Basilian order of nuns

Basilian order of nuns [Сестри василіянки; Sestry vasyliianky] The women’s branch of the Basilian monastic order, with a common 1,600-year history in the Eastern churches of the Near East, Greece, southern Italy, and the Slavic countries. In Ukraine women’s monasticism dates back to 1037, when Yaroslav the Wise built the women’s cloister of Saint Irene. Later, in 1086, Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavych built the famous Yanchyn convent for his daughter Yanka. From Ukraine convents spread to Belarus (the Convent of Saint Princess Yevfrosiniia in Polotsk among others). After the Church Union of Berestia and the reform of the Basilian monastic order under Metropolitan Yosyf Rutsky and Yosafat Kuntsevych, convents governed by the monastic rule introduced by Rutsky began to spread. In the mid-17th century the Basilian Sisters had 10 convents in Ukrainian-Belarusian territories (in Pynsk, Dubno, Ostrih, Kholm, etc). The order suffered a decline in the Bohdan Khmelnytsky period, but afterwards it opened new centers, mainly in the new Lviv eparchy, Peremyshl eparchy, and Lutsk eparchy. By the beginning of the 18th century there were 34–40 Basilian convents (while there were 12 Orthodox convents). The Synod of Zamostia (1720) considered the problem of uniformity of rule among the convents, but its decisions to introduce stricter cloisters and greater educational activity brought almost no results, because the nuns lived mostly outside towns and supported themselves by manual labor and charity. For this reason, the bishops tried to group the nuns in larger convents. By 1772, the Basilian Sisters had only 25 centers and 200 members. After the partitions of Poland (1772–95) and during the reign of Catherine II, the Basilian nuns lost most of their convents under Russia. The rest of the convents were closed down by force in 1832–9 under Nicholas I. The nuns who resisted were either exiled to the monastic prison of Miadzolia Staryi in Belarus or forced to disperse. In Galicia, as a result of Joseph II’s reforms, only 2 out of 12 convents remained—in Slovita (Lviv eparchy) and Yavoriv (Peremyshl eparchy). Both convents ran girls' schools (from 1881 in Lviv).

Only when, in 1897, Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovych instructed the Basilians to reform the order of nuns were new convents and educational institutions established, not only in Galicia, but also in the United States (1911), Yugoslavia (1915), Transcarpathia (1921–2), and Argentina (1939). In 1938–9, excluding Argentina, the order had 26 convents and over 300 members, who ran 6 secondary schools, 7 vocational schools, 10 girls' institutes and dormitories, and orphanages, kindergartens, and child-care centers. Some convents were subordinate to local church authorities, but in general they were under Metropolitan Yosyf Rutsky’s rule, which was modified to meet new conditions by Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky in 1909 and by general assemblies of the order.

After the Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine and the Communist take-over in Czechoslovakia, the Basilian Sisters were disbanded, and some of them were exiled or imprisoned. They continued to some extent to lead a monastic life only in Yugoslavia (six centers) and Poland (four centers). However, the Basilian Sisters had two provinces in the United States with centers in Philadelphia (24 convents, 140 nuns, 2 junior colleges, 3 secondary schools and 16 parish schools) and in Uniontown near Pittsburgh (23 convents, 143 nuns, 19 schools). They have one province in Argentina (4 convents, 50 nuns, and 4 schools), and two convents in Australia and Brazil. Since 1951 all Basilian nuns have belonged to a single order, which is independent of local church authorities and is governed by one rule that was approved by the Holy See. The order is administered by the superior general and her council at the mother house in Rome.

The liberalization in Ukraine in the late 1980s permitted the congregation to re-establish itself there after almost 50 years.

Wołyniak, ‘Z przeszłości zakonu bazyliańskiego na Litwie i Rusi,’ Przewodnik naukowy i literacki (Lviv 1904)
Ts'orokh, S., Pohliad na istoriiu ta vykhovnu diial'nist' monakhyn' vasyliianok (Lviv 1934; 2nd edn, Rome 1964)

Mykhailo Vavryk

[This article was updated in 1993.]

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