Church history on western Ukrainian lands

Essay By Roman Zakharii

Traditionally Ukrainian people (previously known as Rusyn or Ruthenian) have always confessed Eastern version of Christianity, as it was brought by Greek monk missionaries from Byzantium. So, since the adoption of Christianity western Ukrainians had always belonged to Orthodox church under the authority of the Greek patriarch of Constantinople.

However 400 years under the rule of predominantly Roman Catholic Polish kingdom did not go unnoticed for the local Orthodox Ukrainians. In the late 16th - early 17 th centuries dramatic changes took place. A number of Ukrainian Orthodox bishops gathered in Brest, broke with the Greek patriarchate of Constantinople and concluded Union with Roman Church and Vatican, on the condition that their church can maintain its old Orthodox rites and liturgy style. This event is known as Union of Brest of 1595. Hence was formed so called Greek-Catholic church which subject to the Vatican. Followers of this newly formed church became known as Greek-Catholics or Uniates, as the remaining Orthodox refer to them.

This union with Vatican was not followed quickly by all the Ukrainian Orthodox priests and people.  In Transcarpathia (Zakarpattya region) the Union with Rome was accepted first by 63 priests in 1646 and in 1652 by all the western Transcarpathia. Peremyshl (Przemysl) bishopric agreed to the union with Catholics in 1692. Lvivīs Orthodox bishopric – in 1700,  Lutsk Orthodox bishopric - in 1702 and the remaining Orthodox churches of Lviv - in 1708. And eventually Ukrainians in Maramoros lands (north western Romania) – in 1716-21.

However in the north western Ukrainian lands (area known as Volhyn or Volhynia) union with Vatican did not last long as in 1795 this area was taken over by the Orthodox Russian empire which quickly transformed newly baken Greek-Catholics back into the Orthodox and cut their ties with Rome.

Greek-Catholic church survived only in the area which was under Austro-Hungarian rule (in 1772-1918) that is Lvivska, Ternopilska (except its northern part), Ivano-Frankivska and Zakarpatska oblasts (regions). In all other parts of Ukraine, which were part of Russian empire Greek-Catholicism was only a brief phenomenon and Orthodox church was quickly restored.

Exceptionary case is Bukovyna (Chernivtsi region) which, even when being under Austrian rule remained staunchly Orthodox. The same applies to much lesser extent to Transcarpathia, where had always been strong Orthodox orientation and alligience to the old tradition of ancient Rus (as Ukraine and Belarus were known before).

Hence, today one may meet both types of Ukrainian people from western Ukraine – those who identify themselves as Greek-Catholic (often simply as Catholic) and Orthodox (pravoslavnyj in Ukrainian). Natives of Galicia (Halychyna) are nearly exclusively Greek-Catholics. Orthodox are in minority on Galician lands.

During Soviet times Greek-Catholic church was forbidden. In the late 1940-s  the key Greek-Catholic bishops had been executed by communists and in 1946 at the council of Greek-Catholic priests decision (encouraged by Soviet authorities) was taken to return to Orthodoxy, led by notorious Havryyil Kostelnyk, who was convinced in the heretical deviations of the modern Roman church. Those Greek-Catholic priest who opposed the reunification were executed or persecuted. Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church revived in 1990-s, though there had been a bitter fighting with the Orthodox for the church buildings.

In modern age (from the 16-th cen. onwards), western Ukraine produced several saints. Among them are Orthodox saints:

Saint Job (Zalizo) of Pochayiv

Saint Amphilochius (Holovatiuk) of Pochayiv

Saint Job (Kundra) of Mala Uholka.

Saint Alexy (Kabaliuk) of Yasinya

The uncorruption of their bodies after death along with miracles taking place at their graves and during their lives witnesses their sanctity. The incorrupt bodies of Saint Job and Saint Amphilochius are preserved in the crypt of the Orthodox monastery in shabby town of Pochayiv. The relics of Saint Alexy are kept in Saint Nicholas monastery in the village of Iza in Khust district and those of Saint Job Kundra in Mala Uholka of Tyachiv district.

In the newer times, Greek-Catholic church produced the following saints, whose bodies also  had been found incorrupt after their death :

Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych  (his incorrupt relics had been transferred to Rome)

Saint Vasyl Velychkovsky (immigrated and died in Canada, where shrine had been erected in his name,which also houses his incorrupt relics)

Saint Mykhaylyna Hordashevska

The Greek-Catholic church knew of several stigmatics as well, among these Nastya Voloshyn and Stepan Navrotskyy.

The major shrine of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church is located in Lviv and is called Cathedral of Saint George (Sobor Sviatogo Yura in Ukrainian). However soon it is going to be moved to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where the new Greek-Catholic cathedral is being built and its called Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (Patriarshyj Sobor Voskresinnya Khrystovoho). The main Ukrainian Orthodox church of Moscow patriarchate (at the moment the only canonical Orthodox church in western Ukraine) in Lviv bears also the name of Saint George. This is because Saint George had always beeb the patron saint of Ruthenian dukes of Kyiv and in general of Rus (Ukraine). For the Poles, the patron saints of Lviv were Saint Stanislaus Kostka and Saint Roch.

Currently, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church is headed by Cardinal Lubomyr Huzar. The Orthodox bishop (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow patriarchate) for Lviv region is Avhustyn Voloshyn. There are also two Orthodox church groups (so far internationally unrecognized) spread in western Ukraine: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv patriarchate (UPTS KP) and Ukrainian Autocephaleous Orthodox church (UAPTS).

In 81 year old Pope John Paul II when visiting Lviv beatified 27 Catholic people from western Ukraine, those who suffered at hands of communist red terror.

Nota Bene:

Personally, if to express my subjective opinion, I believe that Orthodox church preserved the original Christian teaching and dogmas untouched following the teaching of the Holy Fathers while modern Roman Catholicism deviated signifcantly with a number of heretical innovations. Hence I consider the Brest union 1595 with the Vatican as wrong and harmful for the well-being of the average Ukrainian christians with long lasting negative consequences.

For more details see: - The Ukrainian Greek Catholics: A Historical Survey - Union of Brest - Pochayiv monastery's_Cathedral,_Lviv – the central shrine of Greek-Catholics in Ukraine

About saints from western Ukraine: - Canadian Ukrainian Catholic Church of St Joseph in Winnipeg where incorrupt body of Saint Vasyl Velychkovsky is preserved

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