Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Union of Brest Was Work of Holy Spirit

by Pope Saint John Paul II


Pope John Paul II on July 6, 1996 at Moleben (Prayer Service).

Publisher & Date

Vatican, July 6, 1996

Praised be Jesus Christ!

1. "And blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45).

With these words of Elizabeth to Mary, who had come to visit her, today I address Kievan Rus': Blessed are you, land of St Olha and St Volodymyr who believed in Christ, receiving Baptism 1,000 years ago on the banks of the Dnepr River. In 1988 we solemnly celebrated, here in Rome, the millennium of the Baptism; it was the occasion of a great Te Deum for your country, as it was for the Polish nation in 1966, the millennium of its Baptism. Blessed is she who believed and received Baptism in the Holy Spirit, who regenerates new life in Christ (cf. Ti 3:5). Blessed are you Kievan Rus', mother of many generations of believers.

Today we want to return to that event, because in it is rooted the fourth centenary of the Union of Brest which we are celebrating. As we commemorate that Baptism, we cannot but think of the two holy brothers of Thessalonica, Sts Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs, in whose language they proclaimed the Gospel. Slavorum Apostoli: with my 1985 Encyclical I wished to pay homage, in perpetual remembrance, to their great mission.

Evangelization is found at the origin of many nations?

2. "Euntes in mundum universum" (Mk 16:15). Going into the whole world, "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). We quoted these words when we celebrated the millennium of the Baptism of Rus'. That Baptism was not only the beginning of the Church in your lands, but indeed the beginning of your nation's history. This also happened on other occasions, as was the case with the Baptism of Poland already mentioned, or that of Slovenia 1,250 years ago.

The words spoken by the risen Christ indicate that the Apostles were to make disciples of all nations. Indeed, historical experience shows that apostolic evangelization is frequently found at the origin of nations themselves: the history of the national culture begins together with Baptism, and culture is always the foundation of a people's life. Through culture a people's identity is forged and its characteristic "genius" expressed.

Today's celebration calls to mind the history of the Slav culture, which put down roots in Volodymyr's Baptism in Kiev. This event marks the beginning of that great culture which, by making the most of preexisting elements and linking itself with the Byzantine tradition, acquired an Eastern character with regard both to Ruthenian and to Belarusian and Ukrainian culture. This concerns the liturgy and the whole religious tradition of sacred art, the style of piety, hymns, literature and art. For a thorough understanding of your culture's specific and particular nature, it is necessary to refer to those Byzantine sources which the historical experience of your ancestors translated into their own tongue and reinforced in so many monuments of your rich historical and spiritual heritage. Constantly shining through these works is that Orientale Lumen which is treated in the Apostolic Letter I published last year to promote rapprochement and ecumenical dialogue between the Christian West and East.

Unity has been Apostolic See's constant objective

3. "Ut unum sint": that they may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). At the time when Kievan Rus' received Baptism in 988, Christians had preserved this unity. Between the Byzantine East and the West there was already a marked difference in liturgical and cultural traditions, but there was no division. This occurred only later. From that time on the destinies of the Christian peoples in the East and in the West began to unfold separately. When the Eastern schism is mentioned it should also be noted that the effects of this schism had not yet reached those who lived in the lands of Rus' in the 11th century. They were convinced that they belonged to the one, undivided Church of Christ.

However, the process of separation, which initially concerned Byzantium and Rome, gradually spread to other parts of the Church in the East. Thus it soon became clear that steps had to be taken to overcome the division which had occurred. Many were taken and on many occasions. The question of restoring unity among the Christians of the East and of the West has been a constant objective of the Apostolic See. Some Councils were specifically devoted to this problem: the Council of Lyons in the 13th century (1274), and later that of Florence in the 15th century (1439). Neither was there any lack of people who dedicated their whole lives to the cause of restoring unity, in accordance with the words of Christ's prayer: ut unum sint.

4. The fourth centenary of the Union of Brest is understood against this broad background of aspirations for unity, which shows the Church's firm will to be faithful to Christ's spiritual testament in the Upper Room: Father ... that they may be one (cf. Jn 17:11, 21-22). The Union of Brest concerned only one specific geographical area. The Church's aspiration, relaunched forcefully in the Second Vatican Council's ecumenical program, is to achieve full unity among all Christians. At the same time, however, what happened in 1596 cannot but be appreciated. If the Union of Brest on the Bug River did not lead to full unity with the Christian East as a whole, it nonetheless revealed, beyond all doubt, a precise reality: that is, the Holy Spirit was working in men, arousing in them a healthy restlessness about the division and spurring them to seek the ways of unity. We cannot deny that this deep desire inspired all those who, 400 years ago, became the architects of the Union of Brest.

May the third millennium find us closer together

5. Today, as we give thanks to Divine Providence for its work, we do not cease to pray that the healthy restlessness, which then produced valuable, if partial, fruits, will continue to act in the present generation of Christians in the East and in the West. We must not rest until the divisions, existing between us for so many centuries, have given way to the unity of all the baptized, for which Christ constantly prayed: "that they may all be one, Father" (Jn 17:21). We must not give up hope that the prayer of our Redeemer and Master will produce abundant fruit. We must not give up hope that the last years of the second millennium will bring new rapprochements, so as to enable us to enter the third, if not fully united, at least not so divided as before. We pray to the Holy Spirit for this. We pray to Mary, Mother of unity; to the Apostles, Peter and Paul, Andrew, Cyril and Methodius; to the saints and martyrs who over the past four centuries spared no efforts, sacrifices and even their lives for the cause of unity. In particular we invoke the intercession of the Bishop St Josaphat, apostle and martyr of communion, whose mortal remains, which we will venerate at the end of this celebration, rest in this Vatican Basilica.

In this spirit let us sing the words of the Magnificat, which we have heard proclaimed in today's Gospel: "My soul magnifies the Lord ... for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Lk 1:46-49).


[At the end of the Moleben the Holy Father conferred the pallium on Archbishop Ivan Martyniak of Przemysl of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite, and spoke briefly in Ukrainian.]

I am pleased now to confer the pallium on Archbishop Ivan Martyniak, the new Archbishop of Przemysl.

I wish the new Metropolitan a fruitful ministry and I cordially bless him, together with all the faithful entrusted to his pastoral care.

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