Smotrytskyi, Meletii (c. 1577–1633)

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SMOTRYTSKYI, MELETII (c. 15771633), Orthodox archbishop of Polatsk, bishop of Vitsyebsk and Mstsislaů, archimandrite of the monastery of the Vilnius Orthodox Brotherhood of the Descent of the Holy Spirit; subsequently, following his conversion to the Uniate church, archbishop of Hierapolis and archimandrite of the Uniate monastery in Volhynian Derman'; philologist and polemical writer.

Smotrytskyi was born into one of the first documented families of a burgeoning Ruthenian Orthodox intelligentsia: his father Herasym, a client of the palatine of Kiev Kostiantyn Ostrozkyi, was one of the editors of the 1581 Ostrih Bible, the first printing of Holy Writ in Church Slavonic. Meletii's educational path took him from the Orthodox "Academy" at Ostrih to the Jesuit Academy in Vilnius (late 1590s), and then to Protestant universities of western Europe (including Leipzig and Wittenberg in the years around 1606, when he served as preceptor to a young Orthodox nobleman).

Smotrytskyi likely experienced the Union of Brest (1596) while a student of about nineteen years at the Vilnius Jesuit Academy, and his entire career unfolded in the context of the debates that agitated Rus' and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the early seventeenth century. He had returned to Lithuania by 1610, when his Threnody appeared at the Orthodox Brotherhood press in Vilnius. The work became a battle cry for the Orthodox, and it brought about royal warrants to arrest the anonymous author and printer and close the Vilnius printing shop.

In the 1610s Smotrytskyi worked on two major projects of "national education," a Ruthenian-language Homiliary Gospel, a sort of Orthodox postil intended to supplant existing Protestant and Catholic versions in Polish (1616), and a grammar of Church Slavonic (16181619), the liturgical language of the Orthodox Slavs, which would be supplanted as a textbook only at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By 1618 Smotrytskyi had become a monk at the Vilnius Orthodox Brotherhood Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and in 1620 he was made archbishop of Polatsk, when Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem, returning home from a sojourn in Muscovy, consecrated seven bishops to "vacant" Orthodox sees. The sees were in fact occupied by bishops who had joined the Union in 1596, and thus the consecrations were viewed as illegal by Polish-Lithuanian authorities. From his seat in Vilnius (he had also become archimandrite of the influential Brotherhood Monastery in 1620), Smotrytskyi became the leading spokesman in defense of the new Orthodox hierarchy, publishing five lengthy polemical tracts in the years 16211623.

From 1623 to 1625, Smotrytskyi made a controversial pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he encountered Kyrillos Loukaris, one of his former teachers (perhaps at Ostrih), now patriarch of Constantinople. After returning to the Commonwealth, Smotrytskyi began seeking ways to reunite the "Ruthenian nation," and he became a covert Uniate. He was "unmasked" at a Ruthenian Orthodox Church synod held in Kiev in August 1628. He retreated to his new seat as archimandrite of the Volhynian Derman' monastery, where he wrote four major polemical works in the years 16281629, now propagating the Union as true Ruthenian Orthodoxy and unmasking the Orthodox intellectual elite (including his own former literary incarnations and Loukaris) as heretics and even crypto-Protestants. On 5 June 1631 Pope Urban VIII made Smotrytskyi archbishop of the "Church of Hierapolis, which is in partibus infidelium, under the patriarchate of Antioch." Smotrytskyi died at Derman' in December 1633.

See also Mohyla, Peter ; Orthodoxy, Russian ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ; Ukraine ; Uniates ; Union of Brest (1596) .


Frick, David. Meletij Smotryc'kyj. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Frick, David, trans. and ed. Rus' Restored: Selected Writings of Meletij Smotryc'kyj (16101630). Cambridge, Mass., forthcoming.

David Frick