The Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church (first)

About the year of 1629 the first wooden the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was built. At first it served the Orthodox part of the town, then after the Deluge it was handed on to Eastern Catholics. This faith was preserved until the end of the church building itself. The church burnt in the great fire of Drohiczyn in 1805..

In 1792 , thanks to Jakub Ciecierski, the second the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was built. For 13 years, in the vicinity of less than hundred meters, both Orthodox Churches of the same title and denomination were functioning side by side.

The history of the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church up to the middle of 18th century

The building of the first wooden the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was begun in 1626. On November 11th, Iwan Prodiło, a townsman, offered the place which served as a building site for the new temple („ad eclesiam Ruthenicam Sancti Nicolai Episcopi sub arce piaque opera eiusdem ecclesiae perpetuis temporibus dat”). One year after that, Drohiczyn citizens were given a royal charter from Sigismund III to establish the Saint Nicholas parish. Shortly, people started to register in the parish and give donations to the benefit of it. On March 10th, 1628, Mikołaj Kiewluk granted the land on Zabuże area (called “Gromończyńska”) to the parish rector Stefan Kuczyński. Next year, Saint Nicholas parish presbyter was permitted to collect the tithe from Chutkowicze village in the amount of sixty per each drag of rye, while peasants from Stadniki village were to give five bundles of rye, oat and barley. The information provided in the document stated that the tribute was allocated for the construction of a new temple in Drohiczyn. There is no doubt that it was the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, since there was no other temple being constructed at that time.

The first charters and tributes for the Orthodox church were situated outside the town limits. Parcels and town gardens were acquired by the rector by purchase, by family record or land ownership change. On March 19th, 1639, Father Stefan Kuczyński bought a drag of land from Drohiczyn townsmen and he was given six morgens and two perches of land called “Krupiczki” as a part of the tribute. Through the marriage with Apolonia Skijan he obtained an estate in Drohiczyn’s centre from Apolonia Skijan’s mother-in-law on 11th February, 1642 along with a beerhouse and an orchard on 16th February, 1643.

The Saint Nicholas brotherhood used to function next to the Orthodox church. Its beginnings were connected with the conflict for religious character of the new Orthodox church. Numerous charters of the land outside the town suggest that the founder of the brotherhood was the neighbouring Drohiczyn nobility. It was the royal land commissioners that decided on the religious character of the orthodox church on March 14th, 1636. These kind of interventions were very rare among the royal commissioners.

Parafianie S. Mikuły z swiaszczennikiem swem odstąpiwszy uniey diversam, że chcą sectari confessionem świadczyło się, przeto my o fundatorach y o collatorach do tey cerkwie należących pilny uczyniwszy opyt dostaliśmy tego, że pewna do tey cerkwi collaty swiaszczennika jako fundatorowie należy szlachta, zaczem tantisper tę pomienioną cerkiew in suo esse zostawiwszy, nil derogando juri patronatus tych, którzy di- sunitami bydź się mienią, do zgody y decisy wszystkich collatorów pomienionych cerkiew S. Mikuły zawieszczamy (...)

The “collators” mentioned in the above quotation were not only advocating the Orthodox church membership but also pleaded all the ”greek” Orthodox churches in the town. The decisions of royal commissioners regarding the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church and the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church were written in Mielnik muncipial register following noble Łukasz Waleński request, and on May 22nd, 1640 thery were confirmed by Władysław IV in Merkinė. Łukasz Waleński was one of the initiators of the Orthodox church brotherhood calling and he was its leading activist.

After royal commissioners left, the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was handed over to Drohiczyn staroste Marcin Leśniowolski. Its uniate archpriest parishioner of Drohiczyn, Jan Harasimowicz accused the Orthodox parishioners of organising a brotherhood similar to Vilnius, taking the temple from him and staying in “Greek religion” on March 31st, 1636. Furthermore, Orthodox believers were accused of incitement to raise against Catholic faith. Consequently, Drohiczyn’s archpriest filed a suit to muncipial court against the following townsmen and members of the brotherhood: Szymon Dubiński, Jakub and Mateusz Odojewski, Mikołaj and Grzegorz Kościanczuk, Walentyn Zahomiennik, Iwan and Grzegorz Atysik, Andrzej Taptun, Damian and Paweł Jakusik, Mikołaj Kiewło, Rafał Olechno, Damian Wołosowicz, Prokop Panasiuk, Damian Wołoczka, Łukasz Zamybarse, Jan Kozaczyk. The uniate priest could not accuse members of the brotherhood of noble descent because he feared their defence speeches about religious tolerance. Due to socio-legal status, the nobility of the brotherhood became a protector of all its members and the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church itself. That was the reason why clergy of other Orthodox churches in Drohiczyn were asking nobility for help. On 7th November,1641, Piotr Packowski – the superior of the Transfiguration of Jesus Monastery gave permission to Stefan Turowski and Łukasz Waleński to carry on every legal cases connected with the monastery.

Despite the leading role of the nobility in brotherhood’s activity, most of the members were of middle-class origin. Townsmen in the fourties of 17th century became donors of squares and town gardens to the benefit of the brotherhood and the Orthodox church. For example, on November 7th 1641, the brotherhood was given - as a donation - a square and a garden on Ruska street in Drohiczyn from Andrzej Ilikowicz and Tomasz Fiederowicz. The Zerczyński family donated the brotherhood’s Orthodox church their own estate on February 16th, 1643. The diverse make-up of the brotherhood (nobles and middle-class) assured its favourable socio-economical position. The position of the members made the brotherhood one of the main socio-political powers in 17th century Drohiczyn. The brotherhood then represented the interests of the entire Orthodox society. Due to the brotherhood’s elders intervention on September 15th, 1636, Władysław IV ordered Drohiczyn staroste Marcin Leśniowolski to: „religiey Greckiey disunitów (...) domy i cerkwie ich własne, mianowanym swiaszczennikom świętospaskiemu i Piotrowi Packowskiemu, świętotroickiemu Łukaszowi Sawickiemu i świętomikulskiemu - Stephanowi Kulczyńskiemu y innym mieszczanom zabrane przywrócił y oddać rozkazał (...)..

Presenting the Unite (Eastern Catholic Church) demands on brotherhood temple resulted in obtaining on July 11th, 1644, a royal charter for rector Stefan Kuczyński to:

spokojne używanie cerkwie Świętego Mikołaja w tym mieście naszym Drohiczynie będącey tak, jako przed tym używał (...) do ostatniego wieku swojego życia (...) ze wszystkimi gruntami, lasami, borami, rolami, ogrodami, paszami, sadzawkami, poddanemi y ich czynszami, innemi należnościami y przynależnościami (...)

The monarch ordered Drohiczyn staroste Marek Wodziński to „by tego wielebnego swiaszczennika przy wolności naszey zachował” (”allow the rector to use his premises as he did before”). The confirmation of the laws of Drohiczyn orthodox community by the king resuled from nobles’ demands on execution of commissioners’ decisions and „uspokojenia religiey greckiey” (”calming the Greek religion”). The above demands were included in nobles’ regional parliament instructions of Wołyńska and Mielnicka land for the council in 1645..

In the end of the fourties of XVII century some unfavourable events for the brotherhood activity occured. Some of its activists – especially of noble origin – changed their belief to Catholicism or Eastern Christianity. It was the effect of religious riots in 1648 which were caused by cossacs’ military success. It was quite common that Bohdan Chmielnicki’s victory demonstrations were full of slogans of social character. The repressions of city authorities against the people involved in incidents included mainly the members of the brotherhood. The king’s report claimed that recently built the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church required a renovation. From 1648 to 1652 the temple was broken into several times which showed that the position of brotherhood in the town was seriously weakened. The first robbery took place in 1648. The Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was robbed again in the spring of 1648 by herdsman Krzysztof Czapski. The vogt court of Drohiczyn accussed him of stealing vestments and liturgical items on April 16th and sentenced him to prison. Procossack sympathies for the brotherhood resulted in unfavourable attitude of Unite-Catholic population. Motivated by fear of religious conflicts Jan Kazimierz ordered Wojciech Mleczka – Mielnik staroste – to stop the oppression of Drohiczyn Orthodox community on July 3rd, 1652.

The change of the brotherhood’s Orthodox church religious character took place in 1654 when Jesuits were brought to Drohiczyn. During a nobles of Drohiczyn council in 1656 which took place in Latin temple a fight between Orthodox and Christian believers caused a lot of damage to the temple itself. The conflict was a consequence of objection of Tums noble Orthodox family against the vote on rising the Jesuits residence in Drohiczyn to the collegium rank. As a response to the damage done in the parish church the Catholic nobles forced king to hand over the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church to Uniates. The superior of Jesuit brotherhood motivated his decision with the following argument about brotherhood’s temple: „choć ongiś prawosławna, przed 1657 rokiem należała do unitów a schizmatycy zajęli ją dopiero po najeździe Rakoczego” (”despite the fact that the temple used to be Orthodox, before the year of 1657 it had belonged to the Eastern Catholic Church and the schismatics took it over after the raid of Rakoczy”). Jan Kazimierz sent a special committee which „zbadawszy rzecz na miejscu przyznała unitom prawo do cerkwi św. Mikołaja”. (“invastigated the matter personally and granted the Eastern Catholic Church believers the title to the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church”) Regardless of the brotherhood Orthodox church vesting to Uniates, both masses and religious life went on according to the Orthodox practice. It was in the year of 1678 when Vladimir Uniate lord Benedykt Gliński changed the liturgy to Eastern Catholic and the first service in this denomination was conducted in the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church. Some of the Orthodox church brotherhood members joined the brotherhood of Saint Spas in the second half of the 17th century. One of the brotherhood elders, Łukasz Waleński, made religous vows in the Transfiguration of Jesus monastery. The remaining parishioners of the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, even before the year of 1681, had made attempts to restore the previous religious character of the Orthodox church. These attempts might have caused the Orthodox church to be given back to uniates which could have raised a conflict in the town, that is why king Jan III Sobieski on March 1st, 1681, forbade the orthodox community of Drohiczyn and other towns of Grand Duchy of Lithuania to both manifest their faith and demand the return of once taken buildings.

The Orthodox community of the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church had existed in 1757. The parish inspection that year enumerates “80 dysuniates” attending services in the temple. The Orthodox believers demanded the return of parish rector to the Orthodox church and they motivated that with documents confirming the ”Greek” character of the Orthodox church. These documents were kept in Drohiczyn monasteries of Holy Trinity and Saint Spas. The Uniate inspectors searched for Orthodox church foundation acts without any result and they admitted that „dokumenty takowej fundacji mają być w cerkwi Dyzunitów Drohickich” (“the documents of this foundation must be in the church of Drohiczyn Disuniates”).

The inspection of 1726 indicated that typically liturgical books characteristic of the Orthodox practice, for example “disuniate service book”, were kept in the brotherhood Orthodox church. The service book belonged to parishioners of the brotherhood. The inspection established the rules of brotherhood’s functioning and its members obligations. The changes made in brotrhood’s status in 18th century altered its purposes as well as tasks and placed it in complete control of the Uniate archpriests. The Orthodox community which previously had belonged to Saint Nicholas parish attended then the monastic Orthodox churches of Holy Trinity and Saint Spas.

In 1792 , thanks to Jakub Ciecierski, the second the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was built. For 13 years, in the vicinity of less than hundred meters, both Orthodox Churches of the same title and denomination were functioning side by side. The older Orthodox Church burnt in the great fire of Drohiczyn in 1805.


  1. Antoni Mironowicz, "Podlaskie ośrodki i organizacje prawosławne w XVI i XVII wieku", Białystok 1991


Tłumaczenie tekstu / Translation by - Jakub Bujno