Articles Canon Law Deacon Andrei Psarev Moscow Patriarchate

The Current Law of the Russian Orthodox Church

Members of the The General Ecclesiastical Court of the Russian Orthodox Church during their work. Photo:

An outline of legislation of the Russian Orthodox Church including that pertaining to the ROCOR.

Paper delivered at the 21st Congress of the Society for the Study of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches in University of Bari Aldo Moro, Bari Itlay, Sep. 2013. Published in the yearbook of the society, Kanon 23 (Roman Kovar Verlag: Hennef, 2014). In this paper, I will review the authoritative sources, bi-laws, and institutions, which are currently guiding the life of the Russian Church.

I. Sources

1. Old Testament

The Holy Scriptures are at the heart of the Russian ecclesiastical law. Besides Decalogue 1, a very few elements of Mosaic law are used, in addition to the Decalogue (Exodus 19:10-25), as for instance certain passages related to ritual uncleanness (Leviticus 15:3) 2. Church courts take into account a requirement of having two or three witnesses in order for an accusation to be reviewed 3. Traces of some moral maxims can be found as for instance followed regarding punishments, “affliction shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9) 4.

2. New Testament

All the words of the Savior, all the words of the Apostles are the foundation for all church laws. Such words supersede canons in their authority. They could be taken instance by instance out of the Holy Scripture, employed as canons and set apart in the same fashion as canons are arranged in canonical collections.

3. Byzantine law

The so-called Nomokanon of Patriarch Photios contains canonical material approved by Council in Trullo (691). In its second canon this council listed the following canons as mandatory for the whole Orthodox Church: The Canons of the Apostles; the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils 5; the Canons of significant Local Councils 6; Major Canons of the Holy Fathers 7. In 883 under St. Patriarch Photios, these canons were expanded with the edicts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), and also of the 861 and 879 Synods of Constantinople, and along with the Epistle of St. Tarasios (d. 806) 8.  These canons became part of Nomokanon of 14 Titles and they later came to be, by general consensus, accepted as the core canonical corpus of the Orthodox Church 9.

According to the first canon of the Council of Chalcedon (451), it is imperative that the entire Orthodox Church obey all previously formulated canons 10. Fidelity to the canons was once more confirmed by the first canon of the Council of Nicea II (787) 11. At the time of his consecration, a bishop solemnly declares his allegiance to the holy canons (Council of Nicea II, Canon 2 12). The canons do not act by themselves, but they serve the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church as authoritative guidelines in adjudicating specific cases.

4. Old Russian and Synodal Period

In the ninth century St. Methodios of Macedonia translated the Synagoge in 50 Titles of John Scholastikos and some texts from the Ecloga of Constantine V 13, from Greek into Slavonic. In the Slavic lands this collection was known as Kormchaia. The best example of this collection is Efremovskaia Kormchaia (12 c.). Various texts, including Russian ones, were added. In 1272 the Council of Vladimir approved Kormchaia, associated with the name of St. Savva Archbishop of Serbia for use in the Russian Church 14. It was copied many times, and the first printed edition was republished five times before 1839.

In 1721 the Patriarchate was abolished and a new form of the governance was introduced in the Russian Church. The Most Holy Governing Synod was a state agency accountable to  the emperor who,  as in European Protestant states, became a head of the church 15. Some canons from this period lasted until 1917 are still used. For instance, regarding marriage: the decision of 1810 does not recognize any spiritual relations between male and female sponsors of a child 16. According to the same decree of 1810 marriages between relative are banned up to and including the fifth-degree of consanguinity 17.

In 1839 a committee under the supervision of St. Filaret Drozdov published Kniga Pravil, which is the main canonical collection of the Russian Church 18. Unlike the Kormchaia, the Kniga Pravil contains only canons taken from Nomokanon in 14 Titles, though no imperial edicts are included. The Kniga Pravil reflects the influence of the Pedalion of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 19. Although the Kormchaia has never been formally abolished, in fact it was replaced by the Kniga Pravil.

5. All-Russian Local Council of 1917-1918

On March 2, 1917, Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne. The Provisional Government facilitated the convocation of an All-Russian Local Council in August 1917. This was a very productive and inspiring event, since no councils had taken place during the Synodal period (1721-1917). 20 This council set a goal to harmonize Tradition with the emergent reality of the separation of church and state 21. The council could not function normally under circumstances of Civil War. It finished its work on September 20 of 1918 22. Only now, after the collapse of the communist regime, the Russian Church has returned to the analysis of the church matters reviewed by the council of 1917-1918 23.

The main decision of the council was the restoration of the Patriarchate. Besides the bishops, the council consisted of representatives from the clergy, monastics, parishes and dioceses 24. The council established three high church authorities to operate in the period between councils: the Patriarch, Holy Synod, and the Supreme Church Council 25.

The decisions of the council impacted existing structures of the Russian Church on the levels of metropolitan districts, diocesan and parish councils, diocesan courts. The council adopted a list of reasons justifying the granting of ecclesiastical divorce 26.

6. Pan-diaspora Councils

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as a self-governing part of the Russian Church, also in some case employs a Pan-diaspora Council composed of representatives of the monks and bishops, clergy and laity, after the manner of the composition of the council of 1917-18 27.  For instance, such a pan-diaspora council in 2006 reviewed the proposal of the restoration of ecclesiastical communion between the church in Russia and the diaspora.

7. Statutes

Statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church have been adopted at the Local Council of 1945, the Bishop Council of 1961 and the Local Council of 1988 28. The latter statute survived until the Bishop Council of 2000.  From here on I will be citing extensively from the Revised Statutes adopted at the 2013 Bishops’ Council 29 (This is the latest version of the Statute that incorporates versions of 2000 and 2009).

II. Institutions

1. Local Council

The idea of such a council was introduced by 1917-18 council. The council, composed of bishops, clergy members, monastics and laity, addresses issues surrounding the election and retirement of the Patriarch of Moscow, and provides autocephaly and autonomy to the parts of the Russian Church. The word “local” in this context is opposed to “universal”, as in the “Universal Orthodox Church”. Thus “local” means “belonging to the Russian Church as such”.

The Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church is summoned by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church 30. The latter can also set the agenda of the Local Council, for example to develop and express the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on vital issues such as the relationship between the Church and the state or society.

2. Bishop Council

If the Local Council is the highest authority in matters of election of Patriarch, the Bishop Council, according to the Revised Statute of 2013, is the highest authority “in doctrinal, canonical, liturgical, pastoral, administrative and other matters related to both internal and external Church life, in the maintenance of fraternal relations with other Orthodox Churches, in determining the nature of the relationship with non-Orthodox denominations and non-Christian religious communities, as well as with states and with secular society”  31.

The Bishop Council is the supreme supervisory authority of the ROC. On it depends whether the Local Council shall assemble or not. The only exceptions to this rule is the question of the election and dismissal of the Patriarch, and the provision of various forms of independence to the parts of the Russian Church. These issues are decided by the Local Council. All the following aspects of church life are controlled by the Bishop Council:

“a) the preservation of the purity and integrity of the Orthodox Faith and the norms of Christian morality, and the interpretation of the doctrine on the basis of Scripture and Sacred Tradition, while maintaining doctrinal and canonical unity with the fullness of the Universal Orthodoxy;

b) maintenance of the dogmatic and canonical unity of the Russian Orthodox Church;

c) the adoption of the Statute the Russian Orthodox Church and the introduction of amendments and additions;

d) resolution of fundamental theological, canonical, liturgical and pastoral issues related both to internal and external activities of the Church;

e) the canonization of saints;

f) the competent interpretation of the holy canons and other church regulations;

g) the expression of pastoral concern for the problems of the present;

h) determination of the nature of the relationship with state institutions;

i) submission to the Local Council proposals for the creation, reorganization and abolition of autonomous and self-governing Churches;

j) Approval of the Holy Synod on the establishment, reorganization and abolition of exarchates, the metropolitan districts, metropolitanates and dioceses, the definition of their boundaries and names, as well as the approval of the Synods of self-governing Churches on the establishment, reorganization and abolition of metropolitan sees and dioceses;

k) Approval of the Holy Synod on the establishment, reorganization and abolition of synodal institutions and other bodies of church government;

l) in anticipation of the Local Council – propose regulations regarding the meeting programs, agendas and composition of the Local Council;

m) to monitor the implementation of the decisions of the Local and Bishop Council;

n) discussion of the activity of the Holy Synod, the Supreme Church Council and Synod agencies;

o) approval, cancellation and changes to the legislative acts of the Holy Synod;

p) the establishment of procedures for all ecclesiastical courts;

q) review of reports on financial matters of the Holy Synod, and the approval of the principles of planning of the upcoming church-wide revenues and expenses;

r) approval of new church-wide awards” 32.

The Bishop Council is the highest court for all bishops of the ROC. All bishops are obliged to take part in it. Decisions are taken by open or secret ballot.

3. Patriarch

According to the Revised Statute adopted by the Bishop Council in 2013 His Holiness Patriarch is elected by the Local Council, but he is accountable both to the Local and Bishop Council 33. The Patriarch is responsible for implementing the decisions of the Local Councils and the Synods of Bishops, and to communicate with members of other local churches on behalf of the ROC. The Patriarch may suspend the decisions of Holy Synod.

4. The Holy Synod

According to the 2013 Revised Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church are to direct church life during the period between councils. The Synod consists of nine regular members and five non-permanent members. Permanent members of the Synod are the Metropolitans of Kiev and All Ukraine, St Petersburg and Ladoga, Krutitsy and Kolomna, Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Chisinau and All Moldova, Astana and Kazakhstan, the head of the Metropolitan District of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Tashkent and Uzbekistan, the head of the Central Asian Metropolitan District, ex officio – Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations and the Chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate 34.

All dioceses are divided into groups and members are invited to attend the sessions as temporary members in order of seniority. Two sessions are held each year, one in summer and one in winter. Cases are resolved by a general vote. The jurisdictional duties of the Holy Synod are

“a) to care for the sound preservation and interpretation of the Orthodox faith and the norms of Christian morality and piety;

b) to serve the internal unity of the Russian Orthodox Church;

c) to maintain unity with the other Orthodox Churches;

d) the organization of internal and external activities of the Church and the solution of the matters of church-wide significance;

e) to interpret the canonical decisions and the resolution of difficulties associated with their use;

e) the regulation of liturgical matters;

f) the issue of disciplinary regulations relating to the clergy, religious and church workers;

g) to evaluate the most important events in the field of interfaith, and inter-religious relations;

h) to maintain inter-religious relations, both on the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate and beyond;

i) to coordinate the actions of the entire Russian Orthodox Church in its efforts to achieve peace and justice;

j) the expression of pastoral concern for social problems;

k) to address special epistles to all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church;

l) to maintain proper relations between the church and the state in accordance with the Charter and applicable law;

m) the approval of the statutes for the autonomous Churches and the metropolitan districts;

n) to adopt the civil statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church and its canonical units, as well as making amendments and additions;

o) to review of the journals of Synods’ Exarchates, the Metropolitan District;

p) issues related to the establishment or dissolution of the units accountable to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church subject to approval by the Bishop Council;

q) to establish procedures for the possession, use and disposal of the buildings and property of the Russian Orthodox Church;

r) to approve the decisions of the General Ecclesiastical Court in the cases stipulated by the Regulations of the ecclesiastical courts” 35.

The Synod appoints bishops, leaders of spiritual schools, abbots, inspects the activities of bishops, approves the budget of the ROC. The Synod can create preparatory Commissions and prepare for the Bishop Council cases relating to

“a) the decision of the important theological issues relating to internal and external activities of the Church;

b) the preservation of the text of the Holy Scriptures, its translation and publication;

c) the preservation of the texts of the liturgical books, its correction, editing and publishing;

d) the canonization of saints;

e) the publication of collections of the holy canons, textbooks and teaching aids for religious schools, theological literature, periodicals and other official editions of the required books;

f) the improvement of theological, spiritual and moral training of clergy and the activities of religious schools;

g) mission, catechesis and religious education;

h) the state of spiritual enlightenment;

i)  the monasteries and monks;

j)  works of mercy and charity;

k) the proper state of church architecture, icon painting, singing and applied arts;

l) church monuments and antiquities in the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church;

m) the production of church vessels, candles, vestments and all that is needed to maintain the liturgical tradition, beauty and good in the temples;

n) the pensions for clergy and church workers;

o) the solution of economic problems” 36.

The Synod of Bishops makes sure that “the actions of all organs of ecclesiastical authority in the dioceses, deaneries and parishes meet regulations of the law” 37. The Synod of Bishops has the right to dispose of the property of the ROC. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is the manager of the funds of the Synod.

5. The Supreme Church Council

The third All-Russian authority established by the Local Council of 1917-18 is the Supreme Church Council. The Supreme Church Council performs an advisory role for the Synod of Bishops. Officially it is the lowest of the executive authorities, following the Bishop Council and Synod. His Holiness the Patriarch is the Chairman. The Supreme Church Council consists of the chairmen of the following divisions of the Holy Synod:

“a) the Administrative Department, acting as part of the Moscow Patriarchate on the Rights of the Synodal institutions;

b) the Department for External Church Relations;

c) the Publications Board;

d) the Education Committee;

e) Financial and economic management;

f) Division of monasteries and monastic life;

g) The Department of Religious Education and catechesis;

h) The Department for Church Charity and Social Service;

i) The Department for Mission;

j) The Department for Relations with the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies;

k) The Department of Youth Affairs;

l) Department for Church and Society;

m) Information Division;

n) Department of the prison service;

o) The Committee for Cooperation with the Cossacks;

p) the Patriarchal Council for Culture” 38.

The Supreme Church Council is a major decision-making body of the Russian Church. For instance, the Supreme Church Council and not the Synod made a comment on behalf of the Russian Church regarding the “Pussy Riot” incident 39. The journals of the meetings of Supreme Church Council are not available to the public. According to information provided to me by an anonymous expert from the Moscow Patriarchate, the members of the council have access only to the information relevant to their particular assignment.

6. Inter-Conciliar Assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church

This is another interesting establishment inspired by the all-Russian local council of 1917-18. It may include bishops, clergy, monks and lay people. Currently this body effectively uses the internet to gather opinions on various documents. For example the Regulation of the Monasteries and Monastics evoked over 1000 online comments 40. The Inter-Conciliar Assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church consists of the following committees 41: Theological Committee; On Church Administration and on How to Apply the principle of Collegiality (conciliarity) in Church Life; On Church Law;  On Issues of Liturgical Life and Church Art;  On Issues of Parish Life and Practical Parish Issues; On Church Mission; On Ecclesiastical Schools and Religious Education; On Social Activity and Charity;  On Coordination among Church, State and Society; On How to Overcome Church Schisms; On Relation with non-Orthodox Christians and Other Religions; On Church Activity regarding Mass Media 42.

All these committees draft documents for discussion at Bishop Councils. The committees include both male and female representatives of the Russian Church. So far the experience with the documents has been mixed. The already mentioned discussion on the monasteries and monastics and on the liturgical language produced two opposing trends that were difficult to harmonize 43. As a result the drafts of those two documents were sent back by the bishops for further clarification 44.

7. Church Court

The Revised Statute of 2013 contains a section on ecclesiastical courts 45

“a) Diocesan Court, which is the court of first instance for the clergy of the diocese (emphasis mine A.P.) The Diocesan Bishop appoints the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of the court. Diocesan Assembly elects at least two members of the court. All members of the Court shall be elected for three years. The diocesan bishop must approve all decisions of the court.

b) The General Ecclesiastical Court is the court of the second instance. It considers the cases of bishops and leaders of Synodal institutions. It controls the arbitrariness of the diocesan trials. This General Ecclesiastical Court is part of the administration of Moscow Patriarchate and not and an independent body.

c) The third and final authority is the Court of the Bishop Council. The Patriarch is exclusively accountable to this court”.

III. Current structures

1. Autonomous Churches

The Japanese and the Chinese Orthodox Churches are autonomous. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-governing church with a large degree of autonomy. According to the Statute of the ROC “the council of the autonomous church adopts the Statute regulating the management of the Church on the basis and within the limits provided by the Patriarchal tomos. The project of the statute of the autonomous church is subject of the written approval by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia” 46.

2. Self-governing Churches and Exarchates

These have their own internal statutes and enjoy greater independence than metropolitan districts. These include under the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church 47

All of these churches have their own internal laws governing their lives in addition to the present Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Belarusian Orthodox Church is an exarchate and has its own charter. The Statute states that exarchates are created on a  “national-regional basis”. This raises a question obeying a canonical principle of diocesan organization based on geographical principle 48.

3. Metropolitan Districts

This is another form of independence proposed by the Council 1917-18. According to the Revised Statute of 2013, a group of dioceses together forms a metropolitan district 49 with its synod, and the statute. These include the Metropolitan District of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Central Asian Metropolitan District. Apparently a metropolitan district is a step on the way to a self-governing church. (In fact I do not see any differences between self-governing churches and Metropolitan Districts.)

4. Metropolitanates

According to the Revised Statute of 2013 50 two and more dioceses of the ROC can be combined into a metropolitanate. They hold a Bishop Conference no less than twice a year. Metropolitanates don’t have their own exclusive legislation.

5. Diocese

The Diocesan Bishop:

“[…] с) is responsible for the implementation of the provisions of this Statute, […] f) approves civil by laws of parishes, monasteries and other institutions in his diocese, […] j) presents the candidates for the position of parish rectors, […] m) approves the members of parish councils” 51.

He also “has the right to temporarily excommunicate a lay person” and he “regulates matters of divorce” 52.

6. Vicariates

Vicar bishops are subject to the diocesan bishop whose authority is defined by the ruling bishop. A suffragan bishop has authority to summon the conference of the diocese, whose decision is subject to the approval of the diocesan bishop 53.

7. Diocesan Assembly

The Diocesan assembly is the governing body of the diocese, which

“a) elects delegates to the Local Council;

b) elects the members of the Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Court;

c) establishes the necessary diocesan institutions and cares for their financial security;

d) develops diocesan rules and regulations in accordance with the conciliar decrees and decisions of the Holy Synod;

e) supervises the course of diocesan life;

f) hears reports on the state of the diocese, on the work of the diocesan institutions, the life of the monasteries and other canonical units belonging to the diocese, and make decisions on them” 54.

The diocesan council is elected by diocesan assemblies and is therefore accountable to the Diocesan Assembly. Like the Holy Synod in the period between the councils, the Diocesan Council oversees the implementation of the decisions of the diocesan assemblies and determines the boundaries of the deaneries. In addition to the Diocesan Council under the direct leadership of the diocesan bishop is a diocesan administration.

The Moscow Patriarchate has an Analytical and Controlling Unit that has the task of ensuring the implementation of the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church and other guiding documents in the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church 55.

8. Deanery

The Dean is the “eyes of a bishop” in relation to various aspects of a life of a group of parishes in one area of the diocese. For example, at the direction of the diocesan bishop the dean might conduct a preliminary investigation of offenses and give the bishop recommendations regarding candidates to fill vacancies. The dean may attend parish meetings and convene meetings of the deanery 56.

9. Parishes

According to the Revised Statute of  2013

“1. The Parish is a community of Orthodox Christians, consisting of clergy and laity, united around the church. The parish is a canonical unit of the Russian Orthodox Church, under the authoritative supervision of their diocesan bishop and under the guidance of the priest appointed by that bishop.

2. The parish is formed by the voluntary agreement of the Orthodox citizens who have reached the legal age with the blessing of the diocesan bishop. To obtain the status of a legal entity registered by the arrival of state bodies in accordance with the legislation of the country where the parish is located. The boundaries are set by diocesan parish council […] Managing of the parish is exercised by the diocesan bishop, the rector, the parish assembly, the parish council, the chairman of the parish council” 57.

The governing body of the parish is the Annual Parish Assembly, the duties of which include

“a) maintaining the internal unity of the parish and the promoting its spiritual and moral development;

b) the adoption of the Charter of the civil parish, amendments thereto, which shall be approved by the diocesan bishop and shall enter into force on the date of state registration;

c) the adoption and exclusion of members of the parish council;

d) election of the parish council and the audit committee;

e) planning of financial and business activities of the parish;

f) ensuring the safety of church property and seeing to its increase;

g) the adoption of spending plans, including the size of deductions for charitable, religious and educational purposes, and their submission for approval by the diocesan bishop;

h) the approval of the plans and review of construction documents for the construction and repair of church buildings;

i) to review and the approval of the diocesan bishop of the financial and other records of the parish council and the reports of the Audit Committee;

j) approval of the staffing and determination of the members of the clergy and the parish council;

k) to determine the disposition of property coming to the conditions defined in this Statute, the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church (civil), the Charter of the diocese, the parish charter and applicable laws;

i) taking care of everything you need for worship according to the Orthodox standards (canons);

m) concern about the state of church music;

n) commencement of petitions before the parish and diocesan bishop and also the civil power;

o) review complaints against members of the parish council, the Audit Commission and present them to the diocesan administration” 58.

Just as the synod for the entire church and the diocesan council for the diocese, a parish council is the executive body of the parish between meetings of parish assembly and solves everyday problems of the parish. Brotherhood and sisterhood with the existing parishes, lose the registration in the event when they came from the jurisdiction of the ROC 59.

10. Monasteries

Monasteries are guided and live according to the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, civil statutes, Regulation of the Monasteries and Monastics and their own charters that must be approved by the diocesan bishop 60.

11. Religious Educational Institutions

These are subject  to the Education Committee of the Holy Synod. The Patriarch is the head of all educational institutions. Canonically local institutions are subject to the diocesan bishop in whose territory they are located 61. The question arises to what extent the educational institution of self-governing churches is a subject of the Education Committee of the ROC, e.g., Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

12. Property and Financial Security

The means for the existence of the Russian Orthodox Church come from donations, contributions from business profits (e.g., manufactures of church items), from “from securities and deposits, deposit accounts” 62, as well as from contributions from dioceses, monasteries, parishes of Moscow. The administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate is the Patriarch. Foreign institutions of Moscow Patriarchate may receive subsidies from the general church funds. The chairman of the parish council, abbot or the rector are managers of the funds 63.

IV. Recent Documents on Church and Society issues

1. The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church

The Bishop Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 adopted a unique document: The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church 64. This a unique  document is of general interest since it is an attempt to express the orthodox philosophy on the list of topical issues: Church and nation; Church and state; Christian ethics and secular law; Church and politics; Labor and its fruits; Property; War and peace; Crime, punishment, reformation; Personal, family and public morality; Personal and national health; Problems of bioethics; The Church and ecological problems; Secular science, culture and education; Church and mass media; International relation. Problems of the globalisation and secularism.

It contains an important analysis taken form the history of the Soviet period. This analysis helped to achieve the union of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Church Abroad:
“III.5. If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatize from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state. The Christian, following the will of his conscience, can refuse to fulfill the commands of state forcing him into a grave sin. If the Church and her holy authorities find it impossible to obey state laws and orders, after a due consideration of the problem, they may take the following actions: enter into direct dialogue with authority on the problem, call upon the people to use the democratic mechanisms to change the legislation or review the authority’s decision, apply to international bodies and the world public opinion and appeal to her faithful for peaceful civil disobedience” 65.

The document calls the bishops to defend social justice before the government:

“III.8. Among the traditional areas of the social efforts of the Orthodox Church is intercession with the government for the needs of the people, the rights and concerns of individual citizens or social groups. This intercession is a duty of the Church, realized through verbal or written interventions by appropriate church bodies with the governmental bodies of various branches and levels” 66.

The document confirms the prohibition of the clergy to be members of political organizations, to participate in the election campaign, to hold public office. It is important that Bases of Social Concept qualifies civil marriages (i.e., those that only have legal registrations, but not church sanctifications) as valid 67.

2. Regarding Foreign Missions of the Russian Church

On July 16, 2013 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a document under this title in which the Russian Church is expressing commitment to dialogue with other religions:

“The current understanding of the mission is based on a culture of dialogue. Recognition of the principle of freedom of religious choice suggests that for the representatives of other religions, the basic form of the witness must be a dialogue. Russian Orthodox Church is involved in interreligious dialogue in different forms and at different levels, marking and defending their positions on matters of public concern, such as the moral norms and values, peaceful coexistence, justice, respect for human dignity, the protection of the environment, bioethics, human rights and etc. The Orthodox Church, according to its own doctrinal and canonical principles, assesses the system of beliefs and religious practices of other religions. In relation to people who are followers of these religions and secular ideologies, its position is a position of respect and love” 68.

The document also refers to the need for clarification for those of non-Orthodox who are interested in the history of the Orthodox Church.

V. Conclusion

The Bishop Council and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in their decision making are guided by Holy Scriptures, Nomocanon of Patriarch Photios, and some norms of synodal period. The All-Russian Local Council of 1917-18 is of utmost importance and its legacy is studied and implemented. The introduction of powerful Supreme Church Council is a good example of this. There is no official codex of legally binding church law documents.  On November 21, 2012 the committee on church law of Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church under the chairmanship of Patriarch Kirill adopted a decision to codify the sources of canon law for the Russian Church 69.

In addition to the Revised Statute of 2013 there are also local church legislations maintained by self-governing and autonomous churches. The question is how to apply the provisions of the Statute of 2013 where, as for example in the ROCOR, there is a local law governing the life of the dioceses and parishes.

It seems that the Synod is mainly occupied with practical issues, whereas the Supreme Church Council is a policy making think-tank.  I wonder if, in real life, the Supreme Church Council has higher status than the Synod.

Priest Paul Adelgeim analyzing the Statute the ROC (2009) indicates that in the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church not all parishioners are registered 70. Father Paul draws attention to the possibility of arbitrary action by the bishop who may dismiss all parish council 71(2009 Statute. Charter 7.3.). The bishop is accountable for the property (Statuted Charter 11.7.). Father Paul interprets the situation thus: “The highest ecclesiastical authority does not control the diocesan bishop. The parish does not have the right to appeal the sentence and even tyranny of the bishop” 72. It is difficult to judge the validity of this statement. There is the paragraph 31.e in the Chapter on the Holy Synod in the Revised Statute 2013 that states that the Synod oversees implementation of the Statute 73, but many Russian clergy would probably agree with Fr. Paul’s assessments.

The Ecclesiastical Court begins its work. On June 26, 2013 General Ecclesiastical Court issued its opinion on a number of canonical sanctions imposed by the diocesan courts on clergy of various dioceses. In three of the cases examined, the General Church Court corrected local decisions 74.

Hopefully, the General Ecclesiastical Court could also protect a plaintiff if a local bishop is part of a disputed situation. How could a diocesan bishop try a case where he himself might be the defendant? So far there are no clear criteria to decide in what cases diocesan courts should not try a case of a diocesan clergyman.  At the moment, the General Ecclesiastical Court may decide to review such a case 75, but nor are there any clear criteria to decide in what instances they may.

There is also Analytical and Controlling Unit of the Moscow Patriarchate headed by a French-born Archimandrite Savva (Tutunov). This role of this department to serve as ombudsman for the entire Russian Church.

So, the question of the extent to which the Russian Church applies her ancient and modern statutory provisions in contemporary life remains open.


  1. Exodus 20:2-27
  2. Canon 2 of St. Dionisios of Alexandrei: Engl. transl. in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [NPNF], 2nd Series vol. 14, Grand Rapids MI 1979, 600.
  3. Deuteronomy 19:15; Tim. 1, 5:19. Cf. Apostolic Canon 75: NPNF 14, 599.
  4. Apostolic Canon 25: NPNF 14, 595.
  5. Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451).
  6. Ancyra (314), Neo Caesarea (c.314), Gangra (c.340), Antioch (c.330), Laodicea (between 342 and 381), Sardica (343), Carthage (419), Constantinople (394).
  7. St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), St. Dionysios of Alexandria (d. 265), St. Gregory of Neocaesarea (d. 270), St. Peter of Alexandria (d. 311), St. Athanasios of Alexandria (d. 373), St. Basil of Caesarea (d. 379), St. Gregory of Nazianzen (d. 390), St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), St. Amphilochios of Ikonion (d. after 394), Timothy of Alexandria (d. 385), Theophilos of Alexandria (d. 412), St. Cyrill of Alexandria (d. 444) and Gennadios of Constantinople (d. 471). Cf. G. Nedungatt – M. Featherstone (ed.), The Council in Trullo Revisited (Kanonika 6), Rome 1995, 64-69. – All groups of canons mentioned here are studied in W. Hartmann – K. Pennington (ed.), The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500, Washington, DC 2012.
  8. J. A. McGuckin, The Ascent of Christian Law, Yonkers, NY 2012, 260.
  9. Ibid., 261.
  10. NPNF 14, 268.
  11. NPNF 14, 555.
  12. NPNF 14, 556.
  13. Zakon Sudnyi Liudiam (The Penal Code for Laymen). Cf. I. Zuzek, Kormcaja Kniga (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 168), Rome 1964, 18; 20.
  14. Ibid., 35.
  15. M. Szeftel, Church and State in Imperial Russia, in: R. L. Nichols – Th. Stavrou (ed.), Russian Orthodoxy under the Old Regime, Minneapolis 1978, 131.
  16. A. Smirensky, Matrimonial legislation in imperial Russia, 1700-1918 (M.Th. thesis. St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), Yonkers, NY 1995, 5. Cf. Trullo, Canon 54.
  17. V. Tsypin, Tserkovnoe pravo, Мoscow 2009, 681.
  18. Zuzek, Kormcaja, 268-269.
  19. Ibidem, 269.
  20. During the Synodal period, a kind of collegiality was maintained by the rotation of the diocesan bishops who participated in the sessions of the Synod, but most of the laws were adopted at the direction of the imperial authority.
  21. I. Papkova, The Freezing of Historical Memory? The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church and the Council of 1917, in: M. D. Steinberg – C. Wanner (ed.), Religion, Morality, and Community in Post-Soviet Societies, Washington DC 2008, 59.
  22. D. Pospielovsky, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia, Yonkers, NY 1998, 206.
  23. See in documents adopted by Inter-Conciliar Assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Russian Orthodox Church. Межсоборное присутствие Русской Православной Церкви: [7. 2. 2014].

    The council had the following committees: 1) liturgical, 2) the supreme of church organization, 3) the diocesan administration, 4) of the ecclesiastical court, 5) improvement of the parish, 6) the legal status of the Church, 7) worship, evangelism and church art, 8) church discipline, 9) domestic and foreign missions, 10) edinoverchestva and Old Believers, 11) monasteries, 12) Theological Academy, 13) religious schools, 14) parochial schools, 15) teaching the law of God in secular schools, 16) church property and the economy; 17) the legal and financial status of the clergy, 18) relations with the Georgian Church, 19) publishing, 20) personnel of the Council. Deiania Sviashchennogo sobora Pravolslavnoi Rossiskoi Tserkvi 1.2., Moscow 1918, 143.

  24. Pospielovsky, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia, 203.
  25. Pospielovsky, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia, 205.
  26. E. V. Beliakova, Tserkovnyi sud i problemy tserkovnoi zhizni, Moscow 2004, 606-608.
  27. Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: Compendium of Regulations, Statutes and Laws of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, New York 2006, II.12, 47.
  28. Addenda were made in 1990.  
  29. Hereafter cited as “Revised Statute of 2013”. Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavanoi Tserkvi. Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’: Ofitsial’nyi Sait: [21. 8. 2013].
  30. II.2. “Pomestnyi Sobor”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013.
  31. III.1. “Arkhiereiskii Sobor”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  32. III.5. “Arkhiereiskii Sobor”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  33. IV.2 “Patriarkh”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  34. V.4 “Sviashchennyi Sinod”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  35. V.25. “Sviashchennyi Sinod”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [12. 8. 2013].
  36. V.28. “Sviashchennyi Sinod”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  37. V.31.e. “Sviashchennyi Sinod”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  38. VIII.6. “Vyshii Tserkovnyi Sovet”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [21. 8. 2013].
  39. Russian Orthodox Church Asks for Mercy for Pussy Riot, in: Ria Novostic: [18. 8. 2013].
  40. Proekt Polozhenie o monastyriakh i monashestvuiuschchikh: [18. 8. 2013].
  41. Cf. [18. 8. 2013].
  42. “Sostav komissii Mezhsobornogo prisutstviia”: Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’: Ofitsial’nyi Sait Moskovskogo Patriarkhata: [22. 8. 2013].
  43. The document was titled “On the Church Slavonic Language in the Life of the Russian Church” and the discussion was going around this language instead of discussing possibility to use other languages than the “sacred” ones.
  44. “Prezidum Mezhsobornogo prisutstvia vernul v profil’nuiu komissiiu proekt dokuemneta ‘O monastyriakh’”, in: Tserkovnyi vestnik: [21. 8. 2013].
  45. IX. “Tserkovnyi Sud”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  46. X. “Avtonomnye Tserkvi”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  47. XI “Samoupravliaemye tserkvi”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013]; “Ekzarkhaty”: [22. 8. 2013].
  48. Cf. exegesis on Apostolic Canon 34 by Tsypin, Tserkovnoe Pravo, 376-377.
  49. XIII. “Metropolich’ii okrug”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  50. XIV. “Mitropoliia”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  51. XV.1.18. “Eparkhii”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  52. XV.1.19. “Eparkhii”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  53. XV.2. “Eparkhii”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [8. 2. 2014].
  54. XV.3.38. “Eparkhii”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 2013].
  55. “Interv’iu rukovoditelia kontrol’no-analiticheskoi sluzhby Upravleniia delami Moskovskoi Patriarkhii igumena Savvy (Tutunova) gazete Izvestiia”: [19. 8. 2013].
  56. XV.63, 64. “Eparkhii”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  57. XVI. “Prikhody”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  58. XVI.4.43. “Prikhody”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  59. XVI.17. “Prikhody”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  60. XVII.8. “Monastyri”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  61. XVIII. “Dukhovnye uchebnyie zavedeniia”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  62. XX. “Imushchestva i sredstva”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  63. XX.22. “Imushchestva i sredstva”, Ustav Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi 2013: [22. 8. 2013].
  64. Cf. Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate: [22. 8. 2012].
  65. Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate: [August 22. 8. 2012].
  66. Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate: [August 22. 8. 2012]
  67. Personal, Family and Public Morality, X.2.: Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate: [22. 8. 2012].
  68. “O sovremennoi vneshnei missii Russkoi Pravoslvanoi Tserkvi”: [19. 8. 2013].
  69. “Prezidium Mezhsobornogo prisutstvia odobril spisok tem dlia izucheniia komissiami Prisutstviia v budushchem”: Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’: Ofitsial’nyi Sait Moskovoskogo Patriarkhata: [22. 8. 2013].
  70. I was writing these words on July 27, 2013. Fr. Paul was murdered on August 5.
  71. “Vstupil v silu novyi Ustav Prikhoda RPTs”: [23. 8. 2013].
  72. “Vstupil v silu novyi Ustav Prikhoda RPTs”: [23. 8. 2013].
  73. [23. 8. 2013].
  74. Priest John Sekirin has received back his right to wear ecclesiastical attire and receive Holy Communion by clerical right. Deacon Serge Krasnov instead of defrocking has been suspended for five years. Many proceedual irregularities were detected in the case of Priest Andrei Kleimenov. “Vipiski iz reshenii Obshchetserkovnogo suda ot 16 iunia 2013 g”: [23. 8. 2013].
  75. February 4, 2014. “Raz”iasnenie Obshchetesrkovnogo suda Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi o poridke podachi zaiavlenii i rassmotreniia del”: [9. 2. 2014].

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.