The Ukrainian Autocepalous Orthodox Church
A Brief Historical Introduction
The historical Ukrainian Church has existed for over 1,000 years. In 988 CE, before the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches (1054), the Grand Prince of Kyiv-Rus, St. Volodymyr, was baptized and with him, the nation accepted the Christian faith in its Byzantine expression. Thousands received baptism in the Dnipro River by missionaries sent from Constantinople.
The Kyiv-Metropolitanate was self-governing until its uncanonical transfer to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686. It then became merely a "territory" of the Russian Orthodox Church, subject to the Synod in Moscow. Coinciding with this period of Russian and other imperial expansion, many Ukrainian bishops, including Metropolitans of Kyiv, opted to unify with the Bishop of Rome, while retaining the Byzantine ritual and spiritual traditions. This formed what is called the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
While the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remained under Russian subjugation, the idea of seperation from Moscow was never totally forgotten. Beginning with movements in the 1890s, the rebirth of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in 1921 restored the ancient Kyivan Metropolia to its original independence and is considered the "first resurrection of the church." This Sobor elected Metropolitan Vasyl Lipkivskyj to lead the church. In 1924, a decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory VII, declared the Kyiv Metropolitanate to once again be autocephalous and ordered the consecration of new bishops. Ukraine however, was then occupied by Soviet-Russian authorities and the church faced its first period of bitter persecution.
The first Metropolitan of the restored church was Dionisiy Valedynskyj of Warsaw, consecrated in 1913 by Patriarch Gregory IV Haddad of Antioch. Upon him was placed responsibility of implementing the decree of the Constantinople Patriarch. Metropolitan Dionisiy served people of Ukrainian origin in Poland and in 1942, the political climate was right for the consecration bishops in Kyiv. Over several months, in St. Andrew Cathedral, many bishops were ordained to serve the UAOC and eparchies were established. This restoration of the hierarchy is known as the "second resurrection of the UAOC."
Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine after World War II did not allow the church to flourish there under Soviet domination. The Ukrainian hierarchy, clergy and laity were coerced to join the Russian Orthodox Church or face imprisonment and death. Many were able to flee to the West, primarily through Germany. Others suffered martyrdom, rather than abandon their church and principles.
The bishops and people of the UAOC brought their Ukrainian faith and church to the Diaspora, particularly the United States, Canada & South America, where outstanding leaders such as Metropolitans Hryhoriyj Ohiyjchuk, Ivan Theodorovych and Mystyslav Skrypnik (later Patriarch) held the Ukrainian people together in preserving their religious and cultural heritage, their Ukrainian language and particular ecclesiology.
After the fall of communism, Ukraine once again became a free land and the UAOC was allowed to function freely. This is referred to as the "third resurrection of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church." At the Sobor of 1990, Metropolitan Mystyslav was elected to be the first Patriarch of Kyiv & All Ukraine. Subsequent patriarchs included Volodymyr (Romaniuk) and Dymytriy (Yarema).
Meanwhile in the Diaspora, bishops of the UAOC in the USA, decided in 1996, to place themselves and their parishes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, thereby relinquishing the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church and forming instead, an eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne.
In the same year, Metropolitan Stephan Petrovich, who had been active in assisting the revitalization of the Mother Church following the Soviet period, received authorization from hierarchy in Ukraine to continue the UAOC as a self-governing entity in North & South America. He guided the Diaspora church during these turbulent times until his retirement in June of 2004.
In Ukraine, after the death of Patriarch Dymytriy in 2000, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Mefodiy (Kudriakov) of Ternopil, was elected to be Predstoyatel (Primate) of the UAOC worldwide. Today, as Metropolitan of Kyiv & All Ukraine, he continues to guide the historic Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church as it's visible father and head.
Metropolitan Petrovich was succeeded by the current Presiding Hierarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North & South America & the Diaspora, Metropolitan Mykhayil (Javchak-Champion). He had assisted Metropolitan Stephan in the administration of the church as Coadjutor Archbishop since the Sobor of 1998 in Cleveand. This sobor provided for the continued leadership of the church, by naming Vladyka Mykhayil , a second generation American of Ukrainian descent, "coadjutor with the right of succession."
Today, at the beginning of the 21st. century, the important visible leadership of the Predstoyatel of the UAOC, His Beatitude, MEFODIY, gives encouragement to thousands of faithful throughout the world. From Ukraine, he serves as a symbol of unity for the church. Through his travels abroad, he shows his pastoral concern and fatherly love for the universal church. His gentle but firm mannerisms give a sense of spiritual security to to the UAOC.
In the Diaspora, the strong and viable administration of Metropolitan Mykhayil has continued to instill a proud Ukrainian religious identity and vision for the Metropolia. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen ties and communication with the Mother Church in Ukraine, while simultaneously creating an atmosphere open to people of all origins. This has led to growth for the UAOC outside of Ukraine and has brought the church back to the forefront of recognition in worldwide religious circles. Our church ministers beyond the borders of the United States, including eparchies in Latin America, Western Europe, Canada and Africa.
Within the context of an Orthodox ethos, Metropolitan Mykhayil, in cooperation with the hierarchy and clergy, continues to make dialogue with other confessions, sensible application of the faith to our times and outreach to those marginalized or oppressed, a trademark of his archpastoral ministry. In all of this, the hope of the Metropolitan is to make the church accessible and meaningful to people of all walks of life. His vision is for them to see a place where they can fulfill their own experience of God, through participation in sacramental, liturgical, spiritual and community life.
In the third millennium, the Ukrainian Church is more relevant than ever, in making Christianity alive and understandable to the modern world and to real people and situations. The historical experience of Ukraine gives a fresh opportunity for Orthodoxy to explore the theological implications of liberation, which is expressed in the Gospels as the Reign of God. This is enhanced by the richness of Ukrainian church art, chant, hymnography, traditions and the distinct ancient liturgical recension which characterizes Ukrainian Christianity.
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