In the 1560s and 1580s, the Kyiv Metropoly entered a stage that threatened it with almost complete decline and subjugation to Vatican. The spiritual leaders of all the Orthodox who then lived on the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (“Metropolitans of Kyiv, Galicia and All Russia” – was their title) under the pressure of the authorities regarding the conversion of the population to Catholicism, are becoming less and less important characters in society. The kings of the “two-nation state” consistently appoint as metropolitans almost exclusively secular representatives from the Orthodox nobility, who had no deal with the church and sometimes simply bought this position, considering it as a very profitable business.
The interest in this position on the part of the nobles was determined mostly by the fact that churches and monasteries at that time had already turned into large landowners. Over the hundreds of years of their persistent activity in a completely material world, some of these spiritual institutions acquired significant land massifs, villages with serfs, profitable enterprises (houses, cottages, mills). Of course, in contrast to private property, all this was not inherited – and this economy was managed by superiors or managers, appointed by the metropolitan.
Therefore, this position, during the gradual role weakening of Orthodoxy in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (and the related with it decrease in the collection of funds from parishes), became primarily the subject of attention of persons whose interest was solely in enrichment.
Thus, Kyiv metropolitan Sylvester Belkevich (1556-1567, before that he was the royal treasurer in Vilna) tried to introduce a system of collecting money from all parishes of Orthodox churches and monasteries, according to which every Orthodox should give a part of his income to support the metropolitan.
His successor, Iona III Protasevich (1568-1576), continued the activities of his predecessor, focusing mainly on supporting the material of the Orthodox Church. It should be noted that, nevertheless, as a descendant of a family of priests, he appealed to the king and the Diet with the demand to stop the appointment of lay people who did not have a spiritual education to higher positions in the church.
The metropolitan also asked the king to demarcate the lands of monasteries and churches, to solve court problems – but without success, in the end he sold his position in agreement with the king in 1576 to Ilya Kuchi.
Kyiv Metropolitan Ilya Kucha (1576-1578) had previously been the manager of the estates of the Khodkevich and Zaslavsky magnates, and he did not stand out in anything notable during his one year of leadership – except that he actively tried to bring order to the land use of church allotments.
After him, Onisyfir Divochka (born 1579-1589), who before being appointed to this position was a Kyiv official, had no spiritual education and no connection to the church at all, became the metropolitan – apart from the fact that he was the manager of the Lavryshev Monastery (he was located in Lithuania, near Novogrudok). By origin, he was a socialite, a nobleman. As the pressure from the Jesuits and the government on the Orthodox increased, he tried to take a neutral position – not to get involved in an open confrontation with the Catholics. In the end, under these conditions, in 1589, he was deprived of the rank of metropolitan – during the visit of the Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah II to the Commonwealth.
On the person of this Patriarch of Constantinople – and on this period (the end of the 1580s – the beginning of the 1590s) we need to dwell separately.
Jeremiah II was a protégé of the wealthy Greek family of Kantakouzin merchants, who in turn represented the interests of the Kremlin’s owners in Turkey for generations. He assumed the position of Patriarch of Constantinople when he was 41 years old – and in the future, youth and to some extent adventurism played a significant role in making fateful decisions. He was deprived of the patriarchate three times, but Jeremiah always found opportunities to regain this important position. After all, in Istanbul at that time, the struggle for the Orthodox congregation in the east of Europe continued – and the Patriarch of Constantinople was in the very center of it.
The bloody confrontation between the Vatican and the Reformation in Europe was also reflected here. Adhering to the ancient rule: “the enemy of my enemy is a possible ally”, the representatives of the countries of the north of Europe, who rebelled against the version of Christianity planted by the Vatican, conducted active diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire. In that case, the Protestants made efforts to form an alliance with the Orthodox hierarchs, subjects of the Turkish Sultan – directed against the Roman Pope and the Jesuit order, which tried everywhere to increase the influence of the Vatican.
The leaders of the Reformation wanted to establish rapprochement in theological issues as the basis of this union – and for this reason, since 1576, Protestant theologians entered into a long correspondence with Jeremiah II regarding matters of faith. Meanwhile, the patriarch used this dialogue – which was closely followed by the whole of Europe – to negotiate with the Vatican. On the part of the Roman Curia, in response, according to the reports of European diplomats, substantial “concessions” were offered – for refusing to approach the Protestants.
Unfortunately, power, money, precious gifts, luxurious estates are completely material things in reality then, and now mostly determine the actions of the masters of the spiritual world, which then affects real politics. Therefore, the even hidden communication that Jeremiah II started with the Roman Curia caused a rather harsh reaction – both from the Turkish authorities and from the Protestants (Dutch and English ambassadors), whose weight in Istanbul had already become noticeable. In 1585, he was deprived of the patriarchate and sent into exile in Rhodes. For a long time, the Ottomans were at permanent war (sometimes declared, sometimes not declared) with the Vatican and the union of the Catholic states of Europe, which was traditionally headed by the Pope. It must be understood that often accusations of relations with Rome in the Turkish state ended in torture and execution.
But soon – two years later, the next large batch of furs from Muscovy, transformed by the Kantakuzins into ringing coins, convinced the Ottoman dignitaries that there were reasons to restore Jeremiah II to the post of Patriarch of Constantinople. And after 2 years, in 1588, the Ottomans let Jeremiah II go on a tour to Muscovy – using him as a tool in great politics: establishing closer contacts with the rulers of the Kremlin.
The subject of political negotiations was the granting of the highest status in the Orthodox Church to the Moscow Metropolis – the status of a separate patriarchate. And according to this, the faithful tsar’s servant, the Metropolitan of Moscow, received the highest title – patriarch.
The permanent war in Hungary and the Mediterranean Sea with European countries required the Turks to make peace with the Muscovites in the north. And to exchange with them: specifically, granting the Metropolitan of Moscow the status of patriarch officially put him on the same page as other patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. That balanced the scales of great politics. And it gave the Moscow Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich even more rights to be called the ruler of the Orthodox.
It is worth noting that this title: as before the title of tsar (emperor) is a legacy of the destroyed Byzantium, the Muscovites tried for a long time to buy it or exchange it in complex political combinations with the Turks. The Ottomans were the true heirs of the Byzantine Empire – as conquerors, they received everything: both its lands and its status as an empire. Soon after the conquest, the Turks began to use its Orthodox patriarchs for their own purposes.
For Jeremiah II, this agreement with the Kremlin, to which the Turkish authorities pushed him, also looked quite profitable. In this case, the Patriarchate of Constantinople lost almost nothing, creating a patriarchate equal to itself from the former subordinate Moscow metropolity. Because in reality, the Moscow separatist metropolitan has long been independent of him and these actions simply agreed de jure with the state that existed de facto.
In addition, the Moscow “fifth column” in Turkey – the Kantakouzin family of Greek merchants – put great pressure on the patriarch in this matter. So these reasons, and perhaps even more of them – the promised amount of the reward, forced Jeremiah II to go to the ruler of distant Moscow, Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, in 1588. It should be noted that since the baptism of Rus, for six centuries before that, no Patriarch of Constantinople visited a Russian church – not in Moscow, not in Kyiv.
The path of Jeremiah II lay through the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where he changed the metropolitan of Kyiv on the way to Vilna – appointing the Jesuit pupil Mykhailo Rogoza instead of Onesiphor Divochka. This change took place at the insistence of the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa, a staunch Catholic who had recently ascended the throne. But the Patriarch of Constantinople did not stay long in Poland – the main purpose of his trip was Moscow.
He stayed in Moscow for almost 2 years, agreeing with the tsar and the sultan on the conditions for the Metropolitan of Moscow to receive the status of patriarch. The intensity of these negotiations is evidenced by the fact that the Patriarch of Constantinople spent most of this time effectively imprisoned – cut off from the rest of the world under guard in the Ambassador’s Court.
Finally, in 1589, Jeremiah II elevated Metropolitan Iov of Moscow to the rank of patriarch and returned to Istanbul with great treasures. The last act of this political performance was to be the legal recognition of the new Moscow Patriarch by the other highest Orthodox hierarchs: Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria. All of them were in the territory of the Ottoman state and were controlled by the Turkish authorities – and their final decision was a kind of insurance against the unexpected consequences of Jeremiah II’s journey for the Ottomans.
A kind of verification of the agreements concluded between Moscow and Istanbul took place in 1591 – the great, so-called 15-year war between the Turks and the Union of European countries for the lands of Hungary began. In it, Muscovy maintained neutrality, despite the desperate attempts of the Europeans to induce them to enter the war on their side.
The result of all this was the holding of a great Orthodox council in Istanbul in 1593, where all the patriarchs from Turkey, in the presence of the tsar’s ambassador, finally approved and blessed the creation of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In addition, all the lands where the Orthodox lived and where the Christian churches of the Eastern rite existed were divided between the patriarchates. All the lands inhabited by the Orthodox were distributed between the now existing 5 patriarchates, including the Moscow Patriarchate – and the Kyiv Metropoly remained subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The ambassador brought to the Kremlin a special deed-convention signed by 42 high-ranking hierarchs of the Christian Church of the Eastern Rite: Moscow paid a considerable amount for each signature.
From that time on, the tsar’s efforts to recognize Muscovy as the center of the entire Orthodox world (generously financially supported) became even more persistent. From Serbia to Georgia, news of the Moscow ruler’s affection for the Orthodox clergy is reaching Christian churches of the Eastern rite almost everywhere. From the Moscow treasury, the source of corruption and tyranny, streams of gold, furs, and exquisite gifts to Orthodox hierarchs spread to different countries: the only need was to appeal for help to the tsar, as the most powerful Orthodox bishop.
Moscow, rejecting all previous agreements, began the practice of aggressively introducing the influence of its most Orthodox ruler in those states that belonged to other patriarchates. The Muscovites became violators of the convention they bought from the Turks.
Against this background, from the political intrigues, betrayal, bribery and sycophancy of the Orthodox clergy to Muscovy, Malorussia emerged.
It was then that the term “Mala Rus'” began to appear in letters “requests” to the Moscow tsar from the Ukrainian clergy. It was applied to almost all the lands over which the authority of the Kyiv metropolitans extended: these are Kyiv region, Volhynia, Podillia, Bratslav region, Kholmsk, Belzka and Galicia lands, Lviv region, Chernihiv region. The term “Bila Rus” was used in relation to the lands of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The birth of the name “Mala Rus'” in relation to such a huge territory was explained simply among the churchmen: they did not want to enter into a contradiction with the Moscow tsar and the metropolitan, who were then called respectively the “tsar of all Russia” and the “patriarch of Moscow and all Russia”. A constant reminder to Moscow that there is another, also large, Rus’, as part of the Commonwealth of Nations, threatened to deny funding.
So the spiritual lords, having prospects of “generous provision” from the tsar, chose this definition for themselves – with a clear sign of subordination, inferiority: after all, it was appropriate for “Little Russia” to ask for money from “Great Russia” (in fact, from the rulers of the Kremlin).
Note that before this, the name “Mala Rus'” was not used at all by the authorities and the population of the former Russian principalities in relation to themselves. The exception was its use in a small number of Byzantine written sources regarding the Galician lands as early as the 13th century. Later it was completely forgotten for more than two hundred centuries.
For the first time, the leaders of the Lviv Orthodox Brotherhood declared themselves “Mala Russia” in 1592 – in an appeal to the Moscow tsar, where they asked for funds to restore the Dormition Church and the hospital attached to it. They received money – as did most of those “holy fathers” who accepted such rules of relations with Moscow. It was from this church circle that the term
“Malo Russians” in relation to Ukrainians spread in the future – it was first used by Kyiv Metropolitan Jov Boretsky in a letter to the Moscow Tsar at the beginning of the 17th century.
On the other hand, strangely enough, in the same period – when the Orthodox clergy recognized the humiliated role (of those who beg) in relations with Moscow and accepted the definition of “Mala Rus'”, in the Catholic environment the names “Ukraine” and “Ukrainian people” on the contrary were popularized.
In the early 1590s, churchmen subordinate to the Vatican closely watched the rise of the Moscow Tsar and the Moscow Patriarch – trying to level their influence. Thus, the Kyiv bishop Yosyp Vereshchynskyi, who maintained close ties with the foreman of the Zaporizhzhya Army, in his writings beginning in 1594 practically for the first time prohibited the use of the political terms “Ukrainians” and Ukraine, contrasting them with Russia.
This course of events should be considered against the background of the long-term confrontation and wars that firstly Muscovy and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and then Muscovy and the Commonwealth of Nations waged among themselves for centuries. The establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate, much more powerful and influential than other Eastern Patriarchates, turned all Orthodox of the Commonwealth into a potential “fifth column.”
The struggle for the minds and souls of the Orthodox flock in the east of Europe – between Rome and Moscow, in which Istanbul took an active part, ended at this stage with the official accession of the Orthodox of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the Catholic Church. In response to the fact that Moscow, with the help of the Moscow Patriarch, began to actually buy off Orthodox hierarchs, the legal union of the Catholic and Orthodox churches of the Commonwealth of Independent States was signed.
It happened at the end of 1596, when the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa and his protégé Metropolitan of Kyiv Mykhailo Rogoza held a church council in Brest, where they announced the Brest Union. On the basis of the Kyiv Orthodox Metropolis, a new church structure was officially created – the Russian United Church, later known as Uniate or Greek Catholic. It recognized the supremacy of the Roman Pope, preserved its ancient Greek rites, but left the subordination of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In this, you can see a purely Jesuit approach: everything external, which was familiar to the common people and made up the image of their traditional religion, has not changed. Icons, which were absent in the Roman church, the Church Slavonic language of the liturgy, even the luxurious ritual clothes of the priests – all of those were remained. But the internal essence has changed radically: the Vatican now determined the activities of the clergy of the former Kyiv Metropoly. It should end their ties with Moscow, the main enemy of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The main political factor that should have turned the Orthodox part of society (especially the elite) towards Uniatism was the fact that Uniats were still officially equal in rights to Catholics. The Uniate clergy was exempted from paying taxes (like the Catholic one), the Uniate nobility had the right to hold public positions – all that was forbidden to the Orthodox in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Of course, Muscovy had to react to this.
Author: Vladislav Yakymenko