The Oldest Order of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Monastic Life St. Basil the Great St. Josaphat Basilian Fathers in History
The Basilian Order of St. Josaphat is a monastic religious order that follows the Monastic Rules formulated by St. Basil the Great, which are the foundation of the "Basilian Way of Life."
The purpose of the Order of St Basil consists in pleasing God in all things and seeking the Sanctification of the Religious through the practice of the evangelical councils. The specific function of the Order is dedication to the contemplative life and the Divine Praises, the exercise of pastoral activities of various kinds, the defense and strengthening of the Unity of Christians.
Today the order has monasteries and residences in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. In Rome there is a publishing house Record of the Order of St. Basil the Great and the rectors of Pontifical College of Saint Josaphat and Pontifical College S.M. Patrocinio are Basilians. Basilians also broadcast and educational radio program from the Vatican.
"Community of life offers more blessings than can be fully enumerated”
St Basil (L.R. 7)
Monastic life is the result of Christian spirit based upon the Evangelical Counsels which were handed down to us by our Savior Himself. Religious life in one form or another always existed in the Church, consisting in the actual practice of some or all of these Counsels. After St. Basil's extensive tour of the monastic establishments in the East, he returned home with his own idea of monastic life, which he instituted with his friends in the solitude of Annesi.
Basil based his ideal for community life on the first Christian community which the Acts of the Apostles describe: "All who believed were together and held all things in common . . . continuing daily with one accord in the temple . . . praising God and being in favor with all the people," and they "were of one heart and one soul, and not one of them said that anything he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common" (2:44-7; 4:32).
From this text St. Basil drew his three main principles of religious life which prevail in the Order of St. Basil the Great until this day.
In order to live a full Christian life and to practice virtues, men should live in community, forming one happy spiritual family. Today this concept is an accepted fact, but in the time of St. Basil it was a revolutionary idea for it supplanted the ideal of solitary, hermit life. In praise of common life St. Basil writes: "The common life of brethren is an arena for spiritual combat, a good path of progress, a continuous exercise and practice of the Lord's Commandments. This kind of life has the glory of God as its only aim." Recommending brotherly love as the characteristic virtue of his community, St. Basil quotes the Psalmist: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is where brethren dwell together ... For there the Lord has pronounced His blessings and life forever" (Ps. 132:1, 3) /L.R. 7/
To secure order and harmony in his community, St. Basil formulated a certain set of rules which he later arranged into 55 LONG RULES and 313 SHORT RULES. Although these Rules prescribe a strict daily schedule, they eliminate exaggeration and excess in the exercise of piety. St. Basil's Rules advocate moderation in spiritual exercises and mortification. Because St. Basil realized that "at the tribunal of Christ the words of Holy Scripture will confront us" (Pref. to L.R.), he based his Rules on the Bible. Thus, his Rules are as everlasting as the Word of God, and his school of spirituality has continued to retain its original freshness and timeliness until the present. These Rules have made St. Basil one of the greatest teachers of spirituality of all times. In the IV century they were translated by Rufinus into Latin, and in the VI century they were applied by St. Benedict (+ ca. 550) to Western monasticism. Thus, St. Basil became the ideologist of religious life in common.
Basil's third principle was the active life for his monks because monasteries must serve the needs of the Church and the people. Only then could his followers fulfill a basic Christian law of charity (L.R. 3) Although a monk should live in solitude, "removed from the cares of this world" (L.R. 5, 6; Ep. 2), nevertheless, "as a soldier of Christ" he should always be on call to conquer the world for Christ (1 Asc. Disc). St. Basil's conception of a life of solitude is the preparation or the reconditioning of a monk for dedicated active life. Every Basilian must be ready to practice Christian charity with deeds; he must be ready for all apostolic and pastoral work; he must dedicate himself to the education and the guidance of youth. Such was Basil's idea of "charity in action" (L.R. 3, 42). In his preface to the Long Rules, St. Basil assures us that if these Rules are understood and practiced, they will develop each monk into "perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13) We who follow the Rule of our Holy Founder, firmly believe and trust in his Basilian Ideal of Life.
St. Basil was born about 329 A.D. in the town of Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the son of wealthy and virtuous parents, Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia.
After an extended tour of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, to learn about monastic life in the desert, Basil sold his possessions and divided them among the poor. With a small group of his friends, he retreated into solitude upon the banks of the river Iris, not far from his family estate at Annesi, in the province of Pontus to begin his monastic life. In this solitude, Basil outlined his first Monastic Rules which were later formulated into 55 Long Rules, and his counsels to his monks which were arranged into 313 Short Rules. These Rules are the cornerstone of what we call today “a Basilian way of Life.”
In solitude and contemplation, Basil found spiritual strength for his tremendous activities. After he established a sound community at Annesi, Basil set out to organize religious communities in the provinces of Pontus and Cappadocia. By his lofty example and teaching on ascetical life, Basil found numerous followers and disciples. Thus his idea of monastic life was generally accepted and became a true school of Christian perfection.
Basil spent his short but glorious life going about his Heavenly Father's business. On January 1, 379, he passed to his eternal reward before reaching his 50th year but with the fame of a Saint and of a great Father of the Church. By his intrepid character, profound knowledge, inspiring eloquence, undivided dedication to a cause, superhuman work, angelic piety, and above all, by his heroic love of God and his fellowman, St. Basil left a deep imprint on the history of the Church. Justly, he was named "the Great".
The symbol of St. Basil the Great is “a pillar of fire” — as it was seen by St. Ephraem, soaring toward heaven, whence came the Voice: "Such is the Great Basil!"
Click here to read an extended biography on St. Basil the Great
St. Josaphat was born about 1580 in Vladimir, the province of Volynia when the Church in the Ukraine and Bjelo-Russia was still separated from Rome. He was the son of a poor nobleman, Gabriel Kuntsevych and his wife, Maryna. From his youth, Josaphat showed extraordinary piety and love for prayer and he spent long hours in his parish church of St. Parasceve, growing "in wisdom and grace before God and men" (Luke 2:52). As a young man, Josaphat was sent to Vilno, at the time the capital of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, to learn a trade.
Upon reaching his twentieth year, John entered the Basilian Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilno. Although Josaphat led an almost solitary life and relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit Himself, he progressed so rapidly in the spiritual life that the fame of his saintliness spread afar. Josaphat met a bright young man John Velamin Rutsky, and influenced him to join the Basilian Order in 1607. Rutsky assumed the religious name of Joseph, and from that day Josaphat and Joseph became the backbone of the very neglected Basilian Order. Soon, there were more than fifty candidates in the monastery.
After his ordination to the priesthood in 1609, Josaphat increased his spiritual exercises and mortifications. He occupied various offices in the monastery, yet he supplemented his pastoral work to an unbelievable degree. He was very active among the people whom he instructed and brought closer to the Church and to the Sacraments. He consoled and assisted the sick and the prisoners and gave material assistance to the poor.
After building monasteries in Biten, Zhyrovytsi, and becoming Superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilno, Josaphat was consecrated Archbishop of Polotsk. The saintly Archbishop soon gained the admiration and love of his flock, and brought thousands of his people to the Holy Union of Brest, which united the Church in Ukraine and Bjelo-Russia with Rome.
During a canonical visitation of Vitebsk, on Sunday, November 12, 1623, Josaphat was axed to death for his defense of the Union. He died a martyr in answer to his frequent prayer: "Grant, O Lord, that I may be found worthy to shed my blood for the Holy Union, and for obedience to the Apostolic See!" After his death many miracles occurred but the greatest one was the conversion of his arch enemy, Archbishop M. who became a prominent defender of Josaphat and the Union. As early as 1643, Josaphat was proclaimed "Blessed' by Pope Urban VIII. His solemn commemoration in the Liturgy was established on November 12, the day of his martyrdom. Finally, on June 29, 1867, Josaphat was solemnly canonized a "Saint", and proclaimed by the Vicar of Christ the "Protector of the Holy Union”.
Click here to read an extended biography on St. Josaphat
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 one of the greatest fathers of the Church, St. Basil the Great, who lived in the fourth century. 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.
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. 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 Berest 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" ("Singidare 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.
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. 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. Once again, the Basilian Order flourished, causing a new reawakening of the religious life of our people. 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 Povince 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 those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the confidence and without hindrance" (Act 28;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."
Click here for an extended history of the Basilian Fathers