Archbishop Onufriy, Metropolitan of the of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, made headlines when he refused to stand in honor of Ukraine’s newly-fallen heroes as their names were read in a session of Parliament.
Many people were not surprised by his deplorable attitude, because he answers to a Moscow-based hierarch and his political moves will adhere to those of Russia’s Moscow-based regime. However, many of his followers were shocked, even disappointed, that the leader of one of Ukraine’s four major Churches would commit such symbolic dissent. What the news articles about Metropolitan Onufriy’s grandstand (or grand sit) omit, however, is any question of why a Moscow-based hierarch is even still followed in Ukraine, and the implications of his Church’s predominance on today’s political and spiritual climate in Ukraine.
For a complete understanding of Ukraine’s four Churches, it’s important to take into account the history of Christianity in Ukraine. While books can — and have been — written on this subject, the casual observer will never have time to read them. So, without further ado, here’s part II of Ukrainian Chicago’s Digest of Ukrainian History “in 500 words:”
The origins of Ukrainian Christianity are rooted in Pentecost, when, after Christ’s ascension, His apostles were instructed to go into the world and preach the Good News of the Gospel. In addition to the rest of the apostles, like St. Peter who famously ended up in Rome to establish what is today’s Papacy, St. Andrew’s missionary journey took him up the Dnipro River into today’s Ukraine.
Tradition says that St. Andrew planted a cross on the site of Kyiv’s hills and prophesied its site to be a great center of Christianity. Though he managed to establish communities in modern-day Ukraine, they were sparse and mostly based around Greek-speaking merchant communities along the Black Sea. St. Andrew finally settled in Byzantium (later Constantinople, and today’s Istanbul) where he established a permanent Christian community in communion with the Churches established by all of the other apostles around the world.
The first formal Church in modern-day Ukraine was established in the late 10th century, when Grand Prince Volodymyr of Rus’ sought to establish a new state religion for his kingdom. According to chronicles, Volodymyr sent emissaries to all of the world’s major religions—Islam, Judaism, Roman Christianity, and Byzantine Christianity. His emissaries saw no beauty in any of the religions, except those who returned from Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, who said “they did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth.” Attracted to his emissaries’ account, Volodymyr had himself and his subjects baptized, and a Metropolitan Archbishop sent from Byzantium to rule over the new Church based in Kyiv.
After the fall of Byzantium, and during a bloody Polish occupation, the Metropolitan of Kyiv and most of the bishops under his rule decided to reconcile with the Patriarch of Rome — the pope — despite their theological differences, and entered into communion with his Church in 1594. This effectively cut ties with what was left of the Church of Byzantium, which still hadn’t reconciled with Rome. To remedy this, the Patriarch of Constantinople sent new bishops to rule over Kyivan lands, more than 25 years after their predecessors’ union with Rome.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s isolation allowed it to develop its own Church, adopted from Kyiv, but still loyal to Byzantium. As a reward for their loyalty and by request of the new Russian emperor, the bishop of Moscow was elevated to the rare rank of patriarch, with the Church of Kyiv being transferred under its authority in 1686.
As the Russian Empire expanded westward, churches recognizing Rome were banned, and the Patriarchate of Moscow became one of the emperor’s most effective tools at exercising control over his subjects, including those in Ukraine. However, after more than a century of patriarchal rule, Peter the Great feared the Church’s influence was eclipsing his own, and abolished the Moscow Patriarchate. However, since the Church of Kyiv was still covered under Moscow’s autocephaly, its influence was still very prevalent.
As the centuries passed, Ukrainian Christians subject to Moscow increasingly felt they were entitled to more autonomy. After the Russian Revolution, Ukrainian bishops declared the Church of Kyiv autocephalous — a move that was quickly recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Meanwhile, free from the emperor’s fears of inferiority, the bishops of Moscow managed to re-establish a patriarchate. However, as the Bolsheviks gained popularity, their policy of state-mandated atheism led to the execution and exile of most Church officials in Ukraine and Russia.
When Nazi Germany allowed churches to be reopened during their invasion of the Soviet Union during WWII, many Christians were reservedly relieved to once again pray in public. To counter this, Joseph Stalin encouraged exiled bishops to return the patriarchate to Moscow, and once again operate churches publicly across the Soviet Union. However, much as it was under the Russian Empire, the Church ended up being more of an agency of the government than a body of Christian faithful.
When Ukraine neared independence in 1990, many bishops sought to re-establish an Autocephalous Church in Kyiv. Soon, they broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate and united with exiled members of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church to form a patriarchate around Bishop Mstyslav of the United States. However, when Patriarch Mstyslav died in 1993, disagreements among his successors split the Church in two — one loyal to the concept of a Kyivan Patriarchate, and the other to the previous Autocephalous Church of Kyiv.
In wake of the discord, the bishops still loyal to Moscow were granted their own autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Moscow, which still substantially exercises its will over the nominally autonomous Church. As such, the Church recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine remains the only Church that is de-facto recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the global community surrounding it. Despite this, and including efforts to reunite the Kyivan Patriarchate with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, many people, now more than ever, are working to reunite Ukraine’s splintered Churches, and earn them the global recognition they’ve worked toward since the time of the apostles.
Ukraine’s Four Orthodox Churches:
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC)
The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is descended from the Ukrainian bishops who sought reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church in 1594. Despite being “Catholic” in the technical sense of being in communion with the Pope of Rome, it maintains the distinctly orthodox beliefs and rituals it inherited from Byzantium. In terms of Apostolic Succession, it is the only Ukrainian Church with an unbroken lineage to the Baptism of Rus’ by St. Volodymyr in 988. As many as 6 million members belong to the UGCC around the world, and are led by Patriarch Sviatoslav of Kyiv-Halych.
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC)
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, in its contemporary form, was
declared in 1921 by bishops who felt Ukraine’s Church deserved more independence. Almost immediately recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it enjoyed global recognition until being driven underground and into exile during the rise of the Soviet Union. It thrived in the diaspora until being revived in Ukraine in 1990. The UAOC’s leader, Metropolitan Mefodiy, died in February, leaving the Church’s future uncertain and its one million followers possibly planning to unite with the Kyivan Patriarchate.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP)
Officially named, simply, “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” it technically received autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate in 1990, and enjoys de-facto recognition as such by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the rest of the world’s Orthodox. However, Moscow’s influence over the Church was not relieved with its autonomy, leading to many political and religious tensions. Bound by Moscow’s assignment of canonical territory, the Church is only allowed to operate within the borders of Ukraine, where it has 9.4 million followers under Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP)
Formed with Ukraine’s independence, the Kyivan Patriarchate is born out of the belief that, considering it is the most senior of Slavic Churches, Kyiv deserves its own patriarch. Since the Moscow Patriarchate claims Ukraine as being part of its canonical territory, a competing patriarch is not recognized as such by the rest of the world’s Orthodox. Despite this, the Kyivan Patriarchate has grown substantially since Ukraine’s independence. As Ukraine’s largest Church, more than 20 million faithful around the world call the Kyivan Patriarchate home, with Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv and all Rus’-Ukraine at its head.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA/Canada (UOC-USA, UOCC)
The Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of the United States and Canada are somewhat of an anomaly, being structured substantially differently from any Church based in Ukraine. Its origins are in the union of exiled Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox communities in North America with formerly Ukrainian Greek-Catholic married clergy who were forbidden to serve by local Roman Catholic bishops. Following the split of the UAOC and the UOC-KP in the 1990s, the Church in North America placed itself directly under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, giving it global recognition, but little autonomy. The Church has several thousand followers, and is led by Metropolitan Antony in the United States and Metropolitan Yurij in Canada.
By Julian Hayda