Messianism. A historico-philosophical conception of a mission to redeem all of humanity. Ukrainian messianism found its fullest expression in the ideology of the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood (1845–7), particularly in the programmatic text Knyhy bytiia ukraïns’koho narodu (The Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People), written by Mykola Kostomarov, as well as in writings by Vasyl Bilozersky. They felt that Ukraine alone had preserved true Christianity, which in their view espoused a profound egalitarianism. They particularly idealized the Cossacks, whose deep devotion to Orthodoxy, defense of Christian Europe against Islam, democratic form of organization and self-rule, and opposition to landlords and serfdom heralded a future new order. Because of its very virtues Ukraine had been oppressed by rapacious neighbors, and seemed to be the least among the Slavic nations; in fact it was destined to lead a political and spiritual renewal that would culminate in the establishment of a Slavic federative republic.

Messianism in the strict sense of the term is connected with a religious world view, but in its wider application it can also refer to conceptions of the nation’s mission within a secular framework. In that sense elements of messianism can also be found in the writings of Serhii Podolynsky, particularly in his Parova mashyna (Steam Engine) of 1875, in which Ukraine, because of its Cossack and haidamaka past, was assigned the mission of starting the socialist revolution and ushering in the socialist utopia throughout the Russian Empire (see Socialism). In the 1920s Mykola Khvylovy and writers close to him also developed a variety of messianism. They predicted that Ukraine, long oppressed and on the boundary of East and West, would be the leader of an ‘Asiatic renaissance’ that would renew European and indeed world culture. Messianic ideas, placed once again within a religious context, have also been put forward by Oles Berdnyk, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s in connection with his Assembly of Spiritual (Holy) Ukraine (Sobor dukhovnoï sviatoï Ukraïny).

Kozak, Stepan. Ukraińscy spiskowcy i mesjaniści. Bractwo Cyryla i Metodego (Warsaw 1990)

John-Paul Himka

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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