Chalcedon Canon 28:
Historic Truth or Greek Mythology?
By: Nick Katich
Whenever one forays into the on-going discussion concerning the original meaning of Chalcedonian Canon 28, one can certainly not ignore undertaking a textual analysis of Canon 28. And this is precisely what Alexei II of Blessed Memory did in his letter to the Phanar of March 18, 2002.(1)
Such an approach constitutes a valid beginning.
In response, His Very Reverned Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis (2) and the most venerable faculty of Holy Cross Seminary (3) have recently argued from an a posteriori approach which tries to validate their interpretations of Canon 28 based on the early history of the Russian Church and of the medieval history of the various Balkan Churches. Such approach is inherently suspect since the Phanar was Russia’s missionizing Church and since the Phanar was the Balkan Churches’ Millet-Bashi. Therefore, the Phanar’s historic relationship with those Churches contains an overlay based on extraneous history which complicates rather than validates the true meaning of Canon 28.
Whenever one attempts to try to understand the meaning of something written in the past, it is inherently necessary to put oneself within the context of that past. What was the cultural, social, political and religious dynamic of that time? This is especially true of a text that was either voted upon or collectively agreed to by diverse interests of the time. What was the mindset of those who wrote an approved the ancient text? Under this type of analysis, certain interpretations advanced today would have been totally out of the question within the social, political and religious dynamic of that time because, if such meaning was intended, a consensus could never have been achieved. That being the case, and since a consensus of sorts was achieved, then such interpretations could not possibly have been the original intent of those in concurrence with the approved text. Such therefore is a necessary backdrop of any Chalcedonian Canon 28 analysis and an inherent check on the validity of either of today’s competeing interpretations.
Such an approach, to my knowledge, has not been heretofore utilized in the discussion of Canon 28. I offer it to the reader, first through the use of a vignette and later expound further on the result in an epilouge subsequent to the vignette.
This is Nikolaos Katicopulos of the Chalcedonian Broadcasting Company reporting live from the Great Council assembled in Chalcedon in 451. The Great Council has just voted (during the temporary absence of the presiding officers: the Bishop of Rome’s Legates) to vote to enact Chalcedonian Canon 28. Now that the Roman Legates have returned to the Great Council meeting during this 16th session, we will listen in and learn what is meant by Canon 28 as the Great Council attempts to explain the meaning of Canon 28 to the Roman Legates presiding over the Great Council. Everything you are about to hear was as it happened, except....“You Are There!”
Roman Legate: I understand that, in our temporary absence, the Great Council has enacted Canon 28. Has the Great Council been up to good or no good?
First Council Spokesman: The Great Council has been up to great good, most esteemed Legate.
Roman Legate: I have read Canon 28. Does it really mean what it literally says?
First Council Spokesman: Yes, esteemed Legate, it means what it precisely says. This Great Council did absolutely nothing more than to reaffirm Canon 3 of the Great Council of Constantinople, namely that the Archbishop of New Rome “shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome”.
Roman Legate: But First Spokesman, it seems to do much more than that. It also places the Pontic, Asian and Thracian diocese under the jurisdiction of New Rome. Does it not?
First Council Spokesman: In truth, most esteemed Legate, I cannot deny the fact that indeed it does so provide. But, His Holiness Leo should not be concerned. In the past, a certain number of western diocese were subordinated to Rome, a certain number of eastern dioceses were subordinated to Antioch and a certain number of African
dioceses were subordinated to Alexandria. It is, after all, therefore only fair to honor the See of New Rome in the same way. Is it not? Especially in light of the fact that New Rome is now the seat of the Imperial Throne?
Roman Legate: Oh, I suppose that His Holiness Leo can live with that, if it is, as you put it, a matter of fairness. But, we should not forget that there are other Canons of the Great Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, and by them accepted Canons of certain regional synods, which say that one may not interfere with exisiting bishops and existing dioceses without their consent. Are there not such Canons?
First Council Spokesman: There are indeed. But not to worry, most esteemed Legate, we have that situation covered and this Great Council is proceeding in a most canonical way. At the start of this 16th session of this Great Council, the metropolitans of Pontus, Asia and Trace have voluntarily and willingly signed on to their subordination.
Roman Legate: Well, I suppose that if they have done this voluntarily and willingly, what concern is it of His Holiness Leo. But, let me ask you First Spokesman, what about these bishops “among the barbarians’? Have they too signed on to their subordination?
First Council Spokesman: Well, why should they even be asked, most esteemed Legate. The Canon clearly says that “in the Pontic, the Asian, and the Tracian dioceses, the Metropolitans only and such bishops also of the diocese aforesaid as are among the barbarians” should be ordained by Constantinople. As you know, most esteemed Legate, there are barbarians living in parts of those three diocese who have become Christians and who are being specially shepherded by certain bishops. I don’t know Latin, but in Greek and, I presume, in all other languages, the bishops among the barbarians of the “aforesaid diocese”, merely refers to the bishops that are serving the barbarians who presently live in the Pontic, Asian and Thracian dioceses. That is what this language means. And, since those bishops among the barbarians are already subordinate to their respective Pontic, Asian and Tracian Metropolitans, they need not be asked since their respective Metropolitans speak for them.
Roman Legate: I suppose that may well be true. I thank you First Spokeman for your interpretation of Canon 28 and, based on the clear text that limits the reference regarding bishops among the barbarians to those bishops and barbarians within the Pontic, Asian and Thracian dioceses, there can be no doubt that the text exactly comports with your interpretation. But, is it possible that in the future, the most esteemed future Archbishops of New Rome are somehow going to twist the meaning of the phrase “aforesaid diocese” to mean something different, like “adjacent to those diocese” or even the whole world beyond the Roman Empire? That, First Spokesman, is His Holiness Leo’s concern.
First Council Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, do you mean to imply that through sophistry or sleigh of hand, some esteemed future Archbishops of New Rome would dare ignore the plain language of the Canon and embark upon personal aggrandizement which could disturb the unity of the Church? God forbid!
Roman Legate: His Holiness Leo will have to contemplate these matters before giving his assent.
Second Council Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, I rise to oppose the First Spokesman. Through obfuscation on his part through the use of an intentionally obfuscated text, the First Spokesman has mislead you as to the true meaning of Canon 28. We cannot let that happen. This attempt to mislead His Holiness Leo has caused
tremendous feelings of guilt on the part of the majority of this Great Council. Therefore, it has now elected me to be the true spokeman of the Great Council and to explain to your esteemed Legate the true meaning of Canon 28.
Roman Legate: Well, then, tell me plainly what it means, if it means something different than what it plainly and clearly says.
Second Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, notwithstanding what appears to have been written, the true intent of Canon 28 is explicitly to grant to the Archbishop of New Rome the pastoral care for all of those territories beyond the geographical boundaries of the other Local Churches. These are what we refer to in this Fifth Century as the ‘barbarian nations’ because they are outside the Roman Empire. This Great Council has decided to invest the Archbishop of New Rome, and him alone, with the responsibility of organizing ecclesial life in the places not under the care of other Local Churches. In short, all Christians and future Christians living outside the bounds of this Fifth Century Roman Empire are to submit to the Archbishop of New Rome.
Roman Legate: What about old Rome? Where does she fit into the global scheme of things?
Second Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, Rome is a Local Church. Its territory is the Western Roman Empire to the extent that some of it has not previously been taken away and given to Alexandria. As a Local Church, Rome’s boundaries are fixed. It cannot go beyond them.
Roman Legate: But New Rome is likewise a Local Church. Why should Rome not have the same perrogatives as New Rome in providing pastoral care “to all of those territories beyond the geographical boundaries of the Roman Empire?”
Second Spokesman: Because that’s not what the Great Council desires. As the boundaries of the empire expand, so should the jurisdiction of the Imperial Archbishop of New Rome.
Roman Legate: But the Western Roman Empire to which you are confining Rome does not yet include, in this Fifth Century, places such as Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and all the Slav lands. May Rome missionize those places?
Second Spokesman: Most certainly not, most esteemed Legate. It would violate Canon 28.
Roman Legate: You mean, when we missionize Ireland and Scotland later in this Century, when we missionize the Netherlands in the Sixth through Eighth Century, when we missionize Germany in the Eighth Century, when we missionize Poland and the Baltic regions in the Tenth Century and when we missionize Scandanavia in the Eighth throughTwelfth Century, they will neverthless be under the pastoral care of the Archbishop of
New Rome to the exclusion of Rome? Will Rome have to forfeit all of this missionizing work to comply with the Canon?
Second Spokesman: First of all, most esteemed Legate, Rome will have no authority to missionize those areas and, if it does so, it will be in violation of this Canon. But to answer your question more directly, all of those places, and more, will be canonically under the pastoral care of the Archbishop of New Rome to the exclusion of
Rome notwithstanding the fact that Rome missionized those areas in the first instance.
Roman Legate: You mean that would also be the case, even if some Italian with the help of the Spanish in the future discovers a whole new world?
Second Spokesman: Most assuredly, most esteemed Legate, provided that the new world is of the planet known as earth. The Canon, I must concede, does not specifically address the status of other planets, although by analogy, I suppose its interpretation could likewise be extended to those places as well.
Roman Legate: What if we get divorced in the Eleventh Century and some some Italian with the help of the Spanish thereafter discovers a whole new world and Rome missionizes that new world; if we get remarried in the Twenty-First Century, would Rome then have to give back this new world to New Rome?
Second Spokesman: Most assuredly, most esteemed Legate. Rome and New Rome are destined to meet in Ravenna, undo the divorce, and New Rome will insist on the return of this new world to the pastoral care of New Rome. And, if it does not insist on that transfer, New Rome would be violating its present and future understanding of the meaning of this Canon.
Roman Legate: Does this Great Council seriously expect His Holiness Leo to assent to this interpretation of Canon 28?
Second Spokesman: Quite assuredly, most esteemed Legate.
Roman Legate: But if Rome claims the primacy given to it by the Great Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, why should it not have the primacy of power over the whole earth outside of the Western Roman Empire? Or, at lease, have an equal share based on a first come, first to missionize basis? It seems that Canon 28, although it
places New Rome in second place after Rome, it de facto places New Rome in first place because it grants it more power and more territory than to Rome itself.
Second Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, this Great Council is like the future English Parliament. It is in charge. It has deemed Rome worthy of being the titular head of state, a mere figurehead, if you will. It makes this concession so that Rome can save some face. This Great Council has however deemed New Rome more worthy of being the prime minister, the head of the government, so to speak. It is the head of government that wields power and governs. Rome saves face but New Rome wields the power graciously playing second fiddle only in appearance and only for appearances sake.
Roman Legate: So, the Great Council proposes that Rome play ceremonial first fiddle but that New Rome actually plays first fiddle and conducts the “Ode to the Barbarians”?
Second Spokesman: Most esteemed Legate, your perception is beyond marvel!
Roman Legate: But what about the fact that Rome is the throne of Peter? Does that not account for something?
Second Spokesman: Ah! But we will “discover” and pronounce that New Rome is the throne of Andrew, the older brother and therefore first by primogeniture.
Roman Legate: But, Second Spokesman, there is little evidence to support that notion. Eusebius has him missionizing in Scythia. Gregory of Naziansus has him missionizing in Epirus. Jerome claims it was Achia and Theodoret claims it was the Hellas. In fact, Acts doesn’t even mention Andrew as doing anything after Pentecost.
Second Spokesman: Ah, most esteemed Legate. The Fathers collectively are all correct. He missionized everywhere. But don’t forget that Luke wrote Acts. He was Paul’s close friend. He wrote Acts to make Paul look good ignoring virtually everyone else other than occasionally mentioning Peter and James. He didn’t want to show that Andrew was an active competitor of Paul’s in Asia Minor and Hellas.
Roman Legate: But what about Paul? Can’t the same claim that New Rome is making that it is an “Apostolic See” be equally made by the Sees that the Aspostle Paul himself founded: Corinth, Galacia, Ephesus, Phillipi, Colosse, Thesalonika and, yes, to some, even Rome?
Second Spokesman: None of those so-called Apostolic Sees have the same claim as New Rome.
Roman Legate: But why, pray tell?
Second Spokesman: Quite simple, most esteemed Legate. The One Holy Catholic Church is here on earth. Andrew saw the Lord walk the earth before his Passion and saw him walk the earth after he was Risen. On the other hand, Paul only saw the Glory of the Lord ascended and seated at the Right Hand. In these temporal times and in
this temporal work, Andrew’s temporal experience trumps Paul’s post hoc mystical experience.
Roman Legate: Second Spokesman, I must confess that you have worn me down with your wise council and impeccable logic. I concede your most obvious interpretation of the most clear meaning of Canon 28. In the name of his Holiness Leo, Rome assents to your esteemed interpretation and to those to be made in the future time by His All- Holiness Bartholomew, by His Very Reverned Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis and by the
most venerable faculty of Holy Cross Seminary.
Second Spokesman: May we now obtain leave from your most esteemed Legate to have an icon written of Peter and Paul graciously and humbly bowing before the throne of Andew in New Rome.
Roman Legate: Second Spokesman, so let it be done.
Nikolaos Katicopulos of the Constantinoplitan Broadcasting Company: Well, there you have it first hand from the Great Council of Chalcedon. Everything you heard was as it happened that day in that great debate, except... “You Were There!”
In considering this vignette, one must never lose sight of the fact that in 451 the Church was One. Rome had been accorded the sometimes vague primacy embodied in the early Canons and traditions. It is well known that Rome jealously guarded what it had, and that it constantly sought even more. New Rome could never dream of
surpassing Rome in primacy and struggled to advance to and then maintain a position of second fiddle.
In the above vignette, the First Council Spokesman gives an accurate (albeit sometimes defensive) interpretation of Chalcedonian Canon 28 that comports precisely and to the letter with the very text of the Canon itself. Alexei II of Blessed Memory made this the heart of his argument in his letter to the Phanar. That interpretation not only comports with the literal text of Canon 28, it is easy to understand why it would have been ultimately accepted by Rome. To be sure, Leo rejected the Canon and would not give it his assent. It is clear from the historical record
that Leo was opposed to the language that New Rome “enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome”. Rome eventually acquiesced because the language in that regard was ambiguous and of little consequence since, in the presence of both Rome and New Rome, no one would have contested Rome’s right to preside.
On the other hand, the Second Spokesman articulates Phanar’s current interpretation of the Canon verbatim. Imagine in the Fifth Century Rome being told that New Rome, and only New Rome, would have the exclusive pastoral care over all of the planet earth ourtside of the Fifth Century boundaries of the Roman Empire. Does the
Phanar seriously want to have us believe that Rome would have accepted Canon 28 if its true intent and meaning was to give, to the exclusion of Rome, exclusive pastoral care of the entire world to the Phanar outside of the boundaries of the Fifth Century Roman Empire?
Everything we know of Rome, through the historical records, clearly compels the conclusion that, if that Canon meant what the Phanar now claims it means and that it was promulgated by the Great Council notwithstanding Rome’s vehement protests, it is submitted that the Great Schism of 1054 would be unknown to history and that we would be speaking today of the Great Schism of 451.
The Phanar’s case might be “somewhat” more plausable if Canon 28 gave Rome and New Rome concurrent jurisdiction over us present day “barbarians”, that Rome forfeited its share of that concurrent jurisdiction over us Orthodox “barbarians” in the new world post 1054, and that the Phanar now exercises sole jurisdiction by default.
However, the Phanar makes no such claim, nor could it in light of the fact that whatever the Canon confers, it only confers it on New Rome.
Interestingly, St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain translated the Canons into English and complied the same in what is now called “The Rudder”. To the Canons, he appended commentary on their meaning.
In discussing the “barbarian” question with respect to Canon 28, he only ventured the following: “Not only are the Metropolitans of the said dioceses to be ordained by him [New Rome], but indeed also the bishops located
in barbarian regions that border on the said dioceses, as, for instance, those called Alani are adjacent to and flank the diocese of Pontus, while the Russians border on that of Thrace”. Even he did not interpret Canon 28 as extending New Rome’s jurisdiction to all lands outside the Fifth Century borders of the Roman Empire as presently claimed by the Phanar. And, it might be added that the Archbishop of Constantinople, Neophytos VII, gave his blessing to and approved the publication of The Rudder together with its commentaries near the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th Centuries. Of course, it wasn’t until a century later that Meletios IV Metaxakis (“a person of interest”) would turn the Canon on its head, create a mess in the Americas and embolden the Phanar of today to venture into mythology.
Even in St. Nicodemos’ view (as blessed by Neophytos VII), Canon 28 does not extend the Phanar’s jurisdiction to the entire planet earth outside of the Fifth Century boundaries of the Roman Empire. If it did, then Rome would have needed New Rome’s permission to do missionary work in Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and all the Slav lands. History fails to record that Rome sought that permission and history fails to record that New Rome protested this “usurpation”. In addition, history does not record that the Russian Church sought New Rome’s permission to missionize the Americas, nor does history record that New Rome ever protested this “usurpation” by Russia.
In fact, history also does not record that Meletios IV Metaxakis ever sought, while in America, to assert his primacy over the Russian Metropolia. In fact, it should not be forgotten that he established the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America while he was primate in exile of the Church of Greece and it would have remained a dependency of the Church of Greece had he not transferred it as primate of Greece to himself as soon-to-be
primate of New Rome. Can one conclude that Meletios IV Metaxakis violated Canon 28 in the first instance in creating the Archdiocese as a dependency of Greece? Not exactly. New Rome issued a Tomos in 1908 which placed the “independent” Greek parishes in America under the pastoral care of the Church of Greece. However, one should ask why the Phanar in 1908 did not solve the whole American situation by placing all Orthodox
parishes under the pastoral care of the Church of Greece rather than limiting it to the “independent” Greek parishes. The answer, looked in this light, is quite obvious: Meletios IV Metaxakis was not yet Archbishop of Constantinople and had not yet “invented” the mythology of the present Phanariot interpretation of Canon 28.
The author would add this personal postscript to His Beatitude Jonah of the
Orthodox Church in America.
It took great fortitude on Your Beatitude’s part to address the situation in the Americas as you did in your April 5, 2009 homily at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas, Texas. It was something that needed to be said and it was about time that it was said in the very words you employed. For that, Your Beatitude has the prayers and love of a
large majority of Orthodox in the Americas. The practical reasons, based on collegiality, which resulted in the apology on Great and Holy Friday are understood. But this issue is not about other persons’ sensitivities. It is about our ecclesiology. In the spirit of St. Mark of Ephesus, resistance to mythological interpretations of Canon 28 must go forward
in that spirit:
By your profession of faith, O all-praised Mark,
The Church has found you to be a zealot for truth.
You fought for the teaching of the Fathers;
You cast down the darkness of boastful pride.
Intercede with Christ God to grant forgiveness to those who honor you!
Clothed with invincible armor, O blessed one,
You cast down rebellious pride,
You served as the instrument of the Comforter,
And have shone forth as the champion of Orthodoxy.
Therefore we cry to you: “Rejoice, Mark, the boast of the Orthodox!
© Nick Katich, Esq., 2009.
(Nick Katich is a parishioner of the St. Elizabeth The New Martyr Orthodox Church (OCA) in Chesterton, Indiana. He received his Doctor of Law Degree from the University of Chicago. As a member of the Diocesan Council of the American-Canadian Diocese of the New Gracanica Metropolitanate (Serbian Orthodox Church) from 1984 to 2000 he spearheaded the negotiating team that brought about an end to the 1963-1992 schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church. He was the principal negotiator for the New Gracanica Metropolitanate for the drafting of the new constitution for the unified Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada.)