The Millennium of Christianity is ...
Not in Russia But the Ukraine
Continued from Issue No. 25
by Petro B. T. Bilaniuk, D. Th., D. Phil., C.D.S.P., D.D.
Many different ethnic groups were converted to Christianity on the territory of the future Ukraine: Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Alans, Roxolans, and many Slavic tribes. Thus the empire of the Kievan Rus' was already heavily Christianized when in 955, St. Olha, the monarch of Kiev, personally accepted Christianity.
In 988 A.D., we see the beginning of an organized State-Church, Kiev then becoming the see of the Metropolitan of all Rus'-Ukraine. From that time, the whole Kievan Empire and Church started to develop an indigenous Christian culture, learning and art. Quite soon, the ancient Rusychi-Ukrainians had become leaders in architecture, iconography and music throughout the Christian world. The creation of the new Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Kiev with its thirteen rotundas, and with its mosaic of the Mother of God as oranta, the "immovable wall", formed the best example of the splendid artistic achievement of the period. Simultaneously, the artistic development of the iconostasis of seven tiers representing the events and personages of salvation-history was appearing in many Ukrainian churches.
The Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, occupies a very prominent place in the theology and spirituality of the Ukrainian people. Innumerable churches, monasteries and institutions have been dedicated to Her. The most beautiful hymns, prayers, offices and devotions have been created in Her honor. Ukraine can even boast over two hundred wonder-working icons of the Mother of God.
There was monastic life in Scythia from the third century onward. It received a new impetus in 1037 when Yaroslav the Wise founded two monasteries: of St. George and of St. Irene. The famous Kievan Laura of the Caves had its origins in 1051, and grew spectacularly under the abbotship of St. Anthony and St. Theodosius of the Caves. Soon it became the spiritual center of monasticism and of learning of the whole Kievan Rus'-Ukraine, and retained this position until the Stalinist persecution of the 1930's.
The Kievan Rus'-Ukraine was accepted as a Christian state by Europe, with an important cultural and political role. The monarch of Kiev, Yaroslav the Wise (1015-1054) became known as the "father-in-law of Europe", for many of his children married monarchs or members of the royal houses of Western Europe.
The year 1240 marked the beginning of the Mongol domination of Ukraine and its people. Then came a very serious decline of the Metropolitanate of Kiev. In 1303, the Metropolitanate of Halych in Western Ukraine was established; but in 1347, its Metropolitan dignity was suppressed. And at that time, all the eparchies of Ukraine were forcefully subjected to the Metropolitan of Kiev with residence in Moscow.
In 1589, the Patriarchate of Moscow was erected, and Muscovite pressure on the Ukrainian Church intensified. In 1596, after mature consideration of the church-political situation, the Ukrainian hierarchy concluded a reunion with the Church of Rome, which is known today as the 'Union of Brest'. In 1620, Theophan, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, visited Ukraine and secretly ordained six bishops for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This marked the beginning of two hierarchies and two Churches in Ukraine: the Orthodox and the Catholic. Unfortunately, this division persists to the present. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church reached its peak of development under Metropolitan Petro Mohyla (1633-46). The Kievan Academy founded by him in 1633 became the center of learning for all the Slavic world.
In 1921, in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Kiev, a church council was held during which the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church was established under the leadership of Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivskyi. That Church was brutally suppressed during the Stalinist persecution in the 1930's.
The Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitanate of Galicia was established in 1807. It developed very well, especially under Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts'kyi (1901-1944) who established new monastic orders and reorganized the Seminary of Lviv. Under his successor, the Metropolitan (later Cardinal) Josyf Slipyj (1944-1984), the Ukrainian Catholic Church suffered bloody persecution and a forceful liquidation by the Soviet authorities at the pseudo-council of Lviv in 1946, which "officially" incorporated it into the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Moscow. This Martyr-Church had to descend into the modern catacombs, and today has seventeen bishops, twelve hundred priests, twelve hundred nuns and monks, an underground seminary, a catechetical school, and many faithful scattered all over USSR. At present, it is fighting for official recognition and legalization by the Soviet government; and in faith, hope and love, expects better times in the future.