Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church

Image - Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivsky. Image - A book of documents from the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor of 1921 (published by the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council). Image - The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church sobor in Pynsk (1942): sitting: Oleksander Inozemtsiv, Polikarp Sikorsky; standing: Nykanor Abramovych, Rev. Yurii, Ihor Huba. Image - UAOC hierarchs in the late 1940s (first row l-r): Mykhail Khoroshy, Ihor Huba, Metr. Polikarp Sikorsky, Oleksander Inozemtsiv, Nikanor Abramovych, Mstyslav Skrypnyk, Sylvestr Haievsky.

Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church [Українська Автокефальна Православна Церква or УАПЦ; Ukrainska Avtokefalna Pravoslavna Tserkva, or UAOC]. The national Ukrainian Orthodox church, independent (autocephalous) of all other church formations and with its own administrative structure and hierarchy.

The movement for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church gained strength following the Ukrainian struggle of independence (1917–20) and the rebirth of a Ukrainian state. The All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council, with representatives of the clergy and laity from throughout Ukraine, began the process of Ukrainizing church life and establishing a permanent organizational structure for the Ukrainian church. The autocephaly of the church was proclaimed at a May 1920 sobor called by the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council (a 1919 decree on church autocephaly by the Ukrainian National Republic had never been implemented owing to the upheavals of the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21). The church's leaders, however, could not find a bishop to assume spiritual leadership or consecrate a new hierarchy for the church. The difficulty was resolved only at the first All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church sobor in Kyiv on 14–30 October 1921, when the delegates decided to revive an ancient Alexandrian rite, which did not require the participation of other bishops, to consecrate Vasyl Lypkivsky (as the church's first metropolitan) and Nestor Sharaievsky. Soon after, these two bishops elevated several other bishops to the ranks of the new hierarchy.

A period of rapid growth for the UAOC began. By early 1924 the church had approximately 30 bishops, 1,500 priests and deacons, and 1,100 parishes. At its peak it had as many as 6 million followers in Ukraine. It also began to spread its influence to Ukrainian communities abroad; Evhen Batchinsky was designated as its representative in Western Europe, and Bishop Ioan Teodorovych was dispatched to minister to Ukrainians in North America. Administratively, it was divided into okruhas, each headed by a bishop and okruha sobor. The church was strongest in Podilia, Kyiv, Uman, and Cherkasy okruhas and in the city of Kyiv itself. In 1927–8 it published a monthly journal, Tserkva i zhyttia (Kharkiv).

The UAOC was closely allied with the Ukrainian national revival of the revolutionary period and the 1920s. It was primarily supported by the Ukrainian intelligentsia (and lower clergy) and envisioned playing a major role in raising the national consciousness of the masses. Politically it was committed to the social reforms of the Ukrainian National Republic (Volodymyr Chekhivsky, the most influential ideologue of the UAOC, had headed the Council of National Ministers of the Ukrainian National Republic). The theology and ecclesiology of the UAOC, as it evolved in the 1920s, was distinguished by several characteristics. One of the major tenets of the church was an insistence on the separation of church and state—largely a reaction to the state of affairs under tsarist rule, when the Orthodox church was essentially an arm of the state and a pillar of the autocratic system. Second, the leaders of the church were committed to the independence (autocephaly) of the UAOC; their argument was that the incorporation of the Ukrainian church into the Russian Orthodox church in the 17th century had been uncanonical. They called for jurisdictional independence from the Moscow patriarch and the creation of an independent church hierarchy, equal to and recognized by the entire Orthodox community. A third feature of the new church was a commitment to conciliarism or sobor rule. This concept stressed the complete democratization and decentralization of church life and the active participation of the laity in decision-making, with sobors, attended by elected delegates of lay and clergy, replacing bishops as the highest authority in the church. Another important feature of the UAOC was the Ukrainization of the church rite, including the use of the vernacular (in place of Church Slavonic) and the revitalization of Ukrainian liturgical and ecclesiastical traditions. Finally, the ideology of the church stressed the Christianization of all aspects of life.

The canonical reforms adopted by the UAOC—the method used to consecrate its hierarchy, the introduction of an elected and married episcopate, the insistence on lay participation in church affairs, and so on—had tremendous ramifications for the church. These reforms, however, impeded relations with other Orthodox churches, even though the UAOC stressed its adherence to traditional Orthodoxy. The church was denounced as noncanonical by the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox church, and its leaders were ridiculed as samosviaty (self-consecrated). The Patriarchal church was especially concerned because the UAOC succeeded in acquiring many churches, including the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, and thereby posed a threat to its dominance.

From the outset the Soviet authorities sought to discredit all churches in Ukraine and limit their influence. The campaign against the UAOC involved exploiting internal divisions by supporting dissenting factions within the UAOC (eg, the Active Church of Christ) and favoring the more pro-Russian competing churches that emerged in the 1920s (eg, the Living church, which initially sought to subsume the UAOC, and the Sobor-Ruled Episcopal church). In 1926 a major GPU crackdown on the UAOC began, and Vasyl Lypkivsky was arrested and placed under house arrest. At the second All-Ukrainian Church Council he was replaced as metropolitan by Mykola Boretsky. The repression was eased for a brief time but resumed in full force in 1929. The church was accused of collaborating with the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU), and many of its leaders (including Volodymyr Chekhivsky) were arrested. At an extraordinary sobor held in January 1930 the UAOC formally abolished itself, although some 300 of its parishes reconstituted themselves as the Ukrainian Orthodox church under Metropolitan Ivan Pavlovsky (this body was finally destroyed in 1936). The 1930s brought the physical liquidation of the entire hierarchy of the UAOC and many of its priests and faithful.

The Second World War. Although the UAOC was destroyed in Soviet Ukraine, Ukrainian Orthodoxy survived in those territories that came under Polish rule in the interwar period—Volhynia, Polisia, and the Kholm region. The Polish Autocephalous Orthodox church, although not a specifically Ukrainian institution, permitted the use of the Ukrainian language and adherence to Ukrainian religious customs. One of its hierarchs, Polikarp Sikorsky, was of Ukrainian origin, and the metropolitan, Dionisii Valedinsky, supported the re-establishment of an independent Orthodox church in Soviet Ukraine. Following the German invasion of Ukraine in June 1941, efforts were immediately begun to revive the church there. Valedinsky assumed spiritual authority over the reborn UAOC, which was administered by Sikorsky (who was named metropolitan) and supported by Bishops Ivan Ohiienko and Palladii Vydybida-Rudenko of the Orthodox church in Poland (within the Generalgouvernement). New hierarchs were consecrated in Kyiv in February 1942 (Nykanor Abramovych, who was designated head of the church in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, and Ihor Huba) and in May 1942 (Mstyslav Skrypnyk, Mykhail Khoroshy, Sylvestr Haievsky, and Hryhorii Ohiichuk). The reborn UAOC, although disavowing the radical canonical reforms of its predecessor of the 1920s, made accommodations for surviving clergy of the church. It grew quickly and soon claimed some 500 parishes.

The UAOC faced competition from another church in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox church. Headed by Metropolitan Oleksii Hromadsky, this church rejected the UAOC of the 1920s as uncanonical and would not accept former clergy from that church unless they were reordained. The autonomous church also recognized the spiritual authority of the Moscow patriarch over Ukraine, but considered this authority suspended as long as the patriarch was under Soviet domination. In general this church appealed to the Russian and Russified population of Ukraine, while the UAOC was closely tied to the Ukrainian national movement. Although some attempts were made to unite the two jurisdictions in 1941–2, these ultimately failed.

The diaspora. With the Soviet reoccupation of all of Ukraine by mid-1944, almost all the bishops and many of the priests and faithful of the UAOC fled to the West, and all the remaining parishes were dissolved or forced to join the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox church in Ukraine. The UAOC continued its activity among Ukrainian émigrés in Western Europe under the leadership of Polikarp Sikorsky. By 1947 it numbered 71 parishes with 103 priests and 18 deacons. The Theological Academy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was established in Munich to train priests, and a theological institute was founded. The church split at the Aschaffenburg Conference of August 1947, when a number of priests and faithful followed Archbishop Hryhorii Ohiichuk to form the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Conciliar). Followers of this church strictly adhered to the reforms of the UAOC of the 1920s, especially the principle of rule by the sobor, and rejected the authority of the Synod of Bishops of the UAOC, which had emerged as the church's highest authority.

The UAOC in Western Europe declined with the emigration of many Ukrainians to North America, where most Orthodox emigrants joined the existing Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada or the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA (UOC-USA). New UAOC parishes, however, were established in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and South America. Polikarp Sikorsky, who died in 1953, was succeeded by Nykanor Abramovych (1953–69) and then Mstyslav Skrypnyk, who was also metropolitan of the UOC-USA. Other hierarchs of the UAOC in the 1950s to 1980s included O. Ivaniuk (of Western Europe) Sylvestr Haievsky, Varlaam Solovii, D. Burtan, I. Danyliuk (Australia and New Zealand), M. Solovii, O. Pylypenko (South America), and V. Didovych (Western Europe, Australia). In the late 1980s the UAOC had 30 parishes, 11 priests, and 8,000 faithful in Western Europe; 23 parishes, 8 priests, and 4,000 faithful in Great Britain; 15 parishes, 8 priests, and 4,200 faithful in Australia and New Zealand; and 22 parishes, 10 priests, and 30,000 faithful in South America and a hierarchy composed of Skrypnyk, Bishop Anatolii Dubliansky (of Western Europe), and Bishop P. Ishchuk (of South America). Church organs are Ridna tserkva (Germany), Vidomosti Heneral’noho tserkovnoho upravlinnia UAPTs u Velykii Britaniï (Great Britain), Pratsia i zhyttia (Australia), and Pravoslavne zhyttia (Belgium).

Revival in Ukraine. The political liberalization of the late 1980s permitted the rebirth of the UAOC in Ukraine. Beginning in 1987 with the parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Lviv, a number of parishes and priests seceded from the official Russian Orthodox church (ROC) and re-established the UAOC. In October 1989 I. Bodnarchuk, a bishop of the ROC, announced his resignation from that church and agreed to head the UAOC. Subsequently, assisted by a retired bishop of the ROC, he consecrated several new bishops. Relations were established with the UAOC abroad, and Mstyslav Skrypnyk was elected patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine at the first sobor of the reborn UAOC, in June 1990 (he was installed the following November). By the end of 1990 the church hierarchy was composed of Patriarch Skrypnyk, Metropolitan I. Bodnarchuk of Lviv, and the bishops of Ternopil and Buchach, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyia, Bila Tserkva and Vyshhorod, Chernivtsi and Khotyn, Lutsk and Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Uman, and Rivne and Ostrih. A seminary was established in Ivano-Frankivsk in 1991, and several journals and other publications were initiated. That year the UAOC had 944 parishes in Ukraine.

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Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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