Elena Vernikovskaja. Resistance of the Orthodox community of the Polack eparchy to the introduction of the Union

Intricate relations between Jazafat Kunceviè (1618—23), uniate archbishop of Polack, and the Orthodox population of the eastern Belarusian lands are considered in the paper.

On the base of the evidence from the beatifical processes of archbishop of Polack dated by 1628 and 1637 and of the extracts from municipal books of Viciebsk and Polack preserving in the Central Archives of Old Acts in Warsaw the author tries to answer the questions when, how, and why the widest circles of Orthodox people appeared to be involved into religious struggle caused by the Brest Union of 1596.

During twenty years after the council of Brest the introduction of the Union was of no serious consequence for the Orthodox dwellers of Belarusian towns. The Orthodox people had no opportunity to make certain of danger which new church could carry to the Orthodoxy especially as they hasn’t noticed any principle changes in church practice and traditions in uniate churches which were not numerous at that time. So, at first, the Orthodox population didn’t apprehend the Union as something different from the Orthodoxy. The situation has radically changed when such an enthusiastic adherent of the new church as Jazafat Kunceviè appeared on the stage. For the short period of his acting as an archbishop in the Polack land the opportunity to exercise the Orthodox liturgy was practically excluded: the Orthodox priests were banished and the churches which refused to take the Union were closed. Energetic activity of Kunceviè in setting up the Union and compulsory measures he used widely have just been repulsed by the Orthodox population. All that contributed to considerable increase in religious intolerance among the Belarusian Orthodox town-dwellers. If there had been no evidence of the lower classes’ participation in the struggle against the Union and its agents till 1618 after that time (especially after renovation of the Orthodox Church hierarchy) people used to take an active part in religious struggle. Due to Jazafat Kunceviè’s activity for much the early seventeenth century religious conflict in the Commonwealth of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania went out of the frames of parliament struggle and polemic in literature which took place in the upper educated public strata and entered the lower classes.

The question about ordinary people’s motives of resistance to the Union and their interpretation of the conflict emerged in society is one of the most complicated problem in the history of Greek—Catholic church which remains to be studied insignificantly. According to the sources available, the Union energetically propagated among the members of the Orthodox Church by Jazafat Kunceviè was taken by them as a strange belief and was interpreted as «Latin» or even «renegade» one. The actions of the uniate archbishop were understood as an attempt to abolish the Orthodox belief and tradition and «to convert the Ruthenians into the Latins». The religious conflict that arose in society was interpreted by the members of the Orthodox Church in ethnic categories for much. It was not Catholicism that caused such a hostile reaction but an attempt to thrust a strange belief on the «Ruthenians» and to make them betray the Orthodoxy and to accept the faith of another — Polish — people.