Metropolitan Velyamyn Rutskyj’s Compilation of the Rule of St. Basil during the Basilian Reform

Rev. Dr. Augustine Babiak

Towards the end of the XVIth century, the Kyivan Metropolia and —along with it– monasticism experienced a great decline. As a result, from 1590 onward, the hierarchy began to gather at synods and contemplate the question of the a renaissance of religious life and of the Eastern Church. Once the metropolitan and bishops understood that the Constantinopolitan Church, which found herself under the Turkish yoke, was in a far worse situation and could not help them in any way, they turned their eyes towards Rome, which eventually led to the Union of Brest in 1596.

At that time, monasticism in the Kyivan Metropolia did not possess any organic unity.  Monasteries were autonomous and independent. They did not converse with one another, nor did not they form any religious Order on the pattern of Western Orders.

As to common monastic life, it existed in larger monasteries, where the monks were required to live in accordance with the ‘rule of the divine scriptures’ or ‘in accordance with the rule of St. Basil the Great and the Holy Fathers.’

Eastern monasticism, in contrast to Western monasticism, did not reveal some larger pastoral, intellectual or charitable activity. Monks sought solitude; hence, complete separation from the world and earthly matters.

Several half-empty monasteries entered the re-union with Rome. Regarding the reform of monasticism, the metropolitan and bishops at first could not even entertain such a notion, since there were no qualified persons for its implementation. Furthermore, it was urgent to fortify the Uniate Church and ensure its legal existence. Metropolitan Hypatyj Potiyj took up this task. He was fervent for the glory of God, an inspired preacher and renowned writer-polemist. Through his indefatigable work, he ensured the existence of the Uniate Church. There was, however, a lack of people and material resources for a spiritual renewal.

Nevertheless, God’s Providence sent –within a short time– worthy and educated men, who were ready to serve ‘in hunger and in cold,’ Ivan Kuntsevych and Ivan Velyamyn Rutskyj, who entered Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilnius and began therein a reorganization of monasticism, which in time spread throughout the entire Kyivan Metropolia. While still a lay theologian, Rutskyj had a plan of re-organizing the Uniate Church through the reorganization of monasticism. When he, therefore, became the Kyivan Metropolitan in 1617, he formed from the monasteries and monks under him an Order based on a Western model. Immersed in the writings and intrigued by the activities of St. Basil the Great (+379), Rutskyj compiled a Basilian Rule for his Order. At that time, in the Kyivan Metropolia, there began the activity of the organized Order of St. Basil the Great in the Congregation of the Blessed Trinity, which from 1932 onward carried the official name The Basilian Order of St. Josaphat and is known by the faithful as The Basilian Fathers.

In January of 1605, before his entrance into the monastery, Rutskyj considered a plan regarding the rebirth of the church and formulated a project under the name “A discourse of a certain Rusyn concerning the rectification of governance in the Greek Rite.” Having analyzed the condition of the Eastern Church, he came to the conclusion that the cause of all its troubles was twofold: a lack of knowledge (education) among our elders (i.e., metropolitans and bishops) and a lack of perfection and holiness of life.[1] In his mind, in order to have good bishops it follows that you ought to educate good monks, who respect the traditions of the Eastern Church, and select from among them the hierarchy. For the reform of monasticism, however, which sank so low, it was necessary to have educated persons, who could not be found either in all of Rus’ (Ruthenia) or even in Greece. Therefore, he advised that one look to some Western Order similar to the life of the Ruthenian monks, most especially to the Order of St. Basil the Great. This would be a great help to the Uniate Church. These monks would have to accept the Eastern Rite and learn the language. They would come to one of the Uniate monasteries and lead the Ruthenian monks to holiness of life. These Western monks, he thought, could possibly be the Discalced Carmelites, who do not eat meat and their other customs were very similar to Eastern monks. Yes, says Rutskyj, monasticism will be reformed and become the worthy foundation for the rebuilding of the entire structure of the church.  The fruits of this reform would be:

  1. Monks will distinguish themselves with education and holiness of life.
  2. We will have good preachers and confessors, which we have not had to date.
  3. We will establish many schools, from which will emerge well educated eparchial priests and also good laypersons for the nation.
  4. Those ascending to the episcopal throne will know their obligations and how to fulfill them.
  5. In this way, we can also help our other brothers, who share the same rite.

Rutskyj allegedly composed this “Discourse” at the advice of the Discalced Carmelites. In 1605, he travelled with them to Moscow concerning the Union, but without any success. Already, in the following year, Rutskyj went to Rome, where –aside from the above-mentioned agreement with the Carmelites– he presented to the papal secretary a project called: “Regarding additional means on how to assist the Greeks and Rusyns,”[2] in which he asserted that Catholic missionaries have thus far been unsuccessful, because they have not adapted to the rite, customs and traditions of those peoples and have not been persistent.[3]

The central theme of the Roman consultations of Rutskyj, as is apparent from many documents, was the reform of monasticism or, more precisely, “the monks of the Order of St. Basil the Great.”  In the instructions of the Papal Secretariat of State to the new nuncio in Poland, Francisco Simonetta, we read: “The Holy Father instructs you to accept the plan of Rutskyj and reverently help him, along with the king and bishops of the crown, who can help much with this issue… If these ideas of Rutskyj receive support and the reform of the rule of St. Basil among the Greeks, for which he is striving, is realised, then —with the passage of time— there could possibly be good and beautiful fruit as regards the bond that they share with Muscovy, becoming for this latter nation a beacon of the true faith…”[4]

The reorganization of monasticism commenced in earnest between 1607-1612. In September of 1607, at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilnius, there began a “new form of monastic life, or rather an ancient form, but long neglected within the Order of St. Basil.”[5] – wrote Rutskyj, admitting that he himself composed the daily schedule for the Basilian community, “adjusting the monastic discipline to that of the well-established Western Orders, whom he encountered while still a layperson and with whom he communicated in Vilnius.  Especially the Jesuit Order, to whom —one has to admit— he was indebted, since they generously gave advice and help on how to formulate the spiritual life.”[6]

Rutskyj was the master of novices and St. Josaphat assisted him. Josaphat was ordained a priest by Potiyj in the second half of 1608.[7] Both of these men of God gave to young monks that which they had of greatest value: Rutskyj – his effective initiative, Western education, models of Latin Orders and the teaching of the Church Fathers, especially St. Basil the Great; while, Josaphat handed down elements of Eastern monasticism, the liturgical celebrations, Eastern monastic traditions and an example of a holy life. These two men created one harmonious body, accepting all that they deemed good and holy, not adverting to whether it was Eastern or Western.[8]  It is interesting that not only Josaphat but also Rutskyj were great penitents.  Like Josaphat he also wore a hair shirt, a cilice and often flagellated himself.[9]

After the death of Potiyj (18 July 1613), Joseph Rutskyj was confirmed as the Kyivan metropolitan. With redoubled intensity, he continued the already initiated reform of monasticism, which was substantially renewing of the church. Thus, having traveled to Rome in 1615, he obtained for his monks papal permission to establish schools based on a Jesuit model and also four student stipends at the Greek College of St. Athanasius in Rome.[10] His first concern, however, as writes Rutskyj in a letter to Cardinal Borghese, was to establish a novitiate for the education of new postulants to the Order.

Having already a definite body of individuals and monasteries (a total of 5), Rutskyj convoked the first monastic Chapter at his family inheritance in Novhorodovychach in Belarus.  He invited also two Jesuit theologians in order “to have sufficient information about what occurs in other organized Orders… They were not called to decide matters with us, but to give us their thoughts, should they be asked.”[11]

At the first Chapter, Metropolitan Rutskyj reorganized Eastern monasticism in the Kyivan Metropolia and founded The Order of St. Basil the Great on the paradigm of Western Orders. Here are its main characteristics:

  1. Reformed monasteries will be united and create one monastic body – the Order.  Monks of this Order will preserve the General and Particular Rules as formulated by Metropolitan Rutskyj and the Chapter’s Constitution.[12]
  2. The metropolitan will be in charge of the Order. He will care for its development.[13]
  3. Although the metropolitan was the highest authority over the Order, within the Order, the protoarchimandrite, who the Chapter —from their own ranks— elected for life, will be in charge.
  4. Four consulters will assist the protoarchimandrite in governing the Order.
  5. In individual monasteries, an hegumen will govern — for 4 years.
  6. The protoarchimandrite will convene a General Chapter every four years.
  7. The Order and the hierarchy ought to be irrevocably united.

The most important point of the new regula was centralization, since —to this point— the monasteries in the Kyivan Metropolia were not united among themselves and did not have a common central authority. The second intriguing element was the unification of the Order with the hierarchy. Besides this, the renewed Order was to care for “the souls within the Greek Rite.” Presenting the monks with the new rule, “which he himself had composed from the works of St Basil the Great,”[14] the metropolitan explained that times have changed and “the basic need of the souls, who are perishing in our Rite, demands that we care not only about our own spiritual life, but also for the laity.”[15]

At the second Chapter, held in 1621 in Lavrysh (in Belarus), there many rules were compiled that dealt with internal discipline.[16] The third Chapter, at Ruti in 1623, is characterized by two pivotal moments. First, the main phase of compiling the Chapter’s Constitution and Rule was finished. It is necessary to note that Metropolitan Rutskyj hastened this Chapter by two years, on account of the precarious danger of some Basilians joining Latin Orders. One reason for this was fear of persecution, since at that time the Orthodox were inciting the Cossacks to attack the Uniates.  Thus, the second pivotal moment of the third Chapter was that every monk had to take an oath before the Blessed Sacrament that he would take remain in the Eastern rite.

Consequently, besides the moral example of St. Josaphat, the Basilian Order had the solid legislation of Metropolitan Rutskyj, imbued with the spirituality of St. Basil the Great.  The witness of this reality was the unification that occurred from 1617 to 1743 of all those monasteries with Rome under this one “Ruthenian Order of St. Basil the Great.”  The Basilian legislation of the Congregation of the Holy Trinity, as compiled by Metropolitan Rutskyj, governed itself according to its General Rules, Particular Rules and the Chapter’s Constitution.

1) The General Rules

As mentioned earlier, the General Rules were promulgated by Metropolitan Rutskyj at the first Chapter in 1617.[17] Based on the writings of St. Basil the Great, he included short, unchangeable ascetical norms for the Order. Here was concisely phrased “the goal of the monastic life: to become like God in love. You do not simply have to train yourself in love, leading a life of prayer and work, but you must also —by word and deed— draw your neighbour into that love.”[18] The metropolitan asserted that for the attainment of this goal you have to renounce the devil, the world and yourself; then, take up your cross and follow Christ, maintaining poverty, chastity and obedience in the common life.

For Rutskyj, keeping these three vows is the foundation of the common monastic life.  Already in 1605, he wrote that Eastern monastics “do not know anything about the three monastic vows (poverty, chastity and obedience), and that upon these vows is based the monastic vocation. If one removes them, monks will in no way be differentiated from laity.”[19] Moreover, of prime importance for the metropolitan was the preservation of the spirituality of St. Basil the Great. Rutskyj had to compose various rules himself, however, in order to adapt to new situations, since in St. Basil the Great he did not find what was needed for his time.[20]

Comparing the General Rules with the Rules of those Orders with whom Rutskyj was in contact, we see from among the sixty-eight rules only about eight were taken from the Jesuits.[21]

In summary, the General Rules of Metropolitan Rutskyj are truly a pearl of Basilian asceticism and literature from the XVIIth century. They were spread throughout all the Basilian monasteries, so that “the monks were obligated to read them entirely through once a month in the refectory.”[22] What is interesting is that Metropolitan Rutskyj gave them also to the Supral’skyj Monastery, even though this monastery did not belong to the Congregation of the Holy Trinity until 1751.


2) The Particular Rules

 Metropolitan Rutskyj underlined in detail the obligations of every office in the Order. First of all, the rule for the protoarchimandrite, for whom the main obligation was to visit every monastery under his charge.

The promulgation of the rule was divided between the first and the second Chapters. We note that in the compilation of the Particular Rules, Metropolitan Rutskyj had greater difficulties, than with the General. Thus, as a paradigm he took the Jesuits’Rule.  In this manner, for example, of the 26 regulations for the superiors of the house only about eleven are original, the rest (15) were borrowed from the Jesuits. With time, the Basilian Chapters added still other rules for students, professors and confessors.  The Particular Rules had a great influence on the life and development of the Order, since they showed every monk, how and what he must to do.

To the Particular Rules, one may add also the Rules for bishops, which Metropolitan Rutskyj wrote in the last years of his life.[23] In ten chapters, it details how a bishop is to relate to himself (holiness), to his monastic vows, to the metropolitan, to the Basilian Order, to his priests, to the souls under his care, to his domestic help and to foreigners. In the Rules, it also shows how a bishop should care for church goods and what he is to do, when he feels the approach of his own death.  Bishops, as Rutskyj delineates, “ought to relate to the Order as to a mother, who gave birth to them in God.”[24] From the study of many sources, we are convinced that these rules had a great influence on the life of bishops.  It is not yet known if the Rules for the bishops are an original work of Metropolitan Rutskyj or if he borrowed them from similar Western rules.


3) The Chapter Constitutions

They are called the Chapter Constitutions for two reasons:  firstly, they were compiled at the first Chapters; secondly, every Basilian Chapter had the legal right to change them or add new rules.

Here was delineated the direction, that is the form of governing the renewed Order. Besides this, they give actual decisions for timely questions (for example, how to behave with Orthodox monks, who desire to enter the renewed Order; what to do with those who desert the Order). To the Chapter’s Constitution we can also add “Observations about the election of the protoarchimandrite, and about an elective and an ordinary General Chapter.”[25] We notice that in the composition of both the Chapter Constitutions and Directives about the election of the protoarchimandrite, Metropolitan Rutskyj took as a paradigm Western legislation, especially the Rules of the Jesuits. Here we have in mind the manner of running a monastic Chapter, terminology and certain prescriptions for monastic life.  Although in 1686 the Chapter Constitutions were reviewed by the Basilians at the request of the Apostolic See, nevertheless, they remained in force until the Dubenskyj Chapter of 1734.

From the above mentioned, it is clear that all the rules of Metropolitan Rutskyj had two composite elements: Eastern and Western, old and new. Yet, in 1605, he wrote “there is nothing wrong with beginning to learn from those, who once learned from us, when we had ecclesiastical unity,”[26]  having in mind the Latins.  Moreover, Metropolitan Rutskyj was never a blind imitator of everything that is Latin. On the contrary, he wanted his monks to unqualifiedly remain in the Eastern rite and faithfully maintain their Eastern practices.  Even though the Polish language was dominant at the time, he wanted his “priests and brothers in church to preach the Gospel in no other language than Ruthenian (Rusyn).”[27]

Rutskyj intimately connected his community with St. Basil the Great — the greatest authority of the common life in the East. Thus, he wrote: “compiling the General Rules, I expended all my strength to gather in some form (in one typikon) the Rules of Our Holy Father, Saint Basil, scattered throughout his various works.”[28] Therefore, the monastic community of Metropolitan Rutskyj can truly be called The Order of St. Basil the Great, and its monks – Basilians.  And those who today assert that no Eastern monastics “have the right to call themselves Basilians,”[29] they appear anachronistic, because the Basilian Order was founded by Metropolitan Rutskyj based on the spirituality of St. Basil the Great. As a consequence, Pope Urban VIII in 1631 officially confirmed the Basilian Order founded by Metropolitan Rutskyj with papal approval and it became the foundation for all Basilian legislation.

What relates directly to the monastic life in the Basilian Order was at first fairly strict.  Obedience to the superior and his assistants, and fairly severe discipline – these were new elements which Metropolitan Rutskyj attempted to incorporate into the life of the renewed Basilian community.  Monks were obligated to rigorously keep the General and Particular Rules. For their transgression and also for any disobedience or delinquency (lateness) they were punished severely.  For being late to choir or to the refectory, for example, the monk was to fast “to the designated hour of the following day.”[30] For major transgressions, known to all, usually moral, the superior had the right to incarcerate the transgressors in the monastic prison, even on only bread and water.  These types of prisons were supposed to be “according to ability in each monastery.”[31]

The monastic community, based on the paradigm of Western Orders, was composed of two main groups: priests and brother-helpers.  There is still one difference which played a very important role in its day: there were monks from noble and non-noble families.  For the episcopacy and other ecclesiastical positions, they nominated, almost without exception, monks, who came from well-knowned families, “as then, unfortunately, almost all of them were Latinized.”[32]

The most important occupation in all monasteries remained the traditional choral prayer – the church office (tserkovne pravylo). Thus, at the Lavryshivskyj Chapter of 1621, they order: “We want all public divine worship to be celebrated in choir.”[33]  One novelty was that Basilians were to receive Holy Communion every Sunday and Holy Day, and they were expected to confess at least once a week.”[34] To the traditional choral prayer, Metropolitan Rutskyj added in his rules various pious practices, which then Western monks practiced fervently, especially after the Council of Trent.  In Basilian monasteries, regarding such pious practices, introduced spiritual reading, meditation, that is reflection with prayer, and an examination of conscience was held at a designated time.  Everything began and ended with the sound of the bell and the vicar was vigilant that everyone would do what was demanded by the daily discipline.

In 1622, Rutskyj wrote to Rome that the Uniate Order of St. Basil the Great of the Congregation of the Holy Trinity surpasses all Latin Orders in the Polish Kingdom in its rigor: “they never eat meat and have many fasts to which they strictly adhere.”[35] Rutskyj at all costs wanted to preserve in the renewed Order the ancient tradition that monks never ate meat.  Therefore, in response to his request, Pope Urban VIII in 1625 by letter ordered the Basilians, “to refrain from eating meat dishes,”[36] and the Lavryshiv Chapter of 1626 deterred transgressors with an ecclesiastical censure.[37] This custom was maintained until 1667.

Until the end of his life, Metropolitan Rutskyj expended much energy so that the new Order, founded by him, be spiritually and intellectually strong and that it spread not only within the Kyivan Metropolia, but throughout the neighbouring countries. He gave many of his monastics a higher education.  “The Vilenska Congregation of St. Basil is growing wonderfully” – he wrote to Rome in 1624, “that it already has its own theologians, scholars of the Greek and Latin languages, which in Rus’ neither we, nor our parents remember.”[38]

At the Lavryshivs’kyj Chapter of 1626, Metropolitan Rutskyj “fundamentally showed the great need of a common theological seminary.”[39] It may be said that here was completed the main phase of the reorganization of Ruthenian monasticism about which Metropolitan Rutskyj dreamed of in 1605. Thus, to the Chapter’s Constitution were added a few resolutions as for example: “no monk should be allowed to be ordained without a certificate and permission of his superior; the superiors of monasteries ought to give a report about the state of things in the monastery and of the spiritual progress of the brethren,”[40] etc.

In 1629, in Zhyrovytsjak, was held the fifth General Chapter. At this Chapter they discussed issues almost exclusively of an economic character.  They spoke of the creation of a foundation, the organizing of monastic goods and the building of a church in Zhyrovytsjak, etc.

In July of 1636 was held the Vilenskyj Chapter, the final one during the lifetime of Metropolitan Rutskyj, which lasted 15 days and at which was discussed all of the most important issues of the Order.  Here he delivered a long talk to the twenty-four members of the Chapter, where he admonished some superiors, who did not fulfill their obligations.  Metropolitan Rutskyj always encouraged the monks to speak in Ruthenian “especially and always in church and in homilies. Therefore, the metropolitan and we, Chapter fathers, clearly resolve that the fathers and brothers in churches speak and preach the Word of God in no other language than Ruthenian.”[41] At this Chapter, all the Rules and Chapter Constitutions were read.  Then the monks demanded “that in Basilian Rules, where St. Basil the Great is cited, the source of the citation be given.”[42] Among the observations was that “the rules for metropolitans and bishops have not been formulated as had been agreed upon at the first Chapter.”[43] Metropolitan Rutskyj did not get to writing the rule for bishops and regarding the rules for metropolitans, he obviously ran out of time, because on July 5, 1637 he died.  Before his death, he wrote his will, in which he reflected on his life, — full of labour, difficulties and dreams in which he expresses his faith in all that the Church teaches and for which he was ready to sacrifice his life.

We proclaim that Metropolitan Rutskyj left behind a well-organized Basilian Order, which became the foundation of the Uniate Church, since from this Order throughout the XVIIth-XVIIIth centuries emerged all the metropolitans and bishops of the Kyivan Metropolia.  As for the Basilian nuns, he left the so-called Rule, based on the spirituality of St. Basil the Great, which was used by their monasteries.

[1] Discursus Ruteni cuiusdam de corrigendo regimine in ritu Graeco conscriptus Vilnae anno 1605 in Januario (=Discursus Ruscii), AOSBM 4 (1963), 126-134.

[2] WEM 1; 156 (23-27).  This project of Rutskyj was printed in 1613 by the Carmelite Thomas of Jesus in a well circulated book: Thesaurus sapientiae divinae.

[3] In this project Rutskyj invites Latin Orders to create Eastern branches and establish monasteries in Rus’ (Ruthenia).

[4] ASV, Nunziatura di Polonia, vol. 173; 142-143, Instructions for the Apostolic Nuncio from 11.11.1606.

[5] WEM 1, Metropolitan Rutskyj “About obstacles to union” (1624).

[6] WEM 1: 156-157.

[7] AC 6:  116.  In the court decision of the metropolitan court from 20.10.1609, there is information given that Josaphat was already a hieromonk by 23.08.1608.

[8] Solovij M. – The Great A., Saint Josaphat.., 107.

[9] Vita Ruscii, AOSBM 4 (1963), 164.

[10] Welykyj A., Documenta Pontificum Romanorum Historiam Ucrainae Ilustrantia (=WDP), Romae. 1953, vol. I: 356-357.

[11] AC 12: 8. Protocol of the Basilian Chapter from 1617 to 1709 published in: Archiohraficheskyj sbornik do kumentov otnosyachychsya k istorii Severo-Zapadnoi Rusi. Vol. 12, Vilnius 1900 (Henceforth, listed as the abbreviation AC 12.)

[12] AC 12:10 – First protocol of the general Capitola in 1617.

[13] AC 12:10 – First protocol of the general Capitola in 1617.

[14] AC 12:10.

[15] AC 12:10.

[16] Chapter protocol in AC 12: 17-27.

[17] The General Rules of Metropolitan Rutskyj are found in the sources in five languages:  Old-Slavonic – see Zapysky OSBM   I (1924) 56-72; Polish – Cedr Mistyczny, Suprasil 1717; Italian – Regole del N.S. Padre Basilio, Rome: 1854; Ukrainian – WEM 1: 33-48.

[18] WEM  1  33.

[19] Eastern monastics also vowed to God that they would keep poverty, chastity and obedience, but in a different form than in the West.

[20] WEM  1: 32.

[21] Pidruchny P., Narys zakonodavstva Vasylianskoho Chynu sv. Yosaphata – vid 1605-1969 (unpublished dissertation from 1976).

[22] AC 12 17-18 – Protocol of the Lavryshkyj Chapter of 1621.

[23] The Rules for bishops are published in AC 12: 201-210 and in WEM  1 : 369-380.

[24] AC 12: 204, WEM 1: 372.

[25] See: AC 12: 176-182.

[26] De corrigendo regimine… in AOSBM 4 (1963), 130.

[27] AC 12: 43.

[28] WEM  1: 32.

[29] Thus, asserts Fr. Gribomont, but he probably knew nothing about the case of  Metropolitan Rutskyj because he proposes that St. Josaphat Kuntsevych carried out the reform (and with 30 monasteries).

[30] WEM 1 – 42 – General Rules, Rule 8.

[31] AC 12: 19, 97.

[32] WLB 1: 29.

[33] -AC 12:  27 – Lavryshiv Chapter of 1621.

[34] -WEM 1: 46 – 47 – General Rules.

[35] -WEM 1: 76 The letter of Metropolitan Rutskyj to the Congregation Propaganda from 28.7.1622.

[36] WDP 1: 460.

[37] AC 12: 31, number 4.

[38] WEM 1: 138.

[39] AC 12: 31.

[40] AC 12: 33.

[41] AC 12: 43.

[42] AC 12: 37.

[43] AC 12: 37.


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