Ukrainian Autocephaly – A step to Canonical Unity or a False Union with Rome?


Nadia Bazuk – OCP News Service – 30/5/18

Bishop Symeon Lukach was canonized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as Hieromartyr for not betraying his Church under Communist repressions between the late 1940s  early 1960s. However, the Head of the UGCC, Sviatoslav Shevchuk seems to be fine if Orthodox Ukrainians will leave their Church for Unia as a result of the state-sponsored mess over Ukrainian autocephaly.

At a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Hieromartyr Symeon Lukach held on the 28th of April, Sviatoslav Shevchuk (Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) spoke on the unity of Christians and the significance of the UGCC today.

“So many have recently been talking about the unity of Christians. Someone even wants to create a unified local Church. But the question is – where do you get that unity? The Blessed Lukach gives us an answer: “The banner of the Church is not the president, not another Patriarch, but the heir to the apostle Peter – the Holy Father, the Pope.” – the UGCC Major Archbishop Sviatoslav

It wasn’t the first time that Major Archbishop Sviatoslav spoke on the issue of the idea of one local Orthodox Church of Ukraine which has been on top of the national agenda since mid-April 2018. He also discussed this topic with US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on 17th April and probably with some Vatican officials.

Autocephaly & Ukrainian Orthodoxy – Risks and Success Factors

President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine , Verkhovna Rada and some Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs appealed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for granting independence (autocephaly) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is now divided into three denominations because of political and historical reasons. Two of these denominations, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church  Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, are unrecognized by the Eastern Orthodox world and referred as non-canonical and schismatic. The State authorities argued that having an independent Orthodox Church recognized by the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will help to end the schism since the UOC-KP and UAOC will be able to merge and join the Orthodox World.

In all his recent statements, Sviatoslav Shevchuk pointed out that his Church doesn’t interfere in the process. However, having cited the Ecumenical Concept of UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav clearly supports the creation of the one Ukrainian Church as an important step towards the reunion of the “Churches of Volodymyr the Great’s Baptism” which will ultimately lead to global Roman Catholic-Orthodox Christian unity. UGCC Primate’s speech at the 125th birth anniversary of Bishop Symeon Lukach shows what kind of unity they mean: nothing but the  one inevitably led by the Roman Pope.

Constantinople coming to Ukraine: Is the game worth the candle?

However, the fulfillment of the “Fatima prophecy” seems to be unreal. UGCC is still a minor denomination in Ukraine: its flocks are concentrated only in three western regions: Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk. Their attempts to spread Unia in the messy eastern regions remain unsuccessful.

3Uniates became an important political force during the Maidan protests, by bringing their nationalist youth to the streets. Now its members are in Parliament, and even President Poroshenko, an Orthodox Christian believer, takes communion in the UGCC since his inauguration as the president of Ukraine. This is why it was an excellent opportunity for UGCC to present themselves as a leading patriotic confession in Ukraine which can bring peace and unity to the polarized society, help refugees and the needy in the war-torn Donbass region, act against Kremlin’s propaganda, connect Ukraine with the West mainly through Greek Catholic diaspora and Vatican’s political influence.

2However, this plan hasn’t worked. Humanitarian activity and patriotic slogans did not evangelize atheists or convince Orthodox believers to accept Filioque and Papal infallibility. New temples of the UGCC that opened in Odessa and other regions (which are historically not Unia hubs) fail to sustain and depends on financial assistance from the Major Arch eparchy. Hence, it is early for Ukrainian Greek Catholics to think of their ultimate goal  bringing former Soviet states and thereby the whole Orthodox World under Papacy. At least, they understand that it is not a realistic project. But, there are few things they can achieve by supporting the Ukrainian autocephaly. If granted, the autocephaly will result in several conflicts among the Orthodox, not only between the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and state-supported new autocephalous Church, but also among the hierarchs of the latter who will struggle for Patriarchal throne and eparchies. A lot of schismatic hierarchs will follow the path of the UAOC (renovated) Ihor (Isichenko)  (of Kharkiv and Poltava) who was expelled from UAOC and after a period of isolation, seems to have joined the UGCC. Thus, Uniates can attract more prelates and faithful to increase number of followers.

Creation of an Orthodox Patriarchate in Ukraine will be easier for the UGCC to demand patriarchal status for themselves. Patriarchate is a long-nurtured dream of Ukrainian Greek Catholics who have been requesting the same to Vatican since the time of Josyf Slipyj, with no success. Supreme Archbishop of Kyiv and Galicia has long been referred as Patriarch in the UGCC website, internal documents and the Ukrainian media. The prospect of having an Orthodox Patriarchate in Ukraine while there are only two Roman Catholic Archdioceses (Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic) will be highly undesirable for the Vatican.

Those who are close to UGCC’s affairs admit that the work on the issue of Greek Catholic Patriarchate has intensified recently. They pressure Vatican urging not to miss the unique chance to absorb Orthodox splinters that will appear as a byproduct of Ukranian autocephaly, and especially after the same has been granted. Who knows whether such good opportunity to gain a foothold in eastern Ukraine will ever occur again.

Nadia Bazuk is a freelance journalist from Ukraine with a MBA degree, self-employed retailer. Her writings have been published by, OCP Media Network,, Union of Orthodox Journalists and other media.

Please note that the opinions expressed in the above article are solely the author’s and it do not represent those of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE or OCP New Service.

Nadia Bazuk