Living church

Living church (Жива церква; Zhyva tserkva). A major faction of the Renovationist church that was active in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic during the 1920s and 1930s. The church was formed in 1922 by liberal-minded Russian Orthodox clergymen who took advantage of a standoff between the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox church headed by Tikhon and the Soviet regime to ascend to a position of religious prominence. Since the church shared a general distrust of the traditional episcopal authority and the conservative monasteries with the newly formed Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church (UAOC), the Living church initially hoped to co-operate with the latter (this would also have provided the fledgling group with a well-developed base of operations). The UAOC, wary of what it viewed as essentially a Russian church and cautious in order to guard its independence, rejected the offer. The Living church then formally structured itself in 1923 into the Ukrainian Orthodox (Synodal) church under the leadership of a Kharkiv-based metropolitan, P. Pegov.

For the next several years the Living church sought to submerge Orthodox groups in Ukraine under its leadership. It hoped to attract adherents of the Patriarchal church by following a relatively conservative (compared with the Russian Renovationist) course of action. In order to undermine the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church, the church set off on a much-proclaimed process of Ukrainization and even declared itself autocephalous in 1925. These moves were largely tactical, however, and the church remained essentially Russian in character and tied to its founding body. The Renovationists were assisted by Soviet authorities, who preferred them to the more conservative Patriarchal church and the more nationalistic UAOC. The regime even coerced a number of Patriarchal clergymen and parishes to join the Living church. As well, it was free to publish books and journals (Golos pravoslavnoi Ukrainy and later Ukraïns’kyi pravoslavnyi blahovisnyk) and to run a theology school in the Kyivan Cave Monastery. Nevertheless, it failed to gain many adherents, although some UAOC parishes, especially in Podilia, did join.

The Living church fell victim to a massive antireligious campaign that swept the USSR after 1929. Even before that, the number of its priests had declined from 3,500 in 1925 to 2,200 in 1928. This downturn in its fortunes was hastened by the political reconciliation of the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox church with Soviet authorities in 1927. By 1941 not a single functioning Living church parish remained in Ukraine.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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