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The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora

Beginning in the 19th century, large numbers of Ukrainian Orthodox immigrants arrived in the United States. There were also several waves of conversions of Ukrainian Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy. In 1919, with nationalist feelings intensified by events in Ukraine, some of these groups in the United States organized an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Initially it was headed by Metropolitan Germanos of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. Then in December 1923 the recently established Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church sent Metropolitan John Theodorovich to assume leadership of the American diocese. He arrived in the United States in 1924, and in the same year the Ukrainian Orthodox in Canada asked him to lead their diocese as well. Metropolitan John was a good administrator who had much success in consolidating Ukrainian Orthodox parishes into the new jurisdictions in the two countries. But there were serious concerns about the validity of his consecration as a bishop, given the questionable method by which the bishops of his mother church had been ordained.

Meanwhile, another Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction was emerging, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America. It was formed as a result of the concerns of some Ukrainian Greek Catholics in the 1920s over the ownership of parish property and the Vatican’s imposition of clerical celibacy among Eastern Catholic clergy in North America. These Ukrainian Catholics wanted to become Orthodox, but shared the reservations of many other Orthodox about the validity of Metropolitan John Theodorovich’s consecration. Therefore, on April 9, 1929, a meeting of 15 clergy and 24 laymen took place at St Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They decided in principle to form a new Ukrainian Orthodox diocese. A second meeting took place in New York in July 1931, where the group nominated Fr. Joseph Zuk as its bishop. He was ordained as the first head of the new diocese in September 1932, but died soon thereafter, in 1934. In 1937 the diocese was received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople when Zuk’s successor, Fr. Bohdan Shpylka, was ordained a bishop in New York City by Archbishop Athenagoras of America, the future Ecumenical Patriarch. At one point during his tenure, there were 45 missions and parishes within the diocese.

In 1949, Metropolitan Theodorovich was re-consecrated by canonical Orthodox bishops, which ended questions about the validity of his consecration. At this point a number of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America joined his jurisdiction, which then became the largest Ukrainian Orthodox church in the United States. But the church was still not recognized as canonical by the other Orthodox churches.

Metropolitan Theodorovich died in 1971 and was succeeded by Metropolitan Mstyslav, who in 1990 was elected Patriarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Kiev. His death in 1993 was followed by serious divisions among the Orthodox in Ukraine, but the Ukrainian Orthodox in the United States avoided taking sides in the dispute.

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Tags: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church