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Ukrainian Catholic Church

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The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (further The UGCC) is the largest Eastern Catholic Church of its own law (Ecclesia sui juris). According to recent statistics (Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Annuario Pontificio 2011), it is comprised of 4,360,335 members… or 26% of all Eastern Catholics.

  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.   

  Names which are used to define the UGCC:

Union Church;

Ukrainian Catholic Church;

Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite;

Kyivan Catholic Church;

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. 

source: UGCC Department of Information

  • The Conversion of Ukraine and Tensions Between East and West
  • Union with Rome in 1596 and East/West Divisions in Ukraine Itself
  • Polish and Austrian Rule in Western Ukraine
  • The Legacy of Totalitarianism – Ukraine in the 20th Century

  Ukraine has a long Christian tradition, dating from the 10th century. Today there are more than 22,000 religious communities in Ukraine from approximately 80 different Christian denominations, as well as other religions. But the atheist policy of the Soviets has left its mark: many Ukrainians today are unchurched because of the great spiritual void which the Bolshevik regime left in Eastern Europe.

  The Conversion of Ukraine and Tensions Between East and West

In 988 Prince Volodymyr the Great established Christianity in its Byzantine-Slavic rite as the national religion of his country, Kyivan-Rus. This happened before the Great Church Schism of 1054 divided Christian East from West. The Kyivan Church inherited the traditions of the Byzantine East and was part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Yet this Church also remained in full communion with the Latin West and its patriarch, the Pope of Rome.

Though Constantinople and Rome had their disputes, the Kyivan hierarchy tried to work for Christian unity. Representatives from Rus participated in the Western Councils of Lyon (1245) and Constance (1418). Isidore, the Metropolitan of Kyiv, was himself one of the creators of the Union of Florence (1439).

While the Kyivan Metropolitanate was working towards reunion, a new metropolitanate arose north of Kyiv, in Moscow. The Church of Moscow refused to accept the Union of Florence and separated from the ancient metropolitanate in Kyiv, announcing its autocephaly (self-governing status) in 1448. In 1589, with Greek Orthodoxy and Constantinople subject to Turkish domination, the Church of Moscow became a patriarchate.

  Union with Rome in 1596 and East/West Divisions in Ukraine Itself

The Kyivan Church was challenged by the Protestant Reformation and the renewed Catholicism of that period and was also suffering a serious internal crisis. The Synod decided to pass under the jurisdiction of the see of Rome. The traditional Eastern rite of the Kyivan Church was preserved and its ethnic, cultural and ecclesial existence was guaranteed. This was confirmed at the Council of Brest in 1596, which is the beginning of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as an institution.

Some hierarchs and faithful of the Kyivan Church, however, insisted on remaining under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Torn by internal division, the Central and Eastern sections of Ukraine passed under the control of the ruler of Moscow in 1654. Soon the Orthodox Kyivan Metropolitanate was under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate (1686). As the Tsarist Empire grew, it repressed the Greek Catholics and forced "conversions" to Russian Orthodoxy (1772, 1795, 1839, 1876). The Pratulin Martyrs died as a result of these repressions.

Orthodox clergy and laity in Ukraine were dissatisfied with the close connections of the Russian Orthodox Church with Russian national interests. "Ukrainophile" movements began and after the Russian Revolution in 1917 a movement began to gain autocephalous status for Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Attempts to proclaim autocephaly in the 1920s and 1940s were, however, repressed by the Soviet powers.

  Polish and Austrian Rule in Western Ukraine

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.

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.

  The Legacy of Totalitarianism-- Ukraine in the 20th Century

It is the tragedy of the 20th Century, the epoch of terror and violence, which has most affected the development of religious life in contemporary Ukraine. Approximately 17 million people are estimated to have died a violent death in Ukraine in the 20th Century. It is even more tragic that these losses were caused not just by war and conflict but by utopian ideals of re-building the world.

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. 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. 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.

Adapted from a speech of Professor Oleh Turii of the Institute of Church History of Lviv, Ukraine, delivered at a conference in Freising, Germany, on September 15, 2000.

source: UGCC Department of Information

Many people think of the Catholic Church as a monolithic structure with a clear leadership and traditions. People also mistakenly refer to the whole as the Roman Catholic Church. But this is not quite accurate.

The Catholic Church actually comprises twenty-two particular Churches in full communion with one another. There are twenty-one Eastern Catholic Churches, and one Latin Catholic Church (i.e., the Church of Rome). Each of these particular Churches is self-governing (the term in Latin is sui iuris, "of their own law"), even while being in communion with the Church of Rome.

Each of these particular Churches is self-governing (sui iuris) because they have their own hierarchy. In other words, what makes a particular Church self-governing (sui iuris) is that each particular Church has its own leaders which govern all the faithful Christians belonging to that particular Church. These hierarchs (whether Patriarchs, Major Archbishops, Metropolitans, Bishops, or otherwise) are in communion with one another, and with the Church of Rome. The correct term is to be in communion with Rome, and not "under the Pope" (as many people will mistakenly say).

Eastern Catholics are the minority in terms of the number of Catholics worldwide. However, they are the vast majority in terms of diversity within the Catholic Church (twenty-one to one!). Eastern Catholics are distinct from the Latin Church in that they have four distinguishing characteristics. They have their own (1) theology, (2) spirituality, (3) canon law, and (4) liturgy. In other words, the Eastern Churches have their own theological way of understand the mysteries of God, their own spirituality and devotional practices, their own laws and customs, and their own styles of liturgy. This is what distinguishes them from the Latin Church.

People mistakenly refer to the Eastern Catholic Churches as 'Eastern Rite Roman Catholics', or simply as 'The Eastern Rite,' as if there is only one. There are many rites within the Catholic Church, and what makes an Eastern Church is more than simply its liturgical rite. An Eastern Church also has its own theology, spirituality, and canon law. Even the term 'The Eastern Church' is wrong, since there are more than one Eastern Churches.

Almost all Eastern Catholic Churches have counterparts in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. In fact, those with counterparts all came from their mother Orthodox Churches throughout the past four hundred years or so. Therefore, many Eastern Catholics choose to identify themselves as 'Orthodox Christians in communion with Rome,' since Eastern Catholics are meant to be an example of how to be fully Eastern, and yet fully in communion with Rome.

Eastern Catholic Churches are traditionally found in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and India. However, nowadays we can find Eastern Churches throughout the world, speaking a multitude of languages, and serving a vast array of people.

ALL of the particular Catholic Churches share

"equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite, and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15)…"

(Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches).


Byzantine liturgy is all about a fullness of experience. We are not satisfied with being minimalistic. We do not concern ourselves with going through the motions. We do not merely want to get things done, just making sure it is valid. We offer whatever is the most complete symbolic encounter with the divine possible. As a result, Byzantine liturgy appeals to all of our senses.

One of the characteristic features of Byzantine liturgy is how processional it is. When going in procession, our Byzantine forefathers were used to singing the same prayers and refrains, time and time again. The liturgy was, thus, easily memorizable, and its rhythm could really sink into our sensitivities.

One particular sensitivity of the Church was of its being the Body of Christ, comprised of many members. This is why we pray for so many people, for so many intentions. Our litanies bring the whole world to God, and this was how we were created to be from the beginning. Mankind is the priest of creation, called to sanctify everyone and everything for God's glory. We are called to love everyone, and everything.

Our liturgy is ultimately a language of love. And, in the language of love, a lot of repetition is involved. Just as a loving husband never tires of telling his wife that he loves her, so we never tire of speaking with God. Or, at least, that should be our attitude. In the same way, we are conscious of how many times we have sinned against God's goodness.

And so, we never tire of singing the same phrase: 'Lord Have Mercy!" It is just like never tiring of saying 'I Love You!'

We never tire of tracing the Sign of the Cross upon our persons, reminding us of Christ Who died for our salvation, and our vocation to follow Him in all things. We also proclaim and bless the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - as three Persons in one God.

In other words, everything we do means something. It leads us into deeper truths. And it is only be constantly living this mystery, that we can internalize it and let it sink into our deepest recesses.