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

The 1942 Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

After the frenzy of border redrawing that followed World War I, many Orthodox Ukrainians and Belarusians suddenly found themselves living in the Second Polish Republic. Since they were no longer in the same state as Moscow, a number of Orthodox bishops in Poland petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for autocephaly. Despite the strenuous objections of the Russian Orthodox Church, this was granted in 1924, on the basis that it was the continuation of the Kyiv Metropolia.

No longer tied to the Moscow Patriarchate, Orthodox church leaders of what is today northwestern Ukraine and western Belarus could now exercise local jurisdictional control. The Volyn' and Polissia regions soon became a hotbed of Ukrainianization, including the use of vernacular Ukrainian as a liturgical language.

With the outbreak of yet another war, the hierarchs took advantage of the grudging toleration of the occupying Nazi forces to make a second attempt at Ukrainian autocephaly. Two new Ukrainian bishops — Nikanor (Abramovych) and Ihor (Huba) — were ordained in Pinsk in February 1942, and this time there was absolutely no question about the validity of their ordinations. The subsequent Council of Bishops then decided to send Archbishop Polikarp (Sikorsky) to be the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan of Kyiv and to assign the other bishops to Ukrainian eparchies.

Once in Ukraine, the new hierarchs wasted no time in ordaining additional bishops, including Mstyslav (Skrypnyk), and additional priests to assign to parishes. 

Knowing that their lives would be in peril if they fell into Soviet hands, nearly the entire church hierarchy along with many priests fled west ahead of the advancing Red Army. Amazingly, they were able to bring with them all of the necessary vestments, vessels, and other ritual objects, including antimensia, needed to minister to the thousands of Ukrainians also fleeing the atrocities of the Stalin regime.

Many of the priests and bishops would end up in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and as far away as Australia. They would maintain the dream of an independent Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine, and Metropolitan Mstyslav of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA would go on to have a major role in the rebirth that would come decades later.


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