Andrei Șaguna and ”The Organic Statute” – VII. 1-2 The specifity and echoes of Andrei Șaguna’s ecclesiastical organization


The active participation of the laymen in the ecclesiastical organization is undoubtedly the angular point in Andrei Şaguna’s canonistical concept and ecclesiastical organization. The “innovation” brought by him in the middle of the nineteenth century was the revival of the laymen’s right to participate in the exercise of the Church power, within the limits prescribed by the dogmas and canons. The spirit of collaboration between all the members of the Church, which finds its highest expression in the mixed synods and in the episcopal synods[1], was applied by him at all levels of the life of the Church, starting with the parish. Even this spirit of collaboration embodied in the mixed synods was “the stumbling rock” for many of Andrei Şaguna’s contemporaries and successors. In the historical-ecclesial context of that time, “this was in fact a ‘reformed’ act, but not in the meaning of the Protestant Reform, but as a return to the origins. Şaguna was right and this truth cannot be contested, a fact which justifies the affirmation that he was born hundred years earlier.”[2]

VII.1 The specificity of Şaguna’s mixed synodality in the Austrian Monarchy

The institution of the synods (sobor in Russian) has its roots in the socio-political life also. The Slavic people, for instance, used to discuss all the important state problems in sobors.[3] That is why the institution of the ecclesiastical mixed synods was naturally adopted by the Slavs, at the same time with the Christianity on the Byzantine line. By adopting the Christendom from Byzantium, they have also taken the forms and institutions of it. Because in Constantinople the institution of the mixed synods were known and respected, it was naturally adopted and “grafted” on the old Slavic institution of state councils/sobors, which it had formal resemblances with: “The mixed synods of Byzantium had their heathen correspondent in the Slavic councils/sobors and the Slavs’ contact with Byzantium transformed their pagan state councils/sobor in hybrid ecclesiastical and state synods/sobors. […] this is how hybrid ecclesiastical and state synods appeared in all Slavic Churches.”[4]

In the Middle Age, the Serbians discussed both Church and state issues in their councils, as imposed by the confessional character of the Serbian state. After the occupation of the Serbian Kingdom by the Turks (partially in 1389 and finally in 1459), the state councils could not be held anymore, leaving the only instances of the mixed ecclesiastical synods (sabors) the task to discuss both the Church and civil problems of the Serbians.[5] They have lasted since then, this old practice serving as starting point for the future church national congresses. According to the “millet system”[6] brought in by the Ottoman domination, the patriarchs of Constantinople were also ethnarchs, they being the axis of the entire religious and socio-political life of the non-Moslems people in the Ottoman Empire. But the institution of the Serbian church congresses was not related to the Serbian patriarch’s quality of ethnarch.[7]

At the end of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century, when the great Serbian migrations in the Habsburg Empire took place (in 1690 and after 1737), the Serbians got the recognition of their ecclesiastical customs including the institution of the church national congress.[8] Emperor Leopold’s privileges for the “Illyrian Nation” (the Privilege from August 21, 1690, and the Privilege from August 20, 1691)[9] recognized the foundation of a congress made up of clergy and laymen, “although without to establish a precise form regarding its assembly. […] More on the organization and definition of the attributions of the congress was established later, in the following century.”[10]

Certainly, these hybrid synods with both ecclesiastical and civil competences are not canonical. They were the result of the historical hardships the Orthodox territories had to bear after the fall of Constantinople. However, it should be emphasized, on the one hand, that Andrei Şaguna did not “import” the Serbian hybrid synodal system[11], but he revived the Orthodox tradition in its pure, un-political spirit; he “corrected” the faulty tradition (because the mixed synods with both political and ecclesiastical competencies had been a tradition, up to Andrei Şaguna); on the other hand, the existence of the un-canonical mixed synods does not mean that all the mixed synods should have been condemned or banned, but restored in their strict ecclesiastical dimension.

Although the Metropolitan Andrei Şaguna was formed as a theologian in the Serbian climate, it is reckless to state that the institution of the mixed synodality – which he regulated in his church constitution – was “imported” from the Serbians. Because this apostolic institution had lasted long not only for the Serbian people, for the Slavs in general, but the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself had it well-preserved in the nineteenth century, and Andrei Şaguna knew that, of course.

After the settlement of the Ottoman domination, in the Patriarchate of Constantinople the institution of the mixed synods lasted in the next centuries without being specified in an organizational law, and in the nineteenth century this practice found its legal expression in the church regulations of 1860. By those church regulations, published in October 1860, according to which the Church of Constantinople managed itself until after the First World War, a “permanent mixed council” was instituted, made up of four bishops and eight laymen (the proportion two thirds laymen and one third clergymen).

The four bishops were elected from the members of the bishops’ synod (together with the patriarch), and the lay members were elected by the lay spokesmen of the Constantinople and Katasten parishes, after precise rules. The attributions of this mixed council were economic, foundational and educational. The Holy Synod, formed of twelve bishops, was concerned with the spiritual matters. In the mixed council the decisions were taken with a majority of votes. It lasted until after the First World War. Its mixed composition relied on the fact that the patriarch was also ethnarch, and because the Patriarchate took care of the Orthodox ecclesiastical and national affairs, it had to have a mixed council too.

Beside this council, the Patriarchate’s national assembly – the mixed general synod – was maintained, which had the executive body in the national council, elected by the national assembly.

Every eparchy had – according to a ecclesiastical law of 1873 – an eparchial assembly composed of the delegates of the parishes. The assembly was presided over by the bishop and decided, with majority of votes, the issues submitted to it.

For every parish it was stipulated a parish assembly, made up of all the adult parishioners.[12]

Andrei Şaguna only returned, by his system of ecclesiastical organization, to the primary tradition of the Church, avoiding the political connotations of the mixed synods which appeared after the fall of Constantinople: “By analysing the ideas and the original Project elaborated by Şaguna, we were convinced that he had known how to penetrate through his studies in the genuine spirit of the origins and development of the universal Church and to understand with a profound intuition the real apostolic feature of the ecclesiastical institutions and how they could be changed according to the canons.”[13]

Not only the Serbians of the Monarchy have had an old tradition of the mixed synods, but also the Romanians of Transylvania have had mixed ecclesiastical corporations. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Transylvanian legal Codes Approbatae constitutiones (acts of law voted by the Transylvanian Diet between 1540 and 1653) and Compilatae constitutiones (acts of law voted by the Transylvanian Diet between 1654 and 1669) recognized the privileged Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and Unitarian) the institution of the mixed synods composed of clergy and laymen, as mixed general assemblies where they had to discuss the major problems of each confession.[14]

What is more, the Transylvanian Orthodox had known the institution of the mixed synods even before the Reform. “It has been stated and it still is that the laymen only under the influence of the Calvinism and Lutheranism of Transylvania obtained such large rights in the Church. This statement is absolutely mistaken, unfair, and in contradiction with the history of the Church in Transylvania. […] the laymen had taken part in exercising the Church power in Transylvania long before the arrival of the Protestantism here, in the middle of the sixteenth century. […] The Patriarch Antonius IV of Constantinople [1389-1390, 1391-1397] approved in 1391 that the abbot of the stavropegic monastery Peri in Maramureş – who exercised episcopal rights too – should be elected by both clergy and laymen […]. Consequently, the abbot of Peri was elected by clergy and laymen in the fourteenth century, by universal vote. In the Romanian Principalities [Moldavia and Wallachia] the bishops were elected with the participation of the laymen too, even if the Protestantism never had a greater influence there.”[15]

One can find evidence on the existence of a great mixed synod of the Transylvanian Metropolitanate in the seventeenth century in George Branković’s Chronicle[16]. “The attributions of this big synod were numerous and were extended over the most important affairs of the Church in Transylvania.”[17] There were also the protopopiate small synods.[18]

In 1785, the Bishop Gedeon Nikitić of Transylvania (1783-1788) summoned a general synod in Sibiu, composed only of protopopes and their vicars, which marks a change, a deviation from the traditional mixed synods of the Orthodox Church in Transylvania.[19]

Therefore, the Orthodox Romanians of Transylvania have had, unlike the Serbians in the Austrian Monarchy, a tradition of the mixed un-political synods which was well known by Andrei Şaguna, who was very interested in the history of the Church[20]. Metropolitan Andrei “did not borrow a foreign institution, he stayed on the fundamental traditional line of our ecclesiastical organization”[21] He just “tried to dig up an old tradition, belonging not only the Transylvanian Church, but the entire Orthodox Church …”[22]

VII.2 Echoes of the ecclesiastical organization conceived by Andrei Şaguna

The first echoes of the ecclesiastical organization in Transylvania could be heard, as it was expected, in the other Romanian provinces.

Andrei Şaguna himself remarked in “Anthorismos” how the clergy and the believers in Bukovina were divided – by the year 1860 – by the idea of adopting the mixed synodality in their eparchy: “Aus diesen Worten unserer Brüder aus der Bukovina müssen wir folgen, daß in der Eparchie Bukovina zwei Partheien gibt, die eine, welche behauptet, daß die Laien kein Recht hätten an jener Versammlung theilzunehmen, wo die Regulierung der kirchlichen Angelegenheiten verhandelt wird, die andern aber, die verlangt, daß auch die Laien durch ihre Vertreter an einer solchen Versammlung Theil nehmen sollen. Wir würden dem Bukovinaer Klerus und der Eparchioten die Beilegung dieser Meinungsverschiedenheit über den erwähnten Gegenstand überlassen, aber wir können darüber nicht hin weggehen, weil, wie es scheint, eine Parthei ihre Meinung auf die Praxis von Siebenbürgen gründet, während die andere behauptet, daß diese siebenbürgische Praxis jedes kanonischen Grundes entehrt, und sich bloß aus das Guthalten des dortigen Bischofs stützt und ein Zugeständnis ist, welches jetzt zum erstenmale in Siebenbürgen auftaucht…[23] Because the church organization in Transylvania had become a stumbling rock for some people in Bukovina, the bishop gave an elaborated explanation on the mixed synodality.[24]

Şaguna’s ecclesiastical organization was not left outside the preoccupations of the theologians and hierarchs in Moldavia and Wallachia, too. Especially after Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s reforms[25] and “The Synodal Law of 1872”[26], there were voices which were for[27] or against[28] the mixed synodality, the other synods than the episcopal ones.

The important role and influence of Şaguna’s conception on the ecclesiastical organization and of “The Organic Statute” at the organization of other local Orthodox Churches later in time were a reality, although less discussed today.

The Russian Church was one of the “receivers”: “In the great Church of the big Russia, at the end of the eighteenth century disappeared any free action or trace of mixed synodality, because Peter the Great’s reforms introduced a kind of caesaropapism supported by the episcopal absolutism.”[29] At the beginning of the twentieth century, the first intentions of reorganizing and emancipating the Church from the state’s tutelage were visible. Although the first attempts of reform in the spirit of the mixed synodality failed[30], in 1917 a new “Statute for the Administration of the Russian Church” similar to “The Organic Statute” was adopted.[31] It succeeded to comprise the mixed synodality: “It was indeed a wonderful achievement of the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18 that it restored this lay participation to its full capacity and gave the laity new possibilities of cooperation with the hierarchy and creative activity in the Church, and this at a moment when the common defence of the Church became an urgent need. It brought to an end a false ‘clericalism’, a situation in which clergy alone constitute the active element in the Church. It clearly proclaimed the principle that all Christians are living and active members of the Church.”[32]

After the Romanian “Statute” of 1925[33] was elaborated on the basis of the Transylvanian one, a participant from Transylvania in the long contradictory discussions on the Romanian Church’s reorganization, confessed: “The former archbishop of Bessarabia – Nicodim – somehow eased our situation, saying in the conference of Sinaia [in 1919] how he was welcome during the war in Russia, and how he could find out the decisions that were taken for the organization of the Russian Church. After studying a number of comparative works, the Russian commission decided that the best organization in the Eastern Orthodox Churches belonged the Romanian Orthodox Transylvanian Church.”[34]

This is the reason why the Russian “Statute” of 1917 resembled “The Organic Statute”: “But the word ‘resemblance’ is not enough; in its most important parts it is identical with “The Organic Statute”. […] The entire research led to the recognition of Şaguna’s organization as the best synthesis of the [canonical] principles and the most appropriate formal expression of them, in a word, the best legislation that had ever been given the Church. Its entire adoption by the Russian Church in 1917-1918 truly confirms, even after half a century, the undoubted value of Şaguna’s work.”[35]

However, the Bolshevik revolution was to lead to the splitting of the Russian Church[36] and to the renunciation to the principle of the mixed synodality in Russia. The coming back to the principles of the Russian church constitution of 1917-18 was made in 2000, by the new church constitution of the Russian Orthodox Church.[37]

Studying the reception of “The Organic Statute”, Ioan Mateiu considered around 1930’s that this statute created an époque in the Orthodox ecumenical life, because many local Orthodox Churches adopted principles and institutions similar to those included in it. “The laymen were progressively invited in the ecclesiastical corporations, with equal rights besides the clergy, even in the Ecumenical Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, in the Archbishopric of Cyprus, in the Church of Bulgaria[38], Greece, and in the autonomous Churches which appeared after the [First World] War in Czechoslovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Albania. Moreover, their liberalism went so far, that the laymen were introduced even in the bishops’ synods, as in the case of the Patriarchate of Antioch, of the Russian Patriarchate, and of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”[39]

Analysing the ecclesiastical legislation after Andrei Şaguna in the autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches[40], the canonist Liviu Stan concluded, in 1939: “If we take a look at the evolution towards synodality of all Orthodox Churches since the appearance of Şaguna’s legislation until nowadays, it is impossible to avoid the fact that the father of the trend of returning to synodality is the great Şaguna. ‘The Organic Statute’ is the prototype of the new laws and statutes of organization of the Orthodox Churches, which adopted – partially or totally – not only the principles, but also the forms of Şaguna’s statute. His work remains like a haughty mountain, whose image is successively projected in the consciousness of the Orthodox Church, like in a miraculous mirror.”[41]

[1] Cf. L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 194.

[2] I. MARGA, Andrei Şaguna, canonist şi organizator bisericesc, 196. The same “Reform” was adopted in the Roman Church by the Second Vatican Council, about hundred years after Andrei Şaguna.

[3] Cf. R. A. KANN, Z. V. DAVID, The Peoples of the Eastern Habsburg Lands, 1526-1918, 392 et seq., 425 et seqq.

[4] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 134.

[5] On the political character of the Serbian ecclesiastical sabors and the so-called “last political sabor of the Serbians in Hungary”, of 21 March/2 April 1861 see Th. BREMER, Ekklesiale Struktur, 24-26.

[6] On the “millet” system see the chapter VI.2.3.2 herein.

[7] Cf. L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 136-137.

[8] Cf. Th. BREMER, Ekklesiale Struktur, 16-17.

At the end of the seventeenth century, the Serbian patriarch of Peć (the centre of the Serbian Patriarchate in the Ottoman Empire), Arsenije III Crnojević (1674-1691), together with (about) 36,000 Serbian Christian families emigrated to the new Austrian territories Vojvodina, Slavonia and eastern Croatia. The years 1738-1740 brought a new massive wave of refugees in the Habsburg Empire, this time from northern Serbia, most of whom were colonized in Banat. The Habsburgs granted the new colonists a series of synthesized rights called “Illyrian Privileges”. They provided a large national Church autonomy. Cf. I.F. DOBRESCU, N.L. DOBRESCU, Românii din Serbia, 81-82; Il. PUŞCARIU, Metropolia, 24. Cf. also the chapters I.2.1 and I.2.3 herein.

[9] On the imperial privileges see Ljiljana PANTOVIČ, Die Wiener Orthodoxen Serben (Dissertation), Wien 2004, 19-24. Cf. also A. HUDAL, Die serbisch-orthodoxe Nationalkirche, 38 et seqq.

[10] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 162-163. Cf. also Th. BREMER, Ekklesiale Struktur, 31-65; A. Baron de ŞAGUNA, Istoria Bisericei Ortodoxe Răsăritene Universale, vol. II, 293 et seq.; F. H. Vering, Lehrbuch, 31893, 371.

[11] Unfortunately, some scholars circulate the contrary idea until today: “So bedeutete jene der Serbischen National-Kongress nachgebildete Vollversammlung der rumänischen Kirchennation ein politisches Element von kaum zu unterschätzender Tragweite. In dieser unmittelbaren politischen Relevanz lag nunmehr der Unterschied zur unierten Kirche, die durch den multinationalen Anspruch der katholischen Kirche ihre politische Leitfunktion eingebüßt hatte.” K. SCHWARZ, Heilendes Erinnern, 136. Cf also Ernst Christoph SUTTNER, Das religiöse Moment in seiner Bedeutung für Gesellschaft, Nationsbildung und Kultur Südosteuropas, in: Südosteuropa Mitteilungen 37 (1997), 1-9.

[12] Cf. L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 188-190; F. H. Vering, Lehrbuch, 31893, 663.

[13] I. MATEIU, Contribuţiuni la istoria dreptului bisericesc, 257.

[14] Cf. L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 165-166. See also K. ZACH, Politische Ursachen und Motive der Konfessionalisierung in Siebenbürgen, 58-59.

More on the legal Codes of Transylvania see in the chapter I.1.2 herein.

[15] N. POPOVICI, Opinii asupra proiectului de modificare, 10.

[16] George Branković, Hungarian language clerk and brother of Metropolitan Sava Branković (1656- 1680), was a diplomat in the service of Transylvanian Prince Michael Apaffi I (1661-1690), and later of the Wallachian Prince Şerban Cantacuzino (1678-1788). His Chronicle wrote on demand of Cantacuzino, is considered one of the first attempts to describe synthetically the history of the South-eastern Europe and is one of the first historical writings in Romanian. Cf. History of Romania. Compendium, 389 et seqq.

[17] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 175.

[18] Cf. ibid., 175-176.

[19] Cf. ibid., 180.

[20] See Andreiu Baron de ŞAGUNA, Istoria Bisericei Ortodoxe Răsăritene Universale, vol. I+II Sibiiu 1860 (Cyrillic letter).

[21] N. POPOVICI, Opinii asupra proiectului de modificare, 10.

[22] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 192.

[23] A. Baron de SCHAGUNA, Anthorismos oder berichtigende Erörterung, 104.

[24] Cf. the chapter VI.4.2 herein.

[25] Alexandru Ioan Cuza is the first ruler of the United Romanian Principalities (1859-1862) and of the national Romanian State (1862-1866). Under his reign were settled the bases of the economic, social, political and cultural modern organization of the Romanian nation. He interfered with radical laws in the ecclesiastical life, laws which, although useful for the bettering of the Orthodox Church’s situation, had many un-canonical measures, which triggered vehement reactions of the Church, or the “fight for canonicity”. For Andrei Şaguna’s implication in these issues, see the chapters III.2.8 and V.1.3 herein.

Cf. History of Romania. Compendium, 505.

[26] See Rumänisches Gesetz vom 14. December 1872, in: AfKR, 42 (1879), 423-426. More on it see the chapter VII.5 herein.

[27] See Nicolae DOBRESCU, Lămuriri Canonice-Istorice asupra sinodului şi asupra organizaţiunei bisericeşti din Biserica Ortodoxă, Bucureşti 1909; I[oan Irineu] MIHĂLCESCU, Modificarea legei sinodale, Bucureşti 1909.

[28] See CALINIC, Primatul României, IOSIF, Mitropolit, MELCHISEDEK Episcop, Studiŭ despre ierarchia şi instituţiunea sinodală în Biserica Orthodoxă a Resăritului în genere şi despre ierarchia şi instituţiunea sinodală în Biserica Orthodoxă Română în specialŭ, Bucureşti 1883.

[29] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 181. See also the chapter VI.2.3.2 herein.

[30] Cf. ibid., 209-218.

[31] On August 15, 1917, six months after the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, when the provisional Government was in power, an All-Russian Church Council was convened at Moscow, which did not finally disperse until September 1918. More than half of the delegates were laymen – the bishops and clergy present numbered 265, the laity 299. The Council carried through a far-reaching programme of reform, its chief act being to abolish the Synodical form of church government established by Peter the Great, and to restore the patriarchate. But two days after the election of the new patriarch, Lenin gained full mastery of Moscow. The Church was allowed no time to consolidate the work of reform. Before the council came to a close, in the summer of 1918 persecution had already begun.  Cf. T. WARE, The Orthodox Church, 137 et seq.

See also Günther SCHULZ, Das Landeskonzil der Orthodoxen Kirche in Rußland 1917/1918 – ein unbekanntes Reformpotential, Göttingen 1995; Günther SCHULZ, Gisela A. SCHRÖDER, Timm C. RICHTER, Bolschewistische Herrschaft und Orthodoxe Kirche in Rußland. Das Landeskonzil 1917/1918, Münster 2005.

[32] Alexander SCHMEMANN, The Church is Hierarchical, in: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1959, 36-41 here 40.

[33] See the chapter VII.5 herein.

[34] I. LUPAŞ, Legea unificării bisericeşti, 24.

[35] L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 222.

[36] The reunification process of the Russian Orthodox Church is in progress, being officially initiated by the agreement of June 1, 2007.

[37] See Alexej KLUTSCHEWSKY u.a., Das Statut der Russischen Orthodoxen Kirche, in: Kanon XIX (2006), 41-72.

[38] For the reception of Andrei Şaguna’s conception on ecclesiastical organization in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church see J. SCHNEIDER, Der Hermannstädter Metropolit, 224.

[39] I. MATEIU, Mirenii şi drepturile lor în Biserică, 37.

[40] See L. STAN, Mirenii în biserică, 206-237.

[41] Ibid., 238.


mihaela.stan February 7, 2017 Drept si Religie