Father Andrew's Corner: What is a Uniat?
By Father Andrew Harrison
This is a prejudicial name coined by Orthodox Christians for former
Orthodox Christians who are in union with the Roman Catholic Church. They call themselves
Greek Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, and Byzantine Catholics. They originated from a
union which was signed between Eastern Orthodox Bishops and the Pope of Rome at the
Council of Florence on July 5, 1439 AD.
The official date for the Great Schism between the Orthodox Church and
the Roman Church occurred on 1054 AD when representatives of the Pope of Rome
excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and then the Patriarch excommunicated the
Pope. Since that date there have been many attempts to heal the schism. The council of
Florence was the last official attempt. A lifting of the mutual excommunications occurred
in the 1950s as a gesture of friendship between the Pope and the Patriarch.
When the Ottoman Turks were about to conquer what remained of the
Byzantine Empire, the last Emperor, John the 8th, and the Patriarch, Joseph the 2nd,
believed that if a union could be formulated then the Pope would send armies from Europe
to save the empire. The Pope, whose authority was being threatened by the consular
movement within the Latin Church, was interested in a union because he could assert his
supremacy. It was under these dire political conditions that the Bishops of the Orthodox
Church signed a union which accepted the rather one-sided position of the Latin Church
that the Pope is the supreme pontiff of the entire Christian Church. As supreme Pontiff
he had a right to add words to the Nicene Creed which had been mutually agreed upon at
the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Also under discussion were such
innovations as purgatory and indulgences, which eventually led to the Protestant
reformation. The Orthodox Church had rejected these teachings as innovations and therefore
heresy. Since Mark of Ephesus, the main spokesman of the Orthodox Church, refused to sign
the union, it never took universal effect. The Bishops who did sign either recanted or
were deposed when they returned to their diocese. The word that was circulated around
Constantinople after the council was - "Better the turban of the Sultan than the Tiara
of the Pope." The action of the Orthodox Bishops who attended the Council destroyed the
councilor movement and established once and for all the rule of the Pope over Western
Christian Church. This became doctrine in 1870 AD with the declaration of infallibility.
Further negations ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.
The aftermath of the Council left the Orthodox faithful in confusion.
Before that council there had been attempts with the support of Latin Kings and Nobles in
Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Ukraine, and Romania to force Orthodox Christians into the
Latin Church. The Hapsburg government in Austria refused to grant legal status to Orthodox
Christians which meant they did not have any civil rights. The faithful bitterly defended
their Orthodoxy but when some of their own clergy (both Bishops and Priests) sold out,
they did not know where to turn. Some remained Orthodox while others went along to form
the so-called Uniat church. Under the agreement of union they could retain their Eastern
Rite Liturgy in their native language and have married clergy, but they must accept the
Pope as supreme Pontiff and the other innovations of the Latin Church.
The turmoil continued in Eastern European countries until the Soviet
Union banned the Uniat church. Greek Catholics were given a choice, either be Roman
Catholic or Orthodox. Most chose to be Orthodox. After the fall of the Soviet Union there
was a resurgence of Uniatism related to ethnicism and national identity as the Russian
Orthodox Church was associated with the former Soviet Union and seen as the
This has again caused confusion and turmoil. Those who came from
families who were Greek Catholic wanted to return to their Catholicism with their church
buildings causing court battles and dissention among the faithful. In some villages
Orthodox were forced to build new churches while in other villages Greek Catholics had
to build new churches. The problem of Uniatism is a hot item whenever Orthodox and Roman
Catholics sit down to restart talks toward a valid union on an equal footing.
In south suburban Chicago there is a large Byzantine Catholic Church on
Bell Road in Homer Glenn. It has a Russian style cupola with a three bar cross. On the
inside the church is decorated with excellent Byzantine iconography. The parish has been
growing by attracting Roman Catholics who like the more traditional Eastern Rite Liturgy.
For more information on Uniatism in America and its relationship to the Orthodox Church in
America please read an article on our website:
Separated by Force and Reunited by Love by
Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky.
There is also an article written in 1915 that describes the main points
which separate the Orthodox and Roman Churches.
Our Place In Christendom East And West.
Address questions to Fr. Andrew Harrison - firstname.lastname@example.org