CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

The Phenomenon of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy:
Inter-Civilizational Roots, Identificational Priorities, and Jurisdictional Perspectives

by Andrij Yurash, Ivan Franko Lviv National University, Ukraine
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

         The most common approach and evaluation of the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy consists in perception of this phenomenon as a part or at least as a branch of the Russian Orthodox tradition. In the basis of this idea is a fact that Orthodox Church in Ukraine (at least its the most famous and influential dioceses – Kyivan, Chernihiv’, Volyn’, etc.) has been existing in the direct connection with the Moscow Patriarchate for more than three hundred years.

Majority of church’ historians and analysts interpret this reality as a sufficient and enough argument, which proves a view on the Ukrainian Orthodoxy as an inseparable part of a spiritual tradition of the Russian Church. However a problem of correlation between Kyivan and Moscow’ Christianity and discussion around it has much bigger significance than just a discussion about current, modern, and pre-modern periods of church’ history. The problem is related not just for the last several hundred years but applied to the whole history of Christianity on Eastern Slavic lands, to roots and origin of Orthodoxy in both countries – Russia and Ukraine.

Proving the conception that the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy (Kyivan metropoly in the past) is a part of Russian church history, there is essentially important to convince that only Russian Orthodox Church is a successor of the spiritual and ecclesiastical tradition of the Church, which was created in 988 by prince Volodymyr the Great in the state, where Kyiv was its capital.

For those, who are not agreed that Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a part of the Russian tradition, the problem concerning the heritage of the Church of Kyivan Rus can’t be solved so easily as on a basis on the first approach. If to accept that Russian and Ukrainian Orthodoxy are two separate phenomena that can lead to an idea that the heritage of the old church of Kyivan Rus is a basis of the Ukrainian’ church tradition or at least it lies in a basis of both traditions, Ukrainian and Russian ones.

So definition of the jurisdictional status and identificational features of the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a question that can have serious impact for the whole system of terms and definitions concerning Orthodox Church in the whole Eastern Europe. More detailed analysis of arguments from both sides (defenders of an idea, that the Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a branch of the Russian tradition, and adherents of a concept, that defends an independent status for the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy) could be very productive for clearer vision of a situation around the problem.

The first view (including the Ukrainian church tradition into the Russian one) has many weighty and convincing arguments for its support, formal as well as informal ones.

Among arguments of the first type (formal) we have to mention the next ones:

-       direct jurisdictional dependence from the Moscow Patriarchate since 1686. From the time of baptizing the Kyivan Rus till the end of 17th century the Kyivan metropoly had been under the canonical supervision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But the church’ center had been very far from its metropoly and during the whole period of dependence from Constantinople the Kyivan metropoly had experienced real and very broad autonomy. After unification with the Moscow Patriarchate the Kyivan metropoly has lost a great amount of its rights and specific features.

-       several historical arguments: existence as one (or the same) church’ structure from 988 till the middle of 15th cent. and close relations between Kyiv’ metropoly and Moscow’ church during 15-17 centuries, when two separate Orthodox branches of the same origin had existed in different state bodies – Moscow Patriarchate in the Moscow Kingdom and Kyivan metropoly in the Polish Kingdom;

-       geographic nearness of the territories of both church structures;

-existence in the frames of the same state during last three centuries (Russian Kingdom in the end of 17th cent., Russian empire in 18-19 cent. and at the beginning of 20th cent., later – in the Soviet Union) and common or at least close approaches to the sphere of church-state relations.

Among serious informal arguments for support of an idea of the same Orthodox tradition for Russia and Ukraine we have to mention the next ones:

-       common roots and forms of monastic tradition, which begins from the first monasteries in Kyiv and Chernihiv (Kyiv-Pecher lavra remains the oldest and the most respected sacred place for both countries with the highest number of saints that have lived there or were connected with it in different times);

-       similar forms of spiritual expression (for example ways of praying – long services, creating specifically church brotherhoods and sisterhoods that are very active in different aspects of the church life);

-       spreading common the most popular liturgical forms and texts (for example special prayers in the name of particular saints – ackaphists);

-       adoration to the same popular saints that where canonized during last two centuries and have had frankly Russian or even anti-Ukrainian identity – Seraphim Sarovskij, Joann Kronshtadskij, tsar’s family, etc.);

-       encouraging the same ideological priorities (church’ majority – clergy as well as active laity - stay in opposition to the liberal values and consciously support conservative or even fundamental orientations concerning ecumenical movements, contacts with other denominations, etc.);

-       common recognition strategic ecclesiastical-jurisdictional principles that stay in the basis of concepts about organizational unity of two churches (Ukraine is a canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, Moscow church as a Mother-Church for the Ukrainian one, etc.).

But simultaneously with presence among Ukrainian and foreign theologians and historians views of the above describe type this is other conception which is based on rejection this position and statement that the Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a separate church-spiritual phenomenon. It has its own history, which has started from the time of Prince Volodymyr the Great, and has a big number of specific features that make the Ukrainian Orthodoxy absolutely distinctive from any other traditions.

According to this point of view a tradition of the Kyivan Rus’ church belong to the heritage of the Ukrainian church, which is a Mother-Church for the Moscow Patriarchate: during 10-12 cent. there were just several dioceses on the territories of the current Russia that where in direct connection with Kyiv; they were informally united around the Moscow bishop during 13 and 14 cent.; this structure, which had existed at the North lands under real supervision of the Moscow bishop (it had had great support from the Moscow’ tsar), received full independence from Kyivan metropoly in the middle of 15th cent. and has existed since that time as a Church of Moscow state (later – the Russian empire).

According to this position the Ukrainian church (in fact the Kyivan metropoly of the Constantinople church) had continued its independent from the Moscow Patriarchate existence till the time of its forcible joining the Russian church in 1686 after political unification of two countries in 1654. During the period of separate existence under the different states (more than two centuries: middle of the 15th cent. – last quarter of the 17th cent.) and even in the structure of the Russian church in 18 and 19 centuries the Ukrainian church has developed its own tradition, which has many distinctions from the Russian one. However the Russian church has accepted some from these peculiarities in 18th cent. under strong influences of the Ukrainian tradition, that later have become common for both.

But even after acceptance some from the specific features the Ukrainian church (Kyivan metropoly till beginning of the 20th sent.; later – the Ukrainian exarchate) has kept some from its peculiarities:

-       adoration to great number of local saints, that haven’t been well known in Russia (Iov of Pochaiv, some saints from Kyiv-Pecher lavra, many others from specific regions);

-       much higher level of clergy education (first theological schools in Lviv and Ostrih were founded in 16th cent.; high theological school – Kyiv-Mohyla academy – was founded in 1630th in more than one hundred years earlier than any institution of a such type in Russia);

-       different type of spirituality, that includes a special cult of pilgrimage to the most famous sanctuaries (for example Kyiv-Pecher monastery);

-       some differences in liturgical rite (priest cloth, some theological distinctions in interpretation the liturgy, church singing, existence some specific services that had been unknown in Russia – they were collected in metropolitan Petro Mohyla’ prayer-book from 1640th, which has become the biggest collection of different types prayers for the entire Orthodox tradition in the whole world, etc.);

-       absolutely different type of church architecture (specific wooden churches in the Western Ukraine and churches in the style that was formed in 16-17 cent. and called the Ukrainian baroque);

-       different canon law (for example till 18th sent. priests had had an opportunity to marriage twice as distinct from the Russian tradition);

-       openness to Western influences in all aspects of church life (unlike to Russia Ukraine always has been in interaction with its Western neighbors as well as Orthodox church in Ukraine has been familiar with Catholicism and later with Protestantism; their influences have been not just theoretical but practical inasmuch as they have had their completion in formation separate from Orthodoxy church’ structures – a system of Protestant communities of several denominations in 16 and 17 cent. and active development of the Baptist church later, in the second part of 19 cent. as well as Uniate – Greek-Catholic – church, which has preserved Orthodox rite but agreed to accept Catholic dogmas and the supreme power of the Rome pope; the Russian church haven’t been in active interaction with any spiritual influences on non-Orthodox origin);

-       much less influences of the monastic type of spirituality and proportionally – to the number of population – less number of monasteries;

-       much higher level of laymen participation in the church life (formation church’ brotherhoods that had influenced for the most serious aspects of church life, for example in the question of church’ union with Rome in 16-18 cent. or even election the local clergy or appointment a new bishop);

-       formation the different type of church social service and its involving in public life (when Orthodox church in Russia has always been the state religion and the religion of majority, the Orthodoxy in Ukraine under the Polish ruling – 15-17 cent. – and in some periods or at the specific regions later had been the religion of minority often under oppression of state authorities).

This list of essential differences between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox church-spiritual traditions could be continued. But even presented above facts prove that adherents of the idea that the Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a completely separate phenomenon from the Russian Orthodox tradition have enough arguments in support of their conception.

The problem of theoretical and real closeness between Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy was discussed so carefully and in so many details because essential and visible difference of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy from other neighboring Orthodox traditions is absolutely understandable.

However the Ukrainian Orthodoxy had had some contacts with Romanian church during the late medieval period (for example one of the most significant figures of the Ukrainian church history – metropolitan Petro Mohyla, canonized if the middle of 1990th – has had Romanian-Moldavian origin as well as one of the most famous in Ukraine saints from 18th cent. Paisij Velychkovskyj) there are no any serious ties between two churches on the current stage. Possibilities for continuation and development of this spiritual exchange were blocked in 18th cent., when the Romanian church accepted the Latin alphabet instead of Old-Slavic one and converted in it all its texts. In the basis of essential distinctions between two traditions there are also important ethnical differences.

These differences are insignificant concerning Ukrainians and Bulgarians, but ties between churches of these nations are very limited too. After a fact of accepting by the church of Kyivan Rus the Church-Slavic language (it was created on the basis of alive Bulgarian language of 8th cent.) very difficult to mention any other important event or person that can be significant evidence of active spiritual interaction between churches of Bulgaria and Ukraine. Some direct contacts were installed just in the middle of 1990th when influential alternative church’ structures (Orthodox church under the patriarch Pimen in Bulgaria and Kyivan Patriarchate in Ukraine), unrecognized by the Orthodox majorities in both countries, appeared and were trying to find serious foreign contacts. But these contacts were just symbolical under presser of the concrete circumstances and so they hadn’t had serious impact for internal life of the churches as well as on the situation in the world’ Orthodoxy.

Two other churches that have been in some interaction with the Ukrainian church are the Polish Autocephalous Church and the Church in Czech Lands and Slovakia. These two bodies are too small (they are churches of very minorities in corresponding countries) to have real influences for much bigger Ukrainian church. They have some local ecclesiastical features but in generally the most important their peculiarity is synthetic and combine character of their identities. Among significant components of these identities influence of the Ukrainian tradition has to be mentioned obligatory. The churches fell the Ukrainian influences through the Ukrainians that are an essential part of adherents in both churches and through general influences of the rich tradition of the Kyivan metropoly.

Presented above description of the specifics of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy in its comparison with other neighboring Orthodox traditions (first of all with the Russian one) shows that would be very difficult or even impossible to define current and historical Ukrainian Orthodoxy unequivocally, as an absolutely sound phenomenon. It was clearly visible above that elements of separate and unique identity as well as some common features with others church identities are simultaneously presented in the tradition of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

So absence of some obligatory features that could be repeatable now in all manifestations of the phenomenon (Ukrainian Orthodoxy) as well as lack of internal ideological, jurisdictional, and orientation unity can be defined as one of the most important features of contemporary identity of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

This heterogeneity of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy has been formed under influences of several factors:

-       historical (dependence from different religious centers during different periods, formation own tradition during in fact autonomous existence in 15-17 cent., total russiafication when the church was united with the Moscow Patriarchate, attempts to achieve the full independence – canonical autocephaly – in 20th cent., etc.);

-       political (support by different states different orientations and church jurisdictions: Russian empire and the Soviet Union had tolerated only that branches of Orthodoxy that were connected with Moscow; vice versa Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia on the Ukrainian territories that were temporary included in these countries supported independent from Moscow jurisdictions connected with other autocephalous churches – Polish, Romanian, Serbian; different Ukrainian national formations in 17th and later in 20th century – in 1917-1920, 1941-1944, and particularly after 1991 – strongly supported independent Ukrainian Orthodoxy);

-       civilizational (Ukraine has always been on the intersection of different civilizations – Russian Orthodox and Byzantine Orthodox, Western Christian and Eastern Christian, Muslim and Christian).

Many facts and elements of contemporary reality can illustrate a thesis about heterogeneity not just the Ukrainian Orthodoxy as a general phenomenon but its contemporary measure:

-       jurisdictional division;

-       cultural and civilizational differences (some parishes are completely Russian according to their cultural orientation; others are Ukrainian or without specific national priorities);

-       disagreement concerning the language problem (majority of parishes uses Church-Slavonic language as a liturgical one, but almost all parishes in Western regions use for this purpose the modern Ukrainian language; this is also a difference concerning a language of preaching);

-       differences in the liturgical rite (Orthodoxy at the Western Ukraine keep that rite and liturgical specifics that was formed in 15-17 cent. during the period in fact autonomous existence with a lot of specific elements and Western additions – this tradition has survived and has been experienced by Uniate church after its proclaiming during Council of Brest in 1596; Orthodoxy in the Eastern part of the country has no any serious differences with the liturgical tradition of the Moscow Patriarchate) and some formal attributes of the Orthodoxy (for example priest cloth);

-       understandable differences concerning parish structures, their social activity, and impact on everyday life of a community;

-       sometimes crucial regional differences in the level of education of clergy and adherents, frequency of church participation, percentage of active adherents, youth involving in the church life, etc.

The most important factor (identificational element) that connects together all parts or directions inside the Orthodox Church in contemporary Ukraine is territorial-political: existence of church structures of different jurisdictions in the frames of contemporary Ukrainian state. This approach allows combine by one term – the Ukrainian Orthodoxy – entire diversity (at least the most numerous and influential branches) of spiritual manifestations of the Orthodox tradition in Ukraine:

-       Ukrainian Orthodox Church under jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (36 dioceses, 9525 parishes, 131 monasteries, 7995 priests, 3727 monks and nuns);

-       Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyivan Patriarchate (31 dioceses, 3050 parishes, 28 monasteries, 2443 priests, 131 monks and nuns);

-       Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (11 dioceses, 1055 parishes, 3 monasteries, 653 priests);

-       ten others smaller jurisdictions and church structures of the Orthodox origin.

Many analysts estimate this jurisdictional division inside the Ukrainian Orthodoxy as mainly formal thing that can be easily eliminated by uniting main Orthodox branches in one big church structure. Also this is an objective public order – some kind of social consensus (among those who would like to see uniting all branches under protectorate of the Moscow Patriarchate as well as among adherents of an idea of independent national autocephalous church): to have just one united all-Ukrainian Orthodox church as a traditional factor of stability and a strong element of the national identity (like others Eastern European countries with dominating Eastern Christian tradition have their own autocephalous chruches).

But under the conditions of democratic, free, and non-coercive social development this idea – to have just one church (autonomous or autocephalous) – can’t be easily realized. Maybe it can’t be realized at all. Existence only one strong Orthodox Church in Ukraine (as it had been before the beginning of 20th cent. and in the Soviet time under strong control over church life from the state) is much more complicated question now because of:

-       presence and parallel existence absolutely different church-jurisdictional and ideological orientations: some part of Orthodox clergy in Ukraine can’t imagine themselves without direct connection with the Russian church at that time when other part of clergy and adherents strongly oppose to continuation any jurisdictional dependence from the Moscow Patriarchate; both groups base their convictions not simply on theological ground but on their civilizational-cultural preferences too;

-       absence of real unity on this question among politicians, national elite, cultural leaders, and among broad public audience (like this type of unity exists in other countries that have own autocephalous church – in Russia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc.).

So the problem of existence one national church for Ukraine is becoming more general cilivizational or orientational question than just church (ecclesiastical) one. Resolving of this question can’t be found till the time when will be found broader public consensus concerning strategic directions of future development of Ukraine.

Although existence of antagonistic camps within the Ukrainian Orthodoxy is a contemporary reality (with many elements of direct and indirect competition between them) but there are some evidences that prove that slowly but steadily differences between two main groups (adherents and opponents of the idea of church autocephaly for Ukraine) become less important. Parallelly one more process is taking place right now: gradually correlation between two groups is changing. According to the state statistics as well as sociological data the group of adherents of independent church development is becoming more and more numerous and influential. When at the middle of 1990th percentage of parishes and other church organizations that formally supported an idea of independent church development for Ukraine (they consisted independent from the Moscow Patriarchate church structures) wasn’t bigger than 20%, right now this index is more than 30%. Level of informal support the independent church development is even much higher (61% of orthodox believers support this concept; majority or at least a half of parishes that belong now to the Moscow Patriarchate are ready to join the autocephalous Ukrainian church after support and recognition this autocephaly by others Orthodox churches).

But if even this trend will win in the future some number of clergy, parishes, and even dioceses that would be absolutely disagree with this independent church orientation will leave. So existence of two or even more influential ideological-jurisdictional orientations within the Ukrainian Orthodoxy will remain a reality. Without coercion and state compulsion in the pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic society will be impossible to combine in one church body such different church identities.

So pluralistic and poly-jurisdictional way of existence and development can be one of the most important and unique features of the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy. That could be the feature, which will make a difference from others Orthodox traditions, that have much more unity concerning identificational priorities, and emphasize the pluralistic and democratic type of development of spiritual-church life in Ukraine.

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