The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is one of three autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide – along with Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and Moscow Patriarchate.
There have been calls in Ukraine to ban the UOC, based in western Ukraine. As part of its ongoing security operation, SBU conducted raids at schools and monasteries affiliated with this movement; raiding them also revealed pro-Kremlin pamphlets and books found.
Orthodox Christianity has played an essential part in Ukraine’s history for more than 600 years and played a pivotal role in creating its national identity.
Christianity is founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ and has been shaped by various traditions over time. Christianity remains an influential spiritual and cultural force in Eastern Europe and Russia in particular.
Ukraine’s Orthodox church has two main branches, known as UAOC and UOAC respectively. Both claim independence from their parent churches in Constantinople and Moscow respectively.
The United Armenian Orthodox Church, or UAOC, which had previously fallen under the purview of the Russian Orthodox Church during Soviet times and now operates independently as a self-governing church has become one of the focal points in disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Protests have increased from parishes that don’t adhere to Russian church polity against this institution.
At the start of 2017, many parishes began protesting Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s support of Ukraine’s civil war. Soon thereafter, a mass movement against him emerged at a diocesan level.
At the same time, several Russian clerics have called for an end to Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine and to the conflict overall, emphasizing religious values central to Orthodox Christian tradition and encouraging their people to resist Russia’s invasion – in particular emphasizing selfless love as one key virtue within Orthodoxy.
Russian Christians and Ukrainian Christians have had an antagonistic relationship for some time now. While most Ukrainians view the Russian church positively, attitudes about its political and religious leadership vary considerably.
As such, there have been many questions raised regarding the future of Ukrainian Christianity and its ties to Russia. Yet at the same time, this church boasts strong moral and social foundations with regards to Ukraine and its people.
While most Ukrainians identify as Protestant, Orthodox Christians remain an influential presence. Nearly 80% are orthodox and 51% identify with being Orthodox as part of who they are.
Orthodoxy has long been part of Ukrainian culture. Introduced into Ukraine during the 10th century, its establishment served to cement Ukraine as a Christian nation while also playing an instrumental role in developing Orthodox Christianity worldwide.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, church leaders in Ukraine began calling for a separate church body – this move caused considerable dissension within their local congregations.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, religious freedom in Ukraine improved significantly; however, Kiev refused to grant UOC full freedom of worship, on grounds that it wasn’t considered an official state religion.
Due to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine, many church disputes were compounded further. One such dispute involved UOC being accused of supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and subsequent raids and criminal investigation by security services.
In May, the UOC broke with Russia and declared itself self-sufficient and independent from Moscow, ceasing to commemorate Kirill as their leader during public worship services. These steps marked a significant step toward independence but can also seem obscure to outside observers according to Elizabeth Prodromou of Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
Still, certain members of the UOC remain strongly pro-Moscow; they have helped support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine without incurring criticism from UOC leadership.
These factors have only compounded internal church disputes and made unification harder for the church. Furthermore, some bishops are unwilling to discuss pro-Moscow activities from colleagues due to professional solidarity considerations; further complicating matters.
Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed banning organizations with links to Russia’s centers of power and will introduce laws designed to restrict these activities, possibly curbing independent churches’ growth and expanding their reach across Ukraine. This may prevent or restrict their development.
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) is one of the largest churches in Ukraine and one of the most prominent in orthodox church worldwide, boasting over 700 parishes and becoming legally recognized as an independent church in 2018.
Up until 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew recognized the UOC, but did not include them within OCU membership due to not receiving an official tomos from Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the late 1920s, several bishops who had fled Soviet Russia gathered in Kiev and declared autocephaly. They reformatted the governing structures of the Russian Orthodox Church and created the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church as an autonomous body.
This movement was suppressed by the Soviet government; however, in 1942 during a brief period of religious freedom in Ukraine when Russian Soviet rule had abdicated, many bishops from UAOC were consecrated and several eparchies established.
These developments led to efforts to merge the UAOC with the Patriarchate of Kyiv; ultimately this effort failed but the UAOC continued to play an influential role within church life and also provided vital diaspora services.
Other than the UAOC, there were other autocephalous churches established during this era as well. These included the UAOC-B, L and P churches which were led respectively by Metropolitan Polikarp Sikorsky who is widely acknowledged today as its ideological father.
Though this revival was brief, it nonetheless contributed to creating a new generation of bishops and eparchies. Additionally, the UAOC played an instrumental role in electing Mstyslav as patriarch and selecting his successor as patriarch.
Noteworthy is the fact that this was an exceptionally trying time for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; nonetheless, togetherness allowed much to be accomplished.
Priests from the UAOC traveled to Istanbul in order to discuss how best to unify it with its parent church, the Patriarchate. At this meeting, Filaret was reinstated as hierarch in the UAOC while Epifaniy was elected head of OCU.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is the country’s primary Christian religious institution and governed by bishops, priests and deacons who act as spiritual authority over local parishes throughout Ukraine.
At one time, the UOC was part of the Russian Orthodox Church. But with Soviet Union collapse in 1991 came independence and autonomy as it transitioned to becoming a self-governing church; nevertheless its links to Moscow patriarchate remained strong.
As soon as Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian Orthodox Church leadership described the conflict as a civil war; many priests from UOC supported pro-Russian separatists. But in May, UOC announced it had separated itself from Russian church; its clergy can now make decisions independently from church’s governing council.
Ukraine’s decision to break away from Russia Orthodox Church (ROC) was an important and contentious one. While bolstering UOC’s image within Russia, it also raised suspicion amongst Ukrainian citizens and political leaders alike.
As a result of these accusations, many Ukrainians view the UOC with distrust, with its clergy arrested and brought up for trial for collaborating with Russia despite them having no evidence to back this charge.
Although it has become an influential church in Ukraine, its congregation can be found throughout the world; with Western Europe and North America being particularly dedicated members.
The United States has been an outspoken supporter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU). State Department Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both expressed their enthusiasm over its formation, while funding came directly from State to help create this new church.
In December, two OCU bishops met with President Joe Biden of the United States to discuss ways of promoting their new church and visit Mount Athos so as to encourage church leaders there to recognize it.
Representatives from two Ukrainian Orthodox churches – Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) – held an interchurch dialogue meeting in 2018. In their joint text signed by clergy and laity members of each jurisdiction they called for creating an “action plan model” which could facilitate merging into one local church in future.