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

Revolution and Ukrainianization

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Russian Empire was in a state of decay. The Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War was the trigger that caused the growing political discontent in the Russian Empire to boil over into the Revolution of 1905. While the tsar remained as monarch, an elected body known as the Duma was formed, which included a sizable and vocal Ukrainian faction. The restrictions on publication of books in the Ukrainian language were also lifted, allowing the publication of this translation of the Gospels with the approval of the Most Holy Synod:

The start of World War I in 1914 saw a bold attempt by the Russian Empire to add Greek Catholic Austrian Galicia to its political and religious sphere. This did not come to pass. In 1917, revolution rocked the Empire, resulting in the downfall of the Tsar and the dismantling of the state apparatus, plunging the region into civil war and political turmoil. This included a short-lived period of Ukrainian independence.

Three Ukrainian governments rose and fell over the course of a little over two tumultuous years. The first was socialist in orientation and did not want to get involved in matters of organized religion while it was battling for its own survival. The conservative government that replaced it, by contrast, had alliances with Russian monarchists who would have been antagonized by any attempt to break away from the Moscow Patriarchate. Only after the Directorate came to power in December 1918 was any serious effort made to wrest ecclesiastical jurisdiction away from Moscow.

On January 1, 1919, the Directorate passed the "Law Concerning the Supreme Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Synodal Church", which mandated the creation of a Holy Synod independent of the Patriarch of Moscow, but which did not have a significant immediate impact. It also delegated Oleksandr Lotots'kyi, the former Minister of Religions and now the Directorate's top diplomat in Constantinople, to lobby the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Ukrainian autocephaly. This also did not achieve concrete results — in part because the Patriarchal Throne happened to be vacant and the locum tenens did not want to take responsibility for such a major decision.

On a more practical level, on May 5, 1919, Fr. Vasyl' Lypkivs'kyi celebrated the Divine Liturgy in vernacular Ukrainian for the first time in any Orthodox or Greek Catholic church. This took place at the St. Nicholas Military Cathedral in Kyiv, and included music created specifically for the occasion by Mykola Leontovych (the composer whose arrangement of the Ukrainian New Year's carol "Shchedryk" is now known around the world as "The Carol of the Bells"). The church leadership still loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate had a very negative reaction, and Lypkivs'kyi was censured and prohibited from serving as a priest.


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