Blessed with a bunchuk. Who is the new patron and protector of the Ukrainian army?

The Cossack Hetman who, with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, went on a series of sorties to Moscow, died of wounds at Chocim; and at the Wawel Royal Castle there lies a sword for him from King Władysław (“Elbow-high”). Who could be a better patron of the Polish-Ukrainian brotherhood of arms for the authors of commemorative speeches? A great patron, but the truth of the matter is, as is usually the case, a little more complex than in the speeches. His funeral took place 400 years ago, on 28 April 1622.

The text was originally published on the “TVP Weekly” site.

Instead of the nightmarish “he was born in…” (all the more so as we do not know exactly when or where he was born…), let us begin with a panegyric in honour of Sahaidachny. A panegyric which, if only transcribed into Latin, can be understood by the Polish reader, even though it is written in Old East Slavic four centuries ago:

Bo jak Grecija zwisza Nestora-heroja,
Achillesa, Ajaksa, a Hektora – Troja,
I Atenci jak carja chwaljat Periklesa,
Czestjat sławnoho w odno sze i Temistoklesa,
Rim smiliwogo swogo chwalit Kurcijusa
I szczastływogo w boju sławit Pompejusa,
Sahajdacznyj na Rusi haj dostane sławu,
W wicznu pamjat’ te imja zanesut po prawu!

For as Greece surpasses Nestor the hero,
Achilles, Ajax, and Hector – Troy,
And the Athenians praise Pericles as king,
The glorious Themistocles is also honored,
Rome praises its bold Curtius
And happy in battle glorifies Pompeo,
Sahaidachny in Russia let him get fame,
That name will rightly be remembered forever.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I Atenci jak carja chwaljat Periklesa… [And the Athenians praise Pericles as king]Such is the Old East Slavic, which came from the pen of the author educated in the Zamoyski Academy and Cracow Academy, and was based on the models of Latin rhetoric. Therefore, let us also write a few words about the author of the panegyric, because they both lead us to the core of disputes and dilemmas, which marked the career of Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny.

The author of the panegyric is Cassian Kalikst Sakowicz (1578-1647, let’s get these encyclopaedic details out of the way) – not only a peer of almost Sahaidachny, but also equal to him in birth, status, origin and – up to a certain point – career path: until the penultimate crossroads…

Two paths of the sons of Ruthenia

For Cassian Sakowicz was the son of an Orthodox clergyman (which at that time still equaled a minor nobleman in terms of privileges) from the Bełz region. He studied, as it happens, humanities in Cracow and Zamość, and then found himself at the court of the lord of Przemyśl, Athanasius, an orthodox bishop. Once he learnt the ropes, he began a brilliant career: as a teacher, rhetorician, and soon – as the rector of the Orthodox brotherhood’s school in Kyiv, which belonged to the Commonwealth, and then in Lublin…

Only that in 1625 Cassian Sakowicz advocated the Union of Brest – and the Ruthenian Uniate Church. “He does not want the Orthodox faith”. From then on, he took part, already on the Uniate side, in debates and polemics, became the head of the monastery in Dubna (which, under his rule, converted to the “Uniate faith”), and finally, in 1641, with the permission of the Pope himself, changed his rite to Roman Catholic and ended his days as the Prior of the Augustinians in Krakow…

Well, exactly. And Petro Konashevych, called Sahaidachny, was born (let’s get it over with) in 1570 or 1578, probably in Kulczyce in the Przemyśl region, to a family of petty nobles or merchants. He was educated at the Academy in Ostrog, which at that time was the best in the Commonwealth, matching the level of Zamość, only that it was Orthodox, and then went to the court of the Kyiv judge Jan Aksak, after which he began a brilliant career as an officer and strategist: zagończyk (part of a unit operating behind the enemy lines), lieutenant, Kish otaman, and finally – the right hand of King Władysław…

Artur Orlyonov, “Cossacks of Hetman Petr Sahaidachny capture Kaifa” (photo: Artur Orlionov, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Both Cassian and Petro had read Aristotle and Cicero at school, learning from them about the just Roman system and about the conduct of armies by Scipio; both were in a political sense gente Rutheni, natione Poloni. Both maintained allegiance to the King and the Crown, making a dizzying career, considering his lineage. Only that Petro was as fervent in his loyalty to the Orthodox faith as Cassian was to the Catholic one, and both stood their ground, heedless of affronts or a fall from the Lord’s sfavour. Knights. Men of principle.

Union’s squabbling children

Ah, that Union! The Union of Brest, of course, the one of 1596: not the only one, but the greatest, and the most vivid example of restoration of the unity of the Churches, torn apart in 1054 in Constantinople by local and Roman ambitions!

There were serious arguments for that, not only theological but also political. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had had Orthodox believers among its subjects since the mid-14th century, the time of Casimir III the Great, but after the Union of Lublin, Orthodox Christianity became the second religion in the country. At the same time, as the patriarchate in Constantinople was being weakened under the Ottoman rule, Moscow aspired more and more ambitiously to the role of a defender and protector of the Orthodox peoples.

Moscow – with whom the Commonwealth was entering more and more clearly into a conflict which was no longer a border dispute but a strategic feud. Moscow, undermining the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s right to its “Ruthenian” lands and, just as it did two, three and four centuries later, agreeing to Poland’s existence as a tiny Privislinsky krai


Church of St. Nicholas in Brest, where the Union of Brest was signed

A union, restoring the unity of the churches, harmony in the state and, at the same time, depriving Moscow of its influence over four million subjects? Yes, it made sense, even in an era when the Kremlin did not yet have social media at its disposal. But there were too many political, regional, ecclesiastical and deeply private interests at stake for it to go without a hitch.

For ecclesiastical union is by definition a zero-sum game: either it exists or it does not. One cannot be “partly married”, a sturgeon cannot be “of the second freshness”, two ecclesiastical structures cannot be “a little united and a little separate”. Either there are two hierarchies – or the Orthodox structure accepts union with Rome.

In the meantime, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was – from the perspective of four centuries, we can say ‘fortunately’, but hardly anyone thought so then! – too strong to stand for the existence of an Orthodox hierarchy subordinate to Moscow, and too weak to force the Orthodox structures to accede to the Union of Brest and recognise the primacy of Rome.

The result was – as Cassian Sakowicz and other rhetoricians of the time would say – discordia, or lack of unity and chaos. The Orthodox Church and hierarchy functioned de facto, but de jure for 40 years – until 1633 – they were illegal.

Kingdom made of cardboard

Commonwealth made of cardboard? That would be an overstatement – more like a delicate system of balances, favouritism, fiddling and turning a blind eye. As early as in autumn 1596, parallel to the synod in Brest establishing union with Rome, an “anti-synod” of Orthodox believers took place, led by Bishop Hedeon Balaban of Lviv, who condemned the act of union and deprived the “Uniate” hierarchs of episcopal orders. A dozen or so years of forays followed, with individual monasteries, academies, schools and churches being taken over, sometimes by Uniates, sometimes by the Orthodox – sometimes by stealth, sometimes with the silent blessing of a local potentate, sometimes by force.

And – an incredible outpouring of polemical theological literature. After all, it was not just about taking over the monastery from “the others”. It was about showing that they were wrong! Therefore, apart from the polemics of Catholics with Arians, Catholics with Lutherans, Catholics with Calvinists, Calvinists with Arians, the Czech Brethren with Lutherans, Catholics with Orthodox and Arians with Jews (this list, like in a league system, can be expanded – free-for-all! ) – the spiritual wealth of the Commonwealth and its political and theological writings is also evidenced by hundreds of pamphlets, leaflets and dissertations by Uniates and – as was written at the time – Disunites.

Of course, both these polemics and the “double-hierarchy” in the eastern provinces show how tolerant the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was, and how completely it differed in these practices from Western Europe, where at that time Catholics were slaughtering Huguenots, and Calvinists were burning at the stake Catholics and anti-Trinitarians. But Orthodox believers in the early years of the seventeenth century may have felt a bit like “second-class subjects” – and worked to ensure that the Orthodox hierarchy regained its rightful position.

And only knowing all this – one can admire Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny. He felt wronged, stood faithfully by the Orthodox Church, strove to restore its glory. And in this he remained a defender of the borders of the Commonwealth, its “punishing sword” – and a faithful subject of the king.

Zamoyski’s example

Just as Greece did not preserve any notes on the beginnings of Homer’s career, and Rome on Pompey’s, we can only guess at the debut of Petro Konashevych: he probably took part in excursions to Moldavia; his presence during Jan Zamoyski’s expedition to Inflants, in 1602, is certainly recorded.

But he honed the military art gradually. You can be sure that in addition to the sabre and sword, he was excellent with the bow. Hence his nickname, often given to Cossacks, which in the case of Hetman Konashevych became in historiography the second part of his name. “Sahaidachny” comes from sahajdak, which is a case for a small Tatar bow and quiver with arrows. With the Tatars he fought, by the Tatars he was taught… Who knows when young Petro managed to kill a Moscow spy or a falcon in flight with a single arrow? Maybe in Wallachia, also with Zamoyski? Or maybe near Smolensk, with the Lisowczyks?

Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny

He may have owed his archery talent to the Tartars, but he looked for more serious role models elsewhere. After scratching off the gilding of the panegyric, the fact remains: already at the age of 30 he commands over three thousand men. It is not enough to have fencing skills, to hold one’s liquor or a heavy hand: you have to plan. No longer a setnik, but a colonel – he knew how to rule people. And he did not allow any frivolities, neither in Wallachia nor in Livonia. He was educated in Ostrog, but it was the rhetoricians educated at the Zamoyski Academy who taught there. The patron set the example!

Szczo czuże, nikoli win togo ne chapał
Iz Zamojskogo u cim prikład zawżdy brał

He never reached out for someone else, other than his
And he always followed the example of Zamoyski

Meanwhile, Cossack troops were becoming increasingly necessary for the Commonwealth, not only as “marines” or commandos carrying out raids on Moscow’s rear, but as a permanent, systematic defence against the growing strength of the Crimean Khanate. The latter, in turn, did not grow stronger on its own. The secrets of proxy war were as well known in the 17th century as today. Why violate the “eternal peace” between the Ottoman Porte and the Commonwealth, when you could use the Tartars to poke each other? The military effect would be the same, and the diplomatic complications smaller.

But the “military effect” was the desolation of Podolia and the taking of thousands into captivity. This, in turn, was well known to the Cossacks. And to Sahaidachny.

Ukraina tim wijskom sebe zachyszczaje
De ż nema Zaporożciw – Tatarin guljaje!
W Kozaka chocz ni zbroji, ani szyszaka
Dożene pohanina, lisz daji łoszaka!

Ukraine is defending itself with that army,
Where there are no Cossacks – the Tatar walks.
The Cossack has neither weapons nor armour,
He hits the pagan, just give him the foal

Marines want to be on record

The army awaited privileges – and this is related to the second of the internal conflicts smouldering in the eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the first half of the 17th century. The dispute over the so-called register, i.e. the number of Cossacks registered on a nominal list of soldiers and thus on the state’s pay.

It was not only about the pay, however. Although being entered into the register was by no means tantamount to obtaining nobility, it did open up the possibility, at least in theory, of doing so in the future. In the short term, it offered protection against any attempts by the lords to extend their personal authority. It was also a symbolic distinction – the “enlisted Cossacks” are better equipped, more experienced, men of the world, armed and adored [armed with dagger and swagger]. You would say – transferring the cultural realities from the Seine to the Dnieper – the Cardinal’s musketeers!

Not surprisingly, the size and permanence of the register has been a constant subject of dispute. The first surviving census, from 1572, listed 400 Cossacks. In 1637, 11 years before the Khmelnytsky uprising, this number had been doubled: there were eight thousand “registrants”. Was that a lot? Indeed. But not enough.

Monument of Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny (photo: Sergij Klymenko, CC-BY 3.0)

The final shape of the register was a bone of contention between the Crown and the Cossacks. And both parties had their valid points: the Cossacks were counting on military salary, and more so, on a guarantee of freedoms and privileges. The Commonwealth, having trouble collecting taxes, never had enough money for a conscript army – and, in addition, was reluctant to enter into a kind of contract with an army that was, let’s face it, rather insubordinate. Which is why it was better to engage their services during “proxy wars” than to take full responsibility for open aggression.

Konashevych-Sahaidachny was a guiding light also in this regard. He demanded that his people be registered. But he also negotiated at least two settlements between the restless Cossacks and the Crown: in Olszaniec (1617) and in Rastawiec (1619).

And in the meantime, he confirmed, already elected as hetman, his talent as a commander. And again a comparison with marines comes to mind – because it was an operation without precedent in Europe of that time:

Dosjagnuw, szo go wijsko w hetmany obrało
Mużno z nim ono Tatar, Turkiw rozbiwało,
Win za hetmaństwa swoho wzjał buw misto Kaffu
Cisar turski tam zaznaw nimałeho strachu!

He achieved that the army elected him hetman,
Courageously with him, it defeated the Tatars and Turks.
He took the city of Kaffa during his hetmanship –
The Turkish emperor suffered a lot of fear there!

Indeed, Cossacks used to travel down the Dnieper in flatboats, or chaykas, even earlier. And not only down the Dnieper: in the early 17th century they controlled the entire coastal strip between Crimea and Istanbul (i.e. Tsarogorod), and it is said that Sahaidachny himself once and again had the opportunity to plunder the Golden Horn Bay (Zolotoy Rog)…

The sea, our (Black) sea

It is one thing, however, to sneak in under the cover of darkness, cut down the guards and take the spoils. But to conquer a fortress still built on Roman, nay, Greek foundations, the famous Crimean Kaffa, that is, Theodosia!

Indeed. It is true that the Turkish emperor was not behind the walls of Kaffa, but the rest of the facts are undeniable. Sahaidachny was on the front-line and led his men – in 1615 ravaged two ports near Istanbul, beat the Turkish fleet at the mouth of the Danube and – just to be sure – ravaged Ochakiv. Having convinced himself that his men were doing well on such a rocky battlefield, in the spring of the following year he destroyed Ali-pasha’s fleet off the Crimean coast, then captured Kaffa, freeing several thousand Christian captives in the process!

Roku tisjacza szistsot dwadesjat wtoromu
W Bratskim ligł monasteri, w Kijewi swjatomu.
Kil’ka tisjacz bratczikam win ofiruwaw,
Szczob fundacija nauk tam buła, żadaw.He died, most probably, on April 20 according to the Gregorian calendar (about this calendar – Julian or Gregorian – there were also eternal disputes between Catholics and Orthodox…). He was buried on Easter Sunday, April 28, 1622. In 2011, by the decision of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny was canonised, and a week ago, on April 20, 2022, Kyiv Metropolitan Epiphanius declared him patron and protector of the Ukrainian army. Sahaydachnyy na Rusu haj dostane sławu!

Author: Wojciech Stanisławski
Translation: Jan Ziętara 

Quotations from the panegyric by Kasyan Sakovich and his students “Wirshi na żalisni pogreb szljachetnogo rycarja Petra Konasevicha-Sahajdacznogo” in modernized spelling are taken from the anthology “Ukrainskaja poezzija. Kiniec XVI – poczatok XVII-go stolettija” (Kyiv, 1978).

The text was originally published on the “TVP Weekly” site. Reprinted with the editor’s persmission.