Saturday, February 19, 2022

Ukrainian Church Brotherhoods in Magdeburg Law Cities Forerunner of Nation’s Civil Society Today, Horevoy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Many are investigating why civil societies have emerged in some countries but not in others; but their research, Dmytro Horevoy says, has given insufficient attention to religious groups like the Orthodox brotherhoods which arose among Ukrainians and explains why that country has a vibrant civil society unlike Russia where they didn’t exist.

            Religious brotherhoods formed in the fifteenth century among Ukrainians living in cities governed by the Magdeburg laws, that is, where there was local self-administration and in which various social groups organized to lobby for their interests, the religious affairs expert says (

            “In essence,” he says, “these were religious NGOs who were involved with activism, enlightenment, advocacy and the defense of the rights and freedoms of citizens in their sphere.”

            The Lviv brotherhood which was set up in 1439 successfully lobbied for two places in the local city council. But they were also “a powerful intellectual force” because they sough to defend Orthodoxy from the actions of the Catholics and thus engaged in the preparation of texts so that the Orthodox would better know their faith and be able to defend it.

            As a result, Horevoy says, “the Orthodox not only believed but began to study their faith, to search for logical arguments and a rational basis and to come up with answers to important questions thus developing a vital religious life.” In this they were like the Protestants whom they copied in this regard because of the old principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

            “One of the most well-known Ukrainians of that time, Stanislav Orikhovsky, was a student of Martin Luther. And despite the fact that Orikhovsky wasn’t a Protestant but a practicing Catholic he all the same borrowed much from the great reformer and was one of the most well-known humanist philosophers” the Ukrainian researcher says.

            In the Moscow tsardom of that time, he points out, there was no similar movement – or at most it led only to the correction of errors in basic texts but not to the elaboration of new ones. And thus a phenomenon that ultimately led to the rise of civil society among Ukrainians did not exist to help promote the same thing among Russians.

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