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Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church David, Kathryn
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is both a minority faith in Ukraine yet also a Church that has exerted a great deal of influence on Ukrainian culture and politics throughout the 19th and 20th centuries until today. While most Ukrainians identify as Orthodox, in the regions of western Ukraine it was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church that historically served as the religious affiliation for the Ukrainian-speaking population. Created as a hybrid Church through a church union (the 1596 Union of Brest) as a way to absorb Orthodox Slavs into Catholic jurisdictions in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this religious institution remained an influential force in the territories of present-day western Ukraine as empires rose and fell in eastern Europe. The Church endured as its parishes became part of Habsburg Austria-Hungary, interwar Poland, and even under Nazi occupation. This endurance is credited to one of the most influential leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who served as Metropolitan from 1900-1944. Under his tenure, the Church sought to create a path for itself as both a religious institution and a Ukrainian cultural institution. Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s death coincided with the imposition of Soviet power in western Ukraine in 1944. Over the course of this history, the rituals and beliefs of Ukrainian Greek Catholics were deeply influenced by the more powerful religious institutions surrounding it, the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church endured campaigns of forced transfer to Russian Orthodoxy in territories conquered by imperial Russia and in territories ruled by Catholic monarchies, forced latinizations of its rituals. In the aftermath of the Second World War and the Sovietization of western Ukraine, the Soviet state did not simply ban the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but embarked on a religious campaign that resembled that of its imperial predecessors, forcing its three million Ukrainian Greek Catholics to join the state-sponsored Russian Orthodox Church. Some accepted Orthodoxy, others simply pretended to accept Orthodoxy, while others maintained the practices of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the underground. Through these experiences, the Church developed its own particular liturgical practices and rituals that reflected its interpretations of what a church union between Orthodoxy and Catholicism meant in practice. These practices reflect a complex negotiation of religious influences imposed by force, as well as influences welcomed into the Church through natural processes of cultural exchange. Because of its hybrid nature, the Church also became a religious institution that tolerated a great deal of variation among rituals between its parishes. In practice this means that while Church institutions have taken formal positions on the correct interpretation of variances between the Byzantine and Latin-rite, variances that include the sacrament of the Eucharist and the filioque, different parishes will follow different customs based on their particular histories and the practices and traditions most familiar to local parishioners. The Church's recent history has been shaped by its role in independent Ukraine. As the Soviet Union began to collapse in the early 1990s, the Church was permitted to emerge from the underground and its activists became instrumental in the movement for Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union. In recent decades, the Vatican has attempted to codify the rituals and practices of Eastern churches like the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as part of a project of recognizing the contributions of these unique spiritual cultures, rather than seeing them as aberrations that need to be “latinized.” Today, the Church's endurance is seen as tied up with the endurance of the Ukrainian nation itself, even though that nation is primarily Orthodox. As an institution, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church maintains an intensive involvement in Ukrainian society through its network of educational institutions, charitable endeavors, and military chaplaincy, involvement which influences Ukrainians of all faith traditions.
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