Sunday, January 8, 2017

Why the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is Autocephalous

When I was a little girl, I often visited my grandparents in St Paul Minnesota, and attended services at their church, St Michaels Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  The church was part of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. To me, the term autocephalous was always mysterious. I was a child who knew very little of the Ukrainian language so attending an Ukrainian Orthodox church was pretty exotic, but the church being both Orthodox and autocephalous was beyond my understanding.

Recently when I wrote a blog post about Ukrainian churches in northeast Minneapolis, the research brought me to ST Michael's Church and why my grandparents and great-grand father  and other family members started this church.(Click on the following link to read) Four Churches in Northeast Minneapolis. The term "autocephalous" came up again and again, and I found that it means independent. St Michael's was a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, and one of the first Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in the United States.
Ukraine was divided between Austria-Hungary and Russia

A bit of historical background is necessary: My family came from a part of Ukraine, which at the time of their immigration, was a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire called Galicia.  Before Ukraine was a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1792, it was part of Polish-Lithuanian Confederation.  At that time that was a huge country in Central Europe, which was formed by the Union of Brest in 1546. Almost all of Ukraine came under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation and a part of the deal was that the Orthodox Churches would become part of the Roman Catholic Church, but retain all of their Orthodox practises and beliefs, including married priests.  This new church was known as the Uniate Church or the Greek Catholic Church. It was the primary church in the parts of Ukraine ruled by Austria-Hungary, the parts of Ukraine ruled by Russia remained in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The First World War changed Eastern Europe profoundly.  Empires tumbled,  lands changed hands, new countries emerged.  Ukraine was independent for a short time and independence for Ukraine brought many far reaching changes, although the independence didn't last.  One of the first changes was the establishment of a Ukrainian Orthodox church, separate from the Russian Orthodox Church, which began in 1917 along with the establishment of the Ukrainian State. The autocephaly  of the new church was proclaimed in 1920 by the All Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council.  The Church grew rapidly in Ukraine, and looked overseas to the many Ukrainian immigrants in the United States and Canada.  Bishop John Theodorovych was sent to North America to establish the new church there. Although the Church did not fare well under the government of the Soviet Union or  in Poland, it flourished in the United States and Canada.

The events of World War One were  closely followed by Ukrainian immigrants in the United States, since many of their family members were affected. They were proud of the establishment of an independent Ukraine and wanted to see it succeed.  The immigrants were unhappy that the practises of the Greek Catholic Church which were not well received by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.  The new Orthodox Church was attractive for several reasons: it promoted the Ukrainianization of the church services and traditions and the use of the Ukrainian language in all Church services, instead of Church Slavonic. The church was to be democratic and decentralized, and allow active participation of the lay people in church decisions.  It was to be an Ukrainian church established for Ukrainians.

John Theodorovych source: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

John Theodorovych came to the United States and Canada in 1924 and met with groups of Ukrainian immigrants stressing the importance of a Ukrainian Church.  He was remarkably successful, and the new Orthodox churches sprang up in communities with large and small Ukrainian populations.   Many of these churches were originally Greek Catholic Churches, or formed by people who had attended Greek Catholic churches.  Many became centers of the Ukrainian community, with Ukrainian language schools, choirs and dance  troupes.  They kept the Ukrainian language and traditions alive, passing them on the next generations.  One other result was that the Churches kept the idea of Ukrainian independence alive, even when the possibility of it seemed unlikely.