The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is one of the branches of the Church of Kyiv, which in 1596 restored full communion with the Roman Apostolic See. Today, the UGCC is the largest autonomous Eastern Catholic Church in the world.
The creation of the Kyivan Metropolitanate as part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the end of the tenth century connected Rus’ to the Christian civilization, but mainly to the Byzantine Eastern Christian world. At the time Christianity was official adopted as the state religion, on the territory of the ancient Kyivan state there were already Christian centers, though some of them had declined. First of all, it is worth recalling the historical record about the spread of Christianity among the Scythians and Sarmatians, as mention the Church Fathers: John Chrysostom, Athanasius the Great, Blessed Jerome, as well as the existence of the Surozka and Goth dioceses (the latter founded approximately between 672-753), whose representative, namely the Bishop of Chersonese Heorhii Dorantsky (επίσκοπο ς Χερσώο ς τή ς Δόραντος) participated in Council in Trullo in 691-692. Historically much closer to the Kyivan state was the baptism of Prince Askold, which is recorded in Byzantine chronicles and probably took place in the 860s by Patriarch Photios. A separate milestone is the baptism of Princess Olha of Kyiv, which took place about 957 in Constantinople. During the time of the Olha’s reign over the principality, the Latin Bishop Adalbert visited Kyiv on an ecclesiastical mission, who came to Rus’ to preach Christianity on the personal request of Olha to the East Frankish King Otto I. (Roman missionaries also came to Kyiv later, and in 1000 after Christianity was adopted a delegation from Rome brought the relics of St. Vitus, Apolinario, and Benedict to Kyiv churches.) Because of Sviatoslav’s, Olha’s son, negative attitude toward Christianity, the spreading of the Gospel in Kyivan Rus’ was suspended. At the time of the official adoption of Christianity by Prince Volodymyr the Great, the great schism of the Eucharistic Unity between the Church of Constantinople and Rome had not taken place. Therefore, the newly created Kyivan Metropolitanate was in unity with both its mother church of Constantinople and the bishop of Rome.
The schism between the Eastern and Western Church was not immediately reflected in Kyiv’s relations with other Christian centers. Even before 1054 Kyiv Metropolitan Hilarion († 1088 ), in his work "Sermon on Law and Grace" showed that the Kyivan Church was aware that the Universal Church is a unification of Eastern and Western Christianity. This is evidenced by the mention of Rome in the metropolitan’s work, when he lists the apostolic cathedras he also mentions that "Rome with voices panegyrical, praises Peter and Paul.” Metropolitan Hilarion of Kyiv also emphasizes the unity of faith of the Kyivan Church with the East and the West.
Information about the schism between Constantinople and Rome came to Rus’ from the Byzantines, who led the metropolitanate. However, even the Greek by origin Metropolitan Ioan II brought to Rus’ the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker to Bari in 1087, which in the West was established by Pope Urban II. Metropolitan Ioan also exchanged letters with Antipope Clement III, who before had sent to Rus’ his envoy and a letter to the metropolitan. Ioan II draws attention to the difference in the Creed, unleavened bread, and other ceremonial differences used in the tradition of the Western Church; at the same time, he speaks of Peter as head of the apostles. In the debate between the Greeks and Latins at that time the issue of the primacy of the heir of Peter was practically overlooked, the main hindrance was the question of the Holy Spirit and of minor ritual differences.
Kyivan Rus’ doesn’t have a deeper understanding of the schism between East and West until the second half of eleventh to the beginning of the twelfth century, when "The Tale of Bygone Years" was written. It already has some criticisms of Rome, which are projected at the events of 988 when St. Volodymyr introduced Christianity to Rus’. Owing to the Greek clergy who came to Kyivan Rus’, all the main points of the East-West debate, which lasted for several centuries, were found in the literature of this time.
At the same time, the first centuries after 1054 were marked by the common desire to find unity between Christians of the East and West. As for Kyivan Christianity, in 1245, after the destruction of Kyiv by Batu Khan, "Archbishop of Rus’" Petro Akerovych participated in the First Council of Lyons and during the council he served along with other bishops and Pope Innocent IV. His involvement in the council was largely political – at the council was discussed in particular the defense of the Christian peoples from Mongol invasions – but the involvement of the Rus’ bishop suggests that the sense of communion between East and West still wasn’t diminished to the point that it would be later. From the middle of the thirteenth century to the middle of the fourteenth, most lands of Kyivan Rus’ entered the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Galician lands at this time entered the Polish kingdom, and the north-eastern region gradually came under the authority of the Moscow principality. Thus parts of the Kyivan Metropolitanate found themselves in three different political entities.
After transfer of the See of the Kyivan metropolitan first to Vladimir-on-Klyazma (Metropolitan Maxim, 1299), and then to Moscow (Metropolitan Peter, 1326), on the lands of Kyivan Rus’ that were incorporated into the Lithuanian state, the local political elite sought to establish a church leadership independent of the metropolitan in Moscow. This was worked on through negotiations with the Patriarch of Constantinople. This campaign, however, was not successful because Constantinople wanted to preserve the unity of the Rus’ Metropolitanate. At the beginning of the fourteenth century there was a separate Galician metropolitanate, which existed with significant interruptions during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In 1418 at a council in Constantinople, which was organized by the Western Church, part of the Kyivan Metropolitanate (namely, the one that was in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), was represented by Metropolitan Hryhorii Tsamblak, who was elected by Orthodox bishops in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the Council of Novogrudok in 1415, without the consent of the Patriarch of Constantinople and in conflict with the Metropolitan of Kyiv Photius, who was based in Moscow. There is some evidence that Hryhorii advocated for holding a unifying council of the Roman and Greek churches. And in Moscow sources, he is openly called a Uniate along with Metropolitan Isydor (who is mentioned below), and at one point on the Sunday of Orthodoxy an anathema was pronounced against him, though there is no convincing evidence that he accepted unity with Rome. However, the Contact of the bishops of the Kyivan Metropolitanate with the Roman See were more likely episodic than systematic. Constantinople remained the center of gravity for the metropolitanate.
The situation in the Kyivan Metropolitanate radically changed after the Ferrara-Florence unification council, which took place in 1438-39. After the death in Moscow of Metropolitan of Kyiv Photius in 1431, Bishop Jonah became the new metropolitan, who, however, did not go to Constantinople for approval. And in 1435 in Constantinople Isydor was appointed metropolitan. He who arrived in Rus’ on April 2, 1437, and after five months with a delegation from the Kyivan Metropolitanate went to a council in Italy. At the council the Kyivan metropolitan was one of the most fervent supporters of the re-unification of the Eastern and Western churches. The Decree of Union was signed by the entire Eastern delegation, except Metropolitan Mark of Ephesus and Isaiah Stavropilsky. Isydor signed the Uniate Act, as the metropolitan of Kyiv and procurator of the Patriarch of Antioch. On the way to Moscow, the metropolitan issued several epistles in which he popularized the union between the East and West among the Serbs, Romanians, and Greeks. The first resistance he encountered was from Polish Roman Catholics, who, on the one hand, refused to recognize the Eastern Church as an equal sister and, on the other hand, showed their commitment to opponents of Pope Eugene IV, who gathered at the Basel Council (1431-1437). The Ruthenians cordially greeted the metropolitan: Prince Olelko in Kyiv issued a letter, which confirmed Isydor was in the right and on February 5, 1441, the Act of Union of Florence was read at the Kyivan Saint Sophia Cathedral. On March 19 of that year, the metropolitan went to Moscow, where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin mentioning the bishop of Rome. This caused strong resentment and he was imprisoned. Later Metropolitan Isydor escaped and a year later made it to Italy where he received the title of cardinal. Then he returned to Constantinople where in 1453 he took part in the defensive and almost died. Afterward, he returned to Rome, where he died. Because of these conditions and the insistence of Prince Basil II of Moscow, at the Moscow Council of 1448 Jonah Ryazan was elected metropolitan, without the permission of Constantinople. In response Constantinople Patriarch Gregory II permitted Pope Pius II’s appointment of Hryhorii Bolharyn to the Kyivan metropolitan throne. However, documents show that his jurisdiction was outlined by the metropolitanate that was in Poland and Lithuania, without illusion that the Union of Florence may be admitted to the Moscow principality. Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius I was no longer a supporter of the union but accepted Hryhorii Bolharyn as the Kyivan metropolitan and encouraged the Muscovites to recognize him as metropolitan. But in Moscow, these actions were not recognized, and the successor to Metropolitan Jonah, Theodosius, stopped using the title of "Kyiv." In the post-Florence era, the division of the Kyivan Metropolitanate into Kyiv and Moscow ended for good.
In the Kyivan Metropolitanate, however, the Uniate desire was not completely extinguished. Hryhorii’s successor, Metropolitan Misail, wrote in 1476 a council memorial "Universal Pope" to Sixtus IV in which he expresses his homage to the bishop of Rome and wrote about the urgency of uniting the Eastern and Western Church. And in 1500 another Ruthenian metropolitan, Josyf I Bolharynovych (1497-1501), succeeding Metropolitan Misail, issued a letter to Pope Alexander V (1492-1503), in which he declared his allegiance to the Council of Florence. Several years before, he also appealed to Ecumenical Patriarch Nifon II about the Union of Florence, to which the latter replied: "Yes, as you faithfully preserve the unity with the see of New Rome, and so it preserves the unity with the Apostolic See of the old Rome... I also ordered the Greeks, who live in the Republic of Venice, to pray with the Latins, but to keep their Eastern rite. And you, too, keep your native rite.” The authenticity of this letter is not fully proven, but Josyf’s Uniate desire is clear. And despite them, he was made patriarch of the Kyivan cathedra.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Constantinople patriarchs were subordinate to the Islamic ruler. They needed to pay a tax to the sultan for the approval of the patriarchal throne. This procedure gave rise to serious misconduct by the Orthodox. So from 1463 to 1466 five patriarchs either themselves resigned or were removed. Overall in the second half of fifteenth century, patriarchs were changed 18 times, in the sixteenth century 22 times, and in the seventeenth century 54 times. Demoralization and corruption reigned in the Orthodox’s environment. At the end of the sixteenth century Patriarch Jeremias (Tranas) tried to reform the patriarchy, to bring it up from ruins.
The situation was no better with the Kyivan Metropolitanate, where the secular authorities often granted the episcopal throne to candidates lacking the proper moral or theological level. Preference was given to those who could better lobby for his appointment. Very often laymen who remained in the secular condition and continued to live their former lives were placed on the throne. Before the Trent reform of the Western Church, a very secular way of life was found even among Roman Catholic hierarchy. However, after the spread of Protestantism and the initial reforms in the Catholic Church, the revival that arose among Roman Catholics quickly resulted in a striking contrast between Catholics and Orthodox of the Kyivan Metropolitanate, which was on the verge of institutional, moral and cultural decline. In the sixteenth century there is also a period of almost complete liberation of the metropolitanate from the Constantinople Patriarchs, who basically did not care about the status of the subsidiary metropolitanate. The Greek hierarchy visited Ukrainian lands and Muscovy only to gather donations.
At this time, the Kyivan Metropolitanate began to develop strong a lay fraternal movement. The brotherhoods set it before themselves to above all raise the educational level and develop publishing. They were largely inspired by the ideas of the European Reformation. In 1589 the Kyivan metropolitan visited Patriarch Jeremias, who before that, after six months in prison in Moscow, had raised the rank of the Moscow Metropolitanate to a patriarchate. In the Polish Commonwealth Patriarch Jeremias removed Kyivan Metropolitan Onesiphorus Divochka because of bigamy. Jeremias appointed the new metropolitan and chose one of his bishops as his exarch and thus created an ambiguous hierarchical structure in the metropolitanate. One of the revolutionary decisions of the patriarch was the recognition of the brotherhoods’ right to control the activity of the bishops. The decision, for obvious reasons, caused discontent among the metropolitanate bishops. At that time as the brotherhoods were increasingly defending their ties with Constantinople, the bishops recognized the need to reform inner church life, including a return to the just place of hierarchy, which is characteristic of the Orthodox Church, unlike the European Reformation samples.
At the same time, the Roman Church, renewed after the Council of Trent, was able to depart from the conflict with the Reformation with new strength, a powerful development in education and new forms of Christian devotion, revival of missionary activity, and so on. In the second half of the seventeenth century extensive polemical activity against the Kyivan Church was launched by Polish Jesuits, including Piotr Skarga, who called for the adoption of Orthodox unity in spite of the position of Constantinople. The decree of union of the Council of Florence was seen as the foundation for such unity, especially by the papal legate Antonio Possevino.
The internal crisis of the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Kyivan Metropolitanate in particular, the episodic actions of Patriarch Jeremias, which violated the traditional structure of the Orthodox Church, as well as the quite convincing polemic by the Jesuits and the disadvantaged status of the hierarchy and the church in the Catholic state provoked the Ruthenian nobility and bishops in the 1580-90s to want change in the life of the Church of Kyiv. To overcome the internal crisis and external challenges (Reformation, Post-Tridentine Catholicism, pressure on the Ruthenian Church in the Commonwealth), which the metropolitanate was unable to deal with adequately, first Prince Konstanty Ostrogski and then all the bishops of the metropolitanate thought to unite with the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning in 1590, the Church of Kyiv held a few councils where various issues of the inner church life were discussed and where the idea of a union with Rome was crystallized. Already in June 1590 Bishop of Lviv Hedeon Balaban and other bishops such as Kyrylo Terletsky of Lutsk, Leontii Pelchynsky of Pinsk, and Dionysius Zbirujsky of Kholm signed a declaration of commitment to a union with Rome. In 1593 they were joined by the newly ordained Bishop Ipatii Potii, an educated bishop, who became the chief inspirer of the Union of Brest. On March 27, 1594, in Sokal the Ruthenian bishops again signed a pro-union declaration. The names of all the bishops who signed are known today.
In their memorandum, the bishops point out the failure of the Greek patriarchs to protect the metropolitanate from the onslaught of the Reformation and the lack of education for the debate with reformers, and complain about the extortion of Greeks who fleece the metropolitanate. They also stipulated a series of conditions for the union: preserving all the traditional ways of the Eastern Church and achieving equality with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, including the right to have seats in the diet. They also requested that the Ruthenian bishops be ordained by the metropolitan of Kyiv, not the patriarch, and with the blessing of the pope and without a payment. .Subsequently, the Brest articles were formed on the basis of these conditions, which were adopted by the bishops in 1595. In the same year Bishops Balaban and Mykhailo Kopystensky withdrew their support of the union. Konstanty Ostrogski also withdrew his support. In autumn 1595 Bishops Potii and Terletsky went to Rome and declared their desire to form a union with the pope. And at the Council of Brest on October 6-10, 1596, five bishops, led by the Uniate metropolitan of Kyiv, accepted the agreement approved by Pope Clement VII on December 23, 1595.
The pro-union council was held in Ipatii Potii’s cathedral while in another part of the city in the home of an antitrinitarian nobleman an anti-union council was held. At the council were present Ruthenian magnates, commoners, clergy, representatives of fraternities, Protestants, the archimandrite of the Kyiv Cave Monastery (which at first was for the union, and then later against), and Prince Otsrogski and a representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Greek Nikephoros, who was neither a priest nor bishop but who had a letter proving he had been designated as protosynkellos (vicar) and exarch by Patriarch Jeremias, published in 1592 (at the time of Council of Brest Patriarch Jeremias had already died). Another exarch, Bishop of Lutsk Terletsky sided with the union and participated in the pro-union council. At the anti-union council representative of Alexandria Patriarch Cyril Lukaris, who later became Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as the bishops of Lviv and Przemysl Hedeon Balaban and Mykhailo Kopystensky. The participants of this meeting only increased the bishops’ desire to bring the matter of church unity to an end. In their eyes, the anti-union council personified everything that they had repeatedly pointed out as causes of troubles in the Ruthenian Church: the dominant role of the magnates in church affairs, disobedience of brotherhoods, Greek interference with ambiguous power in the management of the Kyivan Metropolitanate, the devastating impact of the Protestants, in particular the antitrinitarians. The anti-union council announced the deprivation of the rank of bishops headed by the metropolitan, but the status of the Greek Nikephoros was questioned even among members of the council, so they had doubts as to whether he had the right to impose any sanctions on the Ruthenian bishops.
The pro-union council ended with the proclamation of the union and the banning of the service of Balaban and Kopystensky. On December 15 Polish King Sigismund III recognized the decision of Brest and declared the decisions of the anti-union council invalid.
The Catholic Church at the time the Ruthenian bishops signed the Union of Brest had already a significantly different ecclesiology than the bishops of the Kyivan metropolitanate thought. If the Ukrainian-Belarusian bishops believed that their metropolitanate would enter into communion with their sister Roman Church preserving all of its rights and privileges, then Rome understood it as the return of the schismatic bishops to the bosom of the church. Rome rejected the equality of the Kyivan and Roman Church, and the ecclesiologist H. Zaragoza denied those who wished to return to the bosom of the salvific Christ's Church the possibility of requesting the previous conditions (articles of the Union of Brest) of the unity. Accordingly, in his papal bull Magnus Dominus Pope Clement VIII does not mention the Kyivan Metropolitanate nor the synodal decision of the episcopate of the metropolitanate on the union with Rome.
After the death of Metropolitan Mykhailo Rahoza, the metropolitan throne was occupied by Ipatii Potii. For the latter, the union with Rome was not something that contradicted the traditions of the Kyivan Church, and in his historical studies he showed that the Ruthenian episcopate’s desires of unity between the Kyivan Church and Rome were always present. In particular, he publishes Metropolitan Misail’s letter from 1476. The Polish government in its turn did not give a definite answer to the disputes that arose in connection with the Union of Brest. Realizing that some people (namely, the secrecy of the work of the bishops (with respect to the faithful) on the union became one of the weaknesses areas of the union with Rome) and the nobility did not support the union, the secular authorities did not want to irritate either side. In 1607 the diet approved the statute of brotherhoods, and King Sigismund III confirmed that all orders and property of the Ruthenian Church will be granted only by representatives of "the ancient Greek religion," without specifying who he means: the Uniates or the Disuniates.
After the death of Ipatii Potii, in 1613 the Kyivan Metropolitanate was led by Josyf-Veliamyn Rutsky (1574-1637). Among his basic objectives, Rutsky sought to raise the educational level of the clergy by reforming the monasteries, which he did in 1617. The essence of the reform was to unify of all monasteries in one structure (like in Western orders) led by the proto-archimandrite. This year can actually be considered the date of creation of the Order of Saint Basil the Great (Basilians). The reform also focused a great deal on the theological education of monks. It is through education that Rutsky wanted to raise the Kyivan Church to the level of Latin one, in order to protect the church from transitioning into the Latin Church.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century in the Kyivan Metropolitanate there remained only one bishop who did not adhere to the union – Jeremiah Tysarovsky in Lviv, who had obtained the royal nomination to the see of Lviv after Balaban’s death in 1607. Before his enthronement, he had sworn allegiance to the union, but after his ordination he rejected it.