UNION of BREST
by BISHOP ROMAN DANYLAK
from CATHOLIC INSIGHT NOVEMBER 1996

In my first article on the history of Christianity in Ukraine ("Ukrainian Catholic Church explained," Jan/Feb. 1996), I outlined the historical vicissitudes of Christianity in the lands of Christian Rus from its distant beginnings; the period of foundation and organisation and the renewal of ecclesial communion with the See of Peter after the Council of Florence and the events that followed; the Union of Brest; its short duration in eastern Ukraine following the rise of the new political state of Muscovy or Russia; its renewal in western Ukraine; and the tragic events of this century and the present condition. Today the Ukrainian Catholic Church is celebrating the fourth centenary of the restoration of communion with the See of Peter, established at Brest Litovsk in October 1596.

    One of the unfortunate aspect to these celebrations is the subtle conviction in the minds of many that this unity or communion began with Brest. Not so. Saint Vladimir accepted Christianity in its eastern and Catholic form in 998; and the Church in Ukraine retained its ties with Rome for another century following the schism of 1054. There followed the Councils of Lyons (1245), and Florence (1438-45) and other ecclesiastical events up until 1452, when Prince Basil II of Moscow rejected the proclamation of the Acts of the Council of Florence by the Kievan metropolitan Isidore, and imprisoned Isidore in Moscow. A century later Basil's successor, Theodore of Moscow sought and obtained from the patriarch of Constantinople the elevation of the Moscow metropolitan to patriarch in order that he, Theodore, might be proclaimed Tsar. These were the first deliberate and explicit severances of communion of Slav orthodoxy with the Church of Rome.
 
Russian Orthodoxy was established in non-Russian lands by political power and ecclesiastical intrigue.

Uniatism incorrect

    Orthodox and Catholic ecumenists tend to label the Union of Brest as uniatism, a continuation of the invective slurs against the Church of the Kievan metropolia that had re-established communion with the See of Peter and the universal Church. They called us the "uniti', the reunited ones or uniates. This label was popularised in western ecumenical thinking by the late Fr. Cyril Korolevsky, the author of Uniatisme.

    Fr. Korolevsky was of French Russian background. He owed his love for Russia and eastern Christianity to his Russian mother. This love deepened and grew through his association with Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky (1865-1944), who made him his procurator in Rome and entrusted him with the task of researching the Vatican archives for documentation on the church of Rus-Ukraine.

    We must credit Fr. Korolevsky with intellectual honesty. As his knowledge of the east and especially the realities of the Church in Ukraine expanded, his thinking matured and his perceptions of the heritage of the Ukrainian Church deepened. He eventually came to understand that the eastern patrimony received by the Church in Ukraine represented in large part the tradition of eastern Christianity that preceded the liturgical and canonical reforms of Byzantium in the llth and 12th centuries. He learned from his spiritual mentor. Metropolitan Sheptytsky, to view this patrimony as reflecting the authentic tradition of early Christianity of the great Fathers of the Church, the common heritage of the Catholic and Orthodox east.

    This tradition or patrimony is not coterminous with Orthodoxy. The latter term was introduced by the Constantinople patriarch Tarasius (d. 806) with the establishment of the liturgical feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, to celebrate the fidelity of the Byzantine Church to the Catholic faith through the many trials and heresies of the previous five centuries. It was later taken up by the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius in 1054 as the banner of opposition to the Roman west. Eventually, orthodoxy became identified with the Orthodox Churches as distinct from the Catholic Church.

Is Holy Mother Russia undivided?

    Despite his other great merits for the churches of the east and the Catholic Church in Ukraine through his association with the Servant of God Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, Fr. Korolevsky's views were marred by his russophilism and the political-religious conception of a one and undivided Holy Mother Russia. His views were shared by many of the policy makers in the Catholic Church. For him there was one great Russia and one Holy Russian Orthodox Church, the great Russians. Ukrainians and the Belarus were "malorosy," the little Russians and white Russians. The initial treaty of friendship and non-aggression of Pereyaslav signed by the hetman Bohdan Khmelnitsky in 1648 eventually became the tool of imperial oppression and enslavement of cos-sack Ukraine by Muscovy under Tsar Peter and his successors. With the fall of the Tsars in 1917 the empire became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a new prison of subjugated peoples and nations still struggling to cast off the spectre of Russian political and ecclesiastical domination even after the events of glasnost, perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet empire. It is only today, with the proclamation of an independent state of Ukraine, that the political west is accepting the right of these people to their own sovereignty. But old ideas die hard. Certain ecclesiastical circles in Rome had been infected by these views even to the present day.

A new perception

    One of the principal voices of a new perception was Fr. Athanasius Welykyj, O.S.B.M., a young hieromonk of the Basilian Order, an indefatigable researcher and scholar. Fr. Korolevsky had enlisted him to assist in researching the Vatican archives. Fr. Welykyj, who would become the Proto-archmandrite or superior general of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, began to publish the Vatican documents in the Basilian Analecta. In 1961, he was called by Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Amieto Cicognani, the secretary of State, to head the secretariat of the Preparatory Commission of Vatican Council II. As secretary of the Council Commission on the Eastern churches, Fr. Welykyj made substantial contributions to the principal ideas of the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Nov. 1964), and many of the materials developed by this commission became the foundation for the conciliar documents on the Unity of the Church and Catholic ecumenism (1964).

    His writings cast new light on the vicissitudes of the church in Ukraine, and brought to light in our day the authentic vision of the fathers of the Union of Brest. The bishops of the Metropolia of Kiev, prompted by the difficult situation of the Church and the looming threat of the spread of Protestantism through the eastern realms of the Polish kingdom to which Ukraine now belonged, began to search for new aid. Prayer and theological reflection renewed in their convictions the Gospel view of the Church of Christ, built on the solid foundations of Peter.

    And it is to Peter that they turned. Addressing the Roman Pontiff, Pope Clement VIII, they asked to be embraced in the unity of Christ's Church. Addressing their flock, they taught their faithful that their action was nothing new. To the contrary, they affirmed that they were returning to the authentic Christianity of the Apostolic Church, and the unity of the Church, when Volodymyr and his people received baptism in a united Church of Christ. Metropolitan Sheptytsky, whom Divine Providence called to lead the Ukrainian Church in this most difficult of centuries as metropolitan of Lviv-Halych, best embodies these traditions of early Christianity maintained in the Ukrainian Catholic Church as an integral part of the universal Catholic Church.

    Pope John Paul presents this vision anew at the end of this century as he calls the Church to prepare for the great jubilee of the year 2000, in his encyclical Orientate Lumen (The Light of the East, May 1995). The Holy Father calls it "redintegratio unitatis," the restoration of the unity of the Church of the first millennium when the church was one and breathed with "both lungs of western and eastern Christianity." We must expand this vision to include the new (particular churches), that have enriched Christ's mystical Body with the treasures of their own cultures, transformed and sanctified by the grace of Christ.

Defining uniatism

    What is Uniatism? The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, that met in Balamand, Lebanon, in 1993 identifies it as "the proselyte activity on the part of Catholics"—as if the Orthodox were not proselytising— which results in the union of individuals or particular churches of the east with Rome rather than aiming at the restoration of full union with the entire Church of the east.

    This definition labours under a basic misconception and myth. It considers the Orthodox Church as a single, uniform body or Church in itself, which it is not. In reality, there are many Orthodox Churches. What unites these Orthodox Churches is that they all share the same ecclesiastical heritage of the Church of Constantinople. Orthodox theology views the Church of Christ as a mystical or spiritual union of orthodox sister Churches and not as a single institutional reality.

    Contemporary Orthodoxy originated in the unfortunate schism or division of 1054, which divided the churches of the Byzantine heritage from the churches of the Roman heritage. The Mediterranean basin of the primitive church was divided between old Rome and Constantinople, the new Rome, so-called because the Roman emperors moved from Rome to Constantinople (where the empire survived for a thousand years longer after the "barbarians" overran Italy in the fifth century). In the ensuing centuries the apostolic churches that traced their origins to Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were neglected. During the time they were a part of the Byzantine empire, they came to be dominated by the patrimony of the Byzantines. Their own legitimate patrimonies, together with those of the other churches of the Christian east, were almost lost. The 1993 dialogue of the Joint Theological Commission glossed over in silence these ancient churches as well as the eastern Catholic Churches, and this has continued in the ensuing dialogues between Orthodox and Catholics.
 
The charge of Uniatism is a mere propaganda label coined to cover the particular interests of single Orthodox churches.

Orthodoxy not a single church

    Contemporary Orthodoxy is divided between the two patriarchates of Byzantium and Moscow, and the numerous autocephalous or autonomous churches of the Byzantine east that are not in communion with Rome. They are a family of particular churches sharing the patrimony of Byzantium; they are not a single Church. If the dialogue envisaged by the members of the Joint Theological commission were to begin, who should be their spokesman? Who is empowered to speak in the name of Orthodoxy? The last times Orthodoxy spoke were the second Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 789 and that of Constantinople in 869. With the distancing of Constantinople and Rome, there has been no single authority among the Orthodoxy to muster a unified action of the Orthodox Churches. Each Orthodox church has become a church unto itself, autocephalous or autonomous.

    Pope John Paul II has committed himself to the Gospel of unity and ecumenism as proclaimed in the Vatican Council. He indefatigably consumes himself in building bridges of dialogue with the separated Christian Churches. He holds special hope in his efforts of dialogue with the patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople and the other Churches of the Orthodox family. But the problems remain. It appeared that his efforts were beginning to bear fruit until the latest jurisdictional dispute of the Ecumenical patriarch continued Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Alexius II of Moscow over the Orthodox Church of Estonia. What were the issues involved in this dispute? The Pope had alluded to the main bone of contention during the celebrations of Ss. Peter and Paul in Rome in June, 1995, namely the difficulty the Orthodox experience with the Catholic dogma of the Petrine or papal primacy. But this is not the principal difficulty.

    Whether they acknowledge it or not, the Orthodox churches have identified themselves with the cultural heritage of their peoples. They have become national Churches. It was not the spiritual concern for the spiritual welfare and eternal salvation of immortal souls but blatant religious imperialism that set Moscow and Constantinople at odds with each other over Estonia.

    Secondly, as we have seen, earlier Orthodoxy does not possess or express the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Peter, who established his See in Rome, is the inheritor of Christ's promise and not the Rome of the empire, or the new Rome of Byzantium or the third Rome of Moscow. 'Thou art Peter, the Rock and upon this rock I shall build my Church.'

Church in Ukraine

PICTURE: The Pope blesses the congregation with the dikerion and frikerion during the Ukrainian-rite liturgy celebrated in St Peter's Basilica.

    One of these historical Orthodox churches was the Church in Ukraine. It severed its ties with Byzantium 400 years ago in Brest, to free itself of a patriarch i and a Church whose only interest in Belarus and Ukraine were economic and financial. The Patriarch Jeremiah II, now a vassal of the Turkish sultan, had to purchase his patriarchal mitre from the Turkish political powers. He would send his exarchs into these Slav lands to collect the tithe to purchase this patriarchal crown. And the Orthodox Church of Muscovy and Russia has a history of serving the interests of political regimes to maintain itself. Witness the last four hundred years of the history of the Church in Ukraine.

    Russian Orthodoxy was established in non-Russian lands by political power and ecclesiastical intrigue. And yet the "ecumenists" insist on labelling Ukrainians as nationalists and the Ukrainian Catholic Church as being a national church. In 1946 Moscow celebrated the (Stalin enforced) reunification of the Ukrainian Church in Galicia with the Orthodox Church. As late as 1988 Gorbachev was still denying the existence of an underground Church in union with Rome. Even with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1988-89, the Moscow patriarchate still tried to hold on to the Ukraine and Belarus churches, opposing the restoration of the Ukrainian Catholic church, and then setting up a puppet regime of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate. All this in the name of religion.

    The statistics of the Moscow patriarchate affirm that 90 per cent of their faithful are in Ukraine and that 83 per cent of their clergy are from the western Ukraine. It is becoming clear that the claims of Orthodoxy are not motivated by zeal for souls and the building of Christ's kingdom. The charge of Uniatism, as is becoming more evident, is a mere propaganda label coined to cover the particular interests of single Orthodox churches.

Unity of Christ

    What is that unity of His Church for which Christ prayed? "/ am the good shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. And other sheep I have that are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold an one shepherd" (John. 10, 14-17).

    After His resurrection Christ confirms this ordinance. Three times he asks Peter, "Do you love me," and three times he confirms His mandate to Peter, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep." (John 21, 15-17)

    These words notwithstanding, as we approach the third millennium, we witness the ongoing fragmentation of the Church or churches, so many laying claims to speak for Christ. What is the issue, at least for those that call themselves Christians? How did Christ establish His Church? Christians are divided according to their interpretation of the nature of the fold of Christ.

    Catholic doctrine affirms its faith in the one body or fold of Christ, not as some distant ideal to be attained at the end of time but as a divinely constituted reality already in place under one visible supreme shepherd.

    The Orthodox understand the Church of Christ as a community of Christian churches joined in a spiritual or mystical bond under the mystical headship of Christ and the unity of each Orthodox church made visible in its local juridical head, the bishop and the patriarch. And there is scriptural evidence for this conception. Saint Paul addresses himself to the various churches founded by him as churches. Saint Ignatius described the essential nature of the church as that body of Christian faithful with their own pastor or bishop and his ministers.

    The Orthodox acknowledge the visible character of this ecclesial unity of the particular church, under the authority of the bishop and of the patriarch. They fail to extend that same rationale to the reality of the entire Body of Christ, to the universal Church. For them the universal Church is a spiritual or mystical entity and unity.

    The heritage of the Protestant west stresses the immediate experience of the Spirit of God. The reformers of the sixteenth century became tools of local political interests, of interests of state and political expediency ('cujus regio, ejus religio'-so the prince, so the religion), and their own zeal as reformers. Each reformer, each individual is his own church. The principle of individual interpretation of Scripture brought about the ultimate disintegration and fractionalisation of self-styled Christian churches.

    In our day with the spread of Pentecostalism, each individual is searching for his own experience of God. This same rank individualism, this spirit of religious democracy has permeated even the monolith of the Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul

    Pope John Paul II probes and leads us deeply into the rich treasures of early Christianity, the common heritage of both Catholics and Orthodox, aware of the tremendous potential it holds for the future growth of the Church. He has committed himself and the Church to ecumenism in the recent encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That they may be one). The principle ideas become the theme of his addresses to the Church of the Unions of Brest and Uzhorod. They are the directives for a Catholic ecumenical effort. This is the will of God: Divine Providence wisely and patiently working out its own plan of God's grace. On the part of the Church they call for renewal and personal conversion.

    The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed truth. This change of heart and holiness of life, along with the public and private prayers for the unity of Christians, is the soul of the whole ecumenical movement leading to the conversion of hearts guided by love. The Holy Father concludes his letter to the Church of Ukraine: "This union concerned only a particular geographical region, but it is relevant for the entire field of ecumenism. . ." Eastern Catholics are to commit themselves to living profoundly what the 1964 decree, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, lays out. They are asked to make a confession of faith full of humility and gratitude to the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church towards the fulfilment promised her by the Redeemer of the world."

Bishop Roman Danylak was Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Eastern rite Ukrainian Eparchy of Toronto and now resides in Rome.


 
Back to index 
       Top