Religion Wiki

St. George's Cathedral in Lviv served as the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church during 19th and 20th centuries

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) (Ukrainian: Українська Греко-Католицька Церква (УГКЦ)), also known as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is one of the successor Churches to the acceptance of Christianity by Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv, in 988. UGCC is the largest Eastern Rite Catholic sui juris particular church in full communion with the Holy See, and is directly subject to the Pope. The Primate of the Church, in union with the Pope, holds the office of Archbishop-Major of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, though the hierarchs of the church have acclaimed their primate "Patriarch" and have requested Papal recognition and elevation. The Church has followed the spread of the Ukrainian diaspora, and now has some 40 hierarchs in over a dozen countries on four continents, including three other metropolitans in Poland, the United States, and Canada. The head of the church is Lubomyr Cardinal Husar.

Within Ukraine itself, the UGCC is a minority faith of the religious population, being a distant second to the majority Eastern Orthodox faith. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the second largest religious organization in Ukraine in terms of number of communities. In terms of number of faithful, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ranks third in allegiance among the population of Ukraine, after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate. Currently, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church predominates in three western oblasts of Ukraine, but constitutes a small minority elsewhere in the country.


Before the Union of Brest

The Ukrainian Catholic Church did not exist, as such, until the Union of Brest in the late 16th century, but its roots go back to the very beginning of Christianity in Mediaeval Slavic State of Rus'. The area of modern-day Ukraine was primarily influenced by Byzantine missionaries. The mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius was especially important as their development of the Cyrillic alphabet allowed the spread of worship in the Old Church Slavonic language. The Greek influence continued to until the Great Schism, when the Ruthenian (Rusyn) Church took sides, and became Orthodox.

Following the Mongol annihilation of Kyiv in the 13th century, the Metropolitan of Kyiv moved to Volodymyr in 1299. By 1326, the Metropolitan had settled in Moscow, and by 1328 had changed the title of Metropolitan of Kyiv for the title Metropolitan of Moscow. The separate legal tradition of the Ruthenian Church, as differentiated from the Church in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was codified in the decision of the first properly Russian Church Council of the Hundred Chapters ('Stoglav') in 1448, followed by the formal separation of the Church of Rus' into separate Russian (Muscovite) and Ruthenian (Kyivan) Metropoliae in 1453.

Union of Brest

This situation continued for some time, and in the intervening years what is now Western and Central Ukraine came under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Polish king Sigismund III Vasa was heavily influenced by the ideals of the Counter-Reformation and wanted to increase the Catholic presence in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the clergy of the Ruthenian lands were ruled from distant Constantinople, and much of the population showed loyalty to Orthodoxy rather than the Catholic monarch. Persecution of the Orthodox population grew, and under pressure of Polish authorities the clergy of the Ruthenian Church agreed by the Union of Brest in 1595 to break from the Patriarch of Constantinopole and unite with the Catholic Church under the sponsorship of the ruler of Commonwealth, Sigismund III Vasa, in response for ending the persecution. The union was not accepted by all the members of the Greek Church in these lands, and marked the beginning of the creation of separate Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches on the lands of Ukraine and Belarus. Due to violence, the Metropolitan of the Kyivan Greek Catholic Church left Kyiv early in the 1600s and settled in Navahrudak (present Belarus) and Vilna in Lithuania.

After the Union

The Univ Lavra was established in 1400 by the ruler Lubart's son Theodore and remains the holiest monastery of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Small wooden church and belfry in the village of Sielec, Drohobych Raion from the 17th century, in the typical architectural style of that region

The final step of the full particularity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was then effected by the development of the middle Ruthenian language into separate Rusyn, Ukrainian and Belarusian languages around 1600 to 1800. With Orthodoxy being largely suppressed during the two centuries of the Polish rule, the Greek-Catholic influence on the Ukrainian population was so great that in several oblasts hardly any remained Orthodox.

After the partition of Poland, the formerly Greek-Catholic territory was mostly divided between Russia and Austria. In the Russian partition, which included Volhynia and Podolia, in the easternmost areas of Podolia the population quickly and voluntarily returned to Orthodoxy. Initially, the Russian authorities were extremely tolerant of the Greek-Catholic church and allowed it to function (calling them Basilians). However immediately the clergy was split into pro-Catholic and pro-Russian, with the former tending to convert to Latin Rite Catholicism, whilst the demands of the latter group led by Bishop Joseph Semashko being firmly rejected by the ruling Greek-Catholic synod still largely controlled by the pro-Polish clergy with the Russian authorities largely refusing to interfere. The situation changed abruptly following Russia's successful suppression of the 1831 Polish uprising aimed at overthrowing the Russian control of the Polish territories. As the uprising was actively supported by the Greek-Catholic church, the crackdown on the Church became imminent. The pro-Latin members of the Synod were removed and the Church began to disintegrate with its parishes in Volhynia reverting to the Orthodoxy including the 1833 transfer of the famous Pochaiv Lavra. In 1839 the Synod of Polotsk (Modern Belarus), under the leadership of Bishop Semashko, dissolved the Greek-Catholic church in the Russian Empire, and all its property was transferred to the Orthodox state church. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia says that in what was then known as 'Little Russia' (now Ukraine), the pressure of the Russian Government "utterly wiped out" Greek Catholics, and "some 7,000,000 of the Uniats there were compelled, partly by force and partly by deception, to become part of the Russian Orthodox Church".[1]

The dissolution of the Greek-Catholic Church in Russia was complete in 1875 with the abolition of the Eparchy of Kholm.[2]

19th century: West Ukrainian period

With the elimination of Ruthenian Catholics on the territory of the Russian Empire during the 1800s, the Pope of Rome granted the transfer of the quasi-patriarchal powers of the Major-Archiepiscopate of Kyiv/Halych and all Rus to the Metropolitan of Lviv (Lemberg) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1803. Suffragan sees included Ivano-Frankivsk (then called Stanislav) and Peremyshl. By the end of the century, the faithful of this church began emigrating to the U.S., Canada, and Brazil.

In Austrian Polish partition that included Halychyna (modern Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and parts of Ternopil oblasts), the Greek-Catholic Ruthenian (Ukrainian) peasantry was largely under the Polish Latin Catholic domination. The Austrians granted equal legal privileges to the Greek-Catholic Church and removed Polish influence. They also mandated that Uniate seminarians receive a formal higher education (previously, priests had been educated informally by their fathers), and organized institutions in Vienna and Lviv that would serve this function. This led to the appearance, for the first time, of a large educated social class within the Ukrainian population in Halychyna.[3] It also engendered a fierce sense of loyalty to the Hapsburg dynasty. When Polish rebels briefly took control of Lviv in 1809, they demanded that the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Anton Anhelovych, have his Church substitute Napoleon's name in the Divine Liturgy for that of Austrian Emperor Francis II. He refused, and was imprisoned by the Poles. When the Austrians retook control over the city, Anhelovych was awarded the cross of Leopold by the Emperor.[4]

As a result of the reforms, within Austrian Halychyna over the next century the Greek-Catholic Church ceased being a puppet of foreign interests and became the primary cultural force within the Ukrainian community. Most independent native Ukrainian cultural and political trends (such as Rusynophilia, Russophilia and later Ukrainophilia) emerged from within the ranks of the Greek-Catholic Church clergy. The participation of Greek Catholic priests or their children in western Ukrainian cultural and political life was so great that western Ukrainians were accused of wanting to create a theocracy in western Ukraine by their Polish rivals.[5] Among the political trends emerging from the priests of their families, the Christian social movement was particularly linked to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. For many people, the Austrians were seen as having saved the Ukrainians and their Church from the Poles.

St George's Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church built by architect The Very Reverend Philip Ruh, O.M.I. in 1923. Protected Heritage site, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan [6]

20th century: persecution and internationalization

Ukrainian Greek Catholics found themselves under the governance of the nations of Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia after World War I. Under the previous century of Austrian rule, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church attained such a strong Ukrainian national character that in the interwar Poland, the Greek Catholics of Galicia were seen by the nationalist Polish and Catholic state as even less reliable than the Orthodox Volhynians. Carrying its Polonisation policies throughout its Eastern Territories, the Polish authorities sought to weaken the UGCC in various ways. In 1924, following a visit with the Ukrainian Catholic believers in North America and western Europe, the head of the UGCC was initially denied reentry to Lviv only being allowed back after a considerable delay. Polish (Latin Rite) Roman Catholic priests, led by their Latin bishops, began to undertake missionary work among Greek Catholics, and administrative restrictions were placed on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.[7]

The aftermath of World War II placed almost all native Ukrainian Catholics under the rule of the Soviet Union and Soviet Bloc which, using the positions of only a few ex-UGCC leading clergymen, tried to gain control over the Church. Soviet documents of 1945 indicates a collaboration between Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and Patriarch Alexy I of Moscow to dismantle the Greek Catholic Church in the then recently annexed western areas of Ukrainian SSR.[8]

These dissident ex-UGCC clergy called a (Soviet-supervised) "synod" (Lviv Sobor of 1946) in Lviv and at this synod annulled the Union of Brest of 1596 and all of its statutes. Ex-UGCC priest Havryil Kostelnyk (who later died under dubious circumstances) was forced or convinced to preside over this Lviv Sobor of 1946, probably due to blackmailing by the Soviet NKVD and other secret services. Ironically, as all the bishops of the UGCC were at this point either in prison or exile, no bishops of the UGCC were involved, making the supposed synod or sobor canonically illegitimate by the official canons of both Orthodox and Catholic Churches alike. Whilst officially all of the church property was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate, some Ukrainian Greek Catholic clergy went underground. This catacomb church was strongly supported by the diaspora created by the mass emigration to the Western hemisphere, which had begun already in the 1870s and increased at the end of World War II.

In 1945 Soviet authorities arrested, deported and sentenced to forced labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere the church's metropolitan Yosyf Slipyi and nine other Greek Catholic bishops, as well as hundreds of clergy and leading lay activists. All the above-mentioned bishops and significant part of clergymen died in prisons, concentration camps, internal exile, or soon after their release during the post-Stalin thaw.[9] The exception was metropolitan Yosyf Slipyi who, after 18 years of imprisonment and persecution, was released thanks to the intervention of Pope John XXIII, arrived in Rome, where he received the title of Major Archbishop of Lviv, and became cardinal in 1965.[9]

The center dome of St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois St Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church Homepage .

For the clergy that joined the Russian Orthodox Church, the Soviet authorities refrained from the large-scale persecution of religion that was seen elsewhere in the country (see Religion in the Soviet Union). In the city of Lviv, only one church was closed (at a time when many cities in the rest of Ukraine did not have a working church). Moreover, the western dioceses of Lviv-Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk were the largest in the USSR, holding the majority of the Russian Orthodox Church's cloisters (particularly convents, of which there were seven in Ukrainian SSR but none in Russia). Orthodox canon law was also relaxed on the clergy allowing them to shave beards (a practice uncommon to Orthodoxy) and conduct liturgy in Ukrainian as opposed to Church Slavonic.

During the Soviet era, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church did flourish throughout the Ukrainian diaspora. Cardinal Yosyf Slipyi was jailed as a dissident but ordained in pectore (in secret) a cardinal in 1949; he was freed in 1963 and was the subject of an extensive campaign to have him named as a patriarch, which met with strong support as well as controversy. Pope Paul VI demurred, but compromised with the creation of a new title of major archbishop, with a jurisdiction roughly equivalent to that of a patriarch in an Eastern church. This title has since passed to Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky in 1984 and thereafter to Lubomyr Cardinal Husar in 2000; this title has also been granted to the heads of three other Eastern Catholic Churches.

By the late 1980s there was a shift in the Soviet government's attitude towards religion. At the height of Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization reforms, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church emerged from the catacombs to find itself largely in disarray with the nearly all of its pre-1946 parishes and property lost to the Orthodox faith. The church, actively supported by nationalist organisations such as Rukh and later the UNA-UNSO, took an uncompromising stance towards the return of its lost property and parishes. According to a Greek-Catholic priest, "even if the whole village is now Orthodox and one person is Greek Catholic, the church [building] belongs to that Catholic because the church was built by his grandparents and great-grandparents."[10] The weakened Soviet authorities were unable to pacify the situation, and most of the parishes in Halychyna came under the control of the Greek-Catholics during the events of a large scale interconfessional rivalry that was often accompanied by violent clashes of the faithful provoked by their religious and political leadership.[11] These tensions led to a rupture of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican.

Modern times

Bishop Paul Patrick Chomnycky in London.

Keys of Heaven.png
Part of a series on

Particular churches sui iuris

of the Catholic Church

Roman Cross.pngPatriarchal cross.png
Roman cross and Byzantine Patriarchal cross
Particular churches are grouped by rite.
Latin Rite
Byzantine Rite
Albanian · Belarusian · Bulgarian
Croatia and Serbia · Greek · Hungarian
Italo-Albanian · Macedonian · Melkite
Romanian · Russian · Ruthenian
Slovak · Ukraine
Alexandrian Rite
Coptic · Ethiopian · Eritrean
Armenian Rite
West Syriac Rite
Maronite · Syro-Malankara · Syriac
East Syriac Rite
Chaldean · Syro-Malabar

Currently the church has between 3 and 5 million supporters in Ukraine. Numerous surveys conducted since the late 1990s consistently show that between 6% and 8% of Ukraine's total population, or 9.4% to 12.6% of the country's religious believers, identify themselves as belonging to this Church.[12] Worldwide, the faithful now number some 6 to 10 million, forming the largest particular Catholic Church, after the majority Latin Rite Church.

Today, most Ukrainian Catholic Churches have moved away from Church Slavonic and use Ukrainian. Many churches also offer liturgies in the official language of the country the Church is in, for example, German in Germany or English in Canada; however, some parishes continue to celebrate the liturgy in Slavonic even today, and services in a mix of languages are not unusual.

In the early 2000s, construction began for the transfer of the major see of the Ukrainian Catholic Church back to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. However, this move remains controversial for some Ukrainian Catholics, who view Lviv in Western Ukraine as the true stronghold of Ukrainian Catholicism, having supported and protected the Ukrainian Catholic Church through long periods of persecution. Moving the Ukrainian Catholic Church to Kyiv, therefore, has taken on political overtones in the Church. The move tends to be supported by those people who favour the appointment of a Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch to oversee the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

In 2001 a priest, Vasyl Kovpak, and a small group of followers opposed to certain policies (such as de-latinisation) and ecumenism of the UGCC hierarchy, organized themselves as the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat. The PSSJ possesses close ties with the Latin Rite Traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X, which rejects and condemns certain actions and policies of both Husar and the Pope. On November 21, 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith excommunicated Kovpak.[13]


Archeparchy of Kyiv
Exarchate of Donetsk
Exarchate of
Odesa – Crimea
of Lutsk

File:A cathedral under construction.jpg

Construction on the new seat and cathedral in Kyiv

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church moved its administrative center from Western Ukrainian Lviv to a new cathedral in Kyiv on 21 August 2005. The title of the head of the UGCC was changed from The Major Archbishop of Lviv to The Major Archbishop of Kyiv and Halych.

The current eparchies and other territorial jurisdictions of the church are:

  • Ukrainian Catholic Major Archeparchy of Kyiv–Halych
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Kyiv
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Lviv
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stryi
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Sambir–Drohobych
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Ternopil–Zboriv
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Sokal–Zhovkva
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Ivano-Frankivsk
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Buchach
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Kolomyia–Chernivtsi
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Donetsk–Kharkiv
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Lutsk
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa–Crimea
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Peremyshl–Varshava
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Vrotslav–Hdans'k
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of New Westminster
    • Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chicago
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford
      • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Parma
    • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Curitiba (under the ecclesiastical province of Curitiba)
    • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Argentina (under the ecclesiastical province of Buenos Aires)
    • Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania (under the ecclesiastical province of Melbourne)
    • Apostolic Exarchate in France, Benelux and Switzerland for the Ukrainians*
    • Apostolic Exarchate in Germany and Scandinavia for the Ukrainians*
    • Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainians in Great Britain*

* Directly subject to the Holy See

See also

The interior of St. George's Church in Chervonohrad.


  1. "Ruthenians". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. St. Nicholas Church
  3. Himka, John Paul. (1999). Religion and Nationality in Western Ukraine. McGill-Queen's University Press: Montreal and Kingston. Pg. 6.
  4. John-Paul Himka. (1986). The Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Society in Austrian Galicia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  5. Himka, John Paul. (1999). Religion and Nationality in Western Ukraine. McGill-Queen's University Press: Montreal and Kingston. Pg. 10
  6. The Very Reverend Philip Ruh, O.M.I. Priest, Architect and Builder of about 40 Ukrainian Catholic Churches URL accessed February 9, 2007
  7. Magosci, P. (1989). Morality and Reality: the Life and Times of Andrei Sheptytsky. Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. 
  8. Soviet-Era Documents Shed Light On Suppression Of Ukrainian Catholic Church, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 7, 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Ukrainian Greek Catholics: A Historical Survey, RISU
  10. Andrew Wilson, The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation, p. 246, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-300-09309-8
  11. Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, p. 75, Westview Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8133-4067-5
  12. [1] [2] [3]
  13. Catholic World News, November 21, 2007. Ukrainian priest excommunicated


External links

frp:Égllése grèca-catolica ucrayenièna be:Украінская Грэка-Каталіцкая Царква cs:Ukrajinská řeckokatolická církev et:Ukraina Kreeka-katoliku Kirik id:Gereja Katolik-Yunani Ukraina la:Ecclesia Graeco-Catholica Ucrainae hu:Ukrán Görög Katolikus Egyház ja:ウクライナ東方カトリック教会 pt:Igreja Greco-Católica Ucraniana ro:Biserica Greco-Catolică Ucraineană ru:Украинская грекокатолическая церковь fi:Ukrainan kreikkalaiskatolinen kirkko uk:Українська греко-католицька церква