St Nicodemus the Hagiorite on Constantinople’s Right to Hear Appeals

In the Ukrainian tomos and elsewhere recently, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has asserted a universal right to hear appeals from bishops and clergy anywhere in the Orthodox world, on the basis of Canons 9 and 17 of the Council of Chalcedon. While Constantinople often likes to give the impression that this purported right is uncontested, historically it has been resisted just as often as it has been asserted. In his Rudder, St Nicodemus the Hagiorite (d. 1809) gives a long footnote to Canon 9 of the council, presented in its entirety below (Greek text after the jump) demonstrating on historical, logical and canonical grounds that Constantinople does not possess the right to hear appeals from other patriarchates, but that only an ecumenical council is the final judge in such cases. In particular, St Nicodemus notices that then, just as now, Constantinople’s claim seems to be motivated by its peculiar polemical yet highly-imitative relationship to Rome. Among other points he makes is that ecclesiastical legislation from the time of Justinian– that is, a century after the Council of Chalcedon– clearly state that there is no right to appeal the ruling of a patriarch, a law that would have been inconceivable had Canon 9 been understood as granting Constantinople the right to hear appeals against the other patriarchs.

Canon 9 of Chalcedon reads as follows:

If any cleric has a suit against a cleric, he is not to leave his own bishop and have recourse to civil courts, but is first to argue the case before his own bishop, or at least with consent of the bishop himself let justice before whomever both parties choose. If anyone infringes this, he is to be subject to the canonical penalties. If a cleric has a suit against his own, or another, bishop, he is to plead his case before the council of the province. If a bishop or cleric is in dispute with the metropolitan of the same province, he is to have recourse to the exarch of the diocese or to the see of Imperial Constantinople and plead his case there.

[From: Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, trans. The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, vol. 3 (Liverpool: Liverpool UP): 97]

Commenting on it, St Nicodemus states:

Like bees round a hive, various opinions have surrounded this part of the present Canon. For our own authorities, being opposed to the rule and authority of the Pope, and desirous to honor the patriarch of Constantinople, have inclined to exaggeration. Hence Macrius the bishop of Ancyra understands by “exarchs of the diocese” the other Patriarchs, while to the Patriarch of Constantinople he refers the final appeal, and he wants him to be the chief and supreme judge over all the Patriarchs. Macarius was followed also by Alexias [i.e., Anna Comnena] in her History, and by Nicholas the bishop of Methone in writing against the principle of the Pope. The Papists, again, wish to establish the monarchial status of the Pope, following our authorities and concede that the Bishop of Constantinople is chief judge over all, because the Bishop of Rome is chief even of the Bishop of Constantinople according to the Canons. So the Bishop, or Pope, of Rome is the ultimate and common judge over all the patriarchs, and ahead of even the Patriarch of Constantinople in respect of judicature; accordingly, it is to him that any appeal must be taken from the four Patriarchs of the inhabited earth. These Papists are Bessarion the apostate, Binius, and Belarminus. Pope Nicholas, again, in writing against Photius to Emperor Michael represents the Canon as meaning the Bishop of Rome by the phrase “Exarch of the Diocese,” and that word “Diocese” which it employs in the singular number is meant to be taken to have a plural meaning of “dioceses,” just as, for instance, where it says “there went up a mist from the earth” (Genesis 2:6), instead of saying “there went up mists from the earth.” And that the canon says that anyone having a dispute with the Metropolitan ought to have it tried first and chiefly before the Exarch of the Diocese, that is to say, the Bishop of Rome, though by concession and on secondary grounds it may be tried before the Bishop of Constantinople.

All these men, however, are wandering far astray from the truth. For the fact that the Bishop of Constantinople has no authority to officiate in the dioceses and parishes of other Patriarchs, nor has he been given by this Canon to grant a decision in reference to an appeal on the part of the whole Church (which means a change of judicature from any court to another and higher court, in accordance with or according to Book IX of the Basilica, Title I), is plain—first, because in Act 4 of this Council held in Chalcedon the Bishop of Constantinople named Anatolius was blamed by the rulers as well as by the whole Council for overstepping his boundaries and taking Tyre from its Bishop, namely, Photius, and handing it over to Eusebius, the bishop of Berytus, and for deposing and excommunicating Photius. Notwithstanding that he offered many pretexts, in spite thereof whatever he had done was annulled and invalidated by the Council, and Photius was justified, and he received back the bishoprics of Tyre. That is why Isaac the Bishop of Ephesus told Michael, the first of the Palaeologi, that the Bishop of Constantinople does not extend his authority over the Patriarchates of the East (according to Pachymeres Book 6, ch. 1).

Secondly, because the civil and imperial laws do not state that only the judgment and decision of the Bishop of Constantinople is not subject to appeal, but merely says indefinitely that no appeal can be taken from the decision of any Patriarch or of the Patriarchs in the plural. For Justinian Novel 123 says to let the Patriarch of the Diocese ordain or prescribe those things which are consistent with the ecclesiastical Canons and with the laws, no party having any right to object to his decision. And Leo the Wise in the first title of his Legal Epitome says that the court of the Patriarch is not subject to appeal, while he is described by another as the source of ecclesiastical decisions; for it is from him that all courts derive their authority, and they can be resolved into him again. Even Justinian too, in Book 3, ch. 2, of his Ecclesiastical Compilation, says: “Let the competent Patriarch examine the decision without fearing an appeal”; and in Book 1, Title 4, of his Ecclesiastical Injunction: “The decisions of Patriarchs cannot be appealed”; and again, in Book 1, Title 4, ch. 29: “It has been made a law by the Emperors preceding us that no appeal can be taken from the decisions rendered by Patriarchs.” So, considering the fact that according to these emperors, who agree with the sacred Canons, the decisions of all Patriarchs are insusceptible of appeal, or, in other words, they cannot be carried to the court of any other Patriarch for review, how can the Patriarch of Constantinople grant them a hearing? And if the present canon of the 4th or even c. XVII of this Council had intended the Bishop of Constantinople to entertain appeals over the heads of the rest of the Patriarchs, how could the emperors have decreed the diametrically opposite and contrary view, at a time when they well knew that civil laws at variance with the Canons were null and void?

Thirdly, because if we grant in accordance with the foregoing Papists that the Bishop of Constantinople can judge the Patriarchs, and that he can review their decisions and judgments, since the Canon makes no exception of which or which Patriarch, he is therefore as a logical inference to be considered to have the right to judge himself and also the Bishop of Rome as well, and thus the Bishop of Constantinople becomes the first and the last and the common judge of all the Patriarchs and even of the Pope himself. So, then, with the inventions by means of which they are trying to establish the monarchic office of the Bishop of Rome, they are wrecking and demolishing it with the very same arguments.

Fourthly, because no one, even though he be a Metropolitan or a Patriarch, has any right to impose anything on churches outside his jurisdiction, excepting only the ones subject to him, according to Apostolic Canons XXXIV and XXXV, canons VI and VII of the 1st, canons III and VIII of the 2nd, canons XX, XXXVI and XXXIX of the 6th, and canons III, XI and XII of Sardica, and canon IX of Antioch, as well as others: this being so, how can the present Canon and the others have ordained the opposite and contrary of all these?

Fifthly, because if the Bishop of Constantinople had received any such privilege, how is it that the Patriarchs of Constantinople, when quarreling oftentimes with the Pope, did not claim any such right, but merely insisted that the priorities were equal? Or, be that as it may, how is it that no other Christian amid their quarrels and differences ever called the Bishop of Constantinople greater than the Bishop of Rome? So the Lord liveth, He liveth!

The true explanation of the canon is this. The Exarch of the Diocese, according to Balsamon, is not the Metropolitan of the province (since a Diocese comprises many provinces and metropolis), but the Metropolitan of the Diocese; nor the Patriarch, for, as canon VI of the Second Ecumenical Council says, if anyone dishonors all the Bishops of the Diocese, which is the same thing as saying the Exarch of the Diocese, which indeed the present canon does say: whereas a Synod of the Diocese and an Exarch of the Diocese occupies a different from that held by each Patriarch together with the bishops subject to him. So the Exarch of a diocese is the Metropolitan of the diocese who has some privilege over and above the other Metropolitans of the same diocese. But this privilege of Exarchs is not today in effect. For though certain Metropolitans are called Exarchs, yet other Metropolitans in their dioceses are not subject to them. So it appears, from what the same Balsamon says, that in those times the Exarchs of dioceses were certain others (among whom, according to Zonaras, were those of Caesarea, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Thessalonica and Corinth) who wore polystavriain their churches. These polystavria were in reality chasubles embroidered with many crosses, as Balsamon says, on page 447 of the Juris Graecoromanus. Nevertheless, that privilege ceased to be exercised either immediately or not long after this Fourth Ecumenical Council was held. That explains why Justinian fails to mention it in what he says concerning disputes between clergymen, notwithstanding that he enumerates the other courts or tribunals of clergymen.

So it is evident that the Canon means that if any bishop or clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of an exarchy, let him appeal to the Exarch of the diocese; which is the same thing as saying that clergymen and metropolitans subject to the throne of Constantinople must have their case tried either before the Exarch of the diocese in which they are situated, or before the Bishop of Constantinople, as before a Patriarch of their own. I did not say that if any clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of some other diocese, or if a Metropolitan has a dispute or a difference with the Metropolitan of any diocese or parish whatever, they must be tried before the Bishop of Constantinople. Nor did I say, Let him apply first to the Exarch of the diocese, or to the Bishop of Constantinople, as Pope Nicholas above garbles and misexplains the Canon; but, on the contrary, it left it to the choice of the ones to be judged to determine with equal rights whether they should go to the Exarch of the diocese or to the Bishop of Constantinople and be tried in precisely the same manner and equally well either before the one or before the other. That is why Zonaras too says that the Bishop of Constantinople is not necessarily entitled to sit as judge over all Metropolitans, but over those who are judicially subject to him (interpretation of canon XVII of the present 4th Council). And in his interpretation of canon V of Sardica the same authority says: “The Bishop of Constantinople must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Constantinople, precisely as the Bishop of Rome must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Rome.” Now, however, that the Synod and the Exarch of the diocese are no longer active or in effect, the Bishop of Constantinople is the first and sole and ultimate judge of the Metropolitans under him, but not of those under any of the rest of the Patriarchs. For it is only an ecumenical council that is the ultimate and most common judge of all Patriarchs, as we have said, and there is none other.

In view of the fact that, as we have stated, these Exarchs mentioned by the Canon were long ago displumed, those who are now called Exarchs, as representatives sent abroad by the Church, are names for ecclesiastical services.

[From: The Rudder, trans. D. Cummings (Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957): 253-255, lightly edited for formatting and accuracy of translation; emphasis added]


Irmos: The prophet heard of Thy coming, O Lord, and was afraid that Thou wast to be born of a Virgin and appear to men, and he said, ‘I have heard the report of Thee and am afraid.’ Glory to Thy power, O Lord.
Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. TROPARIA
Watch, O my soul, and take courage like the Great Patriarch Jacob of old, that thou mayest acquire action with spiritual understanding, and be named Israel, ‘the mind that sees God’; and so shalt thou penetrate the impassable darkness through contemplation, and obtain a great treasure as thy reward.
By fathering the twelve Patriarchs, the Great Patriarch Jacob established a mystical ladder of active ascent for thee, O my soul; wisely setting his sons as the steps at each level of ascent.
Thou hast rivaled the hated Esau, O my soul, for thou hast given up the birthright of thy first beauty to the deceiver thus forsaking thy father’s blessing. Twice then, hast thou fallen, once in action and once in understanding; Repent now, thou wretched soul.
Esau was known as Edom because of his raging love for women; for burning always with desires and stained with sensual pleasures, he was named ‘Edom’ which means the red-hot heat of a sin-loving soul.
Thou hast heard of Job, O my soul, who was justified on a dung heap; yet thou hast not imitated his courage nor hast thou shown any firmness of will in the face of thy trials and temptations but hast proved cowardly and weak.
He that once sat upon a throne now lies naked on a dung heap, covered with his sores. He that had many children and was once admired by all is suddenly bereft of children and is left without a home; yet for him the dung heap is a palace, and his sores a chain of pearls.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
To the Trinity: I confess Thee as undivided in Essence, unconfused in Persons, One Triune Divinity, co-reigning and co-enthroned! And to Thee, I raise the great Thrice-holy hymn that is sung on high.
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Theotokion: Thou givest birth and art a virgin, and in both thou remainest a virgin by nature. He Who is born renews the laws of nature, and the womb gives birth without travail. When God so wills, the order of nature is overruled, for He does whatsoever He wills.

Irmos: Out of the night watching early for Thee, enlighten me I pray, O Lover of man, and guide me in Thy commandments and teach me O Savior, to do Thy will.
Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. TROPARIA
Thou hast heard, O my soul, of the basket of Moses and how he was carried on the waves of the river as if in an ark; and so he avoided the execution of Pharaoh’s bitter decree.
Thou hast heard, O wretched soul, of the midwives who were ordered to put to death in infancy the fruit of manly chastity. Be then like Moses who survived, and ponder wisdom.
Thou, O wretched soul, hast not struck and killed the lustful mind of the Egyptian, as did Moses. How then, shalt thou dwell in that desert where all passions are slain through repentance?
Moses the great went to dwell in the desert; Come then, O my soul, and emulate his life that thou mayest also behold through contemplation, the vision of God in the bush not consumed by the fire.
Imagine, O my soul, the rod of Moses, which divided the sea and dried up the abyss as an image of the Divine and Holy Cross. Through the Cross thou canst also accomplish great things.
While Aaron offered to God a fire that was pure and undefiled, Hophni and Phineas brought to Him, as didst thou, O my soul, a strange sacrifice and a polluted life.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
To the Trinity: We glorify Thee, O Trinity, as One God! Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; simple Essence and Unity worshipped for ever.
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Theotokion: From thee, O Virgin undefiled and maiden Mother, has God the Creator of the ages, become vested in my human flesh, uniting to Himself the nature of man.


On Repentance . St John of Shanghai and SanFrancisco.

On Repentance.

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life!

Repentance is expressed by the Greek word, metanoia. In the literal sense, this means a change of mind. In other words, repentance is a change of one’s disposition, one’s way of thinking; a change of one’s inner self. Repentance is a reconsideration of one’s views, an alteration of one’s life.

How can this come about? In the same way that a dark room into which a man enters is illumined by the rays of the sun. Looking around the room in the dark, he can make out certain things, but there is a great deal he does not see and does not even suspect is there. Many things are perceived quite differently from what they actually are. He has to move carefully, not knowing what obstacles he might encounter. When, however, the room becomes bright, he can see things clearly and move about freely.

The same thing happens in spiritual life.

When we are immersed in sins, and our mind is occupied solely with worldly cares, we do not notice the state of our soul. We are indifferent to who we are inwardly, and we persist along a false path without being aware of it.

But then a ray of God’s Light penetrates our soul. And what filth we see in ourselves! How much untruth, how much falsehood! How hideous many of our actions prove to be, which we fancied to be so wonderful. And it becomes clear to us which is the true path.

If we then recognize our spiritual nothingness, our sinfulness, and earnestly desire our amendment — we are near to salvation. From the depths of our soul we shall cry out to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy according to Thy Great mercy!” “Forgive me and save me!” “Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother!”

As Great Lent begins, let us hasten to forgive each other all hurts and offenses. May we always hear the words of the Gospel for Forgiveness Sunday: If ye forgive men their debts, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their debts, neither will your Father forgive your debts (Matt. 6:14-15).

On remembrance of death by St John Climacus


On remembrance of death.

1. Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Therefore, this subject comes in its proper place in this chapter.

2. The remembrance of death is a daily death; and the remembrance of our departure is an hourly sighing or groaning.

3. Fear of death is a natural instinct that comes from disobedience; but terror at death is evidence of unrepented sin. Christ fears death,4 but does not show terror, in order to demonstrate clearly the properties of His two natures.

4 St. Matthew xxvi, 37.

4. As of all foods bread is the most essential, so the thought of death is the most necessary of all works. The remembrance of death amongst those in the midst of society gives birth to distress and frivolity, and even more—to despondency. But amongst those who are free from noise it produces the putting aside of cares, and constant prayer and guarding of the mind. But these same virtues both produce the remembrance of death and are also produced by it.

5. As tin is distinct from silver although it resembles it in appearance, so for the discerning there is a clear and obvious difference between the natural and supernatural fear of death.

6. A true sign of those who are mindful of death in the depth of their being is a voluntary detachment from every creature and complete renunciation of their own will.

7. He who with undoubting trust daily expects death is virtuous; but he who hourly yields himself to it is a saint.

8. Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found) through the action of the Holy Spirit long for their departure.

9. . Some inquire and wonder: ‘Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial for us, has God hidden from us the know ledge of the hour of death?’—not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.

10. Never, when mourning for your sins accept that cur1 which suggests to you that God is tender hearted (this thought is useful only when you see yourself being dragged down to deep despair). For the aim of the enemy is to thrust from you your mourning and fearless fear.

11. He who wishes ever to retain within him the remembrance of death and judgment and God, and at the same time yields to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.

12. A vivid remembrance of death cuts down food; and when in humility food is cut, the passions are cut out too.

13. Insensibility of heart dulls the mind, and abundance of food dries the fountains of tears. Thirst and vigil afflict the heart, and when the heart is afflicted the waters flow. The things we have said will seem cruel to epicures and incredible to the indolent; but a man of action will readily test them, and he who has found them out by experience will smile at them. But he who is still seeking will become more gloomy.

14. Just as the Fathers lay down that perfect love knows no sin, so I for my part declare that a perfect sense of death is free from fear.

15. There are many activities for an active mind. I mean, meditation on the love of God, on the remembrance of God, on the remembrance of the Kingdom, on the remembrance of the zeal of the holy martyrs, on the remembrance of God Himself present, according to him who said, ‘I saw the Lord before me,’2 on remembrance of the holy and spiritual powers, on remembrance of one’s departure, judgment, punishment and sentence. We began with the sublime, but have ended with things that never fail.

1 I.e. the devil. 2 Psalm xv, 8.

16. An Egyptian monk once told me: ‘After I had established in my heart the remembrance of death, whenever need arose and I wanted to comfort the clay a little, this remembrance prevented me like a judge. And the wonderful thing was that, even though I wanted to thrust it away, I was quite unable to do so.’

17. Another who lived here in the place called Thola, often went into ecstasy at the thought of death; and the brothers who found him would lift him and carry him off scarcely breathing, like one who had fainted or had an epileptic fit.

18. And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he left his body. And when he came to himself he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so wrapt in spirit in what he had seen in his ecstasy that he never changed his place but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions this alone was all we heard from him: ‘Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.’ We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort1 and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by his true and praiseworthy repentance the Lord showed us that even after long negligence He accepts those who desire to amend.

19. Just as some declare that the abyss is infinite, for they call it a bottomless place, so the thought of death brings chastity and activity to a state of incorruption. The above-mentioned saint confirms the truth of what has been said. For such men, unceasingly adding fear to fear, do not stop until the very strength of their bones is spent.

20. Let us rest assured that the remembrance of death, like all other blessings, is a gift of God; since how is it that often when we are at the very tombs we are left tearless and hard; and frequently when we have no such sight, we are full of compunction?

21. He who has died to all things remembers death, but who ever is still tied to the world does not cease plotting against himself.

22. Do not wish to assure everyone in words of your love for them, but rather ask God to show them your love without words. Otherwise time will not suffice you for both intimacies and compunction.

23. Do not deceive yourself, rash worker, as if one time can make up for another. For the day is not sufficient to repay in full its own debt to the Lord.

24. It is impossible, someone says, impossible to spend the present day devoutly unless we regard it as the last of our whole life. And it is truly astonishing how even the pagans2 have said something of the sort, since they define philosophy as meditation on death.

This is the sixth step. He who has mounted it will never sin again. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.3

1 Justinian built a fort on Mount Sinai as well as a church and monastery (Procopius, De aedificiis, V, viii). Today the fort is represented by the actual monastery; cf. E. A. Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (1887), Kastron, Clim. P.G., 88, 79A, 812B, ‘now the Monastery of Mount Sinai’.

2 Gk. Hellēnes.

3 Ecclesiasticus vii, 36.