May 15, 2020



History will probably remember 2020 as the year of the Coronavirus. It is also the 300th anniversary of a relatively forgotten but still influential Church synod.

At that time, what is today Ukraine was divided between Russia and Poland-Lithuania. Having defeated the Kozaks’ last bid for freedom at Poltava in 1709, Peter I’s autocratic, expansionist Russian empire was on the rise. Sweden was on the wane. The Polish-Lithuanian “nobles’ republic,” with its Saxon king and parliamentary system, was weak and disorganized, gradually becoming a virtual Russian protectorate. The Patriarchate of Moscow, having illegally annexed the Kyivan Orthodox Metropoli­tanate in 1685-1686, would be abolished in 1721 under Tsar Peter’s reforms, which made the Church practically an arm of the state. But in the Polish-Lithuanian Common­wealth, the Church union was growing, as the Peremyshl Eparchy joined it in the 1690s and, in the early 1700s, the Lviv and Lutsk eparchies, the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood, and the Pochayiv Monastery. It was time to consolidate and organize the Ruthenian (Belarusian-Ukrainian) Uniate Metropoli­tanate. A provincial synod was planned in Lviv.

It was an epidemic, in fact, in that caused its transfer to the exquisite Renaissance town of Zamość (Zamostya). Held in August-September 1720, the synod was attended by Metropolitan Lev Kyshka, seven bishops, 129 priests and monks, and two laymen from the Lviv brotherhood, as well as the papal nuncio, Girolamo Grimaldi. Confirmed by the Holy See in 1724, its decrees affect the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to this day. (Yurii Fedoriv, Istoriya Tserkvy v Ukraini, Lviv, 2001, pp. 250-252.)

Ukrainian Orthodox historians have taken a dim view of the Zamostian Synod and its consequences. Volodymyr Anto­novych wrote that after Zamość, the union became “a kind of crusade” whose proponents were filled with “fanaticism” and “bereft of all religious and human morality” (“Narys Stanovyshcha Pravo­slavnoyi Tserkvy na Ukraini vid Polovyny XVII do Kintsia XVII st.,” in M. Hrushevsky, O. Levy­tsky, “Rozvidky pro Tserkovni Vidnosyny na Ukraini-Rusy XVI-XVIII vv,” Lviv 1900, reprint 1991, pp. 135-136).

Some of the synodal decisions, such as those confirming the primacy of the Pope and requiring his commemoration at liturgies, were fundamental and self-evident. Others concerned practical matters like diocesan administration, property, seminaries and clerical education, and the duties of priests. Confession and communion were regulated. Monasteries were reformed and united under the Basilians. Simony was forbidden, as were multiple mass intentions. Fasts and holidays were defined. Teaching on relics, miracles, and the cult of saints was clarified. A single service-book was mandated. Only Basilians – the best educated of the clergy – were eligible to become bishops.

Controversially, however – and despite the expressed will of the bishops in 1595 – the synod added the filioque (“i syna” – “and from the Son”) to the Creed. Recently, this addition was rescinded in the Ukrainian Catholic Church in North America, though one still hears it in Ukraine.

Although the Orthodox bishops who requested re-union with the Roman Church in June 1595 had insisted in their “Articles” that their rite be preserved intact, and although the Holy See had agreed to this in December, the Synod of Zamość codified a host of liturgical changes that brought the Uniates closer to the Roman rite. Among them were low (“read”) masses, baptism of infants by sprinkling rather than immersion, liturgies at side altars, and the ringing of small bells during the service. The addition of warm water (zeon or teplota) to the chalice was abolished, and a cloth was substituted for the sponge. Chrismation was permitted; infant communion was not. (Peter Galadza, “Liturgical Latinization and Kievan Ecumenism: Losing the Koine of Koinonia,” Logos, Vol. 35 (1994), Nos. 1-4, pp. 173-194, at 183-185; o. Iuliian Katrii, ChSVV, “Piznai Svii Obriad, 3rd ed., Lviv, 2004; Viktor Zaslavsky, “Skhidna Tserkva u Yevropeiskykh Shatakh: Zamoiskyi Synod 1720 Roku,” Patriarkhat, No. 2, 2017, pp. 24-26.)

As Sophia Senyk points out, many of these “Latinizations” had already been introduced by the Uniates themselves, especially after the Khmelnytsky rebellion, when their Church lost its cultural confidence. Prompted by feelings of inferiority, they drew closer to the Latin rite. In the midst of an advanced Western culture, this may have been inevitable. (Sofia Senyk, “Latynizatsiya v Ukrainskii Katolytskii Tserkvi,” Zbirnyk Prats Yuvileinoho Konhresu, Munich 1988/1989, pp. 269-286). Viktor Zaslavsky similarly argues that surrounded by the flourishing European culture of Poland-Lithuania, the Uniate clergy and faithful naturally absorbed Latin consciousness and aesthetics as well as practices such as statues and side altars, pews, bells, frequent confession and communion, and eucharistic processions (Zaslavsky 26).

The Greek-Catholic Lviv synods of 1891 and 1992 confirmed the Zamostian liturgical precepts, and although an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches effectively revoked most of them in 1996, several are still practiced today. This is no trivial matter, as faith and liturgy are intimately connected.

Many Ukrainian Catholics decry the Latinizing effects of Zamość. What is Latinization? Ms. Senyk holds that Latinization is not every borrowing from the West, but rather the “passive and uncritical acceptance of everything foreign and the simultaneous neglect and oblivion of what is one’s own.” It is inappropriate when it introduces what is “foreign to the spirit of the Eastern Church.” But every age understands this differently (Senyk 280). Father Peter Galadza defines Latinization as “the importing or imposition on Byzantine rite worship of the spirit, practices and priorities of Latin liturgy and theology.” They are “inappropriate” if they are “inorganic to the Byzantine system.” They are “inorganic” if “the structural, theological or spiritual genius of the Byzantine tradition is violated” (Galadza 176).

Today, should we cleanse our Kyivan Byzantine rite of all Latin accretions, or retain those that have been organically assimilated? Should it mirror Ukrainian Orthodox practice? Should we strive for uniformity throughout Ukraine and our diaspora, or permit varied development nurtured by the surrounding cultures? Should the rite be exactly the same in Frackville and Frankivsk – in Peremyshl, Perth and Prudentopolis? There is much to ponder.


The author thanks Daniel Galadza for his assistance in this article.

Andrew Sorokowski can be reached at