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The Uniates and the Invention of Eastern Orthodoxy: Late Byzantine and early Ukrainian Advocates of Church Union in the Crossfire between Rome, Constantinople, and Moscow

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The Second Annual Public Lecture in Medieval and Early Modern Slavonic Studies

The concept of “Eastern Orthodoxy,” as a counterpart to “Roman Catholicism” and “Protestantism,” is a product of a much later development than most of us are wont to think today. Applying the contrasting binaries of “Catholic—Orthodox” and “Protestant—Orthodox” to the study of Byzantine and early Slavonic religious history is particularly problematic. Such dichotomies anachronistically project the clear-cut denominational map of present-day Christianity into the late Medieval and Early Modern era. In this context, Byzantine and Slavonic intellectuals and ecclesiastical figures who advocated union with the Roman Church in the period from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-seventeenth century present a special challenge for historical exegesis. Stigmatized as “traitors” by their contemporaries and caught in the crossfire of religious disputes and quarrels of their day, the “uniates,” as an intellectually coherent group, have hardly received the attention they deserve in modern research. Historians have often proved to be clueless when confronted with a reality that does not fit into the conventional confessional paradigm.

This lecture offers a critical re-evaluation of the scholarship and suggests new approaches and research questions within this thought-provoking area of study. Engagement with the historical destiny of the uniates leads to a reconsideration of the influential “confessionalization paradigm” (Konfessionalisierungsparadigma) in Eastern European context and casts new light on the birth of “Eastern Orthodoxy” as ecclesial reality and theological idea.

Yury P. Avvakumov teaches history of Christianity in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, IN. He specializes in the history of medieval Christianity, with a focus on Latin-Byzantine relations, and in the religious history of Ukraine and Russia of the Early Modern and Modern periods. He is also broadly engaged with history of the Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches from their medieval beginnings to the present day.

Dr Avvakumov completed his studies in Orthodox theology in St. Petersburg, Russia, and his doctorate in Catholic theology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. Prior to coming to Notre Dame in 2010, Prof. Avvakumov held numerous academic positions in Germany, Ukraine, and Russia, including six years at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv where he served as Dean of Humanities and the founding chair of the Department of Classical, Byzantine, and Medieval Studies. He was also a member of the Board of Theological Experts at the Patriarchal Curia of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2007-2011.

Avvakumov’s publications include a monograph on the medieval controversies between Latins and Byzantines (Die Entstehung des Unionsgedankens. Die lateinische Theologie des Hochmittelalters in der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Ritus der Ostkirche. Berlin 2002), which appeared in Ukrainian translation in 2011, and an edition of the documents related to the history of Byzantine-rite Catholics in Ukraine and Russia from Ukrainian archives (Mytropolyt Andrei Sheptytskyi i hreko-katolyky v Rosiji, 1899-1917. Lviv 2004). He has also contributed numerous chapters to volumes on history of Latin, Byzantine, and Slavic Christianity, as well as articles to such scholarly journals as Ostkirchliche Studien, Una Sancta, Communicantes, Kovcheh (Lviv), Bogoslovskie Trudy (Moscow), Bohoslovja (Lviv), and others.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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