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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 24

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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 p205  Chapter Twenty‑Five

The Soviet Religious Policy

In any discussion of Soviet Russian-Ukrainian relations, the religious problem is important for it touches many issues which are but dimly understood in the Western world. The latter has been too long content to think of the east of Europe only in terms of power politics, the Eastern Question, and similar problems to bother about the details of a discussion which has been often a matter of life and death to the people involved and which might throw a real light upon the present situation.

One fact stands out. Rus′-Ukraine was Christianized before the division of the Eastern and Western Churches and the full results of that division were not made evident until the dawn of the modern era. The dominant religious type of religion was that of the Orthodox East and the important See was that of Kiev. Yet Kievan Christianity was never bigoted or exclusive and even after the great Schism of 1054, the princes of Kiev continued to intermarry equally with the noble families of both east and west.

After the Metropolitan, under political pressure, took up his residence in Moscow, Kiev and the Western Ukrainian lands secured a new Metropolitan from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Moscow became the seat of a patriarchate but it was only in 1648 that the Patriarch and the Tsar of Moscow became willing to have any contact with the Orthodox Christians of Kiev. Already in 1596 this attitude had culminated in the establishment of a Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, acknowledging the papacy but maintaining the Eastern Orthodox forms of worship.

In 1686, while the Tsar of Russia was beginning to absorb the Zaporozhian Kozaks, he exerted pressure upon the Patriarch of Constantinople to abolish this new Metropolitanate of Kiev, and in 1686, by the act of Moscow but not of Constantinople, this was done. Once Moscow secured control, it applied the  p206 Muscovite usages and as its power grew in Ukraine, so did its pretensions. The cultural power of Ukrainian Orthodoxy disappeared in the Russian Sea, while the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite became the dominating religious power in Western Ukraine. Nothing shows more clearly the Muscovite attitude than the fact that it gave a lower rank to the Metropolitan of Kiev than it did to the head of the Georgian Orthodox, when they, too, passed under Russian sovereignty.

As Rus′-Ukraine under tsarist control became only a collection of "Little Russian" gubernias, so the Ukrainian Orthodox became a collection of "Little Russian" dioceses, in which there was nothing Ukrainian and so it remained until 1917, while each time that the tsar acquired more Ukrainian lands, the same form of coercion was applied not only to the Ukrainian Orthodox but also to the Catholics whose Byzantine Rite under the Hapsburgs and then under Poland and Czechoslovakia, had developed into a distinct Ukrainian religion. Under the leader­ship of Metropolitan Andry Sheptytsky, a giant physically and intellectually, this process went on rapidly, much to the annoyance of the Poles in the old province of Eastern Galicia.

Finally we must note that when Western Ukraine passed under Poland in 1920, that country forced the establishment of a Polish Orthodox Church for the several million Ukrainians and Byelorussians who were in the revived state. The language of this was Polish and its organization was adopted to the Polish system as it developed in the revived state.

With these preliminary notes, we can now turn to the relations between the Ukrainian and the Soviet Russians.

A. The Orthodox

With the Revolution of 1917 and the revival and development of the independence movement among the Ukrainians, there arose also a demand for the revival of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This was stubbornly opposed by the Provisional Government, Patriarch Tikhon and the Russian Orthodox in Ukraine, the same forces that had haggled and debated the development  p207 of a Ukrainian independent state throughout the period, until the Russian Communists secured control and were able to maintain their assumption of power.

In the first stages, while the Communists still hoped for the success of the world revolution, they emphasized their doctrines of atheism and they stressed the conception that "religion was the opium of the people." At the same time they endeavored to disintegrate the Russian Orthodox Church from within by giving their support to the various schemes of reform as the Living Church, etc. They also gave especial favor to various Protestant bodies, as the Baptists, who sought to introduce their ideas, often with marked success.

It was a crucial period for eastern Europe, for the Western nations and America which had been victorious in World War II were not inclined to cement their victory. No matter what they thought of the Communist regime, Great Britain and the United States were still convinced that the victory of a democratic Russia was a certainty and they refused to take any steps to help the non‑Russian peoples who were being over-whelmed by the Soviets, lest it prejudice their future relations with Russia. France, obsessed with the fear of Germany, was seeking to restore a greater Poland which would absorb as much as possible of Ukraine. The memory of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk blinded everybody to events as they were taking place.

It was no less critical for the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Allies sympathized with his position but the success­ful revolt of Mustapha Kemal against the Treaty of Sèvres produced a situation where the Western powers had to fight or surrender. They wished to do neither and with a certain Bolshevik sympathy for Turkey, the Patriarch was obliged to be cautious, until his hands were in a way freed by the settlement of Lausanne.

Hence the leaders of the movement for a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church were in a way powerless to regulate their relations with Orthodoxy as a whole. They had been unable to secure the support and assistance of any Russian bishops. They  p208 were turned down in an appeal to the Bulgarian Church and they obtained no response from the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Impressed by the sense of urgency and the justice of their cause, the leaders of the movement held a synod in Kiev on October 11, 1921 and proceeded to elect as bishops Father Vasyl Lypkivsky and Father Nestor Sharayevsky. Then, as they had no bishops available for their consecration, the members of the Sobor laid their hands upon them and consecrated them bishops without the participation of any bishops save relics of the saints preserved in Kiev. Lypkivsky was then made Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church and he and his associate soon consecrated some 27 other bishops.

Yet the uncanonical nature of this original action drove a wedge between the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church and the other Orthodox Churches and made certain that it would not later attract any validly consecrated bishops who would regularize the succession. On the other hand, other reforms, as the introduction of Ukrainian into the service in place of the old Church Slavonic, enabled the Russian opponents to classify it with the various movements as the Living Church which the Bolsheviks had fostered in their endeavor to disintegrate the Russian Church from within.

Still later, when the Orthodox in the succession states began to organize and came under the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, whose position had grown less critical with the strengthening of the new Turkey, it was too late for him to extend aid to the Ukrainian Orthodox as he did to those living under Polish rule by the recognition of a Polish Autocephalous Church in 1924. Thus the Ukrainian Orthodox were left almost completely isolated to face alone the atheistic Communist and imperialistic Russian Orthodox pressure.

Metropolitan Lypkivsky showed himself a very competent leader. The number of parishes under his control multiplied rapidly and by 1927 the Church had nearly 3,000 parishes and some 10,600 priests. It was no small achievement to establish and develop this under the harsh conditions of Soviet reality and for several years during the height of the movement of Ukrainization,  p209 the Church flourished and bade fair to restore the traditions of the old Ukrainian Orthodox Church and there were high hopes that sooner or later it would be able to heal the defects in the original consecration.

This was not to be, for after the death of the Patriarch Tikhon the power in the Russian Church passed into the hands of the Metropolitan Sergy who showed himself willing to effect such a compromise with Stalin and Communism as might be necessary. His offer was, to a certain degree, accepted and the Soviet regime, without changing its policy of persecuting all religious activity, began to throw a few crumbs of favor to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow. Slowly but surely, the various Russian divisions, like the Living Church, slipped back into the general organization, and the Soviets soon grasped the possibilities of using Sergy and the Russian organization as a political weapon in their struggle for world domination.

Even before the ending of Ukrainization, the Communists began to put obstacles in the way of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. The Metropolitan was refused permission to visit the various parishes under his control and to publish journals and other material for his flock. This was followed by more active measures. Metropolitan Lypkivsky was arrested and imprisoned. So were all of the other bishops and by 1930 there was not a single one of the bishops in Ukraine who was not in prison or dead. The church was broken up and all of its activities stopped, but the spirit that had animated it continued to lie hidden.

When the Germans and the Soviets occupied Poland in 1939, a new possibility was sensed. The so‑called Polish Autocephalous Church was composed overwhelmingly of Ukrainians and Byelorussians, with but a few anti-Communist Russians. Even before 1939, some of these Ukrainian clergy and laity had begun to take steps for the Ukrainianizing of the Church, even though they had been forced to introduce Polish into the services. When the storm broke, Russians like Bishop Sava made their way abroad and joined the Russians in exile. Bishop Oleksy (Hromadsky) in Kremyanets and Bishop Polykarp (Sikorsky) in Lutsk were forced  p210 to recognize the Moscow organization, which was coming into favor with Stalin because of its increasing subservience to the Soviet regime. On the other hand, Metropolitan Dionysy, who had been in that part of Ukraine that was included in the Polish Government General, now threw off any attempt at concealment and revived the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, which this time was provided with canonical orders in all grades. He consecrated two new Ukrainian bishops, Ilarion (O. Ohienko) for Kholm and Podlyasie and Palady (Vedybida-Rudemko) for Krakow and Lemkiv­shchyna.

This marked a new period and when the Germans attacked the USSR in 1941 and occupied it, Polykarp joined them, while Oleksy set up still another group, the Ukrainian Autonomous Church, for he refused to break his connections with Moscow.

The German permission for the formation in 1942 of a central organization was frankly ambiguous. On the one hand, they were glad of any movement that would rouse the people against Moscow. On the other, in religion as in politics, they were opposed to any movement which would prevent them from carrying out their policy of treating the Ukrainians as a subject and inferior race. As a result, they put every obstacle in the way of a reconciliation between the Autocephalous and the Autonomous groups and threw their support to whichever was the weaker in any given area.

The open support of the Soviet government by Sergy and his associates now under the pressure of war paid off. His protestations of sympathy for Stalin and the Russians were rewarded with medals and other honors. Then, in the autumn of 1943, as the final step in the process, Stalin gave permission for the restoration of the Patriarchate in Moscow and Sergy was duly installed. On his death in 1944, he was succeeded by Aleksey, the former Archbishop of Leningrad, the present Patriarch, and under his leader­ship the Russian Orthodox Church has embarked upon a policy of securing control for the Soviets of all other Orthodox Churches.

In the meanwhile, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church during the war displayed great activity in theº occupied Ukraine. It speedily won the support of most of the clergy who were not in  p211 the Soviet service. It reopened churches that had been closed by the Soviets and it cooperated with the Ukrainian patriotic movement.

With the return of the Soviet forces, the leaders of the Church retired to the west with a large part of the priests, and the others joined the under­ground. The Ukrainian Church was again suppressed and brought directly under the Patriarch of Moscow and it is to be noted that the head of the Orthodox Church in the UkSSR, does not hold any special point of honor as does the Catholicus of Georgia, who is still recognized as the head of a satellite Church.

It is thus safe to say that despite the continued existence of the UkSSR as an independent nation for the purposes of the United Nations, there is now no distinctive Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It has been swallowed, as in the days of Peter I, by the great Moscow religious imperialism. It has no independence and it is thoroughly and in all points dependentº upon the Russian Patriarch in Moscow.

B. The Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite

When in 1939 the Soviet forces by their understanding with the Nazis occupied for the first time Eastern Galicia and the Western Ukrainian lands, they at once set to work to remodel the area on their own standards and to eliminate all the characteristic features of Ukrainian life and culture. This process was, however, rudely interrupted by the German attack in 1941.

The dominant religion in the area was the Greek Catholic Uniat Church, or, to be more precise, Catholicism of the Byzantine Rite. The Metropolitan of this Church, Andry Sheptytsky, was the most respected figure in the entire area and he was a religious and cultural leader in every sense of the word. During this first occupation, Archbishop Sheptytsky was not personally disturbed but he was deprived of his liberty and forced into a semi-retirement. His schools and other institutions were closed, the Church was deprived of its property and a considerable number of priests were punished on various charges. Yet there was no general holocaust.

In 1941, Archbishop Sheptytsky was one of the leading figures  p212 in the attempt to revive a native and independent Ukrainian government. This was, of course, prevented by the Germans and the Archbishop remained at Lviv scarcely more free during the German occupation of Ukraine than he had been under the Soviets. He continued his efforts to unite both the Ukrainian Catholic and Autocephalous Churches without effect, but he was able to do considerable for the well-being of his people. Still he was no longer free to act openly, although his advice was sought whenever and wherever it could be.

The Soviets reoccupied Lviv on July 27, 1944 and at once set to work more vigorously to introduce their system. Archbishop Sheptytsky did not long survive for he passed away on November 1 of the same year. He was succeeded in this post by Joseph Slipy, who had been one of his outstanding assistants and the rector of the Theological Academy which Metropolitan Sheptytsky had founded in the late twenties, when it had become evident that the Poles would not allow the creation of a Ukrainian University in Lviv.

Metropolitan Slipy had barely been installed in office, when the Soviets showed their hand and began to call for a condemnation of the Vatican by the Ukrainian Catholics and for their union with Moscow. It did not take long for words to turn into actions.

On April 15, 1945, the NKVD surrounded the Cathedral of St. George in Lviv and arrested the Metropolitan, Bishop Budko and Bishop Charnetsky together with many other leaders. They arrested all of the students of the Theological Academy and they likewise seized the Cathedral and turned it over to the Patriarch of Moscow as a Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time, they informed the professors of the Theological Seminary that the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite had ceased to exist.

At almost the same time the NKVD gathered in the other Catholic bishops in Western Ukraine, Bishop Khomyshyn of Stanislaviv and his vicar, Bishop Lyatyshevsky, while at the same time the Polish Communist regime seized Bishop Kotsylovsky of Peremyshl  p213 and his auxiliary bishop, Lakota. Bishops Khomyshyn and Kotsylovsky soon died under the treatment that they received.

The others were kept in prison and then in 1946, according to the best available information, Metropolitan Slipy and his associates were sent to labor camps in the far north in the Vorkuta coal mines. From that time they have disappeared from sight.​a

In 1947, the last Catholic bishop of this rite, Bishop Romzha of Carpatho-Ukraine, while travelling through his diocese "collided" accidentally with a Soviet tank and was killed and this ended the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy in their own lands. The following year the Rumanian government followed suit and likewise annihilated the hierarchy of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite in Transylvania. In 1950 the Czech Communist regime arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment Bishop Hoydych and his coadjutor Hopka of the diocese of Prashev in Slovakia.

These actions were followed in each case by attacks upon the lower clergy, who were ordered to accept the supremacy of the Patriarch of Moscow. This was fully in the tradition of the old Russian Church, for each time that the tsars had bitten off a slice of Ukraine, they had applied the same methods to the Catholic hierarchy in the section, to the intent that the Byzantine rite could be performed only under the supervision of the Russian authorities.

In this case in 1945, on July 1, when the Soviet Ukrainian Commissar for Religion, Khodchenko, called on the clergy to recognize the new situation, the professors of the Theological Academy met in Lviv in the Cathedral of St. George and presented a request that they be given the liberties accorded to them on paper by the Stalinist Constitution. The answer was their arrest and imprisonment.

Then the government set to work. They secured the apostasy of one of the foremost of the Ukrainian Catholic priests, Father Kostelnyk, who willingly put himself at the service of the Patriarch and presided over a "sobor" which was called to ratify the switch from the Vatican to the Patriarch. Many of the priests who attended were apparently members of the NKVD in disguise. They willingly applauded Stalin and the Patriarch and armed with this authority,  p214 the Soviet regime set to work to seize all the churches and property of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite and preempt it for their own use.

This marked the end of the open existence of the Church. There were still priests who escaped and took refuge with the U. P. A. (the Ukrainian under­ground) but open worship was at an end. There has been enforced at least a superficial agreement with the Kremlin on all matters of religion. Nevertheless, the latent hatred still exists and it can flare up at any moment when the situation warrants it.

The movements represented by the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite still flourish in the emigration, where alone there is any opportunity for free thought. In the meanwhile, the Kremlin is maintaining its position in its traditional Muscovite manner and applying its savage punishments and deportations and executions to prove that Ukraine is happy and contented in following the example of the "elder brother." Yet even so, the number of episodes when Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism appears makes it seem as if the officials of both church and state were not too sure that the Ukrainian people fully sympathize with the Patriarch Aleksey in his deification of the foremost man of the ages, who still forbids Communists to have anything to do with the Orthodox Church. That has sold its soul for as little real value as did the Ukrainian Communists in the early years of the struggle.

Thayer's Note:

a Josyf Slipy would eventually be released by Khrushchev in 1963. He participated in the Second Vatican Council in that year, and was named a cardinal by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1965. He died in Rome in 1984 and his body was reburied in St. George's Cathedral in Lviv in 1992.

Hryhory Lakota died in the labor camps in 1950, three years before this book was published. Ivan Lyatyshevsky was released from the labor camps in 1955 and died in Stanislaviv in 1957.

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