Ukrainian Patriarchate

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is an autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, member of the Eastern Orthodox communion, whose split from the Russian Orthodox Church was affirmed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019.

The predominant religion in Ukraine, practised by almost half the population, is Eastern Orthodoxy. Historically, most adherents belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Kyiv Patriarchate, though the Orthodox churches of Ukraine came under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church beginning in 1686. In 1921, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was founded and gained a wide following among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and peasantry. It became an important factor in the national revival then happening in Ukraine and was thus subject to anti-religious propaganda and harassment from the Soviet regime, which commenced a campaign against “nationalist deviations” of all sorts. In 1930, the efforts against the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church culminated in the liquidation of the church and the arrest and exile of its hierarchy and clergy. The church persisted underground for the subsequent decades.

The revival of an independent Ukrainian Orthodoxy accompanied the myriad of political, economic, and social grumblings that led to the fall of the Soviet Union itself. In 1988, a religious revival was afoot, greatly stimulated by celebrations of a millennium of Christianity in Kievan Rus. Lavish government-supported Russian Orthodox solemnities in Moscow were countered with unofficial celebrations throughout Ukraine. As bishops and clergy emerged from the underground, demands grew for the restoration of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The formation of an initiative group to this end was proclaimed in February 1989 in Kyiv, and by the fall of that year clergy and entire congregations were defecting from Russian Orthodoxy.

Although Ukraine officially declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it was not until the 21st century that Ukrainian Orthodoxy regained its autonomy. In 2018, Ukrainian Pres. Petro Poroshenko adopted the reelection campaign slogan, “army, language, faith” and undertook the creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church as a major policy initiative. He and Orthodox leaders announced a break with Moscow in December of that year. In January 2019, the Kyiv Patriarchate and Autocephalous churches were merged into a single body as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a move approved by Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (the honorary primacy of Eastern Orthodoxy). In creating the new autocephalous church, Bartholomew I formally recognized the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox community and gave it the power of self-determination for the first time in more than 300 years. In anticipation of the split, the Russian Orthodox Church severed its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in October 2018.

The first primate of the modern Orthodox Church of Ukraine was Epiphanius I, who holds the title Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. Since December 2018, more than 1,100 religious communities and monasteries have announced their transition from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, though some congregations and communities have remained loyal to the Russian Patriarchate. Tensions remained high between the two churches amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.