Stefan Zyzanyj and the Introduction of the “Papal Antichrist” in Ruthenian Orthodox Polemical Literature

Michael Pesenson, Trinity College

My paper examines the writings of the late-sixteenth-century Ruthenian Orthodox preacher and polemicist Stefan Zyzanyj, particularly his best-known (but rarely-studied) work Kazan′e sv. Kirilla Patriarxa Ierusalimskago o antixriste i znakox ego z rozšireniem nauki protiv eresej roz″nyx (Vilna, 1596). This work, in a seventeenth-century translation into Russian Church Slavonic (as the title piece of the Kirillova kniga, 1644) became widely read and admired in Muscovy, particularly among the Old Believers. In the Kazan′e, Zyzanyj offers a simultaneous Ruthenian and Polish translation of the fifteenth catechesis (“On the Signs of the Antichrist”) of the fourth-century Church Father Cyril of Jerusalem, along with his own interpretation of these signs in light of the religious turmoil in Ruthenia surrounding the Union of Brest (1596). In the figure of the Antichrist, Zyzanyj sees the institution of the Catholic Church, and more specifically the person of the Pope. In the Pope’s Jesuit missionaries proselytizing in the Ruthenian lands, Zyzanyj sees the Antichrist’s precursors representing an imminent and grave threat to Orthodoxy, a threat that needed to be countered by equal or greater polemical vigilance on the part of the Orthodox Brotherhoods, whose fiery mouthpiece (at least in Lviv and Vilna) Zyzanyj strove to be.

In his work, Zyzanyj introduces for the first time the concept of the “papal antichrist” into Orthodox polemical literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a concept borrowed from spreading Protestant polemics and consistent with the apocalyptic zeitgeist in the Ruthenian (and Russian) lands at the time. To this day, no scholarly study has been done on which Protestant writings in particular may have inspired Zyzanyj. Therefore, in the remainder of the paper, I examine the possible influence on Zyzanyj of the writings of several Polish Protestant writers, particularly Marcin Krowicki, whose Obraz własny antykrystów (Vilna, 1561) shows striking similarities with Zyzanyj’s treatise. This may be seen as evidence of greater Protestant-Orthodox literary-cultural interaction in sixteenth-century Ruthenia than has been generally assumed.