ORTHODOXIA.INFO | Andreas Loudaros It could have been written in today’s time, what with all that is currently going on in Ukraine, but the letter was in fact written over 300 years ago.

Its author was Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem and its recipient Patriarch Joachim of Moscow. To put things into context, the latter had persuaded the then newly-elected metropolitan of Kyiv to break with established church practice and receive his ordination to the episcopate from the Russian patriarch instead of the patriarch of Constantinople.

Patriarch Joachim’s undertaking had triggered a fierce reaction in Kyiv and despite being pressured, the Ukrainians did not accept the proposal. As a result, pressure was subsequently directed toward Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysios IV in the hope he would change his mind.

And he did. Soon after, an unprecedented conciliar decision was made according to which Patriarch Dionysios had given the patriarch of Moscow the right to ordain the metropolitan of Kyiv.

And just as the patriarch of Constantinople was pressured by Moscow 300 years ago to change his mind, so too was Patriarch Kirill pressured by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew when they last met in August.

Do you want me to wash your feet?

The following is an excerpt of the letter Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem had sent to Patriarch Joachim of Moscow. Its content is a little harsh, but the message is clear.

Patriarch Dositheos writes: “Maybe you wish that we also make Jerusalem a dependency of yours, and that we wash your feet? Perhaps the Moscow metropolitanate being elevated to a patriarchate allowing you to be elected by a synod and recognized by everyone as a patriarch was a trivial matter?”

In the letter, the primate of the church of Zion is rather harsh toward the new patriarch of Moscow. Indeed, the Jerusalem patriarch rebukes his Moscow counterpart throughout the entire text, stating that the latter has gone well beyond the limits set down by the Holy Fathers and that he has caused damage to the Church.

“But you wanted a foreign eparchy! It would have been possible for you to remain the Constantinople patriarch’s representative to the metropolitan of Kyiv. You claim it was necessary that you also ordain the metropolitan of Kyiv, but we think that there was no necessity, only avarice. And why should the limits of the Fathers be exceeded without just reason? Doing this, without any need, but instead in order to satisfy only your ambitions and not to advance the common good, you are doing damaging both to yourself and the Church.”

Furthermore, the Jerusalem patriarch reminds his Moscow counterpart that, despite the territorial distance, the Russians were able to communicate with Constantinople, in this way rejecting Moscow’s argument that the Ecumenical Patriarchate was at the time in a dire situation. “Until yesterday, ever since the Orthodox faith first flourished, the Russians would communicate with Constantinople despite the long distance, and only good had become of this,” writes Patriarch Dositheos.

Also indicative of the Jerusalem patriarch’s annoyance is the following paragraph, which confirms that Dositheos, who was well aware of Joachim’s ambitions, was outright against the Moscow patriarch seizing control of a foreign eparchy (Kyiv) and considered this a shameful act and a sin against God.

“According to the Church Fathers, eparchies should remain unchanged within their territorial boundaries, and for this reason no bishop has the right to ask for authority over a foreign eparchy. You, however, are asking to take over a foreign eparchy. You in no way can justify this action, and only shame among men and sin against God will fall upon your name.”

For the record, in 1686 Patriarch Dionysios IV of Constantinople issued a decree according to which the patriarch of Moscow was given the right to ordain the metropolitan of Kyiv—without this of course meaning that the eparchy of Kyiv was also being given to Moscow. Yet with time, the granting of the right to ordain the Kyiv metropolitan had been interpreted by the Russian side as Constantinople also granting Moscow authority over Ukraine.

This was the reality up until early this month, when the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate last convened and decided to annul the letter it had sent in 1686 to the Russians, effectively ending all ecclesiastical association between the churches of Moscow and Kyiv.

Translation by Evangelos Nicolaidis