Autonomy Lost and Regained: The Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolia of Kyiv, 1633-2019

Autocephaly Recognized

The immediate post-Soviet period involved turmoil in almost all areas of public life. Many familiar societal structures that had been in place for many decades and which multiple generations had grown up with had suddenly vanished or were irrevocably changed, and the path forward was far from clear. The realm of religion was certainly not immune from its impact.

After the death of Patriarch Mstyslav in 1993, Orthodoxy in Ukraine entered a very difficult time. In addition to the continuing powerful influence of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was now joined by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Kyivan Patriarchate, neither of which were recognized as canonical by other Orthodox Churches. The resulting three-way division resulted in considerable friction in the religious life of post-independence Ukraine.  Many efforts by Ukrainian Orthodox Hierarchs from the USA and Canadian Ukrainian Orthodox Churches (representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate) were made in the 2000s and early 2010s to bridge the divide between the UAOC and the UOC–KP, but with little success.

Finally in October 2018, the council of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople announced that at the profound and persistent request of the faithful of Ukraine — the spiritual children of the Patriarchate for over a millennium, it would "proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine", beginning an extraordinarily complex period of negotiations needed to achieve the unification of the UAOC and the UOC–KP that was a precondition for the granting of autocephaly. 

In yet another example of the connections between the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of Ukraine and North America, Archbishop Daniel (Zelinsky) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Bishop Ilarion (Rudnyk) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada were appointed as excarchs of the Patriarch of Constantinople to Ukraine to assist in those negotiations. This led to a formal Council of Unification in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv on December 15, 2018 that created the Orthodox Church of Ukraine under the leadership of Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Epiphaniy (Dumenko).

The signing of the Tomos (or formal decree) of Autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and all Hierarchs of the Holy Synod of Constantinople on January 5, 2019. The official presentation of the Tomos to Metropolitan Epiphaniy took place during Divine Liturgy on January 6, 2019 — the eve of the Nativity of Christ (Julian Calendar) in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, Constantinople (Istanbul). The process of formal recognition by the 14 Autocephalous Churches is in motion and is one that traditionally has taken many years, if not decades. Four of the Churches have recognized the OCU thus far: the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria and the Autocephalous Churches of Greece and Cyprus.

The historical connection between Ukraine and Constantinople that began in the 10th century was interrupted from 1685 to 2019. This may seem like an impossibly long time for Americans. But for a nation that can trace its written history for over a millennium, that has not been an insurmountable obstacle.

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