The Koliivshchyna Rebellion of 1764

Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson presents another edition of the Orthodox Nationalist, this time dealing with the Koliivshchyna rebellion, sometimes called the Haidamak revolt, which began in 1768. It’s spiritual foundation was the Abbot of the Motronynskyi (or Motroninsky) Monastery near Chyhyryn in western Ukraine, Abbot Melchizedek (Jaworski). In this powerful address, Dr. Johnson calls on the Orthodox world to canonize this man as a saint.

In the 1760s, the life of the Orthodox peasant was a miserable one. The Orthodox church was officially banned in 1764, Ukrainian independence was destroyed by the Treaty of Andrusovo, and serfdom was at its height. The cities were Jewish possessions and they controlled much of the land owned by the Polish nobility.

Aware of the simmering hatred against Jews and Catholics among the peasantry, the Polish oligarchy created the Confederation of Bar. This was almost a crusading order dedicated to the silencing of peasant revolt and the elimination of all Orthodox institutions in this part of the world.

The leaders of the revolt were Maxim Zalizniak and Ivan Gonta, local Cossack paramilitary leaders who sought the reestablishment of the Cossack state for Ukraine as a whole. Immediately, they were accused of organizing “pogroms” against the Jews.

According to Russian sources, Abbot Melchizedek (Jaworski) converted nearly 2 million former Catholics to the Orthodox church from 1762 to his death in 1809. This Abbot, who should be a saint, was captured and tortured in a Polish prison in 1766-1767. Escaping during a Cossack raid, the Abbot, broken in body but not in spirit, continued his work. Western Ukraine was cleared of Poles and Jews, who were mostly forced into exile or conversion.

Converting to Orthodoxy at a place where it was banned was certain death for some. Yet, hundreds of thousands flocked to him as a spiritual revival began in this part of the Polish empire. This was a miracle.

The Polish state called on Catherine II to end this revolt and she complied. Claiming that the rule of the Polish nobles was “from God,” she attacked the Cossacks with Polish assistance, destroying the Sich (or their headquarters) in 1775 and burning his monastery to the ground in 1768.

Ukrainian Orthodoxy, alone and friendless, waged a heroic fight to the death during this time. Under the harshest of conditions, Abbot Melchizedek converted millions back to the tradition of their fathers. He should be seriously considered for canonization and fear of the Jews is the only reason why he has not been thus far.