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The Orthodox Christian Conflict in Ukraine

  • 11/15/2018 - by George Alexander

Eastern Orthodox Churches: Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-Canonical (Not very relevant), Various Old Believers Orthodox Churches, Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (Moscow Patriarchate), Romanian Orthodox Church, Old Calendar Orthodox Churches.

Oriental Orthodox Churches: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church and few others

Roman Catholicism: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (the world’s largest Uniate Roman Catholic Rite), Roman Catholic Church – Latin Rite, Ruthenian Catholic Church, Armenian Catholic Church.

Protestant Denominations: Various Denominations

Reformed Orthodox Churches: Ukranian Lutheran Church (Byzantine Rite), Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church

Christian Origins

Christianity begun with the evangelization of Apostle Andrew in Crimean area, even though some other sources state that there was Christian presence before the arrival of St. Andrew, (as there is not proper evidence for the evangelization of Crimea).

Baptism of Kiev

Christianity became an important religion with the baptism of Princess Olga (957) who was the ruler of Kiev and Christianity experienced a major training point during the time of her grandson Vladimir when it was established as the state religion of Kievan-Rus (an ancient federation of East Slavic Lands until 1240).

Kiev Metropolis

It is important to note that Ukraine is traditionally an Eastern Orthodox Christian nation, Eastern Orthodoxy being the most important religion. The establishment of the Kiev Metropolis was a result of the Baptism of Vladimir. Missionaries from Constantinople affirmed people in Eastern Orthodox faith. The fall of Kievan-Rus due to the Mongol invasion (1299) resulted in the relocation of the See of Kiev to the City of Vladimir. Kiev Metropolis and Russian Church separated during the fall of Constantinople (1453). Kiev Metropolis remained as a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Russian Church attained her Patriarchate in 1589. As a result of the Union of Brest and mass oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox believers, Ukraine Hetmanate (political entity) was united with the Russian Tsar Kingdom. In 1686 the Kiev Metropolis came under the Moscow Patriarchate (through a Synodal letter given by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, granting permission to the Russian Patriarch to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev). Since then, Kiev Metropolis remained as an integral and canonical part of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate.

Division of Ukrainian Orthodoxy – The Historic Kiev Metropolis


It is an autonomous Orthodox Church which is Part of the Moscow Patriarchate and the chief successor to the historic Metropolis of Kiev. It received ‘self-ruled’ status in 1990. Metropolitan Onuphrius is the current head of this Church.


There have been several calls to form a national Ukrainian Orthodox Church since the fall of Soviet Union. Patriarch Filaret, a former Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church created UOC- KP. UOC –KP considers herself as a successor Church to the original historic Metropolis of Kiev. Patriarch Filaret leads UOC-KP.


It is another Church which a successor to the historic Metropolis of Kiev. It declared its autocephalous status during the All Ukrainian Orthodox Council (1921). In 1989 – the UAOC received legal status by the Ukraine government. A few bishops and clergy from the Moscow Patriarchate formed the UAOC and elect Metropolitan Mstyslav Skrypnyk as the Patriarch (he was enthroned in 1990). Metropolitan Mstyslav was ordained by bishops from the canonical Orthodox Church in Poland in 1942. Metropolitan Makariy is the current head of UAOC.

Current Situation

The call for Autocephaly strengthened after the Ukrainian revolution (2014) and the ongoing conflict in Donbass and Eastern Region as well as with the merging of Crimea (2014) with Russia. Nationalist Ukrainians wish to free themselves from Russian domination ( the greater Russian Empire) and they want to form their own single national Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This move is strongly supported by the Ukrainian government and their Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) as well as by America. American-Russian tug of war is very evident in Ukraine. The Western involvement in the revolution of Ukraine (this resulted in dethroning the Pro-Russian President Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych of Ukraine in 2014) followed by the war in Eastern regions of the country (between Ukrainian nationals and Pro-Russians groups) has played an important role in the current ecclesiastical developments. Ukrainians and West accuse Russian Church and her ‘unholy alliance’ with Putin and the Russian government, whereas Russia and the Russian Church accuse West and Ukrainian nationalist for the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine. Moreover, Russian Church and others accuse that the Ecumenical Patriarch has become a prey to the American influence (CIA) and Ukrainian money. Anti-ecumenists accuse Ecumenical Patriarch of his ‘unholy alliance’ with the Roman Pope as well. The USA has openly supported the creation of a national Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Moreover, the current Pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine has taken an active role with the support of the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and Western counterparts for the creation of a National Ukrainian Church). Invading parishes, properties and switching from one jurisdiction to another jurisdiction has become a common scene in several parts of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Rite (Uniate) take advantage of the inter-orthodox conflict by attracting and motivating Orthodox faithful to join their jurisdiction (even though they deny any such attempts). For example, in June 2016, the Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the UAOC made an agreement/attempt to enter in communion with Ukraine Greek Catholic Rite.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Russian Patriarch Kirill met in Istanbul in August and discussed Ukraine, which did not yield any result. In September 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate appointed its Legates to Ukraine without consulting the Moscow Patriarchate. This was considered a canonical violation by many and this incident marked the process of granting autocephaly to Ukraine. Some experts believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate wants to create its own administrative territory in Ukraine rather than creating a single national Church.

It is important to note that the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not recognize UOC-KP or UAOC or their Primates until 11/10/2018, when it revoked the Anathema over UOC-KP, UAOC, and their Primates. The Church of Constantinople also declared that the letter of 1686 (granting the right to Moscow Patriarchate to consecrate the Metropolitan of Kiev) is no more valid. The majority of the local Orthodox Churches are not in agreement with the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to unilaterally grant Autocephaly to Ukraine.

Russian Church argues that the Constantinople Patriarchate did not make any claims over Kiev Metropolis for over 300 years, and it also recognized UOC-MP as the sole canonical jurisdiction in Ukraine, until recent controversy. Constantinople claims that it never gave full rights to the Moscow Patriarchate or the Russian Church to control the jurisdiction of the Kiev Metropolis. Thus, endless arguments are in progress.

Russia and few other local Orthodox Churches called for a Pan-Orthodox council to decide on the fate of Ukraine. However, some think that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has taken revenge upon the Russian Church and her allies for ‘bunking’ the Pan-Orthodox council in Crete (2017).

A few weeks back, Patriarch Filaret of UOC-KP announced that UOC-MP, UOC-KP, and UAOC will jointly form one single Ukrainian Orthodox Church through a ‘Unification Council’. There are also questions surrounding the unification council as well. The head of UAOC Metropolitan Makariy has expressed his concerns over the success of this council as well. Those dioceses and clergy who don’t want to join the national Orthodox Church can remain as a part of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, which will have all rights and freedom of operation will be considered as Diocese/Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

In response to the actions of the Church of Constantinople, the Russian Orthodox Church formally served communion between them on 15th October 2018 which was followed by the declaration (ceasing of communion with Constantinople Patriarchate) from Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia.

It is important to note that day to day developments are taking place in Ukraine. Moreover, confrontations are taking place in social media platforms between pro-Russians, pro-Ukrainians, and pro-Constantinople supporters. Several experts have expressed their concerns that the Ukraine canonical crisis will lead to big schism in the Orthodox world.

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Disclaimer- The above article is not a comprehensive view of the ongoing religious crisis in Ukraine. There are varied views and perspectives on the situation.