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Brest, Union of


An agreement concluded in 1596 uniting the Ruthenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches of Poland. The Union had both political and religious aspects. Fearing the continued influence and danger arising from the independent Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow founded in 1589, the Polish government was eager for the elimination of Russian religious and political institutions and traditions. The Orthodox clergy in Ruthenia (the Polish Ukraine) were at this time engaged in an effort to reform and revive the religious, moral, and social life of their discouraged coreligionists. A number of leading Orthodox nobles also supported reform, among them Prince Constantine Ostrogski, who favored reunion with Rome as well. The idea of reunion with the Latin rite along the lines of the Union of Florence (1439) gained strength among members of the Ruthenian hierarchy. Led by Michael Rahosa, Metropolitan of Kiev, and the bishops of Łuck (Terlecki), Lvov (Balaban), Prźemyśl (Kop[symbol omitted]stenski), Pinsk (Pełczyński) and Chelm (Zbirujski), the first overtures were made to Catholic authorities. Among the latter, King Sigismund III, John Zamoyski, Chancellor of the Kingdom, John Solikowski, Archbishop of Lvov, Bishop Bernard Maciejowski of Łuck (later bishop and cardinal of Cracow), and members of the Jesuit Order, especially Piotr skarga and Antonio possevino, were most favorable to reunion. In 1590 Metropolitan Rahosa convoked an Orthodox synod at Brest. A few days before it opened on June 24, Bishops Terlecki, Balaban, Pełczyński, and Zbirujski drew up a document agreeing to "submit their will and intelligence to the Pope of Rome." The synod subsequently approved this statement, which was secretly sent to King Sigismund, who promised to grant the Ruthenians the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Latin rite. Progress was slow, however; finally, in June 1594, the Ruthenian hierarchy once again advanced the proposals of 1590. A year later Rahosa, assisted by three bishops, met at Brest and drew up two petitions, one to Clement VIII and one to Sigismund III, requesting a reunion based on the Union of Florence, except for the retention of Eastern rites and customs. After Ruthenian consultations with royal delegates and the papal nuncio, King Sigismund on Aug. 2, 1595, proclaimed equal rights, privileges, and guarantees for both Ruthenian and Latin Churches, pending papal sanction. Eventually Clement VIII issued Magnus Dominus et laudabilis nimis, confirming and approving the rites, customs, and Julian calendar of the reunited Ruthenian Church.

Despite the devious behavior of Rahosa, who now attempted to hinder the Union, and Prince Ostrogski, who denounced and opposed it, the reunion movement proceeded. In keeping with the pope's request, a synod was held at Brest in October 1596. Although there was opposition and division, a majority of the Ruthenian bishops led by Rahosa accepted the Union proclaimed at Brest. Bishops Balaban and Kop[symbol omitted]stenski dissented, however, and were deposed and excommunicated. Ostrogski became the leader of the opposition, which won strong support among the lower clergy and peasantry. The optimistic expectations of both parties failed to materialize. Rome believed that the Union would be a stepping stone toward unity with Moscow, but the strong opposition in Ruthenia itself portended the failure of this hope. Instead of a united Church based on peace and cooperation resulting, distrust and fear created hostile and separated brethren.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II observed the fourth centenary of the Union by issuing an apostolic letter. He highlighted both the right of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to exist and its responsibility within the contemporary ecumenical movement.

See Also: ukrainian catholic church.

Bibliography: e. likowski, Die ruthenisch-römische Kirchenvereinigung, gennant Union zu Brest, tr. p. jedzink (Freiburg 1904). j. wolinski, Polska Kościol prawoslawny (Lvov 1936), Poland and the Orthodox Church. The Cambridge History of Poland, ed. w. f. reddaway et al., 2 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 194150). j. ostrowsky, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 10:615618.

[f. j. ladowicz]

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