Former Ukrainian Church Brotherhoods as Forerunners of Nation’s Civil Society Today, Horyevoy Says

The charter issued by Jeremias II, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 1536-1595), confirming the right of the Dormition Brotherhood of Lviv to run a press and a school. (Credit:

2022/02/19 – 19:10 •


Many study why civil societies have emerged in some countries but not in others; but their research, Dmytro Horyevoy said, paid insufficient attention to religious groups like the Orthodox brotherhoods that have sprung up among Ukrainians and explains why this country has a vibrant civil society unlike Russia where they did not exist.

The origins of brotherhoods date back to medieval times brachynia, which were organized in churches in princely times (first mentioned in the Chronicle of Hypatian, 1159). Brotherhoods as such appeared in Ukraine in the middle of the 15th century among Ukrainians living in cities under Magdeburg law, that is, where there was local self-government and in which various groups organized to lobby for their interests, the Ukrainian religious affairs expert said.

“Essentially,” he says, “these were religious NGOs that were involved in activism, enlightenment, advocacy and defense of the rights and freedoms of citizens in their sphere.”

For example, the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood, established in 1439, successfully lobbied for two places on the local city council. But the brotherhoods were also “a powerful intellectual force” because they sought to defend Orthodoxy from the actions of Catholics and thus engaged in the elaboration of texts so that the Orthodox better know their faith and can defend it.

As a result, says Horyevoy, “the Orthodox not only believed, but began to study their faith, to seek logical arguments and a rational basis, and to find answers to important questions, thus developing a vital religious life.” In this they were like the Protestants whom they copied in this respect because of the old principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

“One of the most famous Ukrainians of that time, Stanislav Orikhovsky, was a student of Martin Luther. And despite the fact that Orikhovsky was not a Protestant but a practicing Catholic, he still borrowed a lot from the great reformer and was one of the best-known humanist philosophers,” explains the Ukrainian researcher.

In the Muscovite tsarism of the time, he points out, there was no similar movement – or at most it only led to the correction of errors in the texts of basis but not to the development of new ones. And so a phenomenon that ultimately led to the rise of civil society among Ukrainians did not exist to help promote the same among Russians.

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Tags: Protestantism, Ukraine, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian history, Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Jerry B. Hatch