The British Orthodox Church is praying regularly for the welfare of the Ukrainians, who are currently suffering regular aggression from the Russians. We never support the invasion and killing of a population of any independent state by its neighbours, who seek to resume control of it.

Historic connection of the Ukraine with Russia

          Anciently Ukraine belonged to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until late in 1793, when after the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) the Empress Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and her immediate successors encouraged German immigration into Ukraine and especially into the Crimea, to reduce the previously dominant Turkish population and the Ukraine then became part of the Russian Empire. Much later, following the February 1917 revolution in Russia with the end of Tsarist rule and the establishment of four socialist republics on the territory of the former Empire: the Russian and Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republics and the Ukrainian and Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republics. Following when the Ukraine became a People’s Republic the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Sobor (Council) was formed in 1917 at the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and consisted of representatives of the clergy and the laity from all parts of Ukraine.  The council was determined to put an end to the church’s dependence on Moscow and summoned the All-Ukrainian Church Sobor at the beginning of 1918. The council also devoted special attention to the Ukrainianisation of the parishes and the liturgy. The first liturgy in Ukrainian was conducted in Kiev at Saint Nicholas’s Military Cathedral on 9 May 1919. Through the efforts of the council, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church shortly after Ukraine’s newly found independence declared itself to be autocephalous on 5 May 1920 in Kiev and in 1921 a Sobor was summoned, and it established the hierarchy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). 

Patriarchs of Kiev

In 1942 Mstyslav Skrypnyk (1898 –1993) was consecrated as Bishop of Pereiaslav by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who in 1949 then served as Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America and later in Europe before being elected at the age of 93 as the first Patriarch of Kiev & All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Autokephalous Orthodox Church – Kieven Patriarchate (UAOC-KP) and was enthroned as Patriarch Mstyslav I on 6 November 1991 in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. After the death of Patriarch Mstyslav in 1993, the UAOC-KP Church was headed by Patriarch Volodymyr Romaniuk (1925-1995). In July 1995, upon the death of Volodymyr, Philaret Denysenko, who was  Metropolitan of Kiev of the Russian Orthodox Church (1966–1992) was then elected head of the UAOC-KP but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent state, formalised with a referendum in December 1991. In 1961, Philaret served in the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Patriarch of Alexandria and in January 1962 he was elected vicar Bishop of the Leningrad Eparchy and, in February, was consecrated bishop in Leningrad by Metropolitan Pimen Izvekov (later Patriarch of Moscow: 1971-1990). Philaret was appointed to several diplomatic missions of the Russian Orthodox Church and from 1962-1964 served as Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna & Austria. In 1964 Philaret returned to Moscow as the Bishop of Dmitrov and rector of the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary. In 1968 he became Metropolitan of Kiev & Galicia. On 3 May 1990, Patriarch Pimen of Moscow died and, the same day, Philaret became the locum tenens of the Russian Orthodox Church. But he was not elected Patriarch of Moscow. Retrospectively, in 2019, Philaret declared “it was not by chance that I was not elected. The Lord prepared me for Ukraine” On 27 October 1990, in a ceremony at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, the newly elected Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II Ridiger (1990-2008) handed to Metropolitan Philaret a tomos granting “independence in self government” (the tomos did not use either of the words “autonomy” or “autocephaly”) to Metropolitan Philaret, and enthroned Philaret, heretofore “Metropolitan of Kiev”, as “Metropolitan of Kiev and All-Ukraine”.

Shortly thereafter, the Russian Orthodox Church was unable to prevent the creation of what it viewed as a “schismatic church” in independent Ukraine which helped to organize a rival synod which was held in Kharkiv in May 1992. These bishops elected a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, Bishop Volodymyr (Sabodan) as Metropolitan of Kiev, and received recognition from Moscow as being the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). Philaret was suspended on 27 May 1992 by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The bishops loyal to Metropolitan Philaret and a similar group from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (another recently revived church in Ukraine) organised a unifying Sobor which was held on 25-26 June 1992, named the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate (UAOC-KP). Philaret was defrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church on 11 July 1992. The UAOC-KP was not recognised by other Orthodox churches and was considered schismatic. Philaret was then anathemised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997.

 Ukrainian Autokephaly granted by the Œcumenical Patriarchate

In January 1992, shortly after Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union (USSR), some of Ukraine’s presidents, notably President Petro Poroshenko met with the Œcumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos on 16 June 2016, Ukraine’s parliament, asked the Œcumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople for autokephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and thus independence from the Russian Orthodox Church and signed an agreement on cooperation and interaction between Kiev and the Patriarchate of Constantinople to pave the way for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian church distinct from the Moscow Patriarchate. This decision led the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to break communion with the Œcumenical Patriarchate on 15 October 2018, which marked the beginning of the 2018 Moscow–Constantinople schism.

The present Ukrainian Primate is Epiphanius Dumenko, who was born on 3 February 1979 in Vovkove, Berezivka Raion, and was later elected Bishop of Vyshhorod, vicar of the Kiev diocese on 21 October 200 and consecrated on 15 November 2009. On 28 June 2013, he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan of Pereyaslav & Bila Tserkva, in the former original Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) from 2013-2018.   On 15 December 2018, at the unification council held in the Cathedral of St. Sophia, he was elected Metropolitan of Kiev & All Ukraine, the Primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. On 5 January 2019, Bartholomeos I, the Œcumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, signed a tomos that officially recognised and established the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and granted it autokephaly (self-governorship) and Epiphanius was enthroned on 3 February 2019, in St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev.

Abba Seraphim recently received a very friendly email from Yurii Yurchyk, Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Donetsk & Mariupol, who wrote to Abba Seraphim to wish him “good health during this difficult time of the pandemic and blessings over this new year 2022.” He was born in Ukraine in 1973, ordained a priest just over twenty years ago and until 2005 he was a parish priest in the City of Donetsk and then consecrated as Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Donetsk (now under Russian occupation). He told Abba Seraphim that he was “interested in the traditions of the Oriental Churches for many years” and asked Abba Seraphim to send him the text of our church’s liturgy in English. When Abba Seraphim looked online to find out more about him, he read the following: “According to the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI) website “Bishop Yurchyk was accepted into the Catholic faith by Bishop Mark Pivarunas, CMRI, of the USA. The CMRI is not in communion with Rome and rejects the Second Vatican Council. The website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) repeated the story on 18 November 2002, and Internet sites also covered it. In his statement of 19 November 2002, posted on the site of the UAOC-KP, Bishop Yurii denied the story. He called the publication of the UOC-MP “libel, targeted at discrediting not only my title of bishop, but also the whole Kievan Patriarchate and the whole church.” “Concerning my contacts with heterodox churches in the USA, they really took place. However, there was no transfer to Catholicism on my part whatsoever… As the bishop of Donetsk, I maintain such contacts… and believe that this is a normal and civilized phenomenon. Regarding my ‘repentance’ of ‘schism’ or my acceptance of Catholic doctrines, this is inaccurate information. I was and remain a hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kievan Patriarchate,” reads the statement of Bishop Yurii Yurchyk.

Apart from the complex issues of canonicity, the schism is inspired by a fundamental political conflict arising from Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea and its military intervention in Ukraine, as well as Ukraine’s expressed wish to enter into an alliance with the European Union and NATO. The British Orthodox Church, however, supports the Œcumenical Patriarch and the newly independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and was very happy to publish in The Glastonbury Review No.131 (March 2020) “Simple Thoughts – Answers on The Ukrainian Issue” by Hieromonk Nikitas from the Athonite Monastery of the Pantokrator.