Lutheranism is a traditional Protestant denomination in Ukraine, known since the mid-sixteenth century in Volhyn, Halychyna, Kyiv, Podillia and Pobuzhzha. Certain members of the Ukrainian gentry (the Radzyvil family) were Lutherans. The possibility of a union with Ukrainian Orthodox Christians was discussed at one point. However, historical facts and the efforts of Catholic religious orders, in particular the Jesuits, led to the almost complete disappearance of Ukrainian Lutheran communities.
Lutheranism in contemporary Ukraine is represented by three principal denominations: the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Church of Sweden.
THE UKRAINIAN LUTHERAN CHURCH (The Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession) was established in 1926. It was active in western Ukraine until 1939, at which time it numbered twenty-five communities and many missions. Pastor Ilarion Shebets was head of the ULC. The church had a seminary and a publishing house in Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk) and published the newspapers “Stiah” (Banner), “Prozry” (See the light) and “Novii Svit” (New World). According to various sources, the ULC numbered ten to twenty thousand faithful. According to the Lutherans, they did not use the Lutheran revision of the Latin Mass, but instead a Lutheran version of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom, thus reflecting their Byzantine legacy.
Under the Soviet regime, the ULC was persecuted, church buildings and property were confiscated. Many of the faithful and pastors were repressed, some were forced to emigrate.
In 1979, Pastor Yaroslav Shepelavets (soon to become the bishop of the ULC) began his work for the rebirth of Lutheranism in Ukraine. To this end he began the mission Dumky pro Viru (Thoughts about Faith).
Since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, ULC communities have started in Kyiv, Ternopil, Kremenets, Zaporizhzhia, Sevastopol, Simferopol and other population centers.
The leading organ of the ULC is the council, which meets annually. Synods function between the councils. Locally, communities or missionary stations function. The main educational establishment is the Ukrainian Lutheran Theological Seminary of St. Sophia in Ternopil. The seminary offers a master’s-degree program in theology.
The ULC publishes the newspaper “Stiah” (Banner) and the magazine “Dobra Vistka” (Good News). The church conducts active and widespread missionary effort, offers help to the disadvantaged, and cooperates with international charitable organizations.
The council of 25-27 August 2000 in Kyiv elected Bishop Viacheslav Horpynchuk as head of the episcopate of the ULC.
THE GERMAN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN UKRAINE (GELC) dates back to the local Lutheran communities of German settlers of the mid-eighteenth century. In 1765, Pastor Christopher Lebrecht Graal arrived in Kyiv as a tutor for the family of a German pharmacist. He began holding religious services in this domestic “parish” and soon gathered many German Lutherans from all over Kyiv.
The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw an active colonization of the northern Black Sea shore by foreign settlers, many of whom were German Lutherans. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were about 500,000 of them. The development of the first religious communities was impeded due to the lack of pastors.
The first full-fledged Lutheran community was organized in 1803 following a decree of Tsar Alexander I. It was founded by Pastor Johann Heinrich Pferzdorf, who arrived from Thuringen with that goal. In 1819, Duke A. N. Golitsyn, minister of spiritual matters and public education, proposed instituting an Evangelical Lutheran consistory with the office of a bishop. This started the organizational and structural shaping of the communities into a church. In 1832, Tsar Nicholas I ratified the consistorial statutes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Russian Empire and unified the training of pastors in religious educational institutions in Tartu (Estonia) and Germany. The church's subordination to the state had almost no practical consequences for individual communities.
After 1917, the Baltic consistories seceded from the Russian GELC, and so, in 1924 the first synod of the GELC in Moscow ratified new statutes for the church. As a result of the repressions of the 1930s, however, the GELC practically ceased activity: the communities were closed; the churches were severely damaged or destroyed; most of the pastors were arrested and killed. During World War II and after its end, almost all the Germans of the European part of the USSR were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. In 1957-1958, they were allowed to register religious communities in exile, but prohibited from renewing the structure of the church. The rebirth of the GELC began as a consequence of the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Kyivan Rus in 1988. The unified German Lutheran communities of Kazakhstan proposed that Pastor Harold Kalnins become head of the GELC of the USSR. He was ordained bishop of the GELC on 13 November 1988. Simultaneously, the Kazakhstan and Siberian Germans were given the opportunity to move to Germany, which led to the practical liquidation of the church in these territories.
New German Lutheran communities, however, are appearing in Russia and Ukraine. The basis for the creation of the first communities in Ukraine were the national and cultural German societies in Lviv, Odesa, and other cities. The first German Lutheran community in Ukraine was officially registered in Odesa on 16 October 1990. From 31 January through 2 February 1992, the First Constituent Synod of the GELC of Ukraine was held in Kyiv with participants from six Ukrainian cities (Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa and Kharkiv), as well as delegations from Russia, Germany and Romania. The synod declared the institution of the GELC of Ukraine, elected its leading organs headed by Synod President Yurii Scheffer of Odessa and Superintendent Pastor Viktor Greffenstein. At a ceremonial service in the Church of St. Catherine in Kyiv, Bishop Harold Kalnins initiated the work of the Synod Presidium. Odesa became the center of the GELC Episcopate and the Church of St. Paul was made the central church of the Ukrainian episcopate. In 1993, the GELC was officially recognized by the Ukrainian government.
The following Synod of the GELCU, at which the new statutes of the church were ratified, took place 12 through 14 September 2000. Pastor Volodymyr Lisnyi of Feodosia was elected the new president. Pastor Edmund Ratz became bishop and Pastor Mykola Bendus from Lviv was made his deputy.
The seminary of the GELCU in Odesa has been active since 1993.
The GELCU functions on the basis of personal fixed membership with membership dues used to support the church.
Today, GELC communities function in practically all regions of Ukraine.