HIstorical Road of the Ukrainian Church

 

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

A Brief Historical Overview

The historical Ukrainian Church has existed for over 1,00 years. In 988 CE, before the separation between the Eastern and Western Churches (1054), the Grand Prince of Kyiv-Rus, Volodymyr the Great, 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.

This "Baptism of Ukraine" differs from the introduction of Christianity in other places (such as in Latin America), in that the Ukrainian people took up the faith together with their leaders, in a corporate style, as one nation. It was not the result of conquistadores or forced conversion, but came to pass in great part due to political and national concerns of the time. Already existing indigenous traditions, practices and calendar observances were incorporated into the new faith to form the basis of what is now the uniquely Ukrainian expression of Christianity.

The sacking of Kiev itself in December 1240 during the Mongol invasion led to the ultimate collapse of the Rus' state. For many of its residents, the brutality of Mongol attacks sealed the fate of many choosing to find safe haven in the North East. In 1299, the Kievan metropolitan seat was moved to Vladimir by Metropolitan Maximus, keeping the title of Kyiv. As Vladimir-Suzdal, and later the Grand Duchy of Moscow continued to grow unhindered, the Orthodox religious link between them and Kyiv remained strong. The fall of Constantinople in 1453, allowed the once daughter church of North East, to become autocephalous, with Kyiv remaining part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

From that moment on, the Churches of Ukraine and Russia went their own separate ways. The latter became central in the growing Russian Tsardom, attaining patriarchate status in 1589, while the former became the subject of Russian aggression, and Polonization as well as Madyarization efforts, contributing to the Union of Brest in 1596. Eventually the persecution of Orthodox Ukrainians led to a massive rebellion under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, which, after attempts to maintain independence, resulted in an incorporation of Ukrainian Hetmanate with the Russian Tsardom, and in 1686, the Kyivan Metropolia was absorbed (uncanonically) into the Moscow Patriarchate.

And so, the Kyiv Metropolitanate 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, optted 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, on of the largest religious bodies of Ukrainian heritage. While the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remained under Russian subjugation, the idea of liberation from Moscow was never totally forgotten. Leaders such as Metropolitan of Kyiv, Petro Mohyla were committed to the model of the Council of Florence (1439) and envisioned that the Church of Kyiv, as  a self-governing local church, could be in communion with both Constantinople and Rome.

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 as the "first resurrection" of the church. The Sobor of 1921 elected Metropolitan Vasyl Lipkivskj to lead the church. In 1924, a decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory VII, declared the Kyiv Metropolitanate to once again be autocephalous and free from Moscow and ordered the consecration of new bishops. Ukraine however, was then occupied by Soviet-Russian authorities and the UAOC faced its first period of bitter persecution.

The first Metropolitan of the restored church after the 1924 declaration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was Dionisiy Valedynskyj of Warsaw, who was consecrated in 1913 by Patriarch Gregory IV Haddad of Antioch. Upon Valedynskyj was placed the responsibility of implementing the decree of the Constantinople Patriarch. Metropolitan Dionisy freely was able to serve people of Ukrainian extraction in neighboring Poland and in 1942, the political climate was such that the consecration of bishops could take place in Kyiv. Over several months, in the Cathedral of St Andrew the First-Called, various bishops were ordained to serve the UAOC and eparchies were established. The historical synod of bishops of May, 1942 was presided over by the envoy of Metropolitan Dionsiy, Metropolitan Polycarp Sikorskyj. This restoration of the canonical 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 (both Orthodox and Greek Catholic) were coerced to join the Russian Orthodox Church or face imprisonment and death. Some were able to flee to the West, primarily through Germany. Others suffered martyrdom, long incarceration in the Russian gulags and other atrocities, rather than abandon their church and their principles.

The bishops and people of the UAOC brought their Ukrainian faith and church to the Diaspora, particularly the United States, Canada and South America, where outstanding leaders such as Metropolitans Hryhoriyj Ohiyjchuk, Ivan Theodorovych and Mystyslav Skrypnik guided the Ukrainian people  in preserving their religious and cultural heritage, the Ukrainian language and particular ecclesiology.

After the fall of Soviet communism, Ukraine once again became a free nation and the UAOC was allowed to function freely once again. 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 and All Ukraine. Subsequent patriarchs included Volodymyr Romaniuk and Dymytriy Yarema.

Meanwhile in the Diaspora, bishops of the UAOC in the USA decided in 1998, to place themselves and their parishes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thereby relinquishing the autocephaloy of the Ukrainian Church and any official relations with the church in Ukraine and forming instead, an eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne.

In that same year, Metropolitan Stephan Petrovich, committed to preserving the autocephalous nature of the Church had taken an interest in its revitalization following the Soviet period. While in Ukraine, Petrovich was formally authorized by the senior hierarchs of the UAOC, to lead the church as a self-governing entity in North and South America. Metropolitan Stephan finally retired in June 2004. His successor is Metropolitan Mykhayil Javchak Champion, who was appointed to assist Petrovich in the administration of the church as coadjutor archbishop with the right of succession, since  the US Sobor of 1998. He is the Metropolitan Archbishop of New York and the Americas.

In Ukraine, after the death of Patriarch Dymytriy in 2000, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Mefodiy Kdriakov of Ternopil was elected to be the Primate (Predstoyatel) of the UAOC worldwide. As Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, he guided the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church as its visible father and head.

As one of his first priorities, Metropolitan Mykhayil solidified formal relations with Metropolitan Mefodiy and the UAOC in Ukraine, thus creating a more coherent model for the UAOC worldwide. In 2005, 2007 and 2008, Mykhayil made official visits to the Primate of the UAOC, Metropolitan Mefodiy in Kyiv and to the Patriarchate. They concelebrated the Divine Liturgy and other services and visited eparchies of the UAOC. Metropolitan Mefodiy recognized Mykhayil to be Metropolitan Archbishop of New York and the Americas, a position he continues to hold.

Likewise in February 2006 Metropolitan Mefodiy made an historic pastoral visit to the United States, at the invitation of Metropolitan Mykhayil Javchak. They concelebrated the Divine Liturgy and and visited church communities. Besides Patriarch Mystyslav, who resided in New Jersey, this was the first and currently only time in history that a Metropolitan of Kyiv and a worldwide primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church visited the United States and the American continent.

Vladyka Mefodiy was very helpful in church unity, showing a keen pastoral concern and a fatherly love for the church in every part of the world. His gentle but firm mannerisms gave a sense of spiritual security to the UAOC. His kind heart touched many and his devotion to the Divine Liturgy and the other liturgical services and traditions gave a sense of order and sensibility to the church

After the untimely death of Metropolitan Mefodiy on February 24, 2015, Metropolitan Mykhayil sent official condolences and promulgated an official period of mourning for the death of the church's visible head. Due to developing and uncertain political and ecclesiastical developments in Ukraine, subsequent to the death of Metropolitan Mefodiy, the UAOC in the USA currently asserts autonomy.

In the United States and elsewhere in America, our church celebrates a familiar orthodox catholic liturgical life and a traditional faith, based on the spiritual and indigenous customs from both Ukraine and other countries of origin of our people.Our leadership is committed to interreligious dialogue and respects the traditions of all faiths and all perspectives. We uphold a contemporary and informed approach to pastoral and social questions and people of all walks of life are welcome to become part of our community.

On October 11, 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I issued a decree officially recognizing the joint autocephaly of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate. At the same time, Bartholomew affirmed all of the bishops and clergy associated and originating from them to be canonical. They are to work together in solidifying the Ukrainian Church into one, self-governing local church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate also revoked any former dependence of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv on the Moscow Patriarchate resulting from 1686, (due to circumstances of that time) to be disolved, thus asserting its position as the historical mother church of Kyiv and Ukraine.