Monday, April 1, 2024

Inside the Unique Governance of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church

By M. Derosiers

ROME-RUTHENIA 2 April 2024 (NRom)

The governance of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church and its historic temporal wing, the Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia is a topic that captures the imagination of many. At its helm is the Bishop of Rome-Ruthenia, a figure who combines ecclesiastical authority with sovereign dignity. This unique blend of roles is accompanied by an array of traditional auxiliary titles such as Prince of the Romans, Grand Duke and titular Karol of Ruthenia, and more. But who is the current head of the Church, His Holiness Bishop Rutherford I, and how is the incumbent of such a multifaceted position chosen? Is it a matter of bloodline, or is it an elective process? The answer lies somewhere in between, in a semi-hereditary, semi-elective ecclesiastical monarchy system that has roots in several historical precedents.

The United Roman-Ruthenian Church

St. Aftimios Ofiesh, Russian
Orthodox Bishop of Brooklyn,
one of the two Holy Fathers of 
the Apostolic See of the
United Roman-Ruthenian Church
The United Roman-Ruthenian Church is a canonical autocephalous patriarchal Apostolic Church of ancient Orthodox and Catholic origins, also with special status with the United Nations Economics and Social Council. It is also in hereditary descent from Rome and Russia and is considered the temporal successor of St. Peter. St. John Paul II relinquished the temporal claims of the Bishops of Rome, except for those pertaining to Vatican City, while St. Benedict XVI renounced the Patriarchal title. The succession to the temporal heritage of Rome now rests with the United Roman-Ruthenian Church as the next-closest heir in recognized and documented succession from St. Leo X in the Holy Roman Empire. The current structure and name resulted in 2023 when several jurisdictions merged. The modern diocese was established in 1978, with autocephalous status in 2008 and patriarchal status in 2011. (See more at the Frequently Asked Questions.)
Pope St. Leo X, Prince of
Florence, one of the two
Holy Fathers of the
Apostolic See of the United
Roman-Ruthenian Church

The Pontifical Imperial State

In the rich tapestry of history, the states of the Church transcend time and hold great significance. The Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia is the titular secular wing of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church. It is the combination of the historic Pontifical Roman State and the Pontifical Kingdom of Ruthenia and All Rus' to which the Church is heir, carrying a legacy that spans centuries. 

To foster a sense of unity and represent all the historical territories associated with the patrimony of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church (which include an empire, three kingdoms, several principalities, and more), the modern name - Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia - was chosen. Uniting these historic states and church jurisdictions under one banner of fellowship strengthens the bonds of collective heritage within the United Roman-Ruthenian Church and writes a new chapter in their shared history. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we are all part of a greater whole. Today the Pontifical Imperial States stands as an ethno-religious cultural nation without political territory that constitutes a state unto itself, representing people across multiple modern political countries.

Top Left: Roman the Great, Tsar of All Rus'
Top Right: Lev II, King of Russia
Bottom Left: Valentinian III Augustus
Bottom Right: Constantine VII,
Byzantine Emperor of Rome

The Church's continued claim over the Pontifical Imperial State may seem puzzling to some, given that it no longer possesses any actual political territory and does not seek to control any political territory. Historical significance, autonomy from secular authorities, diplomatic recognition, and protection of church assets all are contributing factors. Yet, the Church's claim is rooted in its historical significance, for the Church still recognizes its historical connection and significance to the areas that once comprised the Pontifical Imperial State, even though they now belong to other modern political countries. Also, by maintaining its claim over the Pontifical Imperial State, the Church asserts its autonomy and independence from secular authorities. This symbolic declaration reinforces the Church's position as a sovereign entity and serves as a reminder of its spiritual authority. That allows the Church to maintain diplomatic relations with other entities, participate in international affairs, and to function as a sovereign state unto itself, despite lacking political territory. Furthermore, this claim acts as a safeguard against any possible challenges or encroachments on historical assets.

Full coat of arms of the
Pontifical and Imperial Household
of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church

The Semi-Hereditary, Semi-Elective Monarchy Explained

St. Peter the Apostle vested
as a Bishop of the
Gallo-Russo-Byzantine Rite
of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church

The governance structure of The United Roman-Ruthenian Church and the Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia is neither purely hereditary nor entirely elective. This system mirrors the historical institution of hereditary bishoprics and nation-states governed by prince-bishops, with Montenegro often cited as a prime example. The current Supreme Pontiff, Bishop Rutherford I, holds his secular titles through his ecclesiastical office. Also, the several titles held by his family were bequeathed to the Church, thus making them now inseparable from the office of the Bishop of Rome-Ruthenia. And, today these titles are symbolic and no longer refer to (or seek) direct governance of a civil state. Therefore they form an ethno-religious nation without borders that constitutes a state unto itself, representing people across multiple modern political countries.

His Holiness Bishop Rutherford I

Bishop Rutherford I
in uniform of the 
Walsingham Guard

Bishop Rutherford of Rome-Ruthenia, elected as head of the Church in 2011, is a figure embodying humble service, dignity, and historical significance. His Holiness's lineage spans the great royal and noble houses of Europe, from the western realms to the eastern domains, including the Kingdom of Ruthenia that forms a major part of the Church's patrimony. He is part of the nobility of the Merovingian Dynasty, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire. And, in his role as Supreme Pontiff, he is head of the Pontifical and Imperial House of Johnson-Roma-Rus', the ecclesiastical dynastic successors to the Houses of Rurikovich, Romanovich, and Ivrea. The family is entrusted with the sacred duty of upholding the traditions and values of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church and Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia. Although the family is Roman-Russian, with strong Latin and Slavic heritage, it also has a long history in the British Isles, North America, and the Caribbean.

Bishop Rutherford I
in clerical habit

Despite his European roots, Bishop Rutherford I was born and raised in the United States, where he also descends from some of the most distinguished American families such as the Warren, Winslow, and Phillips families of Boston, among others. In addition to seminary, he holds degrees from Harvard University Extension School, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, and is also a behavioral scientist specialized in psychological economics. For Bishop Rutherford I, serving in his ecclesiastical role is more than a mere duty; it is the intersection of a profound familial obligation and a deeply-held act of faith. In 2025, the P.I. House of Johnson-Roma-Rus' will be celebrating 20 years of the restoration of the Roman-Russian dynasty. 

Historical Precedents of Hereditary Ecclesiastical Offices

Bishop Petar II, 
Metropolitan and
Prince of Montenegro
The concept of a semi-hereditary, semi-elective monarchy, as seen in The United Roman-Ruthenian Church and the Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia, is not without historical precedent. The prince-bishoprics of medieval Europe, (such as Montenegro, already mentioned) served as theocratic states where the bishop held both spiritual and temporal power. These prince-bishops were often appointed through a combination of hereditary succession and election by religious or noble bodies, reflecting a governance model that balanced inherited rights with the endorsement of peers or the clergy. Today prince-bishoprics that are actively-functioning civil states are Andorra (which lies between Spain and France) and the Vatican City. 

A Fusion of Heritage and Duty

The governance of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church and the Pontifical Imperial State of Rome-Ruthenia is a fascinating blend of hereditary rights and elective processes. This unique system, rooted in historical traditions of prince-bishops and hereditary ecclesiastical offices, showcases the intricate ways in which spiritual and temporal powers can be united under a single leadership. The office of Bishop of Rome-Ruthenia embodies this fusion, bringing together a vast array of secular heritage intertwined with a deep commitment to ecclesiastical duties. The Bishop's duty is to uphold a legacy that is both ancient and perpetually relevant.