A groundbreaking thesis dismantles the historical legitimacy of the Moscow Metropolia, exposing it as a fictional construct, and reshapes our understanding of Eastern European religious history.

On May 31, 2024, at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Nazar Zatorsky from the University of Fribourg delivered a groundbreaking presentation titled “Ecclesio-political changes in the Metropolitanate of Kyiv after the Union of Florence” during the conference “The Byzantine Presence between the Black Sea and Baltic.” Zatorsky argued that the Moscow Metropolitan and the concept of a Moscow Metropolitanate are artificial constructs.

The confusion began with the geographical relocation of the metropolitan see from Kyiv to Moscow in 1299, although the metropolitans kept their original title “of all Rus.” After the Union of Florence in 1439, two Metropolitans claimed authority over the same Metropolitanate: one in Poland-Lithuania, confirmed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and one in Moscow, elected by the Grand Duke of Moscow without patriarchal confirmation. This dual claim persisted from 1448 until the establishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1589.

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Zatorsky pointed out that a Metropolitanate of Moscow was never properly founded by any recognized authority, neither a Byzantine emperor, nor a patriarch of Constantinople, nor any grand duke or metropolitan in Moscow. Therefore, he argued, the metropolitans residing in Moscow from 1448 to 1589 should be termed “Counter-metropolitans” to distinguish them from the legitimate Metropolitans of Kyiv and all Rus in Poland-Lithuania, who were confirmed and recognized by the Patriarchs of Constantinople.

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Renowned French historian and undisputed authority on Byzantine, Rus, and Eastern European history, Dr. Professor Constantin Zuckerman of École Pratique des Hautes Études commented on Zatorsky’s thesis: “This is a brilliantly constructed thesis, and while it still requires more detail, which will undoubtedly come, it reflects the wider situation in 15th-16th century Orthodoxy.”

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Zatorsky’s thesis leads to the conclusion that the designation “Metropolitan of Moscow” was either a self-proclamation or a term used by opponents to undermine the metropolitan’s authority, contrasting it with the rightful title, “Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus.” This rebranding was often intended to diminish his position and influence. By contextualizing these historical shifts, Zatorsky underscored the importance of recognizing the legitimate ecclesiastical titles and the political maneuvers that have historically impacted the church’s hierarchy and territorial designations.

Nazar Zatorsky also identified that the affirmation of a metropolitan in Kyiv by the patriarch after the Council of Florence nullified the transfer of the see from Kyiv to Vladimir and later to Moscow. Consequently, the (Vladimir-)Moscow metropolitan see’s legitimacy was also nullified, as it was never created as such, but rather as an avatar of the Kyiv see.

Beyond his academic credentials, Nazar Zatorsky is a prominent figure in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. He has had a distinguished career marked by his deep commitment to both his faith and his homeland. Born in Lviv in 1979, Zatorsky pursued theological studies at the Lviv Holy-Spirit Seminary and Theological Academy (now Ukrainian Catholic University) before furthering his education at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Germany. He was ordained as a deacon in 2004 and as a priest in 2005 and served in Donetsk and in Poltava before he went to Switzerland. Since 2007, he has served as a vicar and later as an administrator in various Ukrainian parishes in Switzerland. In 2019 he defended his PhD in history at the Institute of Archeography in Kyiv and continues his doctorate in theology at the University of Fribourg. His scholarly work focuses on ecclesiological paradigms, particularly the writings of Misael of Kyiv.

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Zatorsky was dismissed from his position as the Episcopal representative for Ukrainian Greek-Catholics in Switzerland in April 2024. Zatorsky’s outspoken support for Ukraine, criticism of the Vatican’s stance on the Russian invasion and weak reaction of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to the war have been cited as primary reasons for his removal from this office in Switzerland. Despite this, Zatorsky remains steadfast, viewing his dismissal as an opportunity to shed light on the broader issues facing the church and Ukraine. This incident has prompted discussions on the church’s role in political matters and its alignment with moral and ethical principles, potentially altering public perception of the church’s leadership and its engagement with contemporary geopolitical issues.

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Zatorsky’s thesis significantly undermines the Russian Orthodox Church’s claim as the spiritual leader of the historical Rus territories. By revealing that the Metropolitanate of Moscow was a self-proclaimed entity, or simply a historical mistake, rather than a canonically established entity, Zatorsky highlights the artificial nature of Moscow’s ecclesiastical authority. This revelation challenges the narrative propagated by Russian authorities, especially amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine, where the legitimacy of spiritual and cultural leadership is fiercely contested. Zatorsky’s work reinforces Kyiv’s historical and spiritual significance, bolstering Ukraine’s position in claiming rightful ecclesiastical heritage.

This argument is particularly pertinent in the context of Ukraine’s recent achievement of autocephaly, or independent church governance, in 2019, which further legitimizes Kyiv as the true spiritual center for Orthodox Christians in the region. The recognition of Kyiv over Moscow as the spiritual home challenges the Russian Orthodox Church’s assertions and dismantles the propaganda used to justify Russian influence over Ukraine. Zatorsky’s findings support Ukraine’s ecclesiastical autonomy and enhance its spiritual and cultural sovereignty, providing a strong counter-narrative to Russian claims and reinforcing the historical ties of the Orthodox Church to Kyiv.

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