UNIA-UNIATE CHURCHES. Although the Unia proper began with the Council and Union of Brest-Litovsk (1596), the prehistory of the movement certainly goes back ideologically to the Reunion Councils (q.v.) centuries before. After Muscovite Christianity (q.v.) established its own patriarchate (q.v.) in 1589, the king and nobility of Poland-Lithuania requested the organization of an Eastern rite of the Roman Church. This body recognized the popes rather than the patriarchs, but preserved the Eastern liturgical rites; and it was created to compete directly with the Orthodox Church so that the Ukraine and Belarus would not fall under the influence of Muscovy. The Constantinopolitan patriarchate, which had jurisdiction over the non-Muscovite churches, protested, but was under the Turkish yoke and in no position to take effective action. The Unia in the Ukraine and Belarus was supported by the bishops, but fervently opposed by the rest of the clergy and the bratsva (lay brotherhoods). The Orthodox Church thus ceased to exist de jure in Poland-Lithuania, and its properties became those of the Uniate church. The Ukraine and Belarus followed suit, and the administration of the Uniates in every case was separate from the Latin Roman Catholics (q.v.).
The Cossacks struggled intermittently to maintain their Ukrainian and Orthodox identity-and freedom from serfdom-and in an uprising from 1648 to 1654 Bohdan Khmelnitskii took the region east of the Dnieper River from the Poles and allied it with Moscow. Although the metropolitanate of Kiev should have rightfully remained under Constantinople (q.v.), from the point of view of Moscow such a course of action was dangerous, if not impossible, due to the weakened Byzantine presence. Muscovy, in an expansionist mode, wanted to make the patriarch’s title and jurisdiction correspond to that of the tsar: “All-Russia.” Kiev’s Western and Latin affiliations made themselves felt not only politically, but also theologically in such churchmen as Metropolitan Peter Mogila (q.v.).
In 1685 Patriarch Ioakim Savelov (1620–1690) and Hetman Ivan Samoilovich of the Eastern Ukraine prepared the way for moving the Eastern Ukraine from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to Moscow, which was accomplished the following year with the election of Bishop Gedeon Sviatopolk-Chetvertinskii as Metropolitan of Kiev. In the West Ukraine this had the opposite effect of driving former Orthodox into the Polish-controlled Unia, and the Uniate church of the Ukraine, sometimes called Ruthenian, developed a separate identity from Russia or Poland, numbering about four million in the 18th c. The “Spiritual Regulation” (q.v.) and program of compulsory Westernization by Peter the Great in Russia weakened the Russian Church in turn, abolishing the patriarchate and the power to act in external affairs, since the Russian church itself became a “Department of State.”
During the third partitioning of Poland (1795) the West Ukraine and Belarus were incorporated into the Russian Empire, and many Uniates were coerced into the Russian Orthodox Church (q.v.). Although the situation eased under Tsars Paul (1796–1801) and Alexander I (1801–1825), Nicholas I (1825–1855) suppressed all Uniate dioceses except the Polish Kholm in 1839, declaring all Uniates as Orthodox. Kholm was conscripted into the “state Church” in 1875 in the wake of the Polish uprising of 1862 to 1863. Uniate and Ukrainian separatist sympathies were fueled by propaganda of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the period preceding World War I.
Outbursts of Uniate sentiment occurred throughout the reign of Tsar Nicholas II (1894–1917) and a whole series of rather predictable, tragic episodes, documenting a chronicle of ignominious “sheep stealing,” continued to play themselves out on new stages: the United States, the loss of Russian Uniate territories after 1917; the regaining of these territories by the Soviet Union; and the recent independence of these territories in post-Communist Eastern Europe. In the United States a Ruthenian “missioner,” Fr. Alexis Toth (q.v.), worked diligently and successfully to return many Carpatho-Russian Christian parishes to canonical Orthodoxy.
The vicissitudes of the Czech, Polish, and Ukrainian (qq.v.) local churches in the 20th c. occupy the other three stages, and the difficult situation maintains through the present. For example, the Soviets and the Russian Church cooperated to bring two to three million Uniates in eastern Poland into Orthodoxy by fiat, to which were added Uniates of the West Ukraine who had been under Soviet dominance only after World War II. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many have returned to Rome (q.v.). The political dynamic of “Unia” has been used by the Vatican in dealing with groups such as the Maronites, the Melchites, the Syro-Chaldean Patriarchate, and the Syro-Malankarese Church (qq.v.).