Union of Brest

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Religions in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 (Catholics in yellow, Orthodox in green, Protestant in purple/gray)

The Union of Brest (Belarusian: Берасцейская унiя, Ukrainian: Берестейська унія, Polish: Unia brzeska), or Union of Brześć, was the 1595-96 decision of the Ruthenian Church of Rus', the "Metropolia of Kiev-Halych and all Rus'", to break relations with the Patriarch of Constantinople and to enter into communion with, and place itself under the authority of, the Pope of Rome.

The union[edit]

At the time, this church included most Ukrainians and Belarusians who lived in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The hierarchs of the Kievan church gathered in synod in the city of Brest composed 33 articles of Union, which were accepted by the Pope of Rome. At first widely successful, within several decades it had lost much of its initial support,[1] mainly due to its enforcement on the Orthodox parishes, which stirred several massive uprisings, particularly the Khmelnytskyi Uprising, of the Zaporozhian Cossacks and the Commonwealth lost Ukraine in result. By the end of the 18th century, through parallel persecutions of Orthodoxy, it would become the sole church for Ruthenians living in the Commonwealth. After the Partitions of Poland, which saw all but Galicia enter into the Russian Empire, within decades all but the Chełm Eparchy, would revert to Orthodoxy. The latter would be forcibly converted in 1875. In Austrian Galicia, however, the church underwent a transformation to one of the founding cornerstones of the Ukrainian national awakening in the 19th century, first as a centre for Western Ukrainian Russophilia and then, for Ukrainophilia. It would remain a vital centre for Ukrainian culture during the Second Polish Republic and Ukrainian nationalism during the Second World War. Although between 1946 and 1989 it was forcibly adjoined to the Russian Orthodox Church by Soviet authorities, it would come out of the catacombs as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the prelude to Ukraine's independence.

The union was solemnly and publicly proclaimed in the Hall of Constantine in the Vatican. Canon Eustachy Wołłowicz, of Vilnius, read in Ruthenian and Latin the letter of the Ruthenian episcopate to the Pope, dated 12 June 1595. Cardinal Silvio Antoniani thanked the Ruthenian episcopate in the name of the Pope, and expressed his joy at the happy event. Then Adam Pociej, Bishop of Vladimir, in his own name and that of the Ruthenian episcopate, read in Latin the formula of abjuration of the Greek Schism, Bishop Cyryl Terlecki of Lutsk read it in Ruthenian, and they affixed their signatures. Pope Clement VIII then addressed to them an allocution, expressing his joy and promising the Ruthenians his support. A medal was struck to commemorate the event, with the inscription: "Ruthenis receptis". On the same day the Bull Magnus Dominus et laudabilis[1] was published, announcing to the Roman Catholic world the return of the Ruthenians to the unity of the Roman Church. The Bull recites the events which led to the union, the arrival of Pociej and Terlecki at Rome, their abjuration, and the concession to the Ruthenians that they should retain their own rite, saving such customs as were opposed to the purity of Catholic doctrine and incompatible with the communion of the Roman Church. On 7 Feb., 1596, Pope Clement VIII addressed to the Ruthenian episcopate the Brief "Benedictus sit Pastor ille bonus", enjoining the convocation of a synod in which the Ruthenian bishops were to recite the profession of the Catholic Faith. Various letters were also sent to the Polish king, princes, and magnates exhorting them to receive the Ruthenians under their protection. Another Bull, "Decet Romanum pontificem", dated 23 Feb., 1596, defined the rights of the Ruthenian episcopate and their relations in subjection to the Holy See.[2]

It was agreed that the "Filioque" should not be inserted in the Nicene Creed, although the Ruthenian clergy professed and taught the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The bishops asked to be dispensed from the obligation of introducing the Gregorian Calendar, so as to avoid popular discontent and dissensions, and insisted that the king should grant them, as of right, the dignity of senators.[2]

The union was strongly supported by the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund III Vasa, but opposed by some bishops and prominent nobles of Rus, and perhaps most importantly, by the nascent Cossack movement for Ukrainian self-rule. The result was "Rus fighting against Rus," and the splitting of the Church of Rus into Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox jurisdictions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Slavs in European History and Civilization By Francis Dvornik
  2. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Union of Brest". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.