Parish (parafiia). The lowest administrative unit in the church that has its own church and priest, and which, as a constituent part of an eparchy, directly serves the faithful. Although most serve a specific locality, some parishes are extraterritorial (eg, for soldiers or a group of émigrés). The term parafiia came into use in the 16th century and became entrenched in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the same time parokh became an accepted term for a pastor or parish priest (sometimes even for an administrator).
The ways in which parishes were established, churches and parish buildings were built, and parish priests and precentors were supported have changed over time. In the Princely era and in the Hetmanate, churches were funded by princes, hetmans, magnates, nobles, and Cossack officers. They donated land, easements, and sometimes even part of their incomes (eg, for the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv) to parishes. This material support, together with donations from private individuals and the government, enabled the parish clergy (priests, deacons, precentors, sextons, etc) to minister to the needs of the parishioners, and gave the clergy security as a class. At the Synod of Zamostia in 1720, Ukrainian and Belarusian Catholics were forbidden to establish parishes without such patronage. In the Orthodox church under Russian rule, the sole criterion for the opening of a parish was the number of faithful to be served. According to a church regulation of 1841, parishes with small congregations were to be assigned only one priest and one precentor. In an 1869 reform, small church communities were consolidated into larger parishes, and many churches were closed or subordinated to a single parish.
Land was owned by the parish and worked for the benefit of the local church throughout Ukraine until the consolidation of Soviet power (1917–20 in Russian-ruled Ukraine and 1939–46 in Western Ukraine), when all church property was nationalized (see Nationalization). Earlier some church lands had been confiscated by the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, or Polish authorities in Ukraine, but in these instances the parishes were compensated for their loss. Now the parishes pay their clergy with contributions from the congregation, such as membership dues, Sunday and other collections, and bequests. Parish clergymen are also paid for special church services (treby), including the performance of sacraments and rites (baptism, marriage, funerals, blessing of water, blessing of homes, etc). Clergymen are responsible for pastoral affairs in the parish and for keeping a church register of vital statistics (metrykalna knyha), a record formerly considered to be an official government document. They teach religion in parish schools or in the church and care for the church's liquid and fixed assets.
Initially parishes chose their own priests (most often from the family of the previous pastor), and the priest's position was confirmed by a bishop. As a centralized church system emerged, this tradition faded, although the recommendation of the parishioners is still important in the Orthodox church. For a time the church patrons who supported the parish financially also had the authority to choose priests; in periods of church decline this authority resulted in abuses by individual clergymen, who held their office with the support of patrons but without the consent of local bishops. Later the right to appoint parish priests came to belong exclusively to bishops and their consistories (see Consistory). In the Russian Empire this had the effect of accelerating the Russification of the Ukrainian church.
Parishes are usually headed by one priest, but larger parishes may include more clerics. Traditionally a priest is permanently assigned to a parish, which he cannot leave of his own volition; neither can a bishop remove a priest from a parish without the approval of the parish. In the Catholic church a canonical process was necessary to make such a change.
Precentors (who usually conducted the church choir) and sextons played an important role in parish life, as did various parish leaders: the sacristan (tytar), the church elder (tserkovnyi starosta), and the head of the parish council. Church elders, who were confirmed by the bishop, were particularly influential in the Orthodox church. In general, lay influence in parish affairs was more pronounced in the Orthodox church than in the Catholic church, where episcopal authority was supreme. In the Catholic church nuns were often responsible for the upkeep of the church and the teaching of catechism.
Administratively, several proximate parishes were often organized as a deanery or protopresbytery, headed by a dean or protopresbyter. Above these was an eparchy; the number of parishes or deaneries in an eparchy was never standardized.
In the Ukrainian churches, parishes were always the main center of spiritual and educational life in the community. Before the establishment of similar government institutions, parishes had their own parochial schools, asylums, orphanages, hospitals and clinics, and, in some cases, printing presses. Thus they played an important role in the preservation of national and religious consciousness in the people. Among Ukrainian immigrants, particularly in North and South America, Orthodox and Catholic parishes were for many years the main centers of Ukrainian secular community life as well, and they remain among the best organized and strongest institutions in the diaspora.
Ivan Korovytsky, Isidore Patrylo
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]