Ways of Russian Theology

The Union of Brest; “Brotherhoods”; the Kiev Monastery of the Caves

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The Union of Brest; “Brotherhoods”; the Kiev Monastery of the Caves.

The Unia began as a schism and remained a schism. In the apt phrase of the modern church historian Metropolitan Makarii (Bulgakov), “the Union in Lithuania, or rather in the West Russian lands, originated with anathema.” 107 The Unia was fundamentally a clerical movement, the work of a few bishops, separated and isolated from the community of the Church, who acted without its free and conciliar consent, without a consensus plebis, or as was lamented at the time, “secretly and stealthily, without the knowledge [porazumenie] of the Christian people.” Thus it could not but split the Orthodox Church, sunder the community of faith, and estrange the hierarchy from the people.

This same pattern was followed at a later date in other areas, in Transylvania and in the Carpatho-Russian region of Hungary. The result everywhere was a peculiar and abnormal situation: at the head of Orthodox people stood a Uniate hierarchy. The hierarchs viewed their submission to Roman authority as a “reunion of the Church,” but in reality the Churches were now more estranged than ever. Whereas following its own logic, the new Uniate hierarchy took the resistance of the people to be uncanonical disobedience to established authority, the rebellion of an unruly flock against its lawful shepherds, the Orthodox believers, on their part, saw the resistance to the hierarchy, their so-called “disobedience,” as the fulfillment of Christian duty, the inescapable demand of loyalty and fidelity. “Neither priests, nor bishops, nor metropolitans will save us, but the mystery of our faith and the keeping of the Divine commandments, that is what shall save us,” wrote Ivan Vishenskii from Mt. Athos. And he forthwith defended the right of the faithful Christians to depose and drive out any apostate bishop, “lest with that evil eye or pastor they go to Gehenna.” This was hazardous advice. But the situation had become fraught with ambiguity and complexity.

The Unia in Poland not only ruptured the Eastern Church, it also severed the Roman Catholic community. By creating a second holy body under papal authority, it originated a duality within the western Church. Full “parity of rites” was never achieved or recognized, nor did the two flocks of common obedience ever become one — indeed, this was not called for in the original agreement. The tensions between East and West now entered into the life of the Roman Catholic Church. As they spread, they intensified. Thus sociologically, the Unia proved a failure. The only way out of this impasse, or so some came to believe, was through the gradual integration (i.e., “Latinization”) of the Uniate Church. This tendency was reinforced by yet another sentiment. Many from the start had viewed the Eastern rite as “schismatic,” even if within Roman allegiance. They felt it was an alien accretion, a tactical concession to be tolerated for strategical reasons, but destined to give way to full integration into a uniform, that is, Latin, rite. Hence the subsequent history of the Unia in the Polish-Lithuanian State came to be dominated by just this urge for uniformity, this desire for “Latinization.”

It has been contended by some on the Roman Catholic side that this development was normal, a sign of organic life and the proof of vitality. In a sense, this is true. But whatever the case, it must be recognized that the Unia in its mature form was quite different from that conceived in 1595, and even from that nurtured by the early Uniate leaders. It has also been argued that such a “Byzantine” institution could hardly have survived in a state which by principle and aspiration was wholly western, all the more so after several East Slavic regions went over to Muscovy and the more “intransigent” Orthodox groups were removed from Polish care. All these are but mild and euphemistic ways of saying that in principle Unia meant “Polonization,” which is what happened historically. This was, of course, one of the original aims. The interests of the Polish State called for the cultural and spiritual integration of its Christian people, and it is for this reason that the state first encouraged and then supported the Unia. Indeed, that it survived at all was due to state intervention. But politically, too, the Unia was a failure. It promoted resistance rather than integration and added to the “schism in the soul,” a “schism in the body politic.” The other primal impulse for Unia (apparently the moving idea of Roman Catholic missionaries such as Possevino) sought a true “reunion of the Churches,” embracing the whole of the Russian Church and, if possible, all of the Eastern Churches. This distinctly religious aspiration was dealt a fatal blow by that which was achieved politically and culturally, by precisely what has been praised as the proof of success or vitality.

The Union of Brest remained as it began, a “local arrangement” for the most part generated and preserved by reasons and forces of non-theological character. The Union of Brest did not arise out of a popular religious movement. It was the composition of several Orthodox bishops then in charge of Orthodox dioceses in the Polish-Lithuanian State together with authorities of the Roman Church and the kingdom of Poland. Once it became known that the act would not command the agreement or sympathy of the full body of the Church, it could only continue as a clandestine affair. Seemingly fearful that further delay might subvert the whole enterprise, Bishops Pociej and Terletskii (Terlecki) left for Rome. 108 But news of their secret plot became public, and even while they were away open protest against the Unia began in the Church. The Council of Brest was convened on their return. It was designed for the solemn promulgation of a fait accompli, not for discussion. But before the members could gather, a split appeared in the ranks of the Orthodox. Two “councils” resulted, meeting simultaneously and moving to opposed resolutions. The “Uniate Council” was attended by representatives of the Polish Crown and the Latin hierarchy, together with several hierarchs from the Orthodox Church. It drew up an instrument of Orthodox allegiance to the Holy See, which was then signed by six bishops and three archimandrites. The “Orthodox Council” was attended by an exarch of the ecumenical patriarch (Nicephorus), 109 an emissary from the patriarch of Alexandria (Cyril Lucaris), three bishops (Luke, the metropolitan of Belgrade, 110 Gedeon Balaban, 111 and Mikhail Kopystenskii 112), over two hundred clergy, and a large number of laymen assembled in a separate chamber. It disavowed the Unia and deposed those bishops in compliance, announcing its actions in the name and on the authority of the ecumenical patriarch, who held supreme jurisdiction over the metropolia of the West Russian lands. The decisions of the “Orthodox Council” were denounced by the Uniate bishops and — of greater import — repudiated by the Polish State. Henceforth all resistance to the Unia was construed as opposition to the existing order, and any writing critical of the act was branded a criminal offense. Exarch Nicephorus, who presided over the “Orthodox Council,” was prosecuted and sentenced as an agent of a foreign state. 113 As a final measure, it was declared that the “Greek faith” would not be recognized by law. Those who remained faithful to Orthodoxy would no longer be simply stigmatized as “schismatics” but also harassed as “rebels.” What to this point for the state had been essentially a problem of “religious unity” was instantly transformed into a problem of “political loyalty.” As for the Orthodox believers, they had now to prepare a theological defense of their faith and, more urgently, to fight for legal recognition.

The struggle of the Orthodox against the enforced Unia was above all a manifestation of the corporate consciousness of the people of the Church. At first the main centers were Vilna and Ostrog. But soon Lvov came to the fore, to be joined at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Kiev. Of more importance was the change in the social strata upon which the Orthodox apologists could rely for sympathy and support. Whereas in the days of Kurbskii and Ostrozhskii the Orthodox cause was mainly supported by the high aristocracy [szlachta], in the next generation noble families experienced an exodus into the Unia or even into the Roman Catholic Church. Study in Jesuit schools frequently precipitated or promoted the exodus, and cultural integration into Polish high society invariably demanded it. Another pressure was the exclusion of “schismatics” from all important positions in the civil service, or for that matter in any walk of life. To replace the aristocracy at the front lines of Orthodox defense townsmen came forth. And with the turn of the century, the Cossacks, or more specifically the so-called “Fellowship of Knights of the Zaporozhe Regiment,” took up the cudgels. 114 In these same years there also occurred an important institutional shift. The leading role in the defense of Orthodoxy was now assumed by the famous “brotherhoods” [bratstva], whose network soon spread over the whole of the western lands.

The origin of the brotherhoods is still obscure. Various theories have been put forth, but none is fully convincing. The most sensible view suggests that they began as parochial organizations, and at some time in the troubled years preceding the Unia, probably in the 1580's, transformed themselves into “corporations for the defense of the faith,” whereupon they received ecclesiastical confirmation. The brotherhoods of Vilna and Lvov had their “statutes” approved by Patriarch Jeremiah in 1586, 115 and then, unexpectedly, received royal charters. 116 In internal affairs the brotherhoods were autonomous. Some also enjoyed the status of stauropegia; that is, they were exempt from the jurisdiction of the local bishop, which in effect placed them directly under the rule of the patriarch of Constantinople. The first brotherhood to receive such status was Lvov, followed by Vilna, Lutsk, Slutsk, and Kiev, and still later by Mogilev. The Lvov brotherhood for a while even had the patriarch's authority to supervise the actions of their local bishop, including the right to judge him as a court of final instance. Any decision of guilt rendered by the brotherhood bore the automatic anathema of the four eastern patriarchs. This unusual arrangement can only be explained by the abnormality of the situation, wherein the least dependable element in the West Russian Church was the hierarchy. Still, to grant such power to lay bodies was a daring venture. No doubt this unprecedented growth of lay power, in all likelihood with concomitant abuses, was a strong factor inclining some bishops towards Rome, in the belief that Rome might succeed in restoring proper authority. The conflict and estrangement engendered between hierarchy and laity in the aftermath of the Unia bred an unhealthy atmosphere deeply affecting the religious consciousness of both. Indeed, no period in the life of the West Russian Church was more trying than that between the Council of Brest and the “restoration” of the Orthodox hierarchy by Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem in 1620, by which time the Orthodox episcopate was almost extinct. 117 The misunderstandings and clashes of these years between brotherhoods and local Church authorities were so numerous and serious that even the re-establishment of a canonical hierarchy could not soon restore order to the Church. And the continuance of troubles was merely further assured when the Polish State stubbornly refused to recognize this new hierarchy.

The restoration of a canonical hierarchy was preceded by extended negotiations between Patriarch Theophanes IV and various circles in West Russia, where he stayed for two years. He then went to Moscow, where he had occasion to discuss the situation with the highest authorities there, Patriarch Filaret and Tsar Mikhail. 118 On his way home to Jerusalem, Theophanes again visited Poland. His contacts this time included the Cossacks, then led by Hetman Peter Konashevich-Sagadaichny, an alumnus of the Ostrog school, one of the founders of the Kiev brotherhood school, and a man of genuine cultural bent. 119 moves that were hardly unpremeditated, Theophanes on two occasions arranged to consecrate bishops, creating in all six new hierarchs, among them the metropolitan of Kiev. Several of the new bishops were known for their learning: Iov Boretskii, former headmaster of the schools at Lvov and Kiev, now made metropolitan of Kiev; 120 Meletii Smotritskii, an alumnus of the Vilna Academy, who also had attended several German universities; 121 and Ezekiel Kurtsevich, son of a princely family and for a time a student at the University of Padua. 122 In spite of such qualifications, the new Orthodox hierarchs found themselves at once engaged in a bitter struggle for authority. The Uniate Church and the Polish State both contested the consecrations, claiming that Theophanes was an intruder, an imposter, and even a Turkish spy. Only in 1632, just after the death of King Sigismund III, was the Orthodox hierarchy able to gain from his successor, King Wladyslaw IV, the recognition of law. 123 But even then their difficulties were not entirely at an end.

The troubles with the Polish State were not the only ones the Orthodox believers faced. In general it was an untimely season, an age of internecine strife and conflict, an era of wars and uprisings. To be constructive in such conditions was not easy. It was difficult to organize systematic religious activity and to create a regular school system. It was even harder to preserve some form of calmness and clarity of thought, so indispensable to the life of the mind. Nevertheless quite a bit was accomplished, although it is still not possible to assess its full significance.

In the field of education the brotherhoods took the lead. They organized schools, set up publishing centers, and printed books. The early brotherhood schools — like the school at Ostrog — were planned on the Greek pattern. After all, the Greek population in the cities of South Russia and Moldavia was at this time quite sizeable, with the whole region serving as a major area of the Greek diaspora. 124 Contact with Constantinople was frequent and regular. Greek influence could be felt in everything, and it did not begin to fade until the end of the seventeenth century. The brotherhood school at Lvov was founded by an emigré prelate, Arsenius, archbishop of Elassona and a former student of Patriarch Jeremiah. 125 Here, after 1586, the Greek language became a salient if not the principle feature in the curriculum. Inevitably some of the nomenclature became Greek. Teachers, for example, were referred to as didascals and students called spudei. In 1591 Arsenius compiled a Greek grammar, which he published in Greek and Slavonic. Based mainly on the noted grammar of Constantine Lascaris, 126 it also drew on the manuals of Melanchthon, 127 Martin (Kraus) Crusius, 128 and Clenard of Louvain. 129 At his brotherhood school in Lvov, as also in Vilna and Lutsk, it was not unusual for the students to learn to speak Greek fluently. Nor was there a shortage of available Greek literature. The catalogues of the brotherhood libraries list whole editions of the classics — Aristotle, Thucydides, and the like. Preachers would quote from the Greek text of the Scriptures in their sermons. Everywhere Greek titles were the fashion for books and pamphlets, and in general the literary language of West Russia at that time was saturated with Greek terminology. Apparently the whole spirit of teaching as well as the ethos was Hellenic. It is also true that Latin was from the beginning a part of the curriculum at the brotherhood schools. But on the whole “Latin learning” was viewed as an unnecessary frill, or even a dangerous “sophistry.” Zakharii Kopystenskii's comment was fairly typical: “The Latinizers study syllogisms and arguments, train themselves for disputes, and then attempt to out-debate each other. But Greeks and Orthodox Slavs keep the true faith and invoke their proofs from Holy Writ.”

By 1615, in the same year that the famous Kiev brotherhood was founded, a colony of learned monks was in residence in the Kievan Monastery of the Caves, gathered there chiefly from Lvov by the new archimandrite and abbot Elisei Pletenetskii. 130 In 1617 the Balaban printing press 131 was brought from Striatin to the monastery, where it was put to immediate use. The chief publications were liturgical books and the writings of the Fathers, but other works and authors also merit mention. First of all there is the valuable Slavonic-Ukrainian Lexicon [Leksikon Slaveno-Rossiskii i imen tolkovanie] compiled by Pamvo (Pamfil) Berynda, a Moldavian, and printed in 1627.132 Of the original works of the Kiev scholars, the most interesting and significant is the Book of Defense of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Ecumenical Church [Palinodiia] of Zakharii Kopystenskii, who in 1624 succeeded Pletenetskii as abbot of the Monastery of the Caves. It was composed in reply to the Uniate book, Defense of Encounter the Unity of the Church [Obrono jednosci cerkiewney, (Vilna, 1617)] by Leo Krevsa. 133 Kopystenskii sought in his study to elucidate the eastern understanding of the unity of the Church and with great artistry substantiated his argument by the Scriptures and the Fathers. From his Palinodiia and other writings it is clear that Kopystenskii was a man of broad erudition. He knew the Fathers and was acquainted with Byzantine historians and canonists, as well as modern books on the East (e.g., Crusius' Turko-Graeciae) and had also read some Latin books (e.g., De republica ecclesiastica by Marco Antonio de Dominis and De Papa Romano by Lubbertus). Kopystenskii — like Maxim the Greek before him — quietly and soberly rejected western scholasticism. It is plain that Kopystenskii knew his material and had worked through it on his own. He was neither an imitator, nor simply a factologist, but a creative scholar in the Byzantine mold. His Palinodiia, the task of many years, is still a model of lucidity. Unfortunately, it was not published in his day and in fact not until the nineteenth century. Kopystenskii died soon after its completion. His successor at the Monastery of the Caves, Peter Mogila, was a man of quite different temperament and persuasion. He could have had no sympathy for Kopystenskii's book, for it was too direct and outspoken.

Still another name to be added to the list of early Kievan scholars whose writings were significant is that of Lavrentii (Tustanovskii) Zizani (d. after 1627). Before coming to Kiev, he had taught in Lvov and Brest, and had published in Vilna in 1596 a Slavonic grammar and a lexis. Once in Kiev, Zizani turned his talents as a Greek expert to the translation of St. Andrew of Crete's Commentary on the Apocalypse 134 and to the supervision of an edition of St. John Chrysostom's homilies. But Zizani's main work remains his Catechism [Katekhizis]. When completed, the book was sent to Moscow for publication. There it ran into difiiculties. First it had to be translated from the “Lithuanian dialect” — as Muscovites denoted the literary language of West Russia — into Church Slavonic. But the translation was poorly done. In addition, authorities at Moscow detected grave doctrinal errors in the book. Zizani, it seems, held a number of peculiar opinions in all probability derived from his foreign sources: Protestant and Roman Catholic. He himself escaped condemnation, but the printed version of his Catechism was withdrawn from circulation and in 1627, burned. However, copies in manuscript form did survive and received wide dissemination and popularity. In the course of the eighteenth century the book was thrice reprinted by the Old Believers 135 of Grodno. Zizani, like Berynda, Kopystenskii and most of the early Kiev scholars, worked primarily in Greek and Slavonic sources, and the writings of these learned monks reflect an authentic cultural inspiration. But even as they labored a new tide was rising in that same Kievan milieu.

As the seventeenth century unfolded, Kiev began to feel more and more the impact of “Latin learning.” New generations were of necessity turning to western books and with increasing frequency attending Jesuit schools, where, as if inexorably, they became imbued with the Latin pattern of study. Even Elisei Pletenetskii, in his effort to counteract the Uniate initiative of Metropolitan Veliamin Rutskii, 136 seems to have had a western model in mind when he sought to create an “Orthodox order.” Under his direction, communal life at the Monastery of the Caves was restored, but on the rule of St. Basil rather than the more common Studite Rule. 137 A “Latin motif” can also be noted in some of the books published at that time by certain members of the circle at the Monastery of the Caves. On occasion this bias filtered in through tainted Greek sources; at other times it entered directly from Latin literature. Tarasii Zemka, composer of laudatory verses and the learned editor of Kievan liturgical books, 138 made considerable use of the celebrated work of Gabriel Severus on the sacraments, which had appeared in Venice in 1600. 139 Severus' book was permeated by Latin influence, if only in the phraseology which Zemka liberally adopted. (To take an example, where Severus used “metaousiosis,” or the Greek equivalent of “transubstantiation,” Zemka employed the Slavonic “prelozhenie suchchestv” [“the metastasis of substances”]). The influence of Latin thought is even more pronounced in Kirill Trankvillion-Stavrovetskii. 140 His book Mirror of Theology [Zertsalo bogosloviia], published at the Pochaev Monastery in 1618, can be regarded as the first attempt by a Kiev scholar at a theological system. A subsequent study, Commentaries on the Gospel [Uchitel noe Evangelie, printed in 1618], is similarly concerned with doctrine. Both works reflect Thomism, and even something of Platonism. In Kiev and Moscow they were censured for “heretical errors” [ereticheskie sostavy] and sentenced to destruction. But official rejection did not hinder their spread in manuscripts or mitigate their broad acceptance in the south as well as in the Russian north. Even so, disappointed that his books were repudiated by his ecclesiastical superiors, Stavrovetskii went over to the Unia.

Yet another figure in whom a Thomist influence can be seen is Kassian Sakovich (c. 1578-1674), headmaster of the Kiev brotherhood school from 1620-1624. It is most transparent in his On the soul [O dushe], printed in Cracow in 1625. From Kiev, Sakovich went to Lublin, where he established contact with the Dominicans and attended theological classes. He later continued this study in Cracow. And finally, Sakovich, too, joined the Unia, after which he launched a virulent polemic against the Orthodox Church. In this manner, then, in the second and third decades of the seventeenth century the Roman Catholic style of theology began to penetrate into the Kievan scholarly community. The next decade, the 1630's, saw Roman Catholic domination. The shift occurred simultaneously with a change of administration at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, when Peter Mogila became abbot.

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