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The Kniga Consistorium and why it should be Condemned

The Kniga Consistorium or Book of the Consistory, is like its name, a borrowed, western system based on what Tsar Peter I observed of the relations of church and state in Europe in his youth, worked out together with his Lutheran-sympathetic & servile court-sycophant Feofan Prokopovich, who became Archbishop of Novgorod and vice-president of the new Most-Holy Governing Synod. The system follows the model current in Protestant northern Europe in Tsar Peter’s time, designed to enhance the power of the civil state, headed by the monarch, over all. The history has been partly described in Georges Florovsky’s Ways of Russian Theology.

The European prototype of this system was the fruit of Protestant wars of religion, and the law of cujus regio, cujus religio [Latin: ‘whose is the reign, his is the religion’] which subordinated the laws of the local religious institution to the laws/decrees of the civil ruler {this is contrary to previous Church tradition as epitomized in the law formulated by St. Emperor Justinian the Great for Byzantium, afterwards adopted by Orthodox Russia thitherto that civil laws made in contradiction to Church laws were automatically null and void}. In particular, in its Russian incarnation, this sort of system gave princes pseudo-‘canonical’ means to gag or pseudo-legislate to their taste for the church through the lay ober-procurator (German for overseer [a lay bishop for the bishops, as it were]) and the permanent Synod of 3 appointed metropolitans and a tiny handful of other varying bishops, whose meetings he [the o.-p.] convokes, sets the agenda for, and chairs, to tightly control and remove if necessary without reference to the canons any cleric deemed troublesome to the State. This is done by issuing suspensions and forcible retirements, which can be enforced by the state exiling or confining the cleric or bishop to a monastery, like a semi-prison to silence him.

The divinely-inspired, conciliar system of the Ecumenical Councils and Apostolic Canons which acted through the plentitude of the episcopate (at the local Church and universal Church levels) and according to the method established by the divinely-inspired Church Universal is set aside for a lay-directed, totalitarian mini-Synod dictating to the rest of the episcopate, whose tiny membership and agenda of topics discussable and final decisions, on the one hand, rests on current government approval, and whose possible ecclesiastical activity is therefore greatly hampered, with the possibility of the o.-p. dissolving meetings unfinished, dismissal from post, or forced retirement . As such while, the government lay official (oberprocurator) exercises the most influence, after him, these Metropolitans are all-powerful and unquestionable in or without appeal from their judgments and decrees (except by the quiet, private disobedience and disdain for church authority, this dictatorship engendered).

This system, because it was not based on the canons, had not the Church’s authority and what it enacted can only be said to be the decisions (perhaps under coercion) of a small part of the bishops of a much larger episcopate, rather than an act of the Russian Orthodox Church or its episcopate or lawful synod, which term alone truly applies to the full gathering of the plenitude of its episcopate. Certainly it could make decisions that were correct in view of Orthodox dogma and canons and make authentically Orthodox, correct declarations about the true Faith and heresy, the way of salvation and the way of damnation, deeds of piety and sin, but judicially it lacked the authority to assume more than whatever authority is accorded to a small portion of the episcopate of a larger local church. So, while not wishing to fail to recognize whatever was Orthodox and piously done by the [mini-]Synod of this sad period, we must also recognize that it facilitated a number of serious transgressions of Church law and a light-mindedly opportunistic or even contemptuous attitude on the part of clergy or especially Metropolitans toward the Divinely-inspired Universal Church’s laws, to which obedience is mandatory for all Christians [Mt. 18:17-18].

Some examples of these transgressions, in addition to uncanonical assumption of such authority itself by the mini-Synod with Peter’s decree in 1721, include: the decree ‘absolving’ Peter’s soldiers from the duty of keeping the Great Fast while on campaign [freedom to eat meat throughout], the decree permitting Peter’s imported German Lutherans to marry Orthodox Russian women, provided the children were raised Orthodox; the Petrine-era decree barring from entering the clergy those not of existing clerical class/family; the endorsement in 1754 at Tsaritsa Catherine II’s request by the [mini-]Synod of the pro-Unia Met. Peter Moghila’s Trebnik, which asserted the impermissibility of baptizing most heterodox converts; the forcible closing of many monasteries and prohibition of the monastic life to all but a small fixed number of the elderly, because allegedly monasticism is a ‘gangrene’ on the State’s healthful resources; the turning over of Church and monastery property consecrated to God for plunder to the State and the negative State control over receipt of Church revenue or donations; the forced retirement or ‘deposition’ and confinement to monasteries of Metropolitan Arseny Mattveivitch (in 1762) and other worthy hierarchs and clergy who opposed this and other anticanonical acts by Tsaritsa Catherine II or other rulers; finally, again, the placing of known Freemasons (o-p. Platon, etc.) and dubiously-Orthodox lay persons in position of ecclesiastical authority as oberprocurator over the Orthodox episcopate, in some measure negating the canonical order of hierarchal-lay relations in the Church in Protestant-wise, etc.

We recognize that some of these transgressions were confined to only a single reign or were ignored by the clergy, or were diminished in their negative effect by the fact that most heretics within or surrounding the Russian Empire had received a proper, though graceless, ritual form of baptism before their chrismation and reception, yet nonetheless, much harm was done and more so in view of the general attitude and mental confusion among many present-day Russians about the Universal Church’s canons, which they openly disdain or replace with this unlawfully-originated, non-Church system.

We also must recognize and reiterate that this system never had actual authority, never supplanted the Church’s canons as the sole lawful, valid basis of operation, and lastly that it perished irretrievably in 1917 with the election of St. Patriarch Tikhon, the disappearance of an Orthodox State, and the issuance of Ukaz 362, which explicitly states that individual bishops or semi-autonomous groups of bishops shall manage and judge the affairs of the Church “within the authority allotted them in the Church’s Canons”, not by the Kniga Consistorium. Moreover, it is patently false, distorted, and ridiculous for some, such as Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal, to allege that they are operating based on the Kniga Consistorium, Òwhich gives Russian Metropolitans powers to do things not permitted by those ÔGreek’ Canons,Ó as he has said, styling the Canons of the One, Holy, Catholic-Universal, Orthodox Church as just ÔGreek canons’. Whereas under the consistory system, the Metropolitan would sit on a council of other metropolitans and equals and an Orthodox lay oberprocurator to control and judge his actions, set his agenda, authorize his decisions and declarations, and which could punish him for infractions, he rather sits alone at the head of another mini-Synod which he alone controls and which can never judge him, or do anything but approve him and his activities, canonical or not, heretical or not, or else it will not meet at all or will be reconstituted according to his pleasure. Furthermore, he sometimes asserts that his Church is run according to the Canons and Ukaz 362 and the Kniga Consistorium, which is innately impossible since the former two are in contradiction to the latter, and finally all are in contradiction to how he actually Ôruns’ his Ôsynod’.

Finally, we must also point out to those claiming it as ‘Orthodox law for the Russian Church’ that “Orthodox” is a term that applies not to whatsoever anybody who has a rank in the Church does at one time or another, but agreement with and obedience to the decrees and traditions handed down by the Lord, His Apostles, the Church Universal, and the doctrinal consensus of the Holy Fathers, who have been canonized (approved as measuring-sticks or standards of the Christian path) by the whole Church for the Church. These are the authorities of Christianity laid down by our Lord in the New Testament. If the other view be true, that the Consistorium system is Orthodox law, then, by such reasoning, if for several generations a small or even a significant portion of the episcopate became fornicators or declared it lawful, perhaps with common agreement, then fornication would henceforth become Orthodox and lawful and even obligatory canon law, and the law of the Gospel to the contrary null and void!

We may close with the sacred admonition to the flock about the Canons from a spiritual authority no Orthodox, and especially no one claiming descent through the Russian Church, can deny or dispute with, St. Archbishop John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker (+1966) from his Sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy:

“We all sin, we all transgress Christ’s commandments and the laws of the holy Church, but some acknowledge themselves to be sinners and repent of their transgressions, while others, instead, reject the very laws and do not want to submit to them; they say that these laws are out-dated, that they are no longer needed; as if we are smarter than those who gave us the Church laws, which the Lord Himself gave through His Apostles and hierarchs. Here before you are two paths: the path of the wise thief, and the path of the one who was pulled down to hades by the weight of his blasphemy... Here, brethren, is the path of the two thieves. Some desire salvation, others desire only enjoyment in this world, and when they do not succeed in obtaining it they blaspheme those laws which are given for our salvation.

“Even today various divisions can spring up among us. The laws of Christ’s Church are immutable; a Christian must submit to them irrespective of what others think, of how society regards these laws – whether favorably or unfavorably. Those faithful to Christ follow after Him along the path of those laws, those ordinances which the holy Church sacredly preserves. Those who desire unnecessary comforts and pleasures in this temporal world – which sooner or later will perish – these people prefer other laws, not the laws of the Church but those which allow them to live as they want, to think what they want, to place their own will above the Spirit of the Church, that Spirit given by the Lord God Himself; and they invite others to follow this same path.

“It may be, brethren, that soon you will again experience a time of turmoil, and some of you will be called to take the path of denying those sacred laws and to submit to laws established by mere human authority. Beware of such a path! Beware of the path taken by the thief on the left, for by the weight of blasphemy, by the weight of reviling Christ he went to his eternal perdition. Those who revile the laws of the Church revile Christ Himself, Who is the Head of the Church, for the laws of the Church were given by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. And the laws of local Churches are based on those same laws and canons of the [Universal] Church. Let us not consider ourselves wiser than those saints and hierarchs who established the canons of the Church; let us not imagine ourselves to be great sages...Then we will not follow the path taken by the ungodly thief, who remained ungodly to the end and descended into the nethermost depths, from which may the Lord deliver us all. Amen.”

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