On My Pilgrimage in Bari to the Canon Law Congress

Introduction

The Society for the Study of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches was established at the University of Vienna in 1971. It aims to combine academic research for those Catholics who have a special (sui juris) law and for the Orthodox. Vienna was convenient because it was the closest of the free world to the Eastern European countries of the Communist bloc.

The venerable Greek Orthodox canonist Constantine Pitsakis, the former president of the society, died on August 6, 2012.  Therefore, the organization of the 21st Congress was undertaken by the Vice-President, the Melkite priest George Gallaro, a professor of canon law in the Byzantine Greek Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh. The Congress is held every two years and this year would have to be held in Lebanon, but at the end of last year it became clear that this was not possible because of the danger of Islamist attacks. Then the University of Bari positively responded to the query of Fr. George to hold the Congress under auspices of the university. The theme of the congress was “Particular Laws and Current Issues of the Churches.” In February this year, Fr. George called me and asked me to give a talk on the law in force within the Russian Orthodox Church. Thanks to the financial support of the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Church Abroad, I was able to accept the offer.

Toronto

There is no direct flights to Bari from New York and I had to choose where to change planes and also in order to get a cheap ticket. I ended up with three transfers.I flew from Newark on Thursday (the day when Octoechos commemorates St. Nicholas), to Toronto, where I had never been. At the airport Matushka Maria met me. She is the widow of Fr. Ilya Grozdanov, a graduate of the Holy Trinity Seminary correspondence program, in which I help with canon law. Both are originally from Bulgaria. Fr. Ilya was ordianed a presbyter and had served less than an year in the ROCOR Bulgarian parish in the border city of Niagra Falls, before he died prematurely on September 29, 2012. I had a few hours between the flights and we went to the Trinity Cathedral, the largest parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Several hundred parishioners attend the Divine Liturgy there on a regular Sunday. The church is situated in a former synagogue, although this is hard to detect due to major reconstruction. We had just enough time to venerate the icons and then went to the airport.

Munich-1

On Friday, September 6, I arrived to Munich and went to the monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Obermenzing, arriving there just in time for vespers. In the monastery I found many new brethren. Of those whom I knew, there was only Abbot Euthymy and the monks Filaret and Meliton. Father Meliton came to the monastery at the end of 1989 , when I arrived for the first time, and Fathers Euthymy and Filaret in the summer of 1990,  before I entered the Holy Trinity Seminary .

The next day started at four am with Midnight Office, which was followed by the third, sixth, and the ninth Hours. At the liturgy I was privileged to receive Holy Communion. It was wonderful to live a full day of intense liturgical life. On Saturday the Liturgy was celebrated in German. In the evening I joined Abbot Euthymy and Hierodeacon Cornely for the Vigil. The next morning at six o’clock, the brethren read the Midnight Office and then, together with Archbishop Mark, I went to the cathedral.

We arrived there at same time with Protodeacon Georg Kobro, who has been serving Archbishop Mark for several decades. Fr. Georg took a good care of me in the winter of 1989-1990. In the cathedral were two newly ordained deacons – Fathers Michael and Victor. It was pleasant to meet an alumnus of our seminary, Fr. Alexey Lemmer, who is now a priest in the cathedral.

During the luncheon, Archbishop Mark spoke about his pilgrimage to Serbia and Montenegro, together with parishioners from Munich cathedral, who traveled there by car (He returned just a day before.) In Montenegro, Vladyka met with Metropolitan Amfilohije, a friend from the late 1960s . Vladyka said that when he decided to enter the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, in the early 1970s, Father Athanasius (Jevtic) asked permission of Patriarch German, who had authorized the admission, but then said, “I know nothing about this.” The Patriarch invited Father Mark to visit him when he came to study in Belgrade and blessed him to serve in any church within his Patriarchate.

On Monday, after the Liturgy, Fr. Meliton took me for a walk. Bayern on the outskirts of Munich impressed me by its living piety – at the crossroads, large crosses stand with lighted candles. We saw several Catholic churches and not one of them has been closed. We visited the cemetery, with the graves of the brethren from St. Job of Pochaev, as well as the clergy and parishioners of the cathedral. Unfortunately, some graves have a neglected look. Apparently, nobody pays to look after them. Also we visited the castle of Blutenburg, which houses, arguably, the world’s largest children’s library .

Bari

From Munich I left for Rome and the late evening arrived in Bari. In Rome, it was a pleasure to run, accidentally,  at the airport into my good friend from the last conference, Alexej Klutschewsky from Vienna, whose area of expertise are uncanonical Orthodox groups.

The speakers were placed in the room of the school staff, for training the financial police (Guardia di Finanza), located near the airport. In the morning I was glad to meet with the professor from the University of Vienna, Dr. Eva Cyunek , who is a longstanding member and an enthusiast of the society.

On Tuesday morning, in the premises of the University of Aldo Moro, the congress was opened with greetings from the Rector of the University, Dr. Corrado Petrocelli; Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Massimo De Rienzo; Fr George Gallaro;  Dr. Raffaele Koppolla; Archimandrite Nicephorus (Efstafiu), a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; and the Prior of the Basilica of St. Nicholas, Padre Lorenzo Lorusso.

From the reports read on this day I would like to mention the paper of Professor Gaetano Damato (Faculty of Law of the University of Bari ) dedicated to the dialogue between the Orthodox Church and other religions in building a democratic society in Albania.

Immediately after the welcoming speeches, I went to the Basilica of St. Nicholas, as on Tuesdays, at 10:30, clergy of the Patriarchal dependency in Bari serve Divine Liturgy. The way to the basilica through the old town gives the impression that the life has little changed over the centuries – people sitting in the half-open patios talking or hanging clothes on the balconies. Inside the houses are seen domestic shrines with carved statues of saints.

The Holy relics of Saint Nicholas are in the crypt under a marble sarcophagus. The crypt church was filled with pilgrims from Russia. The Liturgy was served by the clergy of pilgrimages from various places (in particular from Perm). The rector, Archpriest Andrei Botsov, was serving the Proskomedia and warmly greeted me. I commemorated many names.

After the service, I visited the dependency. There are two churches – the upper, dedicated to Saint Nicholas and the lower to St. Spiridon. The church was designed by the Russian architect A. Shchusev. I was able to visit the lower church, which throughout the soviet period, was served by twelve successive priests of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. The church has an adjacent four-story building for housing pilgrims. Because of World War I and the subsequent Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, it is only now that the works on the improvement of the pilgrimage hostel have been completed. I was impressed by how efficiently Fr. Andrei and his assistants dealt with the volume of urgent matters related to the all possible needs of pilgrims. It was interesting to learn from the abbot Nektarios, a native of Bezhetsk, of his own interest in his elder countryman – the Jordanville iconographer Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov) who died in 2001.

The compound was designed by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, and here is seen the same “imperial model” as in Alexander’s Compound in Jerusalem and the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Buenos Aires. In the lower church of St. Spyridon the ROCOR community used to worship. After the unification, the church was transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate. In the compound the widow of the ROCOR priest Fr. Andrei, Marina Trufanova, lives with her children. Now in the lower church, services are held by the Greek community of Constantinople Patriarchate.

At six o’clock, after a day spent close to Saint Nicholas, I returned to the conference. Professor of Canon law from the University of Thesaloniki, Theodore Giankou, submitted his report on the new charter of the Church of Cyprus. Interestingly, the reporter noted the presence in it ethnophyletism (all Cypriots belong to the Church of Cyprus, even those who were baptized abroad). The same component was detected by the author in the statutes of the Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches.

On Wednesday, the panel where I read my presentation, on the Current Law of the Russian Orthodox Church, was headed by Dr. Spyridon Troyanos of Athens, a leading figure in the field of Orthodox Canon Law. The first report was by the Professor of Canon Law from the University of Athens and the General Counsel of the Synod of the Church of Greece, Dr. Irine Christinaki, who organized the last congress in Athens. She has worked hard to organize this congress together with Fr. George Gallaro. Her presentation focused on the recently enacted statute for the stavropegic monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos. It is interesting to note that the abbot of the monastery holds the title of Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch and that the monastery is governed by a board of the elders and that the chapter on the property holdings is the most extensive one .

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There was an interestingly critical aspect in the report of the Melkite Chorbishop John Faris (Utica, New York ) on the limits of the authority of the clergy of his church. The author noted that the oppression to Melkites from the Latin Rite until the mid-twentieth century.

This was followed by my report on the Current Laws of the Russian Orthodox Church. The report described the authoritative regulations: the Scriptures, the Byzantine canons, Kormchii and regulations of the Synodal period, as well as the legislative and executive authorities. Special attention was given to the importance of the legacy of the Council of 1917-18,  which is now, after the fall of communism, intensely studied within the Inter-Council Presence.

On Wednesday evening, the participants visited the Cathedral of Bari, near the Saint Nicholas basilica. The cathedral was built in the 12th-13th centuries. In the crypt are preserved the remains of an ancient Christian baptistery. Here are incorruptible relics of the holy martyr Colomba, who suffered in the third century, and also the Byzantine icon of Hodigitria of the seventh century.

On Thursday morning I was honored to assist the Archpriest Andrew Boitsov during the  Liturgy in the basilica, on the relics of St. Nicholas. There were clergy and pilgrims from many places including Kazan, Bryansk, Novosibirsk and the Kiev Caves Lavra.

From the papers read that day at the conference, I would like to single out the report of the Greek-Catholic priest Dr. Paul Luniv, from US dedicated to the canon law of his church. Greek Catholics in Ukraine, in response to years of oppression during the Soviet regime, now try to preserve their identity by highlighting various Western practices which, after the Second Vatican Council, are not observed even by the Latin Rite Catholics.

Emanuel Tavala, of the Faculty of Law of the University of Sibiu in Romania, dedicated his paper to topical legal issues of the Statute of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He mentioned  as a problem the vulnerability of clergy to oppression by bishops.

The report of another Romanian academic, Dr. Radu Carp was devoted to the breach by European states of freedom of religion  (considering cases of inter-church conflicts in Moldova, Ukraine and Latvia). Interestingly, the the secular court considering such conflicts has been taking into account the position of canon law.

Dr. Julian Constantinescu, University of Craiova, speaking on Friday morning, dedicated his presentation to the recent sad phenomenon, called a trade union of clergy of the Romanian Church.

Then followed the presentation of the doctoral projects: David Heith-Stade (University of Lund, Sweden) considered the Pedalion by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain as an example of Greek canon law of the 18th century; Elena Giannakopoulou from Athens University explored the apparent contradiction between Canon 19 of the Council of Ancyra and 60th of St. Basil the Great (about monasticism); Elisey Heikkilä, University of Helsinki, on decisions on marriage law at the Russian Council of 1917-18; Patrizia Piccolo (University of Aldo Moro, Bari ) on Byzantine legal effects in Puglia. After that, in place of the late Greek canonist Constantine Pitsakis, the titular bishop of the Patriarchate of Constantinople Cyril (Dr. Katerelos) of Abydos was chosen as the new president of the Society.

At half past four in the evening all the participants gathered at the basilica of St. Nicholas. Director of the St. Nicholas Research Center, Dominican Gerardo Choffari demonstrated a good command of Russian. He told us that the transfer of the relics of St. Nicholas, in comparison with other saints, has remained the most well-documented one. The names of those who stole the relics from Myrra is still commemorated as heroes on the day of the translation of the relics of the saint. At the high place in the basilica is the image is St. Nicholas donated by the 14th century Serbian king Uros of Decani. Every year on the day of translation of the relics the Prior of the basilica collects the myrth from the relics, which is then diluted with holy water in the tank and then distributed the pilgrims. In the basilica there is a museum, where are displayed the collected donations from pilgrims to St. Nicholas. Padre Gerardo said that now more pilgrims from Russia come to St. Nicholas than from Italy: “We do not worship St. Nicholas, but he is a road which leads to Christ.” After a visit to the basilica came the final speech of Dr. Raffaele Koppolla, professor of church law at Bari University, which highlighted the themes of the conference and their implications for the study of canon law. Then the Dominican community that ministers to the basilica held a farewell reception in the house. From its flat roof could be seen the courtyard of the basilica, which after the departure of the pilgrims, local children used for their games.

It was pleasant to meet personally with K.A.Maksimovich, professor of canon law from St. Tikhon’s University for the Hummanities, the only expert in canon law who had come from Russia, and once again to meet Dr. Elajah Patsavos, who for many years taught canon law at the Greek Holy Cross seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, and whose books we use in teaching law in the Holy Trinity Seminary.

Munich-2

At noon on Saturday I arrived in Munich and went in search of relics of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, whose heads are in the Michael’s church in the center of the city. Bayern again demonstrated its conservative aspect – on the eve of Oktoberest (September 21 – October 16 ), people were dressed in the Bavarian national dress. Apparently there is a demand for such costumes, since the large windows of shops display various types of these garments. I did not manage to find the relics of the saints and rushed to the all night Vigil in the cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors (which has a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Nicholas). I arrived in Munich for the first time when I was 21 and I have a lot of memories associated with the place. And most importantly my wife Masha is also from that parish. So I was glad to have served as a deacon there.

Frankfurt am Main

On Monday morning, with Archpriest Fr. Nikolai Artemov I visited the grave of the New Martyr Alexander Schmorell, after whom our youngest son is named, and also St. Elisabeth’s convent in Buchendorf, and at two o’clock I flew to Frankfurt. When I was buying a ticket, I intended to meet  there with Jorge Rudniev, who lived in Bishop Leontii’s monastery in Paraguay in the late 1940s. His name was Hierodeacon Cornelius at that time. On July 13 he died, but I still had a stopover in Frankfurt. Andrei Romanovich Redlich put me for the night in a former office of Russian Solidarists and the publishing house Posev. My first and only visit to Posev was in the  summer of 1990, together with Fr. Nikolai Artemov and Hieromonk Filaret from Russia. At that time there worked as an editor and proofreader Fr. Nicholai’s mother – Anastasia Nikolaevna. Later when I was an editor of Pravoslavnaia Rus, she consulted me. The Posev magazine is now being edited and published in Russia. The building is rented as offices and part of the premises is occupied by the “Posev”, the Society for German- Russian understanding. The books in the library demonstrated the intense life of seventy years of Russian ideological immigration. With the fall of the communist regime this life began to gradually fade away. The last event which united all the Russian diaspora was the celebration of the millennium of Christianity in Russia. The existence of communism in Russia has also given our Russian Church Abroad a special role and a meaning and place in the Orthodox world. Who are we now? What is our identity? How are we going to give an answer to the challenges of the modern world? It seems to me that to answer these questions we now need an All-Diaspora Council even more than prior to our rapprochement with Moscow Patriarchate.

Conclusion

Some of the topics discussed at the conference could be easily characterized as showing a renovationist spirit and thus to be ignored along with the problems which gave rise to them. However, this does not solve problems, but will only aggravate them. No wonder the leaders of the Russian renovationist schism, for all their lack of principles, took advantage of  the real problems affecting the Russian Church. Participation in such conferences helps to see the inherent problems appearing in the various churches and thus give additional perspective to understand the processes that are taking place in our Church.

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