The Ukrainian Orthodox Church

17.06.2011, 14:00
Has the most religious communities in Ukraine and is under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is active only on Ukrainian territory.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church

(official name)
— has the most religious communities in Ukraine and is under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is active only on Ukrainian territory.

The highest UOC body is the Hierarchal Council, which between its sessions is led by the Holy Synod (made up of the primate, 4 permanent and 3 temporary members). The All-Ukrainian Church Council (national) meets periodically, along with the episcopate, representatives of the clergy, monks, and the laity of the UOC to discuss the most important issues of the internal life of the UOC. The primate of the UOC carries the title “His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine”; since 1992 the primate has been Bishop Volodymyr (Sabodan). His residence is in the Kyiv Cave Monastery.

Historical Excursus

The UOC was formed on the basis of the Kyivan exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) according to the decision of the Hierarchal Council of the Russian Orthodox Church from January 31, 1990. It was given rights similar to those of an autonomous church, but its canonical status was not clearly recognized

This decision was influenced by the legalization process of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in 1989-1990 in the western oblasts of Ukraine, where at that time most of the parishes of the Kyivan exarchate of the ROC were located. Their transition to the UGCC or the UAOC, often with acts of violence, brought a great loss to the ROC.

On June 9, 1990, Metropolitan Filaret, who still led the Kyivan exarchate of the ROC, was chosen head of the UOC.

On July 9, 1990, the episcopate of the UOC appealed to the newly elected Moscow Patriarch Alexy II with a request to expand the independence and self-governance of the UOC (text of the document). At this request, the Hierarchical Council of the ROC in October of 1990 gave the UOC independence in governance, taking into account the complex religious situation in Ukraine and interdenominational conflicts (text of the document). It was then that the head of the UOC received the title “His Beatitude” – he was to be elected by the episcopate of the UOC and blessed by the Moscow Patriarch. The UOC Synod also received the right to elect and ordain new bishops, establish and abolish eparchies in Ukraine.

From July 27 to August 6, 1990, Patriarch Alexy II made an archpastoral visit to Ukraine. The goal of this visit was to show that “overcoming the religious conflict in Ukraine is one of the most important tasks, which should be undertaken not only by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but by the Russian Church as well” (about the visit).

Patriarch Alexy II’s second visit to Ukraine was on October 28 of the same year. He came to participate in the solemn proclamation of the ROC Council’s decision to grant the UOC autonomy, which took place in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. The event was widely protested by the public.

After Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991, the UOC found itself in a difficult situation. Consequently, with Metropolitan Filaret at its head, it sought autocephaly. This decision was made by the Hierarchical Council of the UOC on September 6-7, 1991. The National Council of the UOC on November 1-3, 1991, in order to strengthen the unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, assist in liquidating “the autocephalous schism,” and oppose the “Uniate and Catholic expansion,” decided to “appeal to His Holiness Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church with the request to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church full canonical autonomy, that is, autocephaly” (Resolution of the Council).

The council also raised the issue of the patriarchal status of the UOC: “Considering the thousand-year history of the Kyivan Metropolitanate, the predecessor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has a flock of 35 million, the council asks the Russian Orthodox Church after granting full autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to assist in establishing the Kyivan Patriarchate by the Eastern Patriarchates and heads of other national churches.”

Shortly after the council, however, part of the episcopate refuses its former support of the resolutions of the council. Articles appear in the press accusing Metropolitan Filaret of collaborating with the KGB. The Hierarchical Council of the ROC in Moscow on March 31 to April 4, 1992, denied the UOC autocephaly, and its head was asked to resign. After returning to Kyiv, Metropolitan Filaret refused to step down – this prompted the creation of the pro-Moscow Committee of Clergy and Laity for the Protection of Orthodoxy and meetings in Zhytomyr of the episcopate of the UOC, which is faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Agafangel (Savvin). In the UOC the adherents of Metropolitan Filaret start to be persecuted.

On May 27, 1992, the Hierarchical Council of the UOC was held in Kharkiv, which was led by Kharkiv Metropolitan Nikodym (Rusak). The council dismissed Metropolitan Filaret from his duties as primate and forbade him from practicing priestly duties. Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) of Rostov was elected as the new primate, who had still not been part of the UOC episcopate. The Ukrainian government did not recognize the decision of the Kharkiv Council and continued to recognize Metropolitan Filaret as the head of the UOC.

On June 11, 1992, the Hierarchical Council of the ROC defrocked Filaret (Denysenko). Metropolitan Filaret refused to recognize this and ordained a new bishop.

After the council on June 25, 1992, and the establishment of the UOC-KP, the UOC lost its privileged status as the then President Leonid Kravchuk supported Metropolitan Filaret’s position and with him established the UOC-KP. The UOC all but lost its legal status, but due to the intervention of the public and the Russian government, it was able to maintain it. In most cases the UOC was able to keep its buildings and churches, as well as its influence in certain regions. Only in Kyiv, the Lviv region, and Volyn did the regional authorities treat it coldly. The ROC, along with the UOC, spreads information in the international press about the liquidation of three ROC eparchies in western Ukraine “by Uniates and the nationalistic government.”

To consolidate the UOC’s position in the western regions, Bishop Avhustyn (Markevych) is sent to the region. He later heads the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods and engages in military chaplaincy. He was one of the first to receive for his work the Russian Order of St. Andrew the First-Called, which is awarded for protecting and preserving Russian culture. The pro-Moscow political direction of the UOC was led by Metropolitan Agafangel (Savvin) of Odesa and he controlled the organization Yedinoye Otiechiestvo (One Fatherland).

The conditional status of the UOC, which was persecuted by the central government, contributed to the church’s internal progress and activation of defensive positions. This was supported by left and Slavophile political forces that were in opposition to Kravchuk’s administration.

The victory of the pro-Russian candidate Leonid Kuchma at the 1994 presidential election meant the return of the UOC’s dominant position. The new head of state actively meets with the hierarchs of the UOC, helps them build churches. Churches, that weren’t being used for religious purposes, including architectural monuments of national importance, are returned to the UOC, which angers other denominations, especially the UOC-KP. In the regions, especially in those in the east and south, the UOC received special assistance from the authorities in the mass media, education, and pastoral care in private institutions.

International negotiations about restoring the unity began in 1995 with the participation of UOC representatives. In 1996 there were ineffective consultations with the UAOC, which requested the unification be under the auspices of the Constantinople Patriarchate. The position of the UOC from 1992 in this matter had not changed. In August 1995 the Holy Synod of the UOC formulated the position as such: the condition of terminating the rivalry over communities and property, non-participation in negotiations of politicians and the primate of the UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret (who in 1997 was excommunicated by the Hierarchical Council), the dialogue is only on the basis of the canons of the church. 

On December 15, 1996, the question of autocephaly and ways to unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy were discussed at a session of the Hierarchical Council of the UOC, where practically all the bishops (36 out of 37) were in attendance. The council was preceded by a sharp debate in the UOC and felt outside pressure. Western Ukrainian eparchies proposed to discuss the question of canonical autocephaly at once so to protect against attacks by the faithful of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. On the other hand, representatives of eastern and southern regions categorically rejected the idea of autocephaly because they considered it a betrayal of the church and step toward a union. Therefore, the council, with only one vote against it, passed a resolution about the inexpedience and untimeliness of the autocephaly of the UOC considering the present political and religious conditions. Furthermore, the argument against autocephaly was backed by statements from many communities threatening to subordinate directly to the Moscow Patriarchate, which would have meant another split in the UOC.

Again this issue was raised by the state – President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma in 1998 at the Congress of the Ukrainian Intelligentsia and in 2000 at the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of Christ expressed the need to unify Ukrainian Orthodoxy and to create one national Orthodox church. In response, the head of the UOC Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) said that the Orthodox church exists and that there are those who left it, and if they repent and return, then there will truly be one church.

The Jubilee Hierarchical Council of the UOC on July 28, 2000, announced its official position on this matter. The council recognized the negative consequences of the schism and blamed it on the reluctance of “schismatic groups, supported by certain political forces” to create one church the way proposed by the UOC. The council wrote an appeal to the president of Ukraine, the Hierarchical Council of the ROC, and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  

This council took place on the eve of the Hierarchical Council of the ROC (August 2000), which was attended by the hierarchs of the UOC. President Leonid Kuchma sent a telegram to Patriarch Alexy II asking him to grant the UOC canonical autonomy. The Hierarchical Council of the ROC listened to Metropolitan Volodymyr’s statement, after which there was a heated discussion about the status of canonical autonomy of the UOC. As a result, the council decided not to change the UOC’s status so not to cause a schism. (Material from the council)

After the death of the head of the UAOC Patriarch Dymytriy (Yarema) on February 25, 2000, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople took a greater interest in Ukrainian affairs. In his Testament, Patriarch Dymytriy calls for the UAOC to search for canonical unity with its mother Constantinople Church. This, of course, was not liked by the Moscow Patriarchate and the UOC.

In 1997, during his visit to Odesa, Patriarch Bartholomew I declared that the schism in Ukraine was an internal ROC problem.

During international negotiations on March 28-29, 2000, the delegation of the ROC warned the Constantinople Patriarchate that accepting the UAOC under its omophor would worsen its relations with Moscow and worsen the situation in Ukraine. At the next negotiations in June 2000, Constantinople proposed to invite to the discussion representatives of the UAOC, UOC-KP, and the Ukrainian government – a suggestion not supported by the ROC, which called the problem internal.

On June 1, 2000, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Zhulynskyj, who on behalf of President Kuchma asked for his assistance in unifying Ukrainian Orthodoxy unify and in attaining autocephaly. The patriarch said he was very interested in attaining this autocephaly quickly, which can only be done so only through the mother church, that is, the Constantinople Patriarchate – not the Moscow one. He also pointed out that the Ecumenical Orthodoxy doesn’t have a clear mechanism for obtaining autocephaly or autonomy. A precondition for autocephaly is the unification of the three Orthodox denominations in Ukraine. Patriarch Bartholomew said that he doesn’t see any other way to reach this goal without negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Hierarchical Council of the UOC on July 28, 2000, expressed its discontent with the matter, which in an appeal to the patriarch declared the inadmissibility of the interference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukrainian Orthodoxy affairs.

Later events, in particular the departure of the UAOC from the spirit of Patriarch Dymytriy’s testament at the 4th National Council on September 14-15, 2000 and the attempt of the UOC-KP leadership to interfere with relations with Constantinople, aligned the Ukrainian government’s position in this matter with the UOC’s position, and the Constantinople Patriarchate refused to actively participate in Ukrainian affairs on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate.  

Since the end of 2000, the UOC leadership was concerned with Pope John Paul II’s planned visit to Ukraine in June 2001. The pope was invited by the Ukrainian government and the Catholic churches. The UOC synod and especially Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) urged the pope to decline the invitation because, for one, the Moscow Patriarchate had not agreed to it and it considers Ukraine its canonical territory. The UOC leadership refused to take part in official meetings with the pope, and the UOC Orthodox Brotherhoods held a few protests against the pope’s visit to Ukraine.

In August 2001, the UOC celebrated the 950th anniversary of the Kyiv Cave Monastery, which was attended by representatives of all national Orthodox churches.

The last few years have seen the rapprochement of the UOC leadership with central and many regional bodies of government, pro-government political and business structures. The UOC signed an agreement to cooperate with state security forces. After the Presidential Decree “About urgent measures to definitively overcome the negative consequences of the totalitarian policy of the former USSR concerning religion and restoration of violated rights of churches and religious organizations” (March 21, 2002 №279/2002), the UOC received many churches and other former religious buildings. The UOC is building many churches with the support of the state. Unofficially, and sometimes officially, the UOC supported pro-government candidates and political forces during the presidential and parliamentary elections in 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2004.  At the regional level the UOC often shows its intolerance of other denominations, interferes in their state registration and in their obtaining land plots to build churches.

The Church Today

As of January 1, 2011, the UOC has 45 eparchies, 69 bishops (diocesan – 42; vicar – 19 vicars; retied – 8). Three monasteries (Kyiv Cave, Pochayiv, and Sviatohirskyi) are lavras. The UOC has 186 monasteries, 13 missions, 34 brotherhoods, 4,576 monks and nuns. There are 9,680 priests. The church runs the Kyiv Spiritual Academy and Seminary, spiritual seminaries in Odesa, Kharkiv, Lutsk, and Pochayiv, a theological academy in Uzhhorod, a theological institute in Chernivtsi, and several secondary spiritual education institutions. All together the UOC has 20 educations institutions. There are 4,355 Sunday schools. The UOC has numerous publications, including electronic ones.

The UOC is a member of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations

Current statistical data about the denomination can be found at “Religious Statistics in Ukraine”, and a list of websites can be found at “Religious Ukraine on the Internet”

Address of the Metropolitanate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church  
vul. Sichnevoho Povstannia, 25, building 49, Kyiv, 01015.
Office – tel.: (044) 255-12-03, tel.: (044) 290-15-08