History of Christianity in Ukraine

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This article should include material from Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchy, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

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 Grand Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev (St. Vladimir, Volodymyr in Ukrainian), a ruler of Kievan Rus. 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 (UGKC), 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' germ The political jurisdiction of Orthodox churches in Ukraine changed several times in its history. Currently, three Orthodox church bodies co-exist, and often compete, in Ukraine. However, since the differences between them 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.

Currently, the major Ukrainian christian churches are:

  • 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.

Additionally, a Roman Catholic church and various protestant churches currently hold a very small but growing membership in Ukraine.

The UOC-MP is currently the only Ukrainian church to have canonical standing (legal recognition) in Eastern Orthodoxy world-wide, and operates in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. It also owns the majority of Orthodox church buildings in Ukraine and is predominant in eastern and southern Ukraine. The UOC-KP have a growing allegiance among Orthodox believers in Ukraine. The UOC-KP and especially the UAOC and UGCC have strong support in the Ukrainian diaspora.



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 (Dnipro) 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 southern Ukraine 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.

Some of the Slavic population of Kiev and Western Ukraine under the rule of Great Moravia were Christians in the 9th century. Christianity became dominant in the territory with the mass Baptism of Kievans in the Dnieper river in 988 by St. Vladimir. Following the Great Schism in 1054 Kievan Rus' what incoroprated 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 Rus'-Ukraine lost their Metropolitan to the predecessors of the first Russian state in 1299, but regained a Ukrainian Metropolitan in Halych in 1303. The area was also ruled in part by a Metropolitan in Navahradak, White Ruthenia (Belarus). In the 1400s, primacy over the Ukrainian church was restored to Kiev, under the title "Metropolitan of Kiev and Halicia". In the Union of Brest of 1596 a part of the Ukrainian Church came under the jurisdiction of the Roman Pope, becoming a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, while the majority of Ukrainians remained within Eastern Orthodoxy. In 1686, the Orthodox Church of Kiev and all Rus' was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the recently established Patriarch of Moscow.

Distinguishing between church bodies

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 Church of Rus' proper 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.

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 (monastery). Later German occupation authorities and pro-Russian hierarchs of the Autonomous Church allegedly forced Metropolitan Oleksiy to remove his signature. Metropolitan Oleksiy was executed in Volhynia on May 7, 1943.

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 these autocephalic churches sought to remain independent; something that Moscow tolerated until after World War II when many Ukrainian Orthodox clergy not affiliated with Moscow fled to Germany, the United States, or Canada. The UAOC and UGCC and their church property in Ukraine were liquidated by the Soviet authorities who transfered some of their property to the Patriarchate of Moscow, which could legally lay claim to any Orthodox church property that was within the territory of its uncontested jurisdiction. Any UAOC hierarchs or clergy who remained in Ukraine and refused to join the Russian Church were persecuted and many sent to concentration camps. In the next several years, similar actions were taken against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine and Transcarpathia.

Protestanism in Ukraine

In the 16th century small groups of Anabaptists appeared in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, but the influence of the Reformation in Ukraine remained marginal until the three centuries later.

Protestantism arrived to Ukraine together with German immigrants in the 18th century, who were initially granted religious freedom by the Russian Imperial authorities, unlike the native population. One of earliest Protestant groups in Ukraine were Studists (the name originated from the German Stunde, "hour") German Evangelical sect that spread from German villages in Bessarabia and Ekaterinoslav province to the neighbouring Ukrainian population. Protestantism in Ukraine rapidly grew during the liberal reforms of Alexander II in the 1860s. However, towards the end of the century authorities started to restrict Protestant proselytism of the Orthodox Christians, especially by the Studistis, routinely preventing prayer meetings and other activities. At the same time Baptists, another major Protestant group that was growing in Ukraine, were treated less harshly due to their powerful international connections.

In the early 20th century, Volyn became the main center of the spread of Protestantism in Ukraine. During the Soviet period Protestanism, together with Orthodox Christianity, was persecuted in Ukraine, but the 1980s marked the start of another major expansion of Protestant proselytism in Ukraine.

Today largest Protestant groups in Ukraine include Baptists (All-Ukrainian Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists), Pentecostals (All-Ukrainian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith-Pentecostals) and Seventh-day Adventists (Ukrainian Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). Despite the rapid growth and agressive missionary activities, even today Protestants in Ukraine remain a small minority in a largely Orthodox Christian country.

External links

ru:Украинская Православная Церковь


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