The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Українська Греко-Католицька Церква (УГКЦ), also known as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is one of the successor Churches to the acceptance of Christianity by Grand Prince Vladimir the Great (Ukrainian Volodymyr) of Kiev (Kyiv), in 988. UGCC is the largest Eastern Rite sui juris particular church in full communion with the Holy See, and is directly subject to the Pope. The Primate of the Church, in union with the Pope, holds the office of Archbishop-Major of Kiev-Halych and All Rus, though the hierarchs of the church have acclaimed their primate "Patriarch" and have requested Papal recognition and elevation. The Church is now geographically quite widespread, having some 40 hierarchs in over a dozen countries on four continents, including three other metropolitans in Poland, the United States, and Canada, the head of the church is Cardinal Lubomyr Husar.
Within Ukraine itself, the UGCC is a minority faith of the religious population, being a distant second to the majority Eastern Orthodox faith. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the second largest religious organization in Ukraine in terms of number of communities. In terms of number of faithful, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ranks third in allegiance among the population of Ukraine, after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate. Currently, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church predominates in three western oblasts of Ukraine, but constitutes a small minority elsewhere in the country.
The Ukrainian Catholic church did not exist, as such, until the Union of Brest in the late 16th century, but its roots go back to the very beginning of Christianity in Mediaeval Slavic State of Rus'. The area of modern-day Ukraine was influenced primarily of Byzantine missionaries. The mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius was especially important their development of the Cyrillic alphabet allowed the spread of worship in the Old Church Slavonic language. The Greek influence continued to until the Great Schism, when the Ruthenian (Rusyn) Church was separated from Rome, and became Orthodox.
Following the Mongol annihilation of Kiev in the 13th century, the Metropolitan of Kiev moved to Vladimir in 1299. By 1326, the Metropolitan had settled in Moscow, and by 1328 had changed the title of Metropolitan of Kiev for the title Metropolitan of Moscow. The separate legal tradition of the Russian Church, as differentiated from the Church in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was codified in the decision of the first properly Russian Church Council of the Hundred Chapters ('Stoglav') in 1448, followed by the formal separation of the Church of Rus' into separate Russian (Muscovite) and Ruthenian (Kievan) Metropoliae in 1453.
This situation continued for some time, and in the intervening years what is now Western and Central Ukraine fell under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Polish king Sigismund III Vasa was heavily influenced by the ideals of the Counter-Reformation and wanted to increase the Catholic presence in Ukraine. Meanwhile the clergy of the Ukrainian lands were faced with rule from distant Moscow. In response to this situation, much of the Ruthenian Church in Polish territory agreed by the Union of Brest in 1595 to break from the Patriarch in Moscow and reunite with the Catholic Church under the sponsorship of the ruler of Commonwealth, Sigismund III Vasa. The union was not accepted by all the members of the Greek Church in these lands, and marked the beginning of the creation of separate Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches on the lands of Ukraine and Belarus. Due to violence, the Metropolitan of the Kyivan Greek Catholic Church left Kyiv early in the 1600s and settled in Navahrudak (present Belarus) and Vilna in Lithuania.
After the partition of Poland, the formerly Greek-Catholic territory was mostly divided between Russia and Austria. In the Russian partition, that included Volhynia and Podolia, only in the easternmost areas of Podolia the population quickly and voluntarily returned to Orthodoxy. Initially, the Russian authorities were extremely tolerant of the Greek-Catholic church and allowed it to function (calling them Basilians). However immediately the clergy was split into pro-Catholic and pro-Russian, with the former tending to convert to Latin Rite Catholicism, whilst the demands of the latter group led by Bishop Joseph Semashko being firmly rejected by the ruling Greek-Catholic synod still largely controlled by the pro-Polish clergy with the Russian authorities largely refusing to interfere. The situation changed abruptly following the Russia successful suppression of the 1831 Polish revolt aimed at overthrowing the Russian control of the Polish territories. As the uprising was actively supported by the Greek-Catholic church, the crackdown on the Church became imminent. The pro-Latin members of the Synod were removed and the Church began to disintegrate with its parishes in Volhynia reverting to the Orthodoxy including the 1833 transfer of the famous Pochaiv Lavra. In 1839 the Synod of Polotsk (Modern Belarus), under the leadership of Bishop Semashko, dissolved the Greek-Catholic church in the Russian Empire, and all its property was transferred to the Orthodox state church.
The dissolution of the Greek-Catholic Church in Russia was complete in 1875 with the abolition of the Eparchy of Kholm.
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia says that in what was then known as 'Little Russia' (now Ukraine), the pressure of the Russian Government "utterly wiped out" Greek Catholics, and "some 7,000,000 of the Uniats there were compelled, partly by force and partly by deception, to become part of the Greek Orthodox Church".
In Austrian Polish partition that included Galicia (modern Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and parts of Ternopil oblasts), the Greek-Catholic Ruthenian (Ukrainian) peasantry was largely under the Polish Latin Catholic domination. The Austrians granted equal legal privileges to the Greek-Catholic Church and removed Polish influence. As a result, within Austrian Galicia over the next century the Greek-Catholic Church ceased being a puppet of foreign interests and became the primary cultural force within the Ukrainian community. Most independent native Ukrainian cultural trends (such as Rusynophilia, Russophilia and later Ukrainophilia) emerged from within the ranks of the Greek-Catholic Church. For many people, the Austrians were seen as having saved the Ukrainians and their Church from the Poles.
The aftermath of World War II placed Ukrainian Catholics under the rule of the Soviet Union and Soviet Bloc which, using positions of only a few clergy, called a "synod" in Lviv and annulled the Union of Brest. Ironically, as all the bishops were of the UGCC were at this point either in prison or exile, no bishops were involved, making it canonically illegitimate by the canons of both Orthodox and Catholic alike. Whilst officially all of the church property was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, some clergy went underground. This catacomb church was strongly supported by the diaspora created by the mass emigration to the Western hemisphere, which began in the 1870s.
In 1945 Soviet authorities arrested, deported and sentenced to forced labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere the church's metropolitan Josyf Slipyj and nine bishops, as well as hundreds of clergy and leading lay activists. All the above-mentioned bishops and significant part of clergymen died in prisons, concentration camps, internal exile, or soon after their release during the post-Stalin thaw. The exception was metropolitan Josyf Slipyj who, after 18 years of imprisonment and persecution, was released thanks to the intervention of Pope John XXIII, arrived in Rome, where he received the title of Major Archbishop of Lviv, and became cardinal in 1965.
For the clergy that joined the Russian Orthodox Church, the Soviet authorities refrained from large-scale persecution of religion that was seen elsewhere in the country. (see Religion in the Soviet Union) In the city of Lviv only one church was closed (at a time when many cities in the rest of Ukraine did not have a working church). Moreover the western dioceses of Lviv-Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk were the largest in the USSR, holding the majority of the Russian Orthodox Church's cloisters (particularly convents, there was seven in Ukrainian SSR whilst none in Russia). Orthodox canon law was also relaxed on the clergy allowing them to shave beards (a practice uncommon to Orthodoxy) and conduct liturgy in Ukrainian as opposed to Church Slavonic.
During the Soviet era, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church did flourish throughout the Ukrainian diaspora. Cardinal Josyf Slipyj was jailed as a dissident but ordained in pectore (in secret) a cardinal in 1949; he was freed in 1963 and was the subject of an extensive campaign to have him named as a patriarch, which met with strong support as well as controversy. Pope Paul VI demurred, but compromised with the creation of a new title of major archbishop, with a jurisdiction roughly equivalent to that of a patriarch in an Eastern church. This title has since passed to Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky in 1984 and thereafter to Lubomyr Cardinal Husar in 2000; this title has also been granted to the heads of three other Eastern Catholic Churches.
By the late 1980s there was a shift of Soviet Government's attitude towards religion. At the height of the Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization reforms the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church emerged from the catacombs to find itself largely in disarray with the nearly all of its pre-1946 parish lost to the Orthodox faith. The church actively supported by nationalist organisations (such as Rukh and later the UNA-UNSO) took an uncompromising stance towards returning its lost property and parishes. According to a Greek-Catholic priest "even if the whole village is now Orthodox and one person is Greek Catholic, the church [building] belongs to that Catholic because the church was built by his grandparents and great-grandparents" The weakened Soviet authorities were unable to pacify the situation and most of the parishes in Galicia came under the control of the Greek-Catholics during the events of a large scale interconfessional rivalry that was often accompanied by violent clashes of the faithful provoked by their religious and political leadership. These tensions led to a rupture of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican.
Currently the church admits between 3 and 5 million supporters on the territory of Ukraine. Worldwide, the faithful now number some 6 to 10 million, forming the largest particular Catholic Church, after the majority Latin Rite Church.
Today, most Ukrainian Catholic Churches have moved away from Church Slavonic and use Ukrainian. Many churches also offer liturgies in the official language of the country the Church is in, for example, German in Germany or English in Canada; however, some parishes continue to celebrate the liturgy in Slavonic even today, and services in a mix of languages are not unusual.
In the early 2000s, the construction has begun for the transfer of the major see of the Ukrainian Catholic Church back to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. However, this move remains controversial for some Ukrainian Catholics, who view Lviv in Western Ukraine as the true stronghold of Ukrainian Catholicism, having supported and protected the Ukrainian Catholic Church through long periods of persecution. Moving the Ukrainian Catholic Church to Kiev, therefore, has taken on political overtones in the Church. The move tends to be supported by those people who favour the appointment of a Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch to oversee the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
This issue was met with total opposition from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who questioned not only the almost non-existent Greek Catholic followers in Kiev, but also the political tone of it, particularly as the construction was sponsored by the Ukrainian first lady Kateryna Yushchenko. The whole Eastern Orthodox Communion, backed the Ukrainian Orthodox stand putting a major strain on the Vatican's relations with them.
In 2001 a priest, Fr. Vasil Kovpak, and a small group of followers opposed to certain policies (such as de-latinisation) and ecumenism of the UGCC hierarchy, organized themselves as the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat. The PSSJ possesses close ties with the Traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X, which rejects and condemns certain actions and policies of both Cardinal Husar and of the Pope. On November 21, 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith excommunicated Fr. Kovpak.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has moved its administrative center from Western Ukrainian Lviv to a new cathedral in Kyiv on 21 August of 2005. The title of the head of the UGCC was changed from The Major Archbishop of Lviv to The Major Archbishop of Kyiv and Halych.
The current eparchies and other territorial jurisdictions of the church are:
$ Directly subject to the Holy See