Basilian FAQ | Part 2
The Basilians of the Ukrainian Church
How did Basilian monasteries reach Ukraine?
Greek missionaries from the south and Slavic missionaries from the west brought the Gospel of Christ and monastic life to the ancient lands of Rus’ (Ukraine).
Were the Basilians an Order at the time?
No. Religious Orders, comprised of many monasteries under one superior or rule, came to pass during the middle ages, in Western Europe. The Benedictines were the first such Order. In Ukraine, each monastery followed the rules of St. Basil or Saint Theodore Studite, but each had their own customs and regulations. They had no connection between them, and were under the jurisdiction of the local bishop.
When did the Basilian Order, as we know it, come into being?
In 1617. Saint Josaphat Kuncevych and Joseph Rutsky reformed the decadent Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilnus, (Lithuania). Their spiritual and practical zeal spread to other monasteries. In 1617, the first General Chapter was held, forming all the monasteries into the Congregation of the Holy Trinity of the Order of Saint Basil the Great.
Why did St. Josaphat and Rutsky unite the monasteries into one Order?
In 1595-96, the Ukrainian Church had re-affirmed their union with the Holy Roman Apostolic See. We call this The Union of Brest. The Pope and other hierarchs knew that the Ukrainian Church could only be strong and united if the monasteries were spiritually strong and healthy. Since most of them were decadent, the Pope personally selected Joseph Rutsky to work towards this reform. He found a spiritual friend in Josaphat Kuncevych, with whom he worked together to restore monastic spirituality and discipline.
How did the new Order differ from the old-style independent monasteries?
The actual Rule of Saint Basil continued to be a spiritual guide. Monastic life was now regulated by the new Constitutions, which replaced the many books of rules and customs of the old monasteries. Following the model of the Latin-Rite Mendicant Orders, each monk now made a specific (Solemn) Profession of three vows: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Even the Superior was bound to the written Constitutions and less room was left to private interpretation of St. Basil.
What became of Rutsky and Josaphat?
Rutsky became Archimandrite (Superior) of the Basilians and then Metropolitan of Kyiv-Halyc, head of the Ukrainian Church. Josaphat became Archbsihop of Polotsk-Vitebsk and, in 1623, was martyred for his faith in the unity of the Church.
In 1867, Saint Josaphat was canonized by Blessed Pope Pius IX.
What happened to the Basilians after Rutsky and Saint Josaphat?
The Order of Saint Basil the Great spread throughout all of what is today Belorus and Ukraine, in those lands belonging to the predominantly Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Basilians were very much responsible for keeping-alive the distinctive religious and ethnic traditions among the Ukrainian people.
As the Russian Empire continued to advance west into Ukraine, the Basilians were persecuted and dispersed. In 1795, Poland was finally divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The part of the Polish Crown taken by Austria was named Galicia.
Did the Basilian Order survive in Austrian Galicia?
Yes, but it did not flourish. A political and church philosophy called Josephism encouraged the State (Emperor Joseph II) to reform Church institutions. Josephism was based on 18th century rationalism, which preached the abolition of things that it could not see or understand. The first to go were the monasteries.
How did the Order escape from extinction?
Religious and civil authorities had been brooding over the problem of the Basilians for years. Without the monastic life, the Ukrainian Church would not be healthy, and Ukrainians could become discontented subjects. Finally, in 1882, Pope Leo XIII authorized the request of Basilian Protohegumen Clement Sarnycky to have the Polish Jesuits take-on the reform of the Order. The Jesuits had already assisted Rutsky and St. Josaphat in 1617.