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Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Union Church
Ukrainian Catholic Church (Uniate)
Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite
Kyivan Catholic Church
Ukrainian Catholic Major Archiepiscopate

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) is the largest Eastern Catholic Church of its own law (Ecclesia sui juris). Approximately 10 percent of the overall Ukrainian population are members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, sometimes known as the Uniate, Byzantine, or Eastern Rite Church. The UGCC belongs to the group of Churches of the Byzantine rite which are in complete mutual communion with the Roman Hierarch and acknowledge his spiritual and jurisdictional authority. In this context "rite" means the liturgical, theological, spiritual and legal inheritance.

The Council of Brest formed the Church in 1596 to unify Orthodox and Roman Catholic believers. This Church celebrates a Byzantine (Orthodox) liturgy but is in full communion with the Pope. The Soviet regime forced the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to reunite with the Orthodox Church after the Second World War; however, it survived in hiding inside the country and among the Diaspora. Legalized in 1989, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had 3,334 registered communities as of January 1. Its members constituted a majority of the believers in the west, and approximately 10 percent of the population as a whole, or approximately 4.5 to 5 million persons.

The name Greek-Catholic Church was introduced by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774 in order to distinguish it from the Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholic Churches. In official Church documents the term Ecclesia Ruthena unita was used to designate the UGCC. From 1960 in official documents the name Ukrainian Catholic Church appears in relation to the Ukrainian Catholics of the diaspora and the Church in Soviet Ukraine, underground at that time. In the pontifical statistical annual Annuario Pontificio the name Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite is used. At the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC (in September 1999) it was suggested to use the name Kyivan Catholic Church, which would underline the identity of this Church.

When the princes of Lithuania began to annex to their states the disunited provinces of Ukraine. They introduced practically no changes into the local life of Ukraine; on the contrary they themselves adopted the language, the laws, and the culture of the Ukrainians. A language composed of Ukrainian and White Russian became the official language, and the Greek Orthodox Religion became the predominant form of worship.

In the first half of the 15th century the delegates of the Ukrainian Church, headed by Isidore, the metropolitan of Kiev, attended the Council of Florence, where the metropolitan signed the Union of Churches (called "of Florence"). Isidore was made a cardinal, but he did not succeed in obtaining the consent of the grand duke of Moscow. Another delegation composed of H. Potii, Bishop of Vladimir, and Kyrylo Terletsky, Bishop of Lutsk, went to Rome in 1595 to propose the Union of Churches. Pope Clement VIII. received the delegates with joy and had a medal made for the important event; the medal bore the following inscription: "Ruthenis receptis." In 1596, at the Council of Brest-Litovsk, the Union of the Ukrainian and White Ruthenian Churches with the Church of Rome was definitely proclaimed.

The Union gained a large number of proselytes; only the Cossacks stubbornly grouped themselves around an Orthodox clergy. Religious polemics stirred up bitter strife, which resulted in the terrible wars of the Cossacks.

All of Ukraine had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the time of the Council of Brest, and western Ukraine remained so. The Church played a leading role in preserving the cultural and religious independence of the Ukrainian population there. As the western Ukrainian lands later passed into Austrian control, the imperial government of the Hapsburgs supported and protected the Greek-Catholic hierarchy.

Under Polish domination (1387-1772) the activities of the Greek-Uniate clergy did not have the approbation of the Polish clergy and society, who everywhere created obstacles for the Uniate Church-in public life, in schools, and in churches. The Poles considered the Union so serious a danger that in order to weaken it they did not hesitate, when occasion offered, even to favor the Orthodox Church. All the attempts of the Poles to Polonize the Ukrainians and to Catholicize the Orthodox were, of course, directed primarily against the Ukrainian outpost in the west. Immediately after the occupation of the country by the Polish king, Polish colonists were sent to settle among the Ukrainian population. The persecution of the Ukrainian culture had for its nearest object the Polonization of the upper and educated classes. This aim having been attained, an attempt was made to Polonize the lower classes.

The first step to break the national consciousness of the Ukrainians was to abolish the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. An ingenious plan of the union of both Churches was formed; the Ukrainians were to receive the right to retain their Eastern ceremonies, but had to recognize the supreme authority of the Pope. It was hoped that in the course of time they would submit to another operation upon their Church, and so step by step a full Catholicization and Polonization would be attained.

The Uniate Catholic Church, planned, organized, and completed by the Polish efforts, did not rise to the Polish expectations. Introduced by the force of the "secular arm" of the Polish State, it was a sort of a religious denomination imposed upon the people, who had to accept it. But it was different with their posterity, perhaps with the very next generation. For them, it was neither a religion forced upon them, nor a hateful creed; it was the religion into which they were born and in which they were educated. The Uniate Church grew to be cherished by the very people upon whom it had been imposed.

The stubborn Ukrainian national consciousness refused to see in the Uniate Church those elements which this Church had in common with the Roman Catholic Church, and which were more of a dogmatic character, not easily detectable to the uneducated mind. Slow to see these common elements, the mass of people were quick to notice the differences evident to all not initiated into the profound intricacies of theology; that the mass in the Uniate Church is celebrated in an altogether different way, that the Uniate priests are allowed to marry, that the Church language is not Latin but Slavic, all these and other differences of similar character could be detected by everybody.

The peace of Vienna (1809) transferred the country of Kholm to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, which in turn was united to Russia in 1815. The Russian government regarded the country of Kholm as Russian, and desired to reorganize the United Church in order to reduce the Polish influence. The Poles, on the other hand, considered Kholm as Polish territory and endeavored with all their power to Polonize the Ukrainian population. But the Russians were very powerful.

The Polish uprising of 1863 was again a signal for an enforced policy: the Kingdom of Poland was divided into provinces, and their governors received extensive powers. "Kholmska Rus" was divided among the provinces of Lublin, Sidlets, Suvalki, and Lomzha. The Russian Church and the Russian Government once more joined their hands to accomplish the final "voluntary reunion of the Uniates with the Orthodox Church." From 1864 to 1875, numerous changes were introduced to Russify the Uniate Church; the ecclesiastical seminary of Kholm was reorganized, the Basilian convents were closed, and the schools were placed under governmental supervision. Finally the Uniate diocese of Kholm, partly on account of the pressure exercised by the Russian government, officially embraced Orthodoxy in 1875.

But the titles, the festivals, and the medals failed to convert anybody to the new religion; the people continued in their old faith, and all the efforts of the Government and the official Church were futile. Orthodox churches became empty; the people lived unbaptized, entered into the family relations without the sanction of the Church, burried their dead without Christian ceremonies. If any ritual functions were performed, they were performed beyond the frontier of the Empire, in Galicia. The Greek-United faith, which had many adherents in the Western Ukraine, was completely suppressed by the Russian government, and all who confessed it were obliged, by the most terrible persecutions, to "return to the orthodox belief."

At the beginning of the 20th Century the Greek-Catholic Church in Halychyna was graced by the exemplary leadership of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1901-1944). He was the spiritual leader during two world wars and seven changes of political regime, including Nazi and Soviet. His tireless pastoral work, his defense of the rights of his people, his charitable and ecumenical efforts made the Church an influential social institution in western Ukraine.

Approximately 17 million people are estimated to have died a violent death in Ukraine in the 20th Century. The war on religion was the ideology of the Communist regime and no effort was spared. Church buildings were ruined, burnt down, profaned; priests and faithful, Orthodox, Catholic and representatives of other religions were shot, arrested and deported to the Siberian gulag; church communities were persecuted, confined to underground activities or entirely destroyed.

Under Polish and Austrian rule in western Ukraine from the 17th to the 20th centuries, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church had great authority among the Ukrainian people. Consequently, after the Soviet occupation Stalin acted quickly to abolish the Church. Both the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church at the beginning of the 1930s and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in 1946 in Halychyna and in 1949 in Transcarpathia were liquidated. On 11 April 1945, Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj and the rest of the hierarchy were arrested. Most of the bishops subsequently died in captivity.

After failing to force any of the bishops to renounce their communion with Rome, the Soviet authorities convened an assembly of 216 priests at gunpoint. On 9 and 10 March 1946, the so-called "Synod of Lviv" was held in St. George's Cathedral (the spiritual heart of western Ukraine). The Union of Brest, the council at which the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church formally entered into ecclesial communion with the Holy See, was revoked. The Church was forcibly "rejoined" to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Hundreds of priests, together with monks, nuns and lay faithful were arrested and deported to labor camps, in many cases with their wives and small children. Between 1946 and 1989 the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was the largest banned Church in the world. It was at the same time the largest structure of social opposition to the Soviet system within the USSR. Despite relentless persecution, church life continued underground through the work of an elaborate system of clandestine seminaries, monasteries, ministries, parishes and youth groups until the Church was legalized on 1 December 1989.

The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches survived in only a handful of carefully monitored churches. Even the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church (which functioned as a state church) were limited and it furthermore suffered from infiltration by Soviet security structures. There was a progressive spiritual vacuum and a deepening demoralization of society.

With the crisis of Soviet power in the 1980s, the suppression of churches ceased. The formerly forbidden Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church emerged from the underground and communities of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church were created in 1989. The declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991 created a new context for the activities of all the churches in this territory. Thus, official religious freedom in Ukraine opened the way for religious pluralism.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:52:05 ZULU