THE BIERASCIE UNION AND ETHNICAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE BIELARUSSIANS
Preparation and conclusion of the Religious Union in Brest in 1596 created considerable tension in social, political, cultural and religious life in Belarus. The country was living through the period of intensive ethnical development then.
Both adherents of the Union and its opponents suggested that it was their view which expressed the interests of all the people. Each of the opposite sides treated national and religious patriotism in their own way. The uniates considered themselves to be successors of their ancestors' traditions. They regarded the Union as absolutely legal, honest, and even saving. The Uniate supporters expressed their patriotism in their activity in the name of nation's spiritual revival by means of correction of the Orthodox Church using the experience of the Catholic West. Patriotism of the orthodox opposition was expressed in inadmission of any changes in church order, in devotion to Constantinopolian patriarchy. They held the Union as betrayal. In the end, the Religious Union even more heated the situation in religious life of the country in the late sixteenth and in the first third of the seventeenth centuries.
The Uniates had no fear and hostility to the West, but they took over the western element only within the borders where there was no danger to their ethnical and religious identity. The main principle of the language policy of the Uniate Church was preservation of the Church Slavonic and introducing the popular language into the sacral sphere. Penetration of the Polish word inspired resistence. The use of the national language by the Church promoted deepening of the language barrier between the Belarusians and the Great Russians from one side and it was the factor of strengthenning of national consciousness from the other. I.Rucki's idea of creation of an independent patriarchy in the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania could promote the consolidation of nation.
Papacy and the official authorities of the Commonwealth of Poland treated the Uniate religion as a minor, inferior, and ignoble belief. They became disappointed with the Uniate Church in the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century prepared different projects to abolish it. Suggestions that the Belarusians are exclusively orthodox community and that the Uniate Church promoted polonization of the population of the Grand Duchy are unplausible or hypocritical miths of historiography. The orthodox belief, churches, clergy and congregation in the Grand Duchy are named "Rusian" in the sources of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the inhabitants of the Russian state were named "Moscovites" there. The local population hasn't felt themselves to be related to the latter. In the end of the eighteenth and in the nineteenth centuries hypocritical speculations in the term "Rusian" were used by the authorities of Russian Empire for russification of the population of the incorporated territories of the Grand Dutchy. The Uniate devotees were announced to be identical with the Russians but spoiled a little by "bad" Union. Russian patriotism and Russian consciousness were inculated in them.