Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

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The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) is the third largest Orthodox Church in Ukraine after the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate and the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. The UAOC, which has its origins in the early 20th century in Ukraine, has preserved the vision of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian nationalism in the Ukrainian Diaspora during the Soviet era and now in independent Ukraine itself.

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Founding and Dissolution of the UAOC

For centuries what became the UAOC was part of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which was founded by the Church of Constantinople and remained part of it prior to the independence of the Church of Rus'. After the transfer of the seat of the metropolitans of Kiev from Kiev to cities further east and north (and eventually to Moscow) the territories of what today is Ukraine came under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which had jurisdiction over the region returned to Constantinople and eventually to the Ukrainian Catholic Church after the Union of Brest. It wasn't until the conquest of Ukraine by the rising Russian Empire that its Church was reunited with the Church of Rus'.

Due to the cultural differences that had developed as a result of the Polish occupation and the Union of Brest the reunion of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine with the Church of Rus' was opposed by some Ukrainian Orthodox, who began advocating the establishment of an independent Church of Ukraine. Although suppressed by the Russian Empire, following its collapse in the early 20th century supporters of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church held an All-Ukrainian Council (sobor) in Kiev that on 5 May 1920 declared the establishment of an independent Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The UAOC sought for hierarchical support, but none of the hierarchs serving in Ukraine would join the Church and consequently in 1921 a group of clergy and laymen together "consecrated" Archpriest Vasyl Lypkivskyj as a bishop, enthroning him as Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. He consequently "consecrated" other bishops for Ukraine and dioceses of the UAOC formed in Canada and the United States by Ukrainian nationalists and converts from Ukrainian Catholicism. (These eparchies later became the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States.)

The UAOC in Ukraine was dissolved following the Bolshevik occupation and annexation of eastern and central Ukraine in the 1920s. In 1924, however, the Ecumenical Patriarchate unilaterally rescinded the transfer of the Orthodox Church in what today is western Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland to the Church of Rus' and established it as the independent Church of Poland. Although operating on the territory of interwar Poland and officially called the Polish Orthodox Church, this new Local Orthodox Church's flock was primarily Ukrainian and Belorussian in composition.

Restoration of the UAOC

During World War II the German government strongly encouraged Ukrainian and Belorussian nationalism as a counterweight to Polish and Soviet resistance and influence in Eastern Europe. It was this that allowed dissident hierarchs of the Polish Orthodox Church in what had been southeastern Poland and the western USSR to declare the restoration of the UAOC in 1942. Bishop Polycarp (Sikorski) of Volodymyr-Volynskyi, formerly of the Church of Poland, became the first legitimately consecrated hierarch to serve as primate of the UAOC (its pre-WWII hierarchical consecrations had all been invalid under canon law).

UAOC in the Diaspora

The restoration of the UAOC in Ukraine proved to be brief as the region was occupied by the Red Army in the 1940s and annexed to the Soviet Union. Those hierarchs and clergy of the UAOC who remained in Soviet Ukraine were forced to submit to the Moscow Patriarchate or else sent into internal exile or executed. Several of the Church's hierarchs fled the advance of the Red Army and ended up in the Ukrainian Diaspora in the West, among them Metropolitan Polycarp.

In the following years the UAOC existed only in the Diaspora, with parishes scattered across the globe in Australia, North and South America, and Western Europe. It, like other jurisdictions present in the West following the Bolshevik Revolution, drifted in and out of communion with world Orthodoxy. Following the repose of Metropolitan Polycarp in France in 1953, Archbishop Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) of Parma became primate of the UAOC in 1969.

UAOC Returns to Ukraine

In 1990 the weakening of the central government of the Soviet Union allowed for the restoration of the UAOC in Ukraine for the first time since World War II. Not long after the UAOC accepted into its communion hierarchs and clergy led by Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev of the Moscow Patriarchate and elected the 92-year old Metropolitan Mstyslav as Patriarch of Kyiv and All Ukraine, enthroning him on 6 November 1990.

Following the repose of Patriarch Mstyslav in 1993 two new Patriarchs of Kyiv, Volodomyr (Romaniuk) and Dymytriy (Yarema), were elected by factions of the UAOC, those under Patriarch Volodymyr largely consisting of supporters of the former Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Philaret who together founded the Kyiv Patriarchate of Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was around this time that both of the UAOC's dioceses in North America together with large parts of its Western European and Australian flocks left the Church to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

After the death of Patriarch Dymytriy in 2000 the UAOC elected Archbishop Methodius of Ternopil' as Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. Although the UAOC has established new dioceses in the Ukrainian Diaspora, it remains on friendly terms with its daughter churches under the Ecumenical Patriarchate and has attempted itself to establish communion with Constantinople in the hopes of having it establish a universally recognized, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The UAOC today is concentrated in western Ukraine and has its headquarters at the historic Church of St. Andrew in Kiev.

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