Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC)
The UGCC Sobor of the Holy Resurrection in Kyiv, Ukraine
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is also simply called The Ukrainian Catholic Church (UCC) of the Byzantine Rite (Tradition).
As to the history of nomenclature: In the official Church documents, the term Ecclesia Ruthena Unita was used for almost two centuries after the year 1596, which translated means The Uniate Church of Rus’. The word Ruthenus is the Latin word for Rus,’ not to be confused with “Russia.” In essence, the Uniate Church of Rus’ was the Orthodox Church of Kyiv (Kyiv, Halych, and all Rus’) that had come into union with the See of Rome in 1596.
In 1774, 178 years after the union with Rome, the name Greek Catholic Church was introduced within the Austro-Hungarian Empire to stress the Habsburg’s desire to promote equality with the Latin Catholic Church. From that time on, for about 175 years, until the post World War II period, the UGCC was known as the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church. In the early part of the 20th century, an awakening of national identity and consciousness took place in Ukraine, together with struggle for independence from the oppressive domination of Russia (Muscovy) in the years 1918-1921. During this time, the people of Ruthenus or Kyivan Rus’ (who called themselves “Rusyns” or “Rusyny”) adopted the name “Ukraine” and “Ukrainians.” Eventually, by the 1950’s, the name Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church was changed to Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Today, most people in Ukraine simply refer to the UGCC as the Greek Catholic Church, because of its Byzantine (Greek) Tradition.
Since 1960, the name Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite (Tradition) began to be used in official documents in the West to refer to Ukrainian Greek Catholics outside of Eastern Europe.
At the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC in September 1999, the name Kyivan Catholic Church was proposed, to emphasize the particular identify of the Church that was established in the city of Kyiv in 988.
Today, the older term Uniate Church is no longer used, because it is considered to be pejorative. Also, the term Eastern-Rite Church is considered to be inadequate, since the Eastern Catholic Churches according to Vatican II, are Particular Churches, distinguished not only by their liturgy (rite), but also by their theology, spirituality, and canon law. In essence, Eastern Catholic Churches are “Orthodox Churches” in communion with the See of Rome.
A Particular Church
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is one of 23 other Eastern Catholic Churches within the Catholic Church. These include, for example: the Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, Romanian Greek Catholic and Syro-Malabar Churches. Many of these Eastern Catholic Churches have Orthodox counterparts, which are not in communion with the See of Rome, but with whom consistent efforts have been made since Vatican II to restore unity through dialogue.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is the largest of the Eastern Churches in communion with the See of Rome. According to the 2019 edition of the Vatican’s reference work, The Catholic East (p. 348), the UGCC numbers almost 5.5 million faithful: 4,471,699 in Ukraine, and more than 500,000 residing outside of Ukraine, throughout the world. The numbers are increasing. Today in the UGCC there are 36 eparchies (dioceses) or exarchates (limited jurisdictional entities): 16 in Ukraine, and 20 outside of Ukraine. Despite the persecution of the UGCC that took place in the 20th century due to communism, remarkable growth has taken place. More than a century ago, in 1900, the UGCC consisted of only 3 eparchies and three bishops.
The current Primate (Head) of the UGCC, since 2011, is His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk (b. 1970), Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych. He is popularly referred to as “Patriarch” through the title has yet to be officially recognized.
According to a 2015 survey, 8.1% of the total population of Ukraine (excluding Crimea) belongs to the UGCC. In three Western Ukrainian provinces, Ukrainian Greek Catholics form the majority.
The UGCC in Ukraine
According to the statistics of 2013 (prior to the invasion of Crimea), the UGCC in Ukraine has…
- 3,765 Parishes
- 52 Bishops (in 2022)
- 2,594 Priests
- 1,093 Religious
- 117 Monasteries
- 1,276 Sunday Schools
- 1 University
- 15 Other Academic Institutions, including Seminaries
- 27 Periodicals.
There are a total of 36 eparchies and exarchates…
- Major Archepiscopal See of Kyiv-Halych
- Metropolitan Archepiscopal See of Lviv
- Metropolitan Archepiscopal See of Ivano-Frankivsk
- Metropolitan Archepiscopal See of Ternopil-Zboriv
- Eparchy of Sambir-Drohobych
- Eparchy of Sokal-Zhokva
- Eparchy of Stryi
- Eparchy of Kolomyia
- Eparchy of Buchach
- Eparchy of Kamyanets-Podilsky
- Eparchy of Chernivtsi
- Exarchate of Donetsk
- Exarchate of Odessa
- Exarchate of Lutsk
- Exarchate of Crimea
- Exarchate of Kharkiv
It is important to note and to understand that at any time a Russian government, whether Tsarist, Soviet, or modern Russian Imperialist, has ruled over territories where the “Uniate” or Greek Catholic Church exists, sooner or later that Church is persecuted and liquidated by Russian civil authorities. This has happened recently in the Russian occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas.
The UGCC in the Diaspora
Since the 1880’s, large numbers of Ukrainian (Rusyn) Greek Catholics emigrated to other places in Europe, to North America, South America, Australia, and Asia.
In the United States, Ukrainian Catholics are organized into a Metropolia (Archdiocese), with the following Sees:
- Archeparchy of Philadelphia, PA
- Eparchy of Stamford, CT
- Eparchy of St. Nicholas, Chicago, IL
- Eparchy of St. Josaphat, Parma, OH
In Canada, Ukrainian Catholics are organized into a Metropolia (Archdiocese), with the following Sees:
- Archeparchy of Winnipeg, MB
- Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada
- Eparchy of Saskatoon, SK
- Eparchy of Edmonton, AB
- Eparchy of New Westminster, BC
In Brazil, Ukrainian Catholics are organized into a Metropolia (Archdiocese), with the following Sees:
- Archeparchy of Curitiba
- Eparchy of Prudentopolis
In Poland, Ukrainian Catholics are organized into a Metropolia (Archdiocese), with the following Sees:
- Archeparchy of Przemysl-Warsaw
- Eparchy of Wroclaw-Koszalin
- Eparchy of Olsztyn-Gdansk
In other countries, Ukrainian Catholics are organized into a Eparchies (dioceses) and Exarchates (jurisdictions of restricted status):
- Eparchy of the Holy Family, London, England
- Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul, Melbourne, Australia
- Eparchy of Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Eparchy of St. Vladimir-Le-Grand de Paris (France, Switzerland and Benelux), Europe
- Exarchate of Germany and Scandinavia
- Exarchate of Italy
Byzantine Christianity was established in Kyivan Rus’ in 988 by Grand Prince St. Volodymyr (Vladimir) before the schism between East and West. At that time Rome and Constantinople were in communion with each other, not separated. During the reign of St. Volodymyr, the Church of Kyiv (Kyivan Rus’) was officially established as a Metropolia (Archdiocese). The main Metropolitan See was the Archeparchy of Kyiv, with the Metropolitan (Archbishop) residing in Kyiv. The Church grew rapidly to include Eparchies in Bilhorod, Chernihiv, Peremyshl, Polotsk, Turiv, Volodymyr-Volynsk, Halych, Novhorod, and others. By the 13th century, there were 50 monasteries in Kyivan Rus’, 17 in the city of Kyiv alone.
When the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople and its sanctuaries in 1204, the separation of East and West, which began in 1054, was finalized. The Church of Kyiv (Kyivan Rus’) followed Constantinople in this separation. The West took the name “Catholic,” and the East took the name “Orthodox.”
After the Mongol invasion and the fall of Kyiv in 1240, the Principality of Halych-Volyn survived in the west as an autonomous state for another 100 years. In 1340, it came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Metropolitan Church of Kyiv survived and continue under these Principalities as the Church of Kyiv-Halych.
In 1263, the Principality of Moscow was created in the north as a vassal state of the Mongol Empire. It gained independence from the Mongols in 1380.
In the 14th century, the Church of Rus’ was divided into two separate Orthodox Metropolia: the Metropolitan Church of Kyiv (Kyiv and Halych), and the Metropolitan Church of Moscow.
In 1596, in the city of Brest (present-day Belarus), a re-union was declared between the Church of Rome and the Metropolitan Church of Kyiv. The Orthodox Metropolitan of Kyiv, Michael Rahoza, and the Orthodox Bishops of the cities Vladimir, Lutsk, Polotsk, Pinsk, and Kholm, agreed to enter into communion with Rome, on the condition that their traditional rites (for example, married clergy) and identity be preserved. At that time, the Orthodox Church of Kyiv was within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Orthodox Bishops of Lviv and Peremyshl, as well as some members of the nobility and significant number of faithful and clergy, along with the Zaporozhian Cossacks, opposed the Union with Rome. New Orthodox bishops were consecrated, and a new Orthodox Metropolitan Church of Kyiv was created. By 1620, there were two rival jurisdictions: The Uniate Church of Kyiv (in communion with Rome); and the Orthodox Church of Kyiv (under the Patriarch of Constantinople).
In 1686, the Orthodox Church of Kyiv, which had been under the Patriarch of Constantinople since 1620, in a canonically questionable manner came under the control of the self-proclaimed Patriarchate of Moscow. (In 2019, the Patriarch of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Kyiv, thus withdrawing it from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate).
In 1691, the Orthodox Bishop of Premyshl and his eparchy accepted the Union, and joined the Uniate Church of Kyiv. In 1700, the Orthodox Bishop of Lviv and his eparchy also accepted the Union, and joined the Uniate Church of Kyiv (Ecclesia Ruthena Unita).
After the first partition of Poland in 1772, the city of Lviv and the territory of Halych was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Lviv became the capital of the Austrian province Galicia (Halych). In this province, the Uniate Church of Kyiv survived. In 1774, the Empress Maria-Teresa introduced the name “Greek Catholic” for Uniate or Eastern Catholics, in order to promote parity with the Latin Church. In 1807, the Unite Church of Kyiv (Kyiv-Halych) was reorganized as the Greek Catholic Metropolitan Church of Halych, also known as the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church. It consisted of three eparchies: the Archeparchy of Lviv, the Eparchy of Stanislaviv, and the Eparchy of Peremyshl. The head of this Church, the Metropolitan (archbishop), resided in Lviv. He retained the title of Metropolitan of Kyiv, Halych, and all Rus.’
In 1795, the third partition of Poland brought all Ukrainians (Rusyns) outside of the province of Halych (Galicia), under Russian Tsarist control. By 1830, the Russian government had almost entirely liquidated the Uniate Church of Kyiv within its realm, with a final blow taking place in 1874, with the liquidation of the Uniate Eparchy of Kholm. On January 24-27, 1874, In the village of Pratulin, in the Kholm Eparchy, over two hundred men gathered in front of their church to protest Russification and the confiscation of their church. Soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army shot into the crowd. Thirteen men were killed by the soldiers, and approximately 180 were wounded. The thirteen men, know as the “Martyrs of Pratulin,” were beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 6, 1996.
Approximately 7,000,000 Eastern Catholics (Uniates) within the Russian Empire were compelled, by force or by deception, to unite with the Russian Orthodox Church. Many priests and faithful were exiled to Siberia.
The Metropolitan Church of Kyiv-Halych (Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church) continued to flourish under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1848, there were 1,587 Greek Catholic parishes in the province of Galicia, with a total of 2,149,383 faithful.
Beginning in the 1880’s, large numbers of Ukrainian (Rusyn) Greek Catholics began to emigrate from the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia to various places and countries: Bosnia, Hercegovina, the United States, Canada, Brazil.
In the 19th century (1800’s) and in the first decades of the 20th century, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) flourished. Advances were made in education, development of language and culture, and socio-political emancipation. The UGCC defended its members, the majority of were impoverished, underprivileged, and politically, uninvolved. The clergy played a significant role in leading this movement.
After an unsuccessful struggle for the independence of Ukraine (1918-1921), the region of Galicia became part of the Polish Republic.
1920’s and 1930’s
In the 1920’s and 1930’s in central and eastern Soviet Ukraine, Stalin devasted all aspects of Ukrainian social, cultural and political expression.
In 1930, the first purge of Ukrainian intellectuals and patriots took place. A total of 474 people were accused of anti-state activities and brought to trial. 15 Ukrainians were eventually executed, 192 were sent to concentration camps, 87 were exiled, and 124 were released.
In 1932-33, Stalin perpetrated the genocidal man-made famine (“Holodomor”), which according to conservative estimates killed 4 million Ukrainians.
What followed between 1934 and 1949 was a campaign to remove and exterminate any and all members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. This campaign culminated with the “Great Purge” of 1938, when 223 writers were imprisoned or executed. Some estimates assert that nearly 30,000 Ukrainian intellectuals were repressed by Stalin during the 1930’s.
In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the province of Galicia, which remained under their rule until 1941. During this two-year period, the UGCC saw its religious, social, cultural, and educational institutions and charities forcibly closed. Many clergy and faithful were arrested and executed.
After twenty years of Soviet criminality in Eastern Ukraine and two years in western Ukraine (Galicia), the Germany army was initially welcomed by some Ukrainians as liberators. But this was short lived. Nazi occupation was devastating for Ukraine. Clergy and members of the UGCC who resisted Nazi rule were arrested. Many were executed.
During this time, the Primate of the UGCC, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, sheltered more than 150 Jewish children and youth. He wrote to SS Reichsfurer Heinrich Himmler, a key author of the Holocaust, condemning Nazi policies. His pastoral letter, “Thou Shalt not Kill,” which was to be read in every parish church, was confiscated by the Nazi authorities.
In 1944, the Soviets reoccupied Ukraine. Ukrainian casualties during World War II amounted to almost 10 million people.
Beginning in April 1945, all 10 Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops were arrested by the NKVD (KGB) and exiled.
In 1946, a false synod (council) orchestrated by the NKVD and held in Lviv nullified the Union of Brest of 1596. No Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop was present, thus making the “synod” uncanonical. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was declared to be illegal and was driven underground. Thousands of “insubordinate” clergy and faithful, who refused to break with Rome, and join the Moscow Patriarchate, were sent to prison camps in Siberia. Some were tortured and executed.
On December 1, 1989, during the general liberalization of Soviet life, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was decriminalized. Until that time, the UGCC had the distinction of being the largest illegal Church in the world. Not having collaborated with the Soviet regime, it emerged from the catacombs with unique moral authority.
In 1991, Ukraine declared its independence as a sovereign nation, with its own constitution.
1991 to present
Since 1991, the UGCC in Ukraine has grown from 3 eparchies to 16, from 300 priests to 3,000 priests.
In 2001, Pope St. John Paul II undertook a pastoral visit to Ukraine, where he beatified 27 New Martyrs and Confessors of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church., and blessed the cornerstone of the future Ukrainian Catholic University, established in 2002.
Today, the UGCC numbers 5.5 million faithful, in Ukraine and throughout the world, with approximately 4,000 parishes, and over 50 bishops.