The Period of Self Proclaimed Muscovite Autocephaly 14411589

This is the period of the foundation of the Russian autonomous Church and the Russian monarchy, when Moscow became the 'Third Rome', after Rome proper, and Constantinople, the New Rome. It is most obviously a key period for the subsequent history of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The autocephaly of the Moscow See was established during the years 1441-8 by the following steps. The Grand Prince of Moscow Basil II refused to accept Metropolitan Isidor, appointee of the Patriarch of Constantinople, when Isidor was sent to Moscow in 1441. Instead, he wrote a letter to the patriarch explaining the need of the Russian Church to exercise the right to elect a metropolitan by the local synod of bishops. This was a formal request for autocephaly and the only official document on this issue; his letter was never answered by the patriarch. Then, with no reply from the patriarch, the Synod of Russian Bishops in 1448 consecrated as metropolitan Jonas, a Russian candidate to the Metropolitan See since 1430. These are the facts that were subsequently veiled by the following myths: that the request for autocephaly was in response to the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches at the Council of Florence in 1439, and that Constantinople approved the autocephaly of the Moscow See, only very much later (but long before 1589).

The story of Isidor was officially represented quite differently inside and outside of Russia. Inside, he was judged unacceptable by the Synod of Russian Bishops in 1441 because of his loyalty to the reunion with Rome that had been agreed at the Council of Florence in 1439. Outside, however, as in the aforementioned letter from the Grand Prince to the Patriarch of Constantinople, the only reason to refuse him was deemed to be personal. This was perhaps to be expected, taking into account the addressee: Patriarch Metrophanes II was a supporter of the reunion. It has been suggested, however, that Basil II asked the patriarch for autocephaly as if the latter were still a lawful church authority whose Orthodoxy was impeccable. The Grand Prince may have had opinions of his own about the distribution of ecclesiastical power and may not have cared that much about the correct confession of faith. Again it has been suggested that he was happy to ignore the actual status of the patriarch, but was willing to accept the principle of patriarchal jurisdiction over the Russian Church.

Up until his death in 1461 Metropolitan Jonas considered the western eparchies as a part of his own metropolitanate. The real situation was more complicated, however. At first, Metropolitan Jonas and his autocephaly was accepted by Casimir IV, the Roman Catholic King of Poland and Lithuania. Then, in spite of this, Casimir tried to assist the Pope of Rome in establishing in Russia the Union of Florence. To this end he accepted as Metropolitan of Kiev, Gregory the Bulgarian (1458-73), a supporter of the reunion and a disciple of Isidor, who had been consecrated in Rome by the Patriarch of Constantinople in exile, Gregory Mammas, also a supporter of the reunion. Casimir succeeded in forcing all the bishops of his kingdom to submit to Gregory.

Gregory was at first consecrated Metropolitan of Kiev and Lithuania only, but very soon (before January 1459) his jurisdiction was extended to include Moscow. The

Russian Metropolitanate therefore had two heads of different faiths. Jonas was now in a position to condemn his adversaries of heresy. This condemnation turned out to be decisive, but not in a way to please Moscow. Casimir allowed Metropolitan Gregory to address the Patriarch of Constantinople with repentance for his past support of the reunion and with acknowledgement of the patriarch's jurisdiction. Gregory's letter to the patriarch is lost, but a reply from Patriarch Dionysius I to Gregory has been found, dated 14 February 1467. The patriarch in turn acknowledged Gregory as the Metropolitan of the whole Russian Church, including Moscow, and forbade anyone to have any communion with Jonas. The patriarchate does not appear to have been aware that Jonas had died in 1461. The Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan III, responded by forbidding any contacts with both the Patriarch of Constantinople and Metropolitan Gregory. An iron curtain had slammed down separating the Muscovite Church from both Constantinople and the Kievan Metropolitanate.

From this point in 1467 the history of Russian Christianity runs in two veins. The Western Russian Church was founded on safe canonical grounds, but unfortunately there is no room here to trace the history of the specific phenomenon of Kievan Christianity from 1467 to 1686, the date of reunification of the Kievan Metropolitanate with the Patriarchate of Moscow. The organization of the Eastern Church remained with no canonical support, and separated from communion with the post-Byzantine centres of monasticism and education still existing in the Ottoman Empire. Such communion had been the key condition for the 'Hesychast renaissance' in fourteenth-century Russia. This lack of communion was to have a fatal effect on the mechanisms of the rise of the Moscow Empire as the Third Rome. The subsequent period is probably the most definitive for the destiny of the Russian Church.

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