Legend records that the Apostle Andrew, in a mission from Byzantium, sailed across the Black Sea and reached the mouth of the Dnipro River. Traversing the river, he eventually reached the area of what is today Kyiv. According to tradition, the Apostle planted a cross and blessed the hills of the region, predicting that one day, a great city would arise there. The UAOC Cathedral of St. Andrew the First Called is situated near the location which is ascribed to this visit of St. Andrew.
The Kyivan Metropolia was a product of the baptism of the Kyivan-Rus in the time of Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great (988 CE). Missionaries were sent from Constantinople to instruct the people in the Byzantine-Orthodox faith. Monastic life flourished, including in the famous Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, through the efforts of St. Antony, known as the father of Ukrainian monasticism. The Metropolia of Kyiv eventually grew into autocephalous status, until its seizure by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686, when Ukraine was subjected to the Russian State.
In wake of the break up of the Russian Empire some national groups sought autonomy or autocephaly from Moscow. In 1921 an All-Ukrainian Sobor (Synod) was called in Kyiv, the capital of the newly-independent Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was declared independent from the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). The Sobor delegates chose Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivskyj as head of the church. The 1921 Sobor has become known as the "first resurrection" of the UAOC.
A few years later in 1924, Gregory VII, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, issued a tomos re-establishing the Kyivan Metropolia as an autocephalous entity. The responsibility of establishing a new Synod of Bishops was given to the Metropolitan-Archbishop of Warsaw, Dionisiy Valedynskyj.
Ukrainian independence was short lived in this period, and eventually the USSR came into being. The Soviets, introduced an atheistic regime and employed Russification as a means of domination over other nationalities in the newly-formed USSR. The Soviet government persecuted the UAOC (for being Orthodox, and for being Ukrainian); while the Russian Orthodox Church, in cooperation with the government, also prevented the UAOC from establishing their ecclesiastical order for some time.
During World War II, Orthodox Ukrainians enjoyed somewhat increased freedom under German occupation. (Ukraine was a battleground between the German and Soviet Armies). In May of 1942, with the blessing of Metropolitan Dionisiy, more than a dozen bishops were consecrated in St. Andrew Cathedral, Kyiv, in fulfillment of the 1924 tomos of the EP. Finally, it seemed that ecclesiastical order could be established for the UAOC. This time is referred to as the "second resurrection" of the church. However, history would make it a short lived reality.
On October 8, 1942 Archbishop Nikanor Abrymovych and Bishop Mstyslav Skrypnyk of the UAOC and Metropolitan Oleksiy Hromadsky of the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church entered into an Act of Union at the Pochayiv (Pochaev) Lavra uniting these two church hierarchies. Pro-Russian hierarchs of the Autonomous Church convinced Metropolitan Oleksiy to withdraw his signature. Metropolitan Oleksiy was allegedly executed in Volynia on May 7, 1943 by members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).
The Russian Orthodox Church regained its general monopoly after World War II in the Ukrainian SSR. Most of the other churches were liquidated, as the Soviet government only recognized the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). The MP was revived at the time of the Russian Revolution, as the only legitimate church in most of the Soviet Union. Many accused it of being a puppet of the Communist Party. After the suspicious death of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow some churches sought to remain independent of Moscow; something that was tolerated until after World War II. In the post-war years, many Ukrainian Orthodox clergy not affiliated with Moscow fled to Germany or the United States. The UAOC in Ukraine was then liquidated by the Soviets with the assistance of the Moscow Patriarchate. Any UAOC hierarchs or clergy who remained in Ukraine and refused to join the Russian Church were executed or sent to concentration camps. A few years later the same thing happened to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine (Galicia) and Transcarpathia.
The church re-gained state recognition in 1990, which is known as the "third resurrection" of the UAOC. Initially it was governed from abroad by Patriarch Mstyslav (Skrypnyk). Subsequent to his death in 1993, he was succeeded by Patriarchs Volodymyr (Romanyuk). Patriarch Volodymyr would, during his time as patriarch, separate from the UAOC to found the UOC-KP, together with Metropolitan (now Patriarch) Filaret (Denysenko). The ones that were not willing to follow this change, continued UAOC with a new Patriarch, Dymytry (Yarema).
On October 16, 2000, the Church Sobor elected Metropolitan Mefodiy (Kudryakov) of Ternopil to lead the church. As Father & Head of the UAOC worldwide, he is Metropolitan of Kyiv & all Ukraine. Since his elevation, he has worked towards a more global visibility for the church, including a pastoral visit the United States in 2006 and travels to Western Europe. He has fostered continued positive relations with the Ukrainian government and other religious communities.
In 2005, Metropolitan Mefodiy pursued a legal suit which successfully restored the patriarchal chancery offices and the Church of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki to the UAOC. Located adjacent to the famous St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, the premises had been in the use of a schismatic group.
Under the personal supervision of Metropolitan Mefodiy, the Ternopil Orthodox Theological Academy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was renovated and its course of studies completely updated to conform to contemporary academic standards. On October 18, 2008, the first diplomas of the newly-accredited theological school were awarded to qualified graduates in a ceremony in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Ternopil. Presiding at the commencement ceremony, at the invitation of Metropolitan Mefodiy, was the UAOC Metropolitan of New York & America, Mykhayil.
The Patriarchal Cathedral of the UAOC is the historic Church of St. Andrew the First-Called in Kyiv It was built between 1747-1754 and was designed by the famous architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Although used for regular liturgical services of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the edifice had previously been a part of the historical park "Sofia-Kyiv." The Ukrainian government returned the church to the legal possession of the UAOC on May 21, 2008.
Geographically the church currently has a stronger presence in Western Ukrainian provinces with a smaller representation elsewhere. Previous to 1995, there were more parishes abroad in the Ukrainian diaspora communities of Canada and the United States. However, many of these parishes now form the separate churches, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, both which are eparchies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and not in communion with the UAOC.
The UAOC however, has maintained an ecclesiastical structure outside of Ukraine. There are eparchies in North & South America, Western Europe and elsewhere Metropolitan Mykhayil (Javchak) of New York heads the UAOC in the Americas and other locations. Significant growth of the UAOC has taken place in recent times in Latin America, where the Eparchy is based in Manizales, Colombia. There are also parishes of the church in Canberra, Australia, Palermo, Italy, Puerto Plata, DR and elsewhere.