Introduction to the tomos


by Dmitry Gorevoi

Nastoiashchee Vremia, 5 January 2019


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the tomos—a document confirming the canonical status of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.


A tomos is a church document. Earlier a tomos was an order that was issued for various reasons, but in recent centuries a tomos has become a declaration of independence of a church of one region or another. It is on the basis of a tomos that a new church formulates its own charter, the church's constitution.


In Orthodoxy there now exist 15 independent churches; without the Ukrainian there were 14. Some of them were created in antiquity and some became independent relatively recently, distinguishing them from the ancient churches. Only eight individual churches have a tomos.


Nastoiashchee Vremia compared the tomos of the Ukrainian church with similar documents of other Orthodox churches.


Its uniqueness is in the fact that it clearly demarcates the borders of the new church. It is forbidden to have parishes outside the borders of Ukraine. That is, parishes of the Ukrainian believers in the diaspora (Europe, U.S.A. Canada) will be transferred under the administration of the ecumenical patriarch.


For the first time, a tomos prescribes the role of the patriarch of Constantinople as the supreme appellate instance in disputed matters. Previously this was assumed by default.


The tomos has points that do not permit the independent change of the status of the church, the title of its leader, or the charter by which it lives. This can be done only with the consent of Constantinople.


Every tomos is different from the others. Sometimes a tomos lays out the history of the church. Thus, in the Serbian tomos there is a very detailed description of the history of the development of the kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Poles have a similar point, as do the Czechs and Slovaks.


The tomos of the Albanian church, which was issued in 1937, is unique in that it separately states the promise of the secular authorities to guarantee the freedom and rights of Orthodox believers. In Albania Orthodox believers are a minority and the local authorities got the independence of their church, inter alia, because of this promise inscribed in the tomos.


The tomos of the Romanian church, which it received in 1885, separately noted that the independence of the local church was requested by "his majesty the king of Romania and his royal government." The tomos was issued in Greece in 1850 at the official request not only of the government but also of the local clergy as well as the believers. This detail is described in the tomos of the church. The Greek document also is unique in that it gives the local Synod the authority to register divorces of believers. Before this, those wishing to divorce had to appeal to Constantinople.


The Ukrainian tomos mentions the head of the new church, Epifany, and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.


The documents of the Greek, Albanian, Polish, Czech, and Slovak churches indicate that they receive the special church oil—myrrh—only from Constantinople. Myrrh is used, for example, in baptism or consecration of new church buildings. Other churches may make myrrh themselves or get it from Constantinople, but this is not stated in their tomos. The new Ukrainian church will get holy oil from Constantinople.


At the same time, each tomos is alike in that it indicates the name of the new church and also the title of its primate. In most cases the supreme authority is vested in the Synod, a collegial body of several bishops, somewhat like a cabinet of ministers.


Every tomos says that after the election of a new head of the church, he must send letters to the heads of others churches, similar to credentials and the establishment of diplomatic relations among states.


Each document indicates that the newly created church, and especially its leader, must "preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith." (tr. by PDS, posted 5 January 2019)

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