprise for viziers as they would receive large amounts of money for appointing a Patriarch. So would-be Patriarchs had to borrow money to pay baksheesh7 to the vizier, and then had to collect the money to repay their debt. In the Ottoman Empire, the Constantinopole Patriarchs, in addition to managing Church affairs, were also performing official duties, including in particular collection of taxes from the non-Muslim population. In other words, they were employees of the Ottoman Empire.

Our emissary Nikita Alekseyev first went to the vizier and asked if he could meet the Patriarch. After obtaining the vizier’s permission, Alekseyev went to the Patriarch, but the Patriarch unexpectedly told him to go to the vizier first to resolve the matter of the metropolitanate. The Patriarch also asked him not to mention the gifts the emissary brought lest the vizier take them all for himself.

Nikita Alekseyev went to the vizier thinking of a delicate way to present the problem, but the vizier already knew everything because the Patriarch had already advised him of the issue at hand. The vizier said that there wouldn’t be any problems. Good relations with Russia were currently very important for Turkey, so the vizier told the emissary to go the Patriarch and he would do all that was necessary. Only after that did Nikita Alekseyev get a real opportunity to talk to the Patriarch.

I should note that I am not inclined to ridicule or make fun of the situation existing at that time in the Constantinopole Patriarchate. Naturally, it was absolutely unacceptable in terms of Church law and Church ethics, but the Constantinopole Patriarchate was in a very difficult situation as it was controlled by and totally dependent on non-Orthodox officials.

Some believe that the Russians, to put it bluntly, bribed the Patriarch and the Greek hierarchs who were poor and always in need of money. That was why, they allege, the latter agreed to the reunification. But this is not true. First, the money that Nikita Alekseyev brought wasn’t that much. He brought the usual gifts that were normally taken there. In Moscow the emissary was instructed to give money to the Constantinopole Patriarch even if he rejects the reunification idea, but in that case the emissary was supposed to give him only a portion of the amount.

An interesting historical anecdote comes to mind. Dositheos, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote a whole tirade against our Tsars for supposedly connecting their requests with gifts. He said that they should send the gifts without any reason, as patriarchates were in straitened circumstances and needed succor. He said that it was wrong when an emissary said that the gifts from the Russian Monarch would be given only if a certain decision was made. Send the gifts, he said, it goes without saying, but my decision would be based on my ability to make the right choice, rather than on the gifts.

As a result, an interesting story developed. Dositheos really wanted to receive the gifts that were sent to him personally. He summoned Nikita Alekseyev, gave him the sealed envelopes and said that he did everything as the Monarch requested. Then the patriarch asked for the Monarch’s gift and left right away after receiving it. When his letters were translated, it turned out that rather than doing what was requested of him he repudiated the idea. Still, nothing changed in Russia’s relations with him, and he had been receiving gifts from the Russian Monarchs for many years to come and sending them letters, mostly anti-Ukrainian in nature, postulating that ethnic Ukrainians couldn’t be appointed to any Church positions. According to him, they weren’t true Orthodox, as he believed that only Russians could be truly Orthodox. In any way, what I mean to say is that if Russian Monarchs presented the gifts to him only to influence his decisions, Russia’s relations with him wouldn’t have remained the same.

What happened next?

—Our emissary was still in Istanbul. The decision regarding the transfer of the Kiev Metropolitanate to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church had not yet been received, when Russia and Poland signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in Moscow. After that, the decision on reunification had to be obtained in a matter of days.

Nikita Alekseyev and Ivan Lisitsa, the hetman’s emissary, finally received the required documents and left Istanbul, but when they were travelling through the Crimean Khanate, they were arrested in Ochakov at the behest of the Crimean khan. They were kept in prison for more than a month. However, the Turks still weren’t sure if Russians were actually going to attack them. They thought that the fact that Russia had signed the peace treaty with Poland might not necessarily mean that Russia was going to start the war with them, and because they had those doubts, they eventually let Alekseyev and Lisitsa go. Alekseyev went to Moscow and delivered the documents to the Monarch, the Patriarch, Prince Golitsyn and Tsarina Sophia, while Lisitsa delivered them to the hetman and the Kiev Metropolitan. They also brought a special address of the Constantinopole Patriarch to the Ukrainian laity. The mission was a success, but the window of opportunity was indeed very narrow. If we had delayed a little bit, we wouldn’t have been able to get the consent to reunification as no vizier would ever agree to satisfy the request of a country that was at war with Turkey. This was indeed good timing as in 1687 the Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks launched the offensive against the Crimean khan.

Meanwhile, Article 9 was added to the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Poland. Using a technique that was new at the time, our diplomats printed the excerpt containing this article and when they travelled to Warsaw to participate in the negotiations, distributed it among the Orthodox people. This was the document whereby the King of Poland guaranteed the rights of the Orthodox. In the end of our book, we even included the list taken from the mission’s report that contained the names of the recipients of those documents, including parish priests and abbots of monasteries. As they say nowadays, it was made available to those “whom it may concern”.

Transfer to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church was initiated by the Ukrainian clergy.

Interestingly, transfer to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church was initiated by the Ukrainian clergy. It wasn’t us who suggested it, it was the Ukrainian clergy who grudgingly agreed to this idea because they were afraid to lose their privileges. However, under the circumstances the only way the clergy of the Left-bank Ukraine8 could safeguard their privileges was by eradicating Orthodoxy in the Right-bank Ukraine9. Nobody was willing to do that. So, that was why, despite their dependence on funding and viziers, the Constantinopole hierarchs ultimately decided to reunite with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Do you mean that they rose above their narrow selfish interests?

—Exactly. The situation was desperate, and it was the only solution available.

Did Constantinople want to do this? No. But it was the only acceptable solution. Did the Kiev clergy want it? Not really, because everybody knew that the clergy didn’t have such privileges in Russia and that despite the Monarch’s promise to keep most of the privileges, some of their benefits would be lost. Yet they weren’t willing to agree to eradication of the Orthodox community of their compatriots in order to maintain their privileges.

Did Russia want to assume such responsibility? Didn’t it understand that that would involve spending tons of money and regularly sending church accessories and books to Ukraine? Russia was also well aware of the fact that it was assuming responsibility for a nearly destroyed Orthodox community in a hostile country. But this was the only way out of the situation, the only way to protect the Orthodox people of the Right-Bank Ukraine.

However, the spirit of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate has significantly changed over the last three centuries. I have to say that when the issue of granting the tomos to the Kiev Metropolitanate surfaced, I was well prepared for those torrents of lies.

In what sense?

—A few years ago, we published a book called Orthodoxy in Estonia that contained documents concerning annexation of a part of the Estonian Orthodox Church by Constantinople. Even back then it was clear to us that the Estonian Orthodox Church was a testing ground. The peculiar qualities of Patriarch Bartholomew manifested themselves even at that time. For example, I was stunned by one very blunt letter Patriarch Bartholomew wrote to Patriarch Alexiy. In that letter, Patriarch Bartholomew said that their Church would be the true Church of the citizens of Estonia, rather than that of occupants and non-citizens. He also wondered if Orthodox Estonians didn’t have the right to have a head of the Church who was ethnically Estonian. “Your Cornelius10”, he wrote, “is half-Russian and half-German” (Incidentally, so was Patriarch Alexiy [Ridiger]). Nevertheless, when after some time Patriarch Bartholomew appointed the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church, he chose an Africa-born Greek who admitted that he first learned about Estonia’s existence from his appointment letter.

That is why those familiar with the Constantinopole Patriarchate’s tactics were psychologically prepared for such a turn of events and knew that they couldn’t hope that arguments would be heard, and agreements honored. They understood that the Patriarchate’s decision would be based on purely political considerations and circumstances of the day.

Ideally, research projects like ours must be started in advance, rather than in the wake of imminent danger. There were several crucial points in the history of our Church that merit interest. The same research must be carried out with respect to the establishment of the institute of Patriarchate in Russia in 1589. All the documents related to this matter must be collected to tell the whole story.

It is also necessary to research the idea of Russia being Byzantium’s successor. We need to study Greek, rather than Russian documents for that. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Constantinopolitan Patriarchs kept writing letters to us in which they said that we were the successors of Byzantium and that supporting Orthodoxy was our responsibility.

Now we have the experience of such intensive research work, which includes commissioning the required specialists and focusing on one specific task. The bulk of the document identification process (more than 1,000 pages were found) was completed in less than a year! That was why Patriarch Kirill during his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in late August 2018 said that we had a great number of pertinent documents and suggested that our and their scholars analyze them. Patriarch Bartholomew refused. Still, for the reasons described above, I think that we should take advantage of having the experience of such focused work.

This situation with Kiev, the way it is developing now, smacks of Grecocentrism.

This situation with Kiev, the way it is developing now, smacks of Grecocentrism. They show their true colors when they say, “Only we have the right to decide which documents are canonical.” They insist that only their point of view may be valid. Orthodox Encyclopedia Religious Scientific Center sees this tendency in many Regional Orthodox Churches, as the materials for our Orthodox Encyclopedia are prepared not only in Moscow, but in Tbilisi, Bucharest, Belgrade and Sofia. What do we see when we translate the works of the authors from these cities into Russian? One Serbian archpriest once told me quite bluntly, “There is a tradition: Wisdom from Greeks and money from Russians. You’re breaking this tradition with your encyclopedia.”

Did he say if this was good, or bad?

“For Serbs it is good, because Serbian authors also contribute to the encyclopedia. Meanwhile, the Georgian authors used the articles they wrote for us as a basis for their own Georgian Orthodox Encyclopedia. They have published the first volume already.

We support these developments. Albeit slowly and with great difficulties and complications, our modern Church scholarship is being established. Maybe not on a full scale yet and not in all areas, but it is happening in historical sciences, church archeology, and history of theology. This poses a great danger for the Constantinopole Patriarchate—the main advocate of Grecocentrism. The idea of Greek dominance that took root in the minds of many Orthodox people is based on the assumption that only the Greeks have the knowledge and understand what needs to be done and how. While our position in Orthodoxy was always, “We are not really in the know, so we came here to give you money and ask you how to pray and how to set up our education system so we can follow you.” The Greeks have been pushing this idea for centuries.

The Constantinopole Patriarchate has grown increasingly dependent on this idea in the minds of the Orthodox, that is the idea that the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate is the only authority that can establish rules and interpret the Church canons, and that they are the primary holders of knowledge. The numbers of their laity are shrinking, so there are no other reasons for the Constantinopole Patriarchate’s superiority claims.

As soon as an anti-Russian government is formed, it immediately starts negotiations with Constantinople regarding creation of the Church that would be independent of Moscow.

Furthermore, as events in Estonia and Ukraine demonstrate, as soon as an anti-Russian government is formed, it immediately starts negotiating with Constantinople regarding the creation of the Church that would be independent of Moscow, and looking for clergy who would be amenable to the non-canonical transfer to the jurisdiction of the new Church. That was how the Estonian, Latvian, Finnish and Polish Orthodox Churches of the Constantinopole Patriarchate were formed in the 1920s. At that time, it was done on the back of the anti-Communist movement, now this process is fueled by anti-Russian sentiments.

This is a well-established mechanism that turns religion into a battleground for political confrontation and uses it as a tool of political leverage. However, this is not an area that can be fully controlled by politicians. Some time ago, they realized that in Europe and after violent and devastating religious conflicts the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, promulgating the idea of separation of religion and politics. This was the only possible solution to save Europe. Now they are trying to mix religion and politics again, using the religious factor to inflame political controversies. Did they forget how dangerous it is, or don’t they care about the Eastern outskirts of Europe? An old saying about the Russian nouveau riches of the 1990s springs to mind: “They freely give away anything that we have.”

Yuri Pushchaev
spoke with Sergei Kravets
Translation by Talyb Samedov


1 The office or province of a metropolitan.

2 An ecclesiastical document, usually promulgated by a synod, which communicates or announces important information.

3 The condition where a church's leaders have severed ties to a larger body and thus no longer report to a higher authority.

4 The highest rank of a military officer.

5 An official meeting that convened for a ceremonial pledge of allegiance by Cossacks to the Tsar of Muscovy in the town of Pereyaslav.

6 An office in charge of foreign affairs.

7 Payment (such as a tip or bribe) to expedite service.

8 A historical name of the part of Ukraine on the left (East) bank of the Dnieper River.

9 A historical name of the part of Ukraine on the right (West) bank of the Dnieper River.

10 Metropolitan Cornelius was a Metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia, the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate.

Joseph Bell3/11/2020 5:43 pm
This refreshing article looks deeply into the relevant past. According to my own research, much of the population of the Constantinople and it's environs must have migrated north to the Slavic lands before the fall of the city. This is an extremely important development in the history of the church. What is relevant from modern history is that if not for the USA the communists would have taken over the world and the militant atheists would be everywhere. The economic mistake made was that there was no Marshall type Plan to help to rebuild Russia at the end of the Cold War. This was at the prompting of Western European powers and their fears of Russia. More important than a nuanced understanding of Western European and American policy, is why God would allow the split in Orthodoxy to take place that has so shaken the world, and what His will for us to do about it is.
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