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Christianity in Ukraine dates to the earliest centuries of the apostolic church when, according to the legends, it was preached by St. Andrew in parts of the modern territory of Ukraine. The acceptance of Byzantine Christianity as a dominant religion in the area, as well as a state religion, was marked by 988 mass Baptism of Kiev by a ruler of Kievan Rus, Grand Prince (Velikiy Kniaz') Vladimir I of Kiev, often referred to as St. Vladimir or St. Volodymyr (in Ukrainian). After the great East-West Schism that soon followed, the territory of Kievan Rus remained with the Byzantine Patriarch's Eastern Orthodoxy. While most of the Christians in Ukraine were and still are Orthodox, since 1598 an Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which claimed varying with time but always a significant membership in western Ukraine, is in full communion with the Catholic see. Still, Eastern Orthodoxy was a traditional religion in Ukraine and at some points in history was inseparable from most Ukrainians' national self-identity. The political jurisdiction of Orthodox churches in Ukraine changed several times in its history. Currently, three Orthodox church bodies coexist, and often compete, in Ukraine. Only one of them, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, autonomous under the Patriarch of Moscow, has a
canonical standing (legal recognition) in Eastern Orthodoxy world-wide, and operates in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. However, since the differences within Ukrainian Orthodoxy are purely political rather than doctrinal, this situation is expected to be resolved at some future point with a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church to unite the Orthodox Christians in the nation.
St. Andrew is thought to have preached on the southern borders of Ukraine, along the Black Sea. Legend has is that he travelled up the Dnieper river and reached the future location of Kiev, where he erected a cross on the site where the Church of St. Andrew currently stands, and prophesied the foundation of a great Christian city. A representative from Crimea was present at the First Council of Nicaea (325). Around this time, these churches and the inland farther north came under the control of the Goths, some of whom were Christians.
Baptism of Princess Olga by S. Kirillov.Some of the Slavic population of Kiev and Western Ukraine under the rule of Great Moravia were Christians in the 9th century. Christianity was gradually spreading among the Rus' nobility with Princess Olga (St. Olga) being the first known ruler to have been baptized as Helen. Her baptism in 955 or 957 in Kiev or Constantinople (accounts differ) was a turning point in religeous life of Rus' but it was left to her grandson, Vladimir the Great, to make Kievan Rus' a Christian state.
Christianity became dominant in the territory with the mass Baptism of Kiev in the Dnieper river in 988 by St. Vladimir. Following the Great Schism in 1054, the Kievan Rus' that incorporated most of modern Ukraine ended up on the Eastern Orthodox side of the divided Christian world.
Early on, the Orthodox Christian metropolitans had their seat in Pereyaslav, and later in Kiev. The people of Kiev lost their Metropolitan to Vladimir-Suzdal in 1299, but regained a Ukrainian Metropolitan in Halych in 1303. The religious affairs were also ruled in part by a Metropolitan in Navahradak, (present-day Belarus).
In the 1400s, the primacy over the Ukrainian church was restored to Kiev, under the title "Metropolitan of Kiev and Halicia". One clause of the Union of Krevo stipulated that Jagiello would disseminate Roman Catholicism among Orthodox subjects of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, of which Ukraine was a part. The opposition from the Ostrogskis and other Orthodox magnates led to this policy being suspended in the early 16th century.
Following the Union of Lublin, the polonization of the Ukrainian church was accelerated. Unlike the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox church in Ukraine was liable to various taxes and legal obligations. The building of new Orthodox churches was strongly discouraged. The Roman Catholics were strictly forbidden to convert to Orthodoxy, and the marriages between Catholics and Orthodox were frowned upon. Orthodox subjects had been increasingly barred from high offices of state.
In order to oppose such restrictions and to reverse cultural polonization of Orthodox bishops, the Ecumenical Patriarch encouraged the activity of the Orthodox urban communities, or bratstva. In 1589 Hedeon Balaban, the bishop of Lvov, asked the Pope to take him under his protection, because he was exasperated by the struggle with urban communities and the Ecumenical Patriarch. He was followed by the bishops of Lutsk, Chelm, and Turov in 1590. In the following years, the bishops of Volodymyr-Volynskyy and Przemysl and the Metropolitan of Kiev announced their secession from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1595 some of the renegades arrived to Rome and asked the Pope to take them under his jurisdiction.
In the Union of Brest of 1596, a part of the Ukrainian Church was accepted under the jurisdiction of the Roman Pope, becoming a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). While the new church gained many faithful among the Ukrainians in Galicia and Volhynia, the majority of Ukrainians in the rest fo the land remained within Eastern Orthodoxy with the church affairs ruled by then from Kiev under the metropolitan Petro Mohyla. The eastward spread of the Union of Brest led to violent clashes, e.g., assassination of the Uniate archbishop Kuncewicz by the Orthodox mob in Polotsk in 1623.
In 1686, 40 years after Mohyla's death, the Orthodox Church of Kiev and all Rus' was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the Patriarchate of Moscow, established a century prior to that. This led to the Ukrainian domination of the Russian Orthodox Church, which continued well into the 18th century, Feofan Prokopovich and Demetrius of Rostov being among the most notable representatives of this trend.
Currently, the major Ukrainian Christian churches are:
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP) under the Patriarch of Moscow of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Since 1990 the UOC-MP operates as an autonomous church (one step short of full autocephaly). The Metropolitan Volodymyr (Viktor Sabodan) is enthroned since 1992 as the head of the UOC-MP under the title Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchy (UOC-KP) created in 1991, currently with unrecognized canonical standing among other Eastern Orthodox churches. Since 1995 UOC-KP is headed by Patriarch Filaret (Mykhailo Denysenko) who until 1991 was a Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine under the ROC, which defrocked him in 1992 and excommunicated in 1997 "for schismatic activities".
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), which re-established itself in Ukraine after independence from the Soviet Union, having survived in the diaspora after Soviet government suppression following its birth during the brief period in the aftermath of Bolshevik Revolution when Communists tolerated and at times even encouraged Ukrainian nationalism in the 1920s.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, re-established in independent Ukraine following the dissolution of the Soviet Union where its ban was actively supported by ROC. Since 2001 UGCC is headed by Major Archbishop and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar.
The current divided and fluid situation traces its roots to the close connection between Orthodox church and the state in Tsarist Russia after the transfer of the Kiev Metropolitan see from the Patriarch of Constantinople to the Patriarch of Moscow in 1686. Some clerics and church historians, particularly in Ukraine, do not consider this transfer legitimate and claim it was attempted via the ecclesiastic crime of bribery by the Russian Church, then only recently elevated to patriarchal status, but eventually accepted under pressure from the Turkish Sultan. This development, they claim, resulted in a forced policy of Russification of Ukrainian Christianity. Gradually Russophile Orthodox clergy during the 18th and 19th centuries became dominant in Ukraine. Despite the fact that the transfer was and still is occasionally questioned in Ukraine, it gained a de-facto recognition and acceptance in the Eastern Orthodox communion by 300+ years of Ukrainian Orthodoxy remaining in the see of the Patriarch of Moscow.
After the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War the Bolshevik authorities initially tolerated and even encouraged Ukrainian nationalism following their victory in Ukraine. In 1921 a Sobor announced a new Autocephaly, and created the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) in Kiev with Metropolitan Wasyl Lupkivskyj ordained as a head of the UAOC. In the wake of the break up of the Russian Empire, Russian Orthodox church was seen as counterrevolutionary and pro-White by the Communists, and a Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church was founded with their encouragement in order to reduce the influence of patriarch Tikhon of Moscow whose position towards the revolution was strongly critical. The Soviet government later changed its religious policy and started to persecute UAOC along with the Russian Orthodox church.
On October 8, 1942 Archbishop Nikanor and Bishop Mstyslav (later a Patriarch) of the UAOC and Metropolitan Oleksiy (Hromadsky) of the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church concluded an Act of Union, uniting the two national churches at the Pochaev Lavra. Later German occupation authorities and pro-Russian hierarchs of the Autonomous Church convinced Metropolitan Oleksiy to remove his signature. Metropolitan Oleksiy was murdered in Volhynia on May 7, 1943 by the nationalist guerillas of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
The Russian Orthodox Church regained its general monopoly in the Ukrainian SSR after World War II following another shift in the official Soviet attitude towards Christian churches. As a result many started to accuse it of being a puppet of the Communist Party. After the suspicious death of Patriarch Tikhon, the UAOC and UGCC sought to avoid the transfer under the Moscow Patriarchy; something that Moscow tolerated until after World War II. At the state organized 1948 synod in Lviv (Lvov), some UGCC clergy were coerced into proclaiming the annulment of the 1596 Union of Brest thereby breaking the canonical ties with Rome and transferring under the Moscow Patriarchy. This move's acceptance was mixed. With many clergy members and lay believers turning to ROC, some adamantly refused. While the UAOC and UGCC church property in Ukraine was liquidated by the Soviet authorities or transferred to the ROC, many believers refused to accept liquidation of their churches and for nearly 40 years the UAOC and UGCC existed in Western Ukraine underground lead by the clergy members under the threat of prosecution by the Soviet state. Much of the UGCC and UAOC clergy not willing to serve in ROC emigrated to Germany, the United States, or Canada and the Patriarchate of Moscow could legally lay claim to any Orthodox church property that was within the territory of its uncontested jurisdiction, which it did.
The warm post-war attitude towards the Orthodox Church came to an end with Nikita Khruschev's "Thaw" programme, which included closing the recently opened Kiev's Caves Lavra. However in the west-Ukrainian dioceses, which were the largest in the USSR, the Soviet attitude was "softest". In fact in the western city of Lvov, only one church was closed. The Moscow patriarchy also relaxed its canons on the clergy, especially those from the former-uniate territories, allowing them, for example to shave beards (a very uncommon Orthodox practice) and conduct liturgy in Ukrainian instead of Slavonic.
In 1988 with the millennium anniversary of the baptism of Rus, there was yet another shift in the Soviet attitude towards religion, coinciding with the Perestroika and Glasnost programmes, the USSR apologized for all repressions towards religion and promised to return all property to the rightful owners. Although what began as a peaceful return of many closed church buildings (of course to the then ROC's Ukrainian Exarchate) in the central, eastern and southern Ukraine (as well as in other parts of the USSR), in the former-uniate regions of western Ukraine it was a different story. As UGCC survived in diaspora and in the underground they took their chance and were immediately revived in Ukraine, where in the wake of the Rukh movements the UOC-MP was viewed as a leftover of Soviet occupation, and bitter, often violent clashes over church buildings followed with the UOC-MP slowly losing its parishes to the UGCC. The UAOC also did not wait long and quickly followed suit. Sometimes possessors of Church buildings changes several times in the space of a couple of days. All Soviet attempts to pacify the almost-warring church parties were unsuccessful, especially after the UGCC's demand that all property that was held prior to 1939 would be returned (even though some it was Orthodox before the Unia came). It is now believed that the only real event which enabled to contain the schism in the former-uniate territory was the ROC's reaction of raising its Ukrainian Exarchate to the status of an autonomous church, which took place in 1990, and up until the break up of the USSR (late 1991) there was an uneasy peace in western Ukraine. However after the nation became independent, the question of an independent and autocephalous Orthodox Church arose once again and another schism was approaching.
What historians now see as the reason for the following events was the decision of the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine Filaret to achieve total autocephalocy from the Russian Orthodox Church. To achieve that, with active support of the then president Leonid Kravchuk, he covertely organised a communion with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in case Moscow refused. The skeptical hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church called for a full council where this issue would have been discussed, upon arrival most of the clergy of the UOC who initially supported Filaret, openely critised this move and immediately the votes turned against him. In the end the council voted for Filaret to retire from his position which was confirmed by a swore. Upon returning to Kiev however Filaret carried out his reserve option, and Police aided by nationalist Paramilitaries supported him in retaining his rank. The UOC synod was quick to respond and in the eastern city of Kharkov elected a new leader, the Metropolitan Vladimir (Slobodan). From there most of the fate of control of church buildings was decided by the church parishes, but when most refused to follow Filaret, paramilitaries, especially in Volyn and Rovno Oblasts carried out raids bringing property under their control.
The UOC-MP, which operates in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches still owns the majority of Orthodox church buildings in Ukraine and is predominant in eastern and southern Ukraine. The UGCC and the UAOC, on the other hand, have most of their communities in the western provinces (oblasts} of Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk. The UOC-KP has its communities scattered across Ukraine, though only in western areas do they outnumber those of the UOC-MP. The UOC-KP and especially the UAOC and UGCC have strong support in the Ukrainian diaspora.
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