Oxford history of the christian church

The patriarchal synod: the metropolitans

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7. The patriarchal synod: the metropolitans.

The synod endemousa, the standing synod, 34 often referred to in registers and other sources, was a patriarchal committee which came to have legislative, administrative, and judicial functions. It was in existence in the early middle ages and presumably met when required, but it comes into greater prominence and more regular use from the tenth century. Despite innate conservatism like much in Byzantine institutional life it had an ad hoc side to it, adapting itself as circumstances required. It had nothing like the authority of the general council, though instances of its decisions were of special importance in the Orthodox Church, as for instance the Palamite synods of 1347 and 1351. It became an indispensable element in the administration of the patriarchate, and the patriarchal secretariat seemed at times to merge into the synod. The evidence of the tenthcentury Anonymous showed the synod concerned with the daily problems of the three dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace and at the same time dealing with ecclesiastical affairs of a more general nature since the metropolitans were present in the city.

According to late eleventh-century evidence (Nicetas of Ancyra) the synod met three times a week to deal with routine matters. It was held in the rooms or offices (secreta) of the patriarcheion, presumably with reasonable access to the library and archives. It was served by the chancery whose notaries would be present though not members. The cathedral archons had to be there and they were responsible for the preparation of the agenda and the minutes and the circulation of decisions taken. The high dignitaries sat by the Patriarch, the others behind. Cases were introduced by the appropriate great archon. Metropolitans who happened to be in the capital attended if they wished and like the great deacons could speak to the case in hand. Others could only express their views through the Patriarch. The kind of cases regularly dealt with can be seen from the registers, increasing in scope and number through the years.

The synod also dealt with extraordinary needs and special problems Such might be the trials of well-known public figures for heresy, John Italus or the twelfth-century cases. Then the Emperor would be concerned and would convoke the synod at such times that he and his imperial judges would also be present and perhaps the senate, thus demonstrating the close link between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities.

The synod had the right to elect the Patriarch in the sense of presenting three names for imperial choice, likewise if it was the election of a metropolitan or autocephalous archbishop the three names were submitted to the Patriarch. At a special meeting to elect a patriarch the Emperor or his representatives might be present. Procedure was laid down: the declaration of the vacancy, the consideration of the candidates and then the notification of the three agreed names to the chairman. If these were all rejected a new session was required. If the election of a patriarch was in question, then the imperial nomination of a fourth name pleasing to the Emperor had to be accepted. Once elected and enthroned the Patriarch would circulate to the other patriarchs and the bishops his synodica (grammata), that is, the announcement of his election and his profession of faith, which despite its title had nothing to do with the synod and was a personal statement.

Similarly metropolitans came to be elected, not by the suffragans and 'neighbours' (leading men) of their province (Sardica, can. 6), but in the Constantinopolitan synod. On such an occasion the metropolitans and archbishops present in the capital would be summoned. Voting was in person, unless there was a valid reason for absence. As the senior ecclesiastic and archbishop, the Patriarch convoked the meeting but did not take part in the discussions or vote, though no doubt he could make his views known. He selected from three names presented to him by the electoral body and he had the right of consecration. It was even argued that the metropolitans were the suffragans of the Patriarch, consecrated by him in the capital, and that he should therefore have a greater share in their election. The Emperor had no part in these elections (in contrast to the patriarchal election), though he did once or twice make attempts to intervene, as Nicephorus II, 35 or in 1071 when Romanus IV's request was refused by the synod. 36 Balsamon, who was by no means consistent or always in tune with tradition, did on occasion accord this right, claiming that the Emperor was above the canons. 37 But in practice the synod and Patriarch evidently managed to retain their rights, though no doubt the Emperor could be useful in bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant victims such as John Mauropous or Theophylact of Ochrida who after enjoying the amenities of the capital did not want to be relegated to a provincial backwater (as they saw it) in Asia Minor or Bulgaria. But canonically the Patriarch had the final word in the election of metropolitans.

Evidence ranging over the tenth (possibly earlier) to the eleventh centuries does not give a continuous history of ecclesiastical administration but it does at least underline both change and conflict. 38 This was inevitable. Conservative as the Church might be in some respects, it found that the rulings of the early fathers and the canons of the general councils could not provide for all later contingencies nor could they forestall every clash of interest. Hence the need for authoritative comment on the application of the old accepted general principles and this was the work of the twelfth-century canonists. During the years from the tenth century to the break-up of the Empire in 1204, quite apart from routine patriarchal business, the standing synod increased in importance, dealing independently with problems such as heresy which in the early middle ages had usually been resolved in a general council. Now relations with Rome were uneasy and the eastern patriarchates negligible. At the same time an underlying tension between the Patriarch and the metropolitans developed. This had been evident in the tenth century when the metropolitans tried to take advantage of the inexperienced young Patriarch Theophylact who often seemed to be indifferent to administrative needs. According to the writings of the Anonymous and Nicetas of Amasea 38a they would have liked to retain decision-making in their own hands, reducing the role of the Patriarch to that of an executive. This however failed. The rights of the Patriarch as chief archbishop in his patriarchate were maintained despite the fact that he was perpetually subject to external pressures, especially from the Emperor.

A further complication particularly affecting the Patriarch and synod was introduced in about the mid-eleventh century and was to continue until the end of the middle ages. This was the influx of refugee ecclesiastics, metropolitans, autocephalous archbishops and suffragans, from enemy-occupied lands. Sojourn in the capital had always been attractive. In the early tenth century Nicholas Mysticus had had to push off the bishop of Alania to his distant see and from time to time injunctions to bishops to return to their dioceses appear in both patriarchal and imperial registers. But now clergy came as refugees and had some excuse for staying in Constantinople. Their presence posed a twofold problem. Finance was a serious hazard. It is not clear how far funds could come through to Constantinople from lands lost to the Empire. Many fees would inevitably be lost, but revenue belonging to a particular see or monastery now under enemy rule might well be drawn from its often widespread property still in Byzantine-held territory. It is difficult to say whether such revenue did reach either the original see (where there were presumably still cathedral clergy to be supported) or whether it got to bishops in exile in the capital. With the additional hazard of Latin occupation after 1204 and further changes in the Middle East such property would be at risk. But no general principle can be applied. For instance in the early fourteenth century the monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai still seemed to have some of its property in Venetian-held Crete. When Athanasius the Patriarch of Alexandria was driven out by the Mamluks he took refuge in Constantinople (where he was involved in various ecclesiastical disputes — he was an anti-unionist) and then in the early fourteenth century he apparently was able to go to a metochion in Crete belonging to St Catherine of Sinai. 39 In the thirteenth century bishops in the Nicaean kingdom probably came off best. But that did not last and the general contraction and indeed the uncertainty of Byzantine boundaries was reflected in the frequent requests in the patriarchal registers for some kind of aid (epidosis) for refugee clergy. This bore heavily on foundations within the capital whose own resources, often drawn from the mainland and the islands, were likely to be equally straitened.

Another problem posed by the presence in the capital of increasing numbers of metropolitans was a matter of diplomacy, since such a group could form a powerful lobby in ecclesiastical politics and could exert its influence on occasions when the standing synod had to consider questions of policy. An instance of this kind occurred in the last quarter of the eleventh century. It resolved itself into a struggle between the metropolitans and the great deacons of Hagia Sophia. These deacons, the staurophoroi, were a powerful group. As deacons they could marry, though they would have to renounce their wives should they be elected to a inctropolitanate, which often happened. A deacon of the Great Church might in fact be promoted in the hope of removing a too forceful personality from the capital, and should he become metropolitan of a nearby province he would have no excuse for lingering in Constantinople apart from synodal business. Such moves were however countered by obtaining the right to refuse 'promotion' if this was so desired. It is easy to visualize the influence which these deacons could exercise, linked, as they often were, with the leading families in the capital. The Emperor knew where strength lay and in Alexius I's reign he aligned himself with the officials of Hagia Sophia against Patriarch and 'visiting' metropolitans. The point then at issue was the imperial right to promote a bishop to the status of metropolitan. During the second half of the eleventh century there had been an imperial upgrading of the bishops of Madyta and Basileion to the fury of their respective metropolitans. In a long drawn-out dispute the Patriarch and metropolitans opposed this move but without success. The Emperor Alexius finally got his way, backed by the officials of the Great Church who stood to gain financially to the loss of the indignant metropolitans of Heracleia and Ancyra from whom the suffragans had been filched. 40

With the fall of Constantinople in 1204 the two groups in the capital, the bureaucracy of the Great Church and the metropolitans in the City, were necessarily broken up. Some clergy certainly stayed, for instance monastic inmates and lower clergy, including some from Hagia Sophia though the church itself was no longer in their hands. Patriarch Germanus's records show him receiving back a repentant deacon from the Great Church who had misguidedly accepted Latin jurisdiction, and from Nicaea he exhorted the Orthodox in Constantinople and elsewhere not to recognize foreign pastors. Some of the clergy of Hagia Sophia when they failed to set up a new Orthodox Patriarch there found a home in Nicaea where traditional ecclesiastical government was re-established though on a greatly reduced scale. In 1208 a synod in Nicaea elected the new Patriarch. The Lascarid Emperors in exile were anxious to continue what they considered to be normal imperial practice. They exercised their right to raise suffragans to metropolitan status, modifying diocesan organization in order to give increased authority to sees now more important than previously (Pontic Heracleia and Philadelphia). They used imperial influence to provide when possible for refugee bishops (in this way the exiled bishop of Mitylene got a vacant bishopric). 41 But to some extent pressure of this kind was lightened because exiles could also take refuge elsewhere, for instance in the kingdom of Epirus.

The patriarchal register for 1208-61 illustrates the scope of central ecclesiastical administration during the Nicaean period. 42 As previously in Constantinople, much work on the various patriarchal rulings lay with the chartophylate. It was a period of activity for the metropolitans composing the synod (that is, any who happened to be present in Nicaea or wherever the synod was held). The work of the synod involved relations with Orthodox Churches outside the territorial bounds of Nicaea, as Cyprus or Serbia, as well as the disputed jurisdiction of Nicaea over Epirus and the perennial problem of relations with Rome. 43 The Church was also called upon to participate in imperial trials. A metropolitan might be among a panel of judges. The Patriarch and other ecclesiastics might be present and consulted at a trial, but did not pass judgement which rested with the Emperor (on one such occasion Blemmydcs protested that normal legal procedure should have been followed). 44 There is a haphazard quality about extant entries in the registers; similar problems, for instance monastic difficulties, are dealt with sometimes by patriarchal, sometimes by synodal, ruling. At the same time patriarchal control was being exercised over episcopal administration by the use of supervisory exarchs, sometimes metropolitans, sometimes other ecclesiastics, as was Patriarch Germanus II's practice.

In the post- 1261 period the occumenical work of the patriarchate in the general or 'International' sense which had been evident under the Nicaeans, particularly as far as the Slav countries were concerned, continued. At the same time there was increasing internal tension between Patriarch and mctropolitans, as also between Patriarch and Emperor. Patriarch Athanasius I evidently disliked large numbers of metropolitans in the capital and urged them (and the suffragans) to return to their sees. He even thought of a synod of abbots in which case metropolitans would have no excuse for lingering in Constantinople (and abbots were often excellent administrators). Patriarch Philotheus put the metropolitans under a patriarchal vicar and made inroads on their power (and finance) by forbidding them to set up stauropegial monasteries. On the other hand in 1279 the Emperor Michael VIII tried to limit the Patriarch's authority by putting stauropegial houses under the appropriate bishop and withdrawing all monasteries from patriarchal jurisdiction; 45 later there was a strong protest from Patriarch Antony IV. The various elements — Emperor and Patriarch, metropolitans, suffragans, and leading cathedral officials — continued to struggle to gain the ascendancy and thus to secure the means whereby they could increase their meagre resources in times of acute financial stringency. What is however of far greater significance was the spirituality found in the monastic world and the authority of the patriarchate shown not only in assistance given to the government (the General Judges for instance) but in its high standing in the Orthodox world quite outside the rapidly vanishing Empire.

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