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The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Church

Although the church in Kiev survived the Mongol destruction of the city in 1240, its Metropolitans soon began to reside in the new principality of Moscow. This situation continued until 1448, when Kiev, then under Polish-Lithuanian domination, was established as a distinct metropolitanate under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. Soon thereafter, in 1461, the bishops of Moscow ceased using the title of Kiev and began to style themselves as Metropolitans of Moscow. Moscow later gathered strength and eventually gained control of Kiev. The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Kiev was consequently transferred from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Moscow in 1686, an act which the Patriarchate of Constantinople has never recognized.

The Orthodox in Ukraine remained part of the Russian Orthodox Church until Ukraine declared its independence in the chaotic situation following World War I and the Russian revolution. The government of this new republic passed a law allowing for the establishment of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 1919. Meanwhile, a spontaneous movement in favor of ending ties with the Russian church was gaining ground among the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.

All this led to the proclamation of Ukrainian autocephaly at a church council in 1921. Since no Orthodox bishop would take part in this action, the council decided to ordain its leader, Archpriest Vasyl Lypkivsky, as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine through the laying-on-of-hands by the priests and laypeople present. Because of the highly unorthodox method it used to obtain a hierarchy, and because of its disregard for some established canonical principles, this church was never recognized by any other Orthodox church. Nevertheless, by early 1924 the new church had 30 bishops and approximately 1,500 priests and deacons serving in nearly 1,100 parishes in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, with possibly as many as six million members. Strong lay participation in this church's administration caused it to become known as the “sobornopravna” or “conciliar” church.

When Ukraine was absorbed into the Soviet Union, the new authorities at first viewed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in a positive way, but by the late 1920s, they saw it as a dangerous expression of Ukrainian nationalism. Under government pressure, it declared itself dissolved and integrated into the Moscow Patriarchate in 1930.

However, during the German occupation of Ukraine during World War II, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was briefly re-established by bishops who had been validly ordained by Polish Orthodox bishops. Thus it has subsequently claimed to be within the traditional apostolic succession, a fact still disputed by some Orthodox churches. In any case, it was suppressed again when the Soviets regained control of the area. The situation remained unchanged until the advent of greater religious freedom in the last days of the Soviet Union.

In these new conditions, a Ukrainian Orthodox council met in Kiev in June 1990 and elected the exiled Metropolitan Mstyslav of the United States as Patriarch. He returned to Ukraine in October 1990 to preside over the reemergence of this church in its homeland.

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