In 1990, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada entered into eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This made it a duly recognized member of the Orthodox family which consists of four ancient Patriarchates (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch) and over a dozen other autocephalous (self-headed) and autonomous Churches, some also headed by Patriarchs. The Primates of these Churches manifest their unity by commemorating each other during Liturgy and Divine Liturgy together on special solemn occasions.
The agreement with Constantinople that preceded the communion made it possible for Ukrainian Orthodox Canadians to retain their tradition of self-government while enjoying unity with world Orthodoxy and finding a place on inter-Church forums to speak for a Church that has been submerged for more than three hundred years as a part of the Church of Moscow which seems to be a continuation of the rapidly declining Empire. In 1995 the Canadian Church’s sisters in the U.S.A., South America, Western Europe and Australia entered into communion with Constantinople by a similar agreement and a Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops outside Ukraine was formed.
In Ukraine itself Orthodoxy remains tragically divided. The Church started out as a Metropolia under Constantinople when Kyivan Rus’ accepted Christianity in 988. It retained this status for centuries, enjoying a large degree of independence due to differences in language and culture. With the rise of Moscow, culminating in a patriarchate at first opposed and finally recognized by Constantinople, the Church of Kyiv passed under the authority of the new Patriarchate in 1686. (Important conditions of the agreement were not adhered to, however, resulting in Constantinople’s Tomos of 1924 which proclaimed the transfer of jurisdiction to be non-canonical and recognized the autocephaly of the Church of Poland, once a part of the Kyiv Metropolia).
Ukraine was seen as a crucial part of the Moscow empire and a lot of effort was exerted at russifying the people of Ukraine. The effort ultimately failed. The 1917 Revolution made it possible to work for the formation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However no bishops were willing or able to lead or help ordain a hierarchy for it. Thus the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church which was formed in 1921 (the “first formation”) ordained its own hierarchy in the non-recognized “Alexandrian” manner: by the laying-on of hands by priests (it is reported that the relics of St. Clement of Rome who died in Ukraine in the first century were also used). This was done for two senior candidates, Metropolitan Vasyl’ Lypkivs’kyi and Archbishop Nestor Sharayivs’kyi, who then ordained the others in the regular way.
The Communists liquidated this Church in the 1930’s. The Church of Moscow was also persecuted but permitted to function as a useful tool for keeping some control over Orthodox believers. Under German occupation the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was re-formed (the “second formation”) in 1942, this time with the assistance of bishops from the Orthodox Church of Poland and the blessing of its Primate, Metropolitan Dionisiy (a Russian). When the Communists returned they had to flee or join the Moscow church. Even Ukrainian Catholics were forced to self-liquidate and join that Church (some refused and maintained their Church as a persecuted Church of the catacombs). Metropolitan Dionisiy was deposed and spent the rest of his days under house arrest and the Patriarchate of Moscow denounced the autocephaly of the Church of Poland and issued it its own autocephaly.
With the fall of Communism, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was re-formed for the third time (the “third formation”). The Hierarchy was ordained by dissident Moscow Patriarchate Bishops. In 1990 a Sobor (Church Council) held in Kyiv elected Metropolitan Mstyslav (Skrypnyk), one of the “second UAOC formation” Bishops who was primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora, as Patriarch of Kyiv. The official Orthodox Church of Ukraine headed by Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko), a runner-up for the position of Patriarch of Moscow, opposed the newcomer vigorously. However when Ukraine itself became independent in 1991 Metropolitan Filaret led the bishops of Ukraine in an attempt to obtain official approval for autocephaly from Moscow. The bishops were dissuaded and Metropolitan Filaret was pressured to resign his see. He agreed to do so upon returning to Ukraine. Instead he entered into a quick unity agreement with Metropolitan Anthony (Masendych), whom Patriarch Mstyslav left in charge of the UAOC, and so in 1992 was formed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate). The rest of Metropolitan Filaret’s bishops called a Sobor in Kharkiv and elected Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) of Novgorod, Russia, to be the new primate of Moscow’s Church in Ukraine.
This Church continues to be the largest in Ukraine. The UOC(KP) is next. It is currently headed by Filaret himself as Patriarch and its numbers and prestige are on the rise. Certain bishops and clergy of the UAOC (Patriarch Mstyslav sympathized with them) could not make peace with a Church union they viewed as being dictated by political leaders, especially one which included Metropolitan Filaret. They elected Fr. Volodymyr Yarema, the first Orthodox priest in Ukraine to declare his parish (the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in L’viv) autocephalous on August 19, 1989, to be their Patriarch. He chose the name Dymytriy.
Thus the Orthodox Church in Ukraine exists in three branches. The largest – and the one in Communion with world Orthodoxy – is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan). The second largest is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyivan Patriarchate), headed by Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko). The third is the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church headed by Patriarch Dymytriy (Yarema), with headquarters in L’viv. These two Churches are one in their view of a self-governed Orthodox Church for Ukraine headed by a Patriarch. They are divided for now due to their view of the processes by which they came into being and of the personalities involved. (Also the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is largely composed of former Ukrainian Catholics). Neither of the two is as yet in communion with world Orthodoxy. Ways are being considered to overcome the obstacles to this.
To return to the Ukrainian Orthodox of the Diaspora, they now find themselves in the awkward position, regarding the Church in Ukraine, of being in communion with those with whom they do not share the same vision of the Church, while those with whom they do share that vision are outside that communion. This painful quandary has caused some parishes in the U.S.A. to split with their Hierarchy and join the UOC(KP) as parishes abroad. (They join dissident groups in the diaspora – chiefly the U.S.A. -who have been apart from their sisters for decades largely as a result of personality and vision differences, as well as some of the “wandering Orthodox” which Patriarchs Volodymyr (reposed in 1995) and Filaret have been willing to accept into their fold). Others are calling for a relinquishing of the communion with Constantinople and a return to the former non-recognized outsider status. Still others, while acknowledging the pain, continue nonetheless to see this communion as the normal ecclesiastical position required by authentic Orthodoxy, as well as the best insurance that those in Ukraine with whom they share a common vision of the Church will also (hopefully sooner than later) find a similar refuge.