Basilian Fathers in History
The Basilian Fathers belong to the Order of St. Basil the Great, using the initials O.S.B.M. - the equivalent of the official name in Latin: O-rdo S-ancti-B-asilii M-agni.
The Basilian Order stems from on of the greatest fathers of the Church, St. Basil the Great, who lived in the fourth century. He compiled 55 Long and 313 Short Rules which are the basis of monastic life. The Basilian ideal of religious life evolved slowly in the East, and during the Middle Ages became the common heritage of Eastern and Western monasticism.
The beginning of Basilian monastic lit among the Slavs dates to the eleventh century with the founding of the "Kievo-Petchrska Lavra", the famous Monastery of the Caves in Kiev. The construction of the Monastery of the Caves was begun by St. Anthony Petchersky (+1073) who in one of the hill overlooking the Dnieper River sub a "petchera", a cave, so that he might lead a solitary life. In a short time, he was joined by other solitaries. However, it was St. Theodosius Petchersky (+1074) who united all the monks under his Rule in one monastic community.
The Rule of St. Theodosius was formulated in the spirit of St. Basil the Great. From Kiev, the ideals of St. Basil's monastic life spread rapidly throughout the Rus'-Ukraine to White Russia, and to the Russia of today. Thus, the "Kievo-Petcherska Lavra" became the mother house of Balisilian monasticism throughout Eastern Europe.
The history of Basilian Monasticism may be devided into four periods:
I) The Pre-Mongolian Period
II) The Period of Decandence
III) The Renaissance of the Basilian Order after the Holy Union of Berest
IV) The Period of Reform
I. THE PRE-MONGOLIAN PERIOD
This period, existing until the invasion of the Tartars in the thirteenth century, was the most glorious in our history. It was a period of the rapid growth of monasticism. At this time, the monastery was the center not only of religious life, but of culture and education. The high esteem in which monastic lit was regarded during this period be be evidenced by the establishment of a great number of monasteries by the Ukrainian princes. Before their death, many of them, as Prince Sviatoslav of Chernyhiv (+1160), Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev (+1194), Prince Vladimir of Pereyaslav (+1229), and others, embraced monastic life.
During this period, the Basilian monks Christianized the life, customs, and heritage of their people; they took the lead in organizing schools and libraries and became the principal writers and artists of the time. The monks were first in writing Chronicles ("Litopysy") which related to the antiquity of the Rus'-Ukraine. Many Basilians became counselors to the princes and most of the early Ukrainian diplomats were monks of St. Basil.
II. THE PEIROD OF DECADENCE (XIV-XVI Century)
After a promising beginning there followed a period of regression. The Tartar invasion during the middle of the thirteenth century resulted in the downfall of the Rus'-Ukraine, the decline of spirituality of the people, the deterioration of monastic life, and the decadence of Church organization. At the end of the sixteenth century, the hierarchy realized that the only way to halt the decay of religious life was to promote the Holy Union. Hence, at the Synod of Brest in 1596, the Holy Union with Rome was proclaimed, and a resurgence of spiritual and religious life followed.
III. THE RENAISSANCE OF THE BASILIAN ORDER (XVII-XVIII Century)
The third period in the history of the Basilian Order commenced after the Holy Union. Reformed by St. Josaphat (+1623) and Metropolitan Joseph Velamin Rutsky (+1637), the Basilian Order carried the torch of the Holy Union among Ukrainians and White-Russians. St. Josaphat and Metropolitan Rutsky infused a new spirit into the Order by introducing the religious to a new discipline and new organization.
During the eighteenth century, Basilian monasticism in the Ukraine and White-Russia reached its golden age with almost 160 monasteries and 1,225 professed monks. Through their schools, colleges, writings, publications, pilgrimages, retreats, and popular missions, the Basilians were instrumental in the renaissance of religious and spiritual life of the people. Thus, they advanced the Golden Period of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a period in which all Ukraine and White-Russia, from the Dnieper River to beyond the Carpathian Mountains, professed the Holy Union. At this time almost 20 million faithful were organized in 12 dioceses (parches) in communion with Rome. Pope Leo XIII referred specifically to this period saying, "When the Order of St. Basil was strong, the Ukrainian Church also became strong" (Singulare Praesidium).
IV. THE PERIOD AFTER THE REFORM (XIX Century - Today)
In 1795, after the third and final partition of Poland, most of the Ukraine and White-Russia were turned over to the Czar, a clamorous protector of the Russian Orthodox Faith. The Union and the greater part of the Ukrainian Church were faced with liquidation. After the "Ukaz" of Catherine II in 1795, the Basilian monasteries were the first to be destroyed. Professor Luzhnytsky writes: "Catherine II, first turned her hatred against the Order of the Basilian Fathers which at this time was a strongly organized unit within the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and thus, presented the greatest obstacle to the Russification in the Ukraine" ("Vkrainska Tserkva", Philadelphia, PA 1954. p 452).
The Basilian Order survived only in the western Ukraine which was incorporated in 1772 into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the influence of the "Aufklarung" (The Enlightenment), and the anti-monastic policy of Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790), the number of Basilian monasteries was reduced to a minimum. The result was a rapid decline of monastic and religious life. To cope with the intense Russian drive and propaganda, Pope Leo XIII planned to reactivate the Basilian Order. Thus in 1882 in the Monastery of Dobromy, the Basilian Reform was instituted. It rekindled the spirit of St. Basil the Great amongst his sons. Once again, the Basilian Order flourished, causing a new reawakening of the religious life of our people. The characteristic traits of this period of reform a the turn of the last center were: the spread the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; The beginning of the Sodality Movement; the expansion of the Apostleship of Prayer; the practice of frequent Holy Communion. The Basilian monks strengthened in spirit and in number also followed the Ukrainian immigration abroad. In 1897, they migrated to Brazil, in 1902 to Canada, in 1909 to Argentina, and in 1910 to Yugoslavia. In 1926, the Basilian Fathers arrived in the United States and in 1948, a separate American Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother was erected.
After World War II, the Basilian Order behind the Iron Curtain was the first to feel the effects of atheistic communism. The Provinces: of Our Saviour in Galicia, of St. Nicholas in the Carpatho-Ukraine, of St. Joseph in Romania, and of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Czechoslovakia were completely liquidated. Nevertheless, the Basilian Order continues to flourish in the Free World. Basilian Provinces are established in the United States, Canada, and Brazil, and a Vice-Province in Argentine, compromising 15 monasteries, 20 resident homes with 320 religious. And now since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat continues its mission in the Ukraine and all over the world "Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, without prohibition." (Acts of the Apostles XXVIII;31)
Truly, the words of the ancient Christian writer Tertullian (+320) are fulfilled once again by the Basilians: "The seed is the blood of the Martyrs."