Last year I posted a quote from Timothy Snyder’s The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 about language in what’s now Lithuania; now I want to quote a section about Ukraine which is equally interesting and enlightening (I went back to the book to get some background for Gogol’s “Страшная месть” [“A Terrible Revenge/Vengeance”], which I’ve begun reading):
As Reform raised religious disputation in Poland to a very high level, Orthodoxy in Ukraine continued its long intellectual decline. Its limitations inhered in the language created to spread eastern-rite Christianity among the Slavs. Old Church Slavonic, the remarkable creation of Cyril/Constantine, had allowed the spread of the Gospel throughout East and South Slavic lands. Although Old Church Slavonic served the medieval purposes of conversion from paganism to Christianity very well, it was insufficient for the early modern challenge of Reform. It provided no link to classical models. As centuries passed, it was ever less able to provide Orthodox churchmen with a means of communication among themselves — or with their flock, when this idea arose. As the various Slavic languages emerged (or diverged), Church Slavonic lost both its original proximity to the vernacular and its universal appeal. By the early modern period it had declined into local recensions which neither matched local speech nor represented a general means of communication among Orthodox churchmen.
In the sixteenth century, the humble literature of the Orthodox church was dwarfed by that of the Protestants and Catholics. Both Protestants and Catholics initially tried to use Church Slavonic in their schools and publications in Ukraine, before deciding that what they had to say could only be conveyed in Polish. Unlike all of its competitors, Polish was at once a living language and a language of culture, amenable to propaganda and proselytism. Churchmen’s use of Polish in Ukraine was not national prejudice, but a choice of weapons in a battle for souls. Proponents of Church Slavonic did rise to the challenge. Konstantyn Ostroz’kyi, the greatest of the Volhynian princes, sponsored the publication of the first complete bible in Church Slavonic. Pamvo Berynda published a lexicon. Petro Mohyla founded an Orthodox collegium, which later became the Kiev Academy. It used Church Slavonic, although the textbooks were generally in Latin and the composition generally in Polish. Because they were forced to learn other languages and classical rhetoric and disputation, Ukrainian churchmen became the outstanding interpreters of Church Slavonic texts, which made them much desired in Moscow. All the same, they too found the Polish language best suited their needs. After 1605, the majority of polemical tracts written by Orthodox churchmen were in Polish (though the titles, pseudonyms, and terms of abuse were often of Byzantine origin): after 1620, Orthodox churchmen usually signed their names in Polish; after 1640, most official documents in Ukraine were written in Polish. Mohyla, who died in 1647, wrote his will in Polish.
At this time, as Gogol writes, “уже ходят по Украйне ксензы и перекрещивают козацкий народ в католиков” [already Polish priests are going around Ukraine and rebaptizing the Cossack people as Catholics].
Oh, and here’s another interesting bit from a few pages later: “The traditional sacral designation ‘Rus” had been used in a political sense for centuries; now the vague military term ‘Ukraina’ took on something like a political meaning as the homeland of the Orthodox in Poland.”