Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part V

Dear Readers:

Welcome back, as I continue translating this analysis of the new Ukrainian Autocephaly. Where we left off, we just finished the section on Holy Myrrh, and it turns out that the new Ukrainian Church, being led by a mere Metropolitan, cannot be trusted with preparing its own Myrrh.  Instead, they have to wait until Constantinople fries them up some up Myrrh and sends it by special courier.  After which the Ukrainian holy men can use this special oil in such ceremonies as baptism and christening.  In the Orthodox religion Myrrh is also used to consecrate new churches, when smeared on the walls and altars.  Orthodox Tsars also used to be anointed with Myrrh when they were coronated, the priests would just pour it right over his head, like Gatorade on a football coach.

Ivan the Terrible, however, preferred to be anointed with gold coins!

I pulled up this page on the Russian wiki with additional background information about this special substance.  Myrrh is a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora. Myrrh resin has been used throughout history as a perfume or medicine. Myrrh mixed with wine can also be ingested.  Myrrh is first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Genesis 37:25: “Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt.”  In Exodus 30:22 God lays out some ritual rules for Moses, which include the use of Myrrh as an oil for anointment.

Myrrh is mentioned many, many times in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, thus testifying to its importance.  In the Book of Esther (2:12), the young ladies who were picked as brides for the Persian King Ahasuerus, were sent to Beauty School, groomed and trained to make themselves sexy and aromatic: “Six months with oil of Myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics…”  At the end of this training period, they were ready for the Royal Casting Couch.  It’s good to be the King!

Queen Esther: was properly trained in the use of cosmetics, including Myrrh

Centuries later, when Jesus was born, the three Magi brought Myrrh to the Baby Shower – Matthew 2:11:  “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  Just like Anton Chekhov with his “rifle on the wall”, the mention of Myrrh in this early part of the Jesus story foreshadows the later, much sadder, denouement.  In Christian mythology Myrrh is a symbol of death, because this perfume was used (among other things) to prepare dead bodies and keep them fragrant until the time of the funeral.  When Jesus is up on the cross (Mark 15:23), a kindly centurion offers the suffering man a goblet of wine mixed with Myrrh; any normal person would accept this, because it helps ease the excruciating pain.  But Jesus refuses to drink it.  Maybe he is still resisting his inevitable death.  Later, after he dies, Myrrh is used to prepare his body for burial.  Traditionally, women get the credit for this, which totally makes sense, as it was woman’s job in those societies to prepare dead bodies for burial.  The group of women who brought the Myrrh were said to be:  Mary Magdalene; a different Mary, wife of Clopas; Joanna; Salome; and the sisters Mary and Martha (sisters of Lazarus).  However John 19:38 gives most of the credit to a man named Nicodemus: “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”  A hundred pounds of Myrrh and Aloe — that’s quite a lot!  Must have cost a small fortune.

Anyhow, it is now time to turn it back to Vladimir Burega, his next section is entitled



Internal Structure

Professor Vladimir Burega

As a rule, Tomi granting Autocephaly do not contain a detailed description of the internal structure of the newly-created Church.  It is merely indicated, that the Primate should govern the Church along with the Bishops who constitute the Synod.  In this regard the Tomos for the Autocephaly of the Czechoslovakian church (1998) was a notable exception.  In this case the internal structure and system of higher governance was described in great detail.

Similarly, the Tomos for the Ukrainian Autocephaly also puts a lot of emphasis on certain aspects of the structure of the new Church.  Here, for example, it is indicated, how the OCU Synod should be organized.  Its composition must include all the Bishops who have Eparchies within the borders of the Ukraine, in order of seniority.  It is especially stipulated, that the founding rules of the OCU must, in every way, correspond to the wording of the Tomos.

who ever tries to tell Ukrainians what to do…

This is not accidental.  There was a recent incident when the norms of the Tomos differed from the norms of the founding rules of the Autocephalic Church.  I am talking about the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia.  Its founding rules, adopted in 1992, differed substantially from what was laid out [later] in the Tomos, that was granted in 1998.  Having received the Tomos, the Church of Czech and Slovakia continued to live by its rules, established previously.  It was only in 2016 that the Constantinople Patriarch demanded, unambiguously, that these churches bring their rules into line with the Tomos.  As far as I know, this demand has, to this day, not been complied with.

It is perfectly obvious, that the Constantinople Patriarchate is attempting to prevent such conflicts in regard to the OCU.  [yalensis:  He is dealing with Ukrainians!  I pity the poor fool…]  Therefore the (Ukrainian) Tomos contains a rigid demand to comply with the provisions of the Tomos.  [Haha, lots of luck with that…]

[to be continued]

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Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Here we go again, as I continue my superb translation of this analysis by Professor Vladimir Burega of the Kiev Theological Academy!  Where we left off, we just finished the section on Church and State,   Burega makes a convincing case that the Autocephalic process in play here is not completely Bizarro-World, given the history of creating national churches in newly-independent nations.  On the other hand, this current Ukrainian Autocephaly is sort of a throwback to 19th-century nationalism.  That was also the era of the Great Game (in which Western powers attempted to shove Russia aside and seize chunks of Eurasia), so is not all that surprising that current Westies, using the Ukraine and the Ukrainian Diaspora as their clients, are back up to these time-worn but effective tricks!  And religion to them is just another arrow in the quiver.  I venture to guess that most of these politicians are no more able to spout their catechism than a hen can do card tricks.  Having got that off my chest, it is time to embark on the next section, which is entitled….



The Holy Myrrh

Professor Vladimir Burega

In practically all the Tomi granting Autocephaly, there is a clause about the requirement of the new church to receive the Holy Myrrh from the Constantinople Patriarch.  This rule demands a brief explanation.  The Holy Myrrh is a special substance which is used in the ceremony of the Anointing.  In Orthodox tradition the anointing (rubbing on the myrrh) is performed on a person directly after their baptism.  Through this anointing, the person is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, which allows them to participate fully in the life of the church.  Therefore, the ceremony of myrrh-anointing holds a very special significance for the Church.

The Holy Myrrh is blessed by the heads of the national churches.  However, not all Primates around today have the right to prepare and bless the myrrh.  This right is given only to the Patriarchs.  Hence, the heads of such (national, lower-ranking) churches such as Greece, Albania, Poland, or Czechoslovakia, must receive their Myrrh from Constantinople.  [yalensis:  ’cause these churches are further down in the pecking order and only have Metropolitans at their heads!]

Women started the tradition by bringing Myrrh to prepare the corpse of Jesus.

The (Ukrainian) Tomos from 5 January says that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) likewise must receive its Myrrh from the Constantinople Patriarch.  It is stated in the text of the Tomos that this is the symbol of the unity of the Church.

One must note, that the attempts of the Constantinople Patriarchs to retain for themselves the right to prepare the Holy Myrrh for the newly-created Autocephalic Churches, has engendered, from time to time, conflicts.  Young churches saw in this (custom) an attempt to limit their independence; and also Constantinople’s striving to maintain its dominance over them.  Therefore, for example in the 1880’s the Romanian Church entered into a fierce conflict with Constantinople, attempting to win the right to prepare its own Myrrh for its own needs.  And it succeeded in doing this.  In the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Romanian Church (1885) there is no clause requiring them to receive the Myrrh from Constantinople.  Nor did the Bulgarian Church (which got Tomos in 1945) have to submit to such a requirement.

[to be continued]

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Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part III

Dear Readers:

Welcome back once again, as I continue to plug through this analysis by Professor Vladimir Burega of the Kiev Theological Academy.  Where we left off, Burega was about to deal with the very thorny issue of the Church-State relationship.  Which, in the Ukrainian case, is sort of a joke anyhow, since this new Church was founded, for all intents and purposes, by President Poroshenko!  Which is why I like to compare him with Henry VIII!

On the other hand, remember how Jesus said that people should not look at the beam in somebody else’s eye?  Meaning that the Russian government should not cast stones either, as they have a bit-too-cozy relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.  Still, it’s not quite the same thing.  Putin may be a little too chummy with Patriarch Kirill, but at least they don’t go golfing together along with Turkish Nazis.  Long story…

Anyhow, let us continue with the translation…



Church And State

Professor Vladimir Burega

In all the Tomi of the 19th century the special role of the State in the creation of the new Autocephalic Church, was emphasized.  The Constantinople Patriarch always accentuated the fact, that the desire to announce an Autocephaly stems, not just from the Church hierarchs, but also from the leaders of the corresponding government.  For example, in the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Serbian Church (1879), it is explicitly stated, that the request for granting of an independent church status was sent to Constantinople first of all, by Serbian Prince Milan Obrenović; and secondly, by the Belgrade Metropolitan Mikhail.  Similarly, in the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Greek Orthodox Church, in 1850, they didn’t even mention the Church hierarchs making any request of Constantinople.  It was merely stated that the Greek people and clergy desire to have their own independent Church.  The Constantinople Patriarch “learned about this issue from the epistle of honorable ministers of the God-protected nation of Greece”.  In other words, it was the request of the Greek government itself, which laid the basis for the granting of Autocephaly.

Milan I of Serbia: Wanted his own Church

There was one other characteristic detail in the 19th-century Tomi.  The proclamation of new Autocephalic Churches is always motivated by the creation of new independent governments.  The appearance of the Helladic (Greek), Serbian, and Romanian churches followed soon after international recognition of the independence of Greece, Serbia, and Romania, respectively.

The Tomos texts of the 20th century, as a rule, do not emphasize the role of the government to such a degree.  In the Tomi for the Polish, Bulgarian and Czecho-Slovak churches, nothing is even said about the government.  In the Albanian Tomos, the government is mentioned, but not as the initiator of the creation of the new church.  It was only stated here, that the (Albanian) government gave guarantees to the Constantinople Patriarch, that members of the Albanian Orthodox Church will have “full independence and freedom to prosper”.  It is completely obvious, that the Tomi of the 20th century reflected a new situation in Church-State relations.  Governments now declaim their secular nature and non-interference in church affairs.

In this respect, the Ukrainian Tomos clearly is a throwback to the 19th century.  Here, the creation of an Autocephalic Church is motivated, primarily, by the existence, already for almost 3 decades, of an independent Ukrainian state.  It is especially emphasized, that during the course of all this time, the rulers of Ukraine appealed, on many occasions, to the Throne in Constantinople, with requests to grant them Autocephaly.  It is especially mentioned in the Tomos, that it is granted, not just to the Kiev Metropolitan, but also the President of the Ukraine.  One could say that this Tomos was composed from the perspective of a “symphony” between the secular and clerical powers; which, in our 21st century, appears as an obvious anachronism.

[to be continued]

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Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part II

Dear Readers:

Welcome back to my post!  As everybody knows, the Ukrainian Tomos was issued last Saturday and nailed to the door of the Cathedral.  Cub Reporters were waiting breathlessly on the steps.  Professor Vladimir Burega of the Kiev Theological Academy snapped up a copy and shot off this initial quickie analysis, which I hereby dutifully translate from Russian into English.  Burega’s caveat is that he just sort of skimmed it to get the highlights and get a jump on the rest of the herd.  A fuller analysis of this historic Tomos will take years of study, probably in Burega’s classroom at the Theological Academy.

Personally, as an atheist, I always wondered about Theological Academy.  I mean, how does one spend four years of one’s life studying invisible things that don’t exist?  On the other hand, it seems like an easy A, because there are really no wrong answers.  God has three heads?  Sure, why not.  Who can prove otherwise?  If the professor challenges you on a quiz, you just accuse him of heresy and settle for a B.  But enough of me and my rude apostasy.  Let us return to Burega’s very informative analysis.  Where we left off, he was  ticking off the necessary bullet points of the normal Tomos checklist:  What the new church is called (it always has the name of the country included in the title, in this case “Ukraine”); who is the Primate (that would be the alpha-male ape of the new religion); and what’s in their Diptych?  Most of this following section concerns the Diptych.  Not to be confused with a Dipstick, that’s the thing you use to check your oil levels.  But all of these mysteries will be explained as we continue…



Professor Vladimir Burega

In all Tomi granting Autocephaly, without exception, there is the demand that the Primate of the Church note, in his Diptych, the name of the Constantinople Patriarch and all other Primates of the national churches.  Let us explain that this Diptych is a universally recognized list of heads of national Orthodox Churches.  Every Primate, in every prayer service, mentions the name of all the other Primates in order of the Diptych.  Not only that, but the Primate of every Autocephalous church is obliged, upon entering into the duties of his office, to send notices to the Constantinople Patriarch and all the other heads of the national churches.  There are analogous requirements in the Tomos of 5 January.

[yalensis:  Here I cannot help butting in with my own inside knowledge.  Because I remember reading, when this Ukrainian Autocephaly first went down, that Russian Patriarch Kirill, as payback, deleted Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew from the Russian church Diptych!  Nowadays, the Russian prayerbook reads something like:  “God bless Timmy, and Suzy, and Vanya — but NOT that heretic Bartholomew!”]

Left to Right: Metropolitan Epiphany, Henry VIII, and a very disgruntled Filaret

These completely standard clauses give rise to, in the Ukrainian context, a very ticklish question.  The head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) Metropolitan Epiphany, at this morning’s service [this was written on Sunday 6 January] prayed for all the Primates of the national Orthodox churches except for Moscow Patriarch Kirill.  He said straight out that he would not pray for Patriarch Kirill on account of Russian military aggression against the Ukraine.  On the other hand, Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew did mention in his morning service, among others, the Moscow Patriarch.  [yalensis:  Bart is taking the high road — good for him!]  The Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Ukrainian church directly obliges the Kiev Metropolitan to mention all the names, without exception, of the national Primates, and that includes Patriarch Kirill!  Refusing to mention him in the Diptych goes directly against the unambiguous terms of the Tomos.

Constantinople As the Highest Court

In all Tomi granting Autocephaly, there is also contained a requirement to appeal to the Constantinople Patriarch and to other national Primates for the most important issues of dogma and canon.  It is true that this demand was formulated differently, in different historical eras.  In the Tomi of the 19th century the requirement was rather vague, more of a recommendation than a requirement.  For example, in the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Serbian Church (1879), it was written that the Serbian Metropolitan should “according to ancient custom” appeal to the Orthodox Patriarchs and other Autocephalic churches “on issues of common interest to all the churches, which require a general vote and approval”.  Here the Constantinople Patriarch was not given special treatment outside of the other national churches.  However, in the Tomi of the 20th century we can see a completely different type of rhetoric.

Western Pope, meet Eastern Pope!

Already in the Tomos of the Polish Orthodox Church, it is written that the Constantinople Patriarch bears the obligation for “caring about the Orthodox Churches who find themselves in need”.  For this reason, the Polish Metropolitan, “in all issues exceeding the boundaries of jurisdiction of each Autocephalic Church” must appeal to the Constantinople Patriarchal Throne, “via which all communication with other Orthodox churches takes place”.  This verbiage is repeated word for word in the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Albanian Church.  And in the Tomi for the Czech and Slovak churches it is stated quite clearly, that the Constantinople Throne “is entrusted with caring for all the holy Churches.”  In this last case, it is even stated, that the Czech and Slovak churches may invite hierarchs of the Constantinople Patriarchate to decide important jurisdictional disputes.

These expressions are not just ritual phrases.  Since the beginning of the 1920’s the Constantinople Patriarch has been forming a teaching regarding the special rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch.  As is known, this teaching is currently being actively contested by the Moscow Patriarch, and in this lies a source of deep conflict between the Constantinople and Moscow branches of the church.

In the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the OCU, we also see unambiguous phraseology regarding the special status of the Constantinople Throne.  It is stated clearly that, for the resolution of important issues of a churchy, dogmatic, or canonical character, the Kiev Metropolitan must appeal to the Ecumenical Throne, in order to receive from him the authoritative explanation.  Such appeals are not required for the other Autocephalies.  [yalensis:  In other words, the other Autocephalies are big boys, and the Ukrainian Autocephaly is a child.]

Not only that, but the 5 January Tomos grants the Constantinople Patriarch the right to receive appeals from the Ukrainian Bishops if they don’t agree with decisions made [by Metropolitan Epiphany] which concern them.  In such cases the verdict of the Ecumenical Patriarch will be the final one, not subject to appeal.

Next:  But what about the separation of Church and State?

[to be continued]

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Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part I

Dear Readers:

The big news this weekend in the world of religion (and the Russian civilizational sphere) was the granting of Tomos to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  As discussed in previous posts on this topic, Tomos is a fancy Greek word which means “cutting off” or “splitting off”.  This happens when a branch of Orthodoxy gets to have its own national or territorial leadership (=Autocephaly, which is another fancy Greek word meaning “Being one’s own head”).  Quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica on the administrative organization of Eastern Orthodoxy:

The Orthodox church is a fellowship of “autocephalous” churches (canonically and administratively independent), with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. In the early 21st century there were many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Africa), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, and America.

The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

There are also “autonomous” churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Crete, Finland, and Japan. The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by “patriarchs,” the others by archbishops or metropolitans. These titles are strictly honorary.

Of the Autocephalies listed, the Ukrainian one just happened two days ago, and I believe the encyclopedia is wrong in saying they get their own Patriarch.  I could be wrong, but it is my impression they only get a Metropolitan.  But anyhow, to help clear up these issues I have this piece by Vladimir Burega, who is a Professor at the Kiev Theological Academy.  What follows is pretty much a straight translation of Burega’s piece without additional commentary.  [If I have clarifications or footnotes, I put them in square brackets and italicize.]



On 5 January 2019 in the city of Stambul [=Istanbul], Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos which granted Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine [OCU].  Literally seconds after the signing, the Ukrainian translation of the Tomos became available.  Naturally, a detailed analysis of this document has yet to be conducted by theologians and historians, as well as specialists in canon law.  However, it is already possible to point to some features

Professor Vladimir Burega

We begin with the fact that the Tomos, signed by the Fanara [Fanara is a neighborhood in Istanbul where Patriarch Bartholomew lives, so it is used as a shortcut, similar to “The Vatican decreed that…”] on 5 January 2019, continues a definite tradition of publishing such documents.  This tradition formed within the Constantinople Patriarchate in the course of the past (almost two) centuries.  This tradition started in 1850 with the Tomos of the Autocephaly of the Greek Orthodox Church (a church within the borders of the Greek nation).  After that followed Tomi granting Autocephaly to Serbia (1879), Romania (1885), Poland (1924), Albania (1937), Bulgaria (1945), and Czechoslovakia (1998).  In 1990 the Gruzian Orthodox Church was also granted Tomos.  In this way, we can see that Tomos for the Ukraine is not something invented from whole cloth.  Both its content and form follow a defined canon.  In church documents of this level we always see the same ritualistic phrases, and the same very clear, practically unchanging, formulations.  At the same time, each Tomos has its own characteristics, reflecting the specifics of each regional church.  Let us try to figure out what, in the Ukrainian Tomos is typical, and what is, so to say, specific.

The Title, the Primate, the Diptychs

Let us begin with the banal things.  It is accepted, that in the Tomos the name of the new church is always given.  And this name is always (!) connected to the name of the country on whose territory it is created.  For example:  “The Orthodox Church in the Kingdom of Greece”, “The Holy Autocephalic Church of the Serbian Princedom”, “The Orthodox Church of the Romanian Kingdom”, “The Holy Orthodox Church in Poland”, “The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania”.  These names show, that the territorial principle is always at the foundation of the creation of autocephalic churches.  Every national church is a church that unites Orthodox Christians of a given territory.

The Tomos of 5 January names the newly created church “The Most Holy Church of the Ukraine”.  In the founding document of the newly created church, adopted by Kiev in December, it was called “The Orthodox Church of the Ukraine (OCU).  As far as we can gather, in the course of preparing the Tomos, the Patriarch of Constantinople suggested a different title:  “The Orthodox Church in the Ukraine”.  Such a title, of course, would have even more emphasized the territorial character of the church structure that was created.  But all the same the somewhat corrected formulation was adopted [of instead of in].  Which, by the way, fully fits in with the tradition of naming national churches after the name of the country.

In the Primate family tree, Lemurs were finally granted Autocephaly.

In all Tomi which grant Autocephaly, the title of the Primate of the new church is very clearly given.  To be sure, there were instances where the Synodal form of government was implemented (for example, in the Greek case).  In such cases the Synod itself was the head of the church, as a sort of “collective primate”.  In the case of the OCU, the primate is given the title:  “The Most Blessed Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine”.  Moreover, the Tomos specifically underscores that “no accretions or abbreviations of this title can be permitted without the agreement of the Constantinople Church”.  Such a limitation (condition) has never been seen before in any Tomos.  Its appearance in the Ukrainian Tomos of 5 January was, of course, a reaction by Patriarch Bartholomew to the attempts of the Kiev Patriarchate to keep the mention of “Patriarchate” in the title of the Primate of the new structure.  [yalensis:  part of the 3-way power struggle between Filaret, Epiphany and Bartholomew, with the latter clipping the wings of the 2 former].  We must underscore in particular, that the Tomos of 5 January does not suggest the use of one Primate title “for internal needs” and a different title for communication with the outside world.  The title is sealed into the Tomos rather firmly and without any wiggle room.

[to be continued]

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England – Russia, an Old Partnership – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Today concluding this 4-part review of Chapter X in the book by English diplomat Giles Fletcher the Elder, “Of the Russe Common Wealth“, published in 1591.  Giles was an astute political observer and, like Machiavelli, understood perfectly how power and government worked.  His language, with all the arcane spellings, is astonishingly modern, as are his calls for regime change in Russia and his professed concern for the lot of the common people, oppressed under such dire tyrannie, and whom he generously wishes to free from their servitude.

Giles dedicated his book to Elizabeth I

Where we had left off, Giles had broken down the system of local government in Russia, and especially in Moscow, where the “Vertical Power” model was implemented to the hilt.  The attention to every household, and the military-style “reporting up” at every level, all the way to the Emperor, led to good governance and a well-ordered society in the townships.  Taxes were collected, work was done, thieves were punished, etc.  People raised in the Westie philosophy will object:  “But there was no personal liberty.”  But the concept of personal liberty (from the government) was a later invention.  Verily, in those days, there was no such thing as personal freedom.  Giles himself lived under the whim of an absolute monarch (her powers curbed only slightly by the Magna Carta) who could arrest him at any time and have his head cut off, if she pleased!  The only difference between Elizabeth I and Ivan the Terrible, is that the latter knew how to pronounce the word “Sheremetyevo”.

Russian Prince Boris Sheremetyev (1652-1719)

As we continue with the chapter, Giles himself shows some grudging admiration for the Russian way of governing such a large entity:  “This manner of government of their provinces and townes, if it were aswell set for the giving of justice indifferently to al sorts, as it is to prevent innovations by keeping of the nobilitie within order and the common in subjection, it might seeme in that kinde to bee no bad nor unpollitique way for the conteyning of so large a commonwealth, of that breadth and length as is the kingdome of Russia.”  But then laments that the Russians simply go too far in their totalitarian ways:  “But the oppression and slaverie is so open and so great, that a man would marvell how the nobilitie and people shoulde suffer themselves to bee brought under it, while they had any means to avoid and repulse it; or being so strengthened as it is at this present, how the emperours themselves can be content to practice the same, with so open injustice and oppression of their subjects, being themselves of a Christian profession.”

Giles then proceeds to the practical business:  Under such a system, how is regime change even possible?  Just as the modern regime-change expert looks to the Russian oligarchs (such as Khodorkovsky), so Giles looks to the Russian nobility.  But what he sees there is hopeless, given that the hereditary nobility are under the constant supervision of the Tsar’s men, the dyaks.  The dukes have no power or authority, and are hated by the common people.  Not one of them can be envisioned as the leader of the popular revolution.  Not to mention that the Emperor, like Stalin drawing the boundaries between Caucasian tribes, has craftily split up the duchies into smaller and scattered, non-contiguous pieces, like a patchwork quilt!  “Which giveth them no scope to make any strength, nor to contrive such an enterprise, if happily they intended any matter of innovation.”

By “innovation”, Giles means, of course, Revolution.  The English were already learning the Roman art of “divide and conquer”; I reckon their goal at the time, if they could achieve it, would be to grab a part of Northern Russia in order to control the fur trade.  These dreamers also had hopes of controlling the Volga River trade.  But were thwarted in this by the Tsar’s absolute rule over these geographical hotspots.

But What About The Common People?

When Giles talks about the “commoners” we should understand that he is most likely talking about townspeople, and not about the peasantry or serfs working out there in the fields, and in the developing latifundia.  The peasants, who were referred to as simply “Christians” (Russian Krestyane) were not even considered to be barely human, let alone citizens.  Still, they were subjects of the Emperor in their own way, but as the years went by, their lot grew worse and worse.  (Historians call this period the beginning of the “second serfdom” in Russia and Eastern Europe, this process continued for the next three centuries.)

Polonius: “When we invade Russia, we should land our sailors in Murmansk.”

So, what about these urban commoners?  Could they possibly be a viable engine of “innovation” ?  All of Russian history shows that the answer is a resounding YES.  Giles, however, is pessimistic.  He notes that the commoners would not be able to stand up to regular soldiers, as they are not mustered into the army nor given weapons, nor trained in the art of war.  [That was to change later, under Peter the Great.]  And always kept in a state of poverty, through the routine fleecings:

“So that there is no meanes, either for nobilitie or people, to attempt any innovation,” Giles concludes pessimistically, “so long as the militarie forces of the emperor (which are the number of 8,000 at the least in continuall pay) hold themselves fast and sure unto him and to the present state.”  And if you’re thinking that the soldiers and the commoners might unite together against the Tsar, well, forget that thought too.  There is a natural hostility between the two blocs, caused the former wronging and despoiling the latter.  In other words, it is a perfect tyrannical system that Ivan created, in which everybody hates everybody, and no two forces can unite in alliance against the tyrant!

The only possible solution, according to Giles, is that ultimate Sword that cuts through even the most the perfect Gordian  Knot:  Foreign Invasion!  And Giles ends his chapter arguing eloquently for that solution, at least in theory, his only wish, of course, being to rid the good Russian people of such a crass tyranny and bring the joy of hope to their little faces:  “This desperate state of things at home, maketh the people for the most part to wishe for some forreine invasion, which they suppose to bee the onely meanes to rid them of the heavy yoke of this tyrannous government.”

Well, Giles died in the year 1611, so he lived to see Tsar Boris Godunov kick the bucket, in the year 1605.  If Giles was still keeping up with Russian events, one wonders if he would have been thrilled to see the Time of Troubles and the False Dmitry ride into Moscow with the Polish army and Jesuits.  Maybe not, since these were Catholic forces, and not good Englishmen.  Giles would not have lived to see Michael Romanov coronated in 1613 and found a new Russian dynasty, one even more brutal and effective than the previous tyrannie!

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England – Russia, an Old Partnership – Part III

Dear Readers:

Continuing with my review of Chapter X of the book by Giles Fletcher the Elder.  Where we left off, Giles had described the role of the Dyaks (“servants” or “deacons”), members of the lower nobility who shadowed the higher-blood Dukes in the regions (not unlike Commissars!), reported back to the Tsar, and did most of the real governing out there in the provinces.  The Dyaks held appointed, not hereditary posts, and were replaced on a regular rotation, to ensure that they themselves not get too uppity about their own importance.  The Dyaks were not paid very much; this encouraged them to fleece the locals; which also ensured that the locals would not fall in love with their governors nor follow them into any major bunt or rebellion against Moscow.  As a George Soros of the time might have said, Corruption was built into the very fabric of the Autocratic system!

Left to right: Ivan the Terrible, Eisenstein, and young Ivan

In short, Ivan Grozny did everything in his power to break down the traditional Russian nobility, to prevent Russia from breaking up into princely fiefdoms, as it had done so in the earlier Middle Ages.  Only a strong centralized government could withstand the lemming-like series of foreign invasions and various hordes ascending on the good Christian people of Rus.  Sergei Eisenstein’s art film Ivan Grozny was not that far off the mark in this respect, as it depicted Ivan’s conflicts with the various higher boyar families.  (Of course, Eisenstein, writing the film under the eagle eye of Stalin, had to gild the lily and portray Ivan as a proto-socialist and champion of the working class, although that was not the case at all; we’ll get to the lot of the common man eventually…)  What is true, is that the unpopularity of the regional governors enabled the birth of the myth “Bad Boyar – Good Tsar” among the frustrated common people.  “If only the Tsar in distant Moscow, knew what these crooks were doing to us…”  Ha ha, he knew exactly what was happening, down to a tee, you fools!

The Major Towns

Next our friend Giles describes some special places in the Russian Empire which serve as the border between Russia and the outside (=hostile) world.  The four major border towns are:  Smolensk, Pskov, Novgorod, and Kazan.  The first three lying towards “Polonia” and Sweden; the later “bordereth far of upon the Chrim Tartar“.  To govern these border towns, the Tsar appointed four Dukes of high ranking nobility who also served in his privie council.  These Dukes are rotated out every four years and are paid 700 rubles a year for their service (sometimes only 400).  [By the way, I like the way the materialistic Giles gets right down to the issue of how much money these people are paid; he is a good reporter in this respect, and this is the kind of reporting that needs to be done!]  Giles adds that “Many of these places that are of greatest importance, and almost the whole countrie, is managed at this time by the Godonoes and their clients.”

Vasnetsov painting: the Moscow Kremlin at the time of Ivan III

As for Moscow, the seat of the government, the city itself is governed by the Emperor’s Council.  “All matters there, both civill and criminall, are heard and determined in the severall courtes held by some of the said consell, that reside there all the yeare long.”

Here again, even in Moscow, it is the Dyaks who do all the grunt work:  They ensure that the buildings are cleaned and repaired, the estates kept in good order; they levy taxes, and so on.  This is done via a local court system called Zemsky.  To this Zemsky court a man will bring his servant whom he suspects of theft, and the servant will be tortured and whipped until he confesses.  Giles calls this the “pudkey”, I think he means to say the word “porka” (Russian Порка), and no it doesn’t mean a “porking”, it means a good whipping, from the Russian verb пороть (to strike, smack).

Sidebar on whipping:  While this method of punishment was clearly in use in Russia since ancient times, it was not introduced into the Russian army until 1701, under Peter the Great, following the Swedish model.  The Swedes were apparently masters of the military porka.  The Poles, on the other hand, introduced the polka into the army.  [That last bit a lame joke.]

Peter the Great: “I want to build a place where we can dance the polka!”

Besides the Dyak and the Zemsky Court, the various neighborhoods of Moscow are governed by “starosts” (in Russian, literally “Elders”, Giles also calls them “aldermen”, which is the same thing, just the German word.)  Underneath the alderman is the “sotskoy” (“centurion”) or constable; and under the latter are the “desyatskies” or decurions.  Each decurion is responsible for overseeing 10 households.  Dear Readers:  are you starting to see how this totalitarian pyramid scheme works?  One decurion oversees 10 households.  One centurion oversees 10 decurions.  One alderman oversees 10 centurions….  Before you know it, people balloon at an exponential rate, and every single person has their own personal spy!  It’s like the Stasi.  As Giles notes, sinisterly:  “whereby everie disorder is sooner spide, and the common service hath the quicker dispatch.  The whole number of citizens, poore and rich, are reduced into companies.”  All the easier to control you, my dears, and to quickly nip any trouble or dissent in the bud!

Or, one might say, that, in Moscow at least, no tiny mouse could fart without the Tsar’s knowing of it.  But what about the common people, you ask?  Was there no mercy for them at all?

[to be continued]

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