History of Ukraine's struggle for its autocephalous church

Author : Mykyta Sinitsyn

Source : 112 Ukraine

Find out the chronology of Ukraine's fight for its own church, not subordinated to Moscow
17:30, 10 October 2018

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In the coming days, the matter of granting Ukraine the right to an autocephalous church, which would not be subordinated to Moscow, but to Constantinople, to be solved. This issue is being resolved for the territories of modern Ukraine for the second time. The first time it was resolved so successfully that the head of the independent, then still Kyiv Metropolis, moved to Moscow and took the post of head of the united churches.

The church conflict around the Orthodox lands that were part of future Ukraine and Belarus, broke out in the middle of the fourteenth century. It had some political reasons, which nevertheless became directly involved in the church.

Kyiv was the centre of Christianity in Rus, and the head of the church bore the title of Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus. The Mongol invasion in the ХІІІ century especially hit Kyiv, so that the things of the Kyiv metropolitans were bad. In 1299, the next Metropolitan Maksym decided to move the department from Kyiv to the northeast by the Metropolitan, to Volodymyr Principality and the Volodymyr city. 17 years later, his successor Petro, moved again, choosing Moscow as his permanent residence.

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A paradoxical situation has arisen: those who possessed "Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus" titularity sat hundreds of kilometres from their legal residence. However, until the middle of the 14th century, this was not a particular obstacle: metropolitans sent their officials to Western dioceses and periodically travelled for spiritual encouragement of parishioners and solving personnel and economic issues.

The situation changed dramatically in the 50s of the fourteenth century.

It was a period of strengthening of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led by Prince Olgerd, subjugating to himself most of the territories that were part of modern Ukraine and Belarus. However, the prince did not bring any oppression to Orthodoxy. On the contrary, his wives, about whom at least something is known, were Orthodox - princesses from Vitebsk and Tver, and some of the children converted to Christianity. That is, in personal terms, Olgerd rather favoured Christianity. He did it, rather, for state reasons, since most of his subjects were Orthodox, although the prince of Lithuania himself was believed to have died a pagan.

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Since the mid-1350s, Olgerd’s interests have clashed with the Volodymyr Principality, that is, Moscow. In addition to the spiritual oversight of Orthodox subjects, the ruler received an outflow of income from the Orthodox dioceses from his territory to Moscow, reinforcing the prince’s adversary. But most importantly, it was during this period - from 1354 - that one of the prominent figures of medieval Rus Oleksiy (Byakont) became the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

Starting an open conflict with Oleksiy, Olgerd began to ask the Patriarch of Constantinople, as head of Orthodoxy, to appoint another Orthodox Metropolitan of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, since Oleksiy did not visit his eparchies subordinates, did not take care of their affairs, but only brought money to Moscow.

After the death of Oleksiy in 1378, Cyprianus tried to come to Moscow and become the head of the United department of the Metropolitan of Kyiv, Lithuania and All Rus, he was stopped at the border by order of Prince Dmitry Donskoy. Cyprianus was robbed and sent back. 

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This was followed by a 12-year-old leapfrog with metropolitans, when four people managed to visit metropolitans in Moscow, including Cyprianus himself, and the rights of not all of them were recognized as legitimate.

The first was the personal confessor of Dmitry Donskoy Mityai. He went to Constantinople to be approved by the Patriarchate, but died unexpectedly on his way to the city, so a new candidate for the metropolitan appeared - Pereyaslav archimandrite Pimen. In 1381, Pimen returned, but was also unkindly accepted by Donskoy, he was imprisoned by his order.

In 1382, during Tokhtamysh’s forays into Moscow, Donskoy, leaving the city and family in the care of the Metropolitan, left to "mobilize the regiments." Cyprianus left, taking the family of the Grand Duke with him. Until his death in 1389, Donskoy refused to deal with Cyprianus.


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Dmitry Donskoy

However, the church could not exist without the metropolitan, and Pimen was returned from exile, Dmitry Donskoy recognized his title of Metropolitan. Pimen was remembered by his exorbitant greed, thereby indirectly confirming rumours that he had been ordained by the metropolitan for taking huge bribes.

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Separated from the Moscow Orthodox church organization in the territory of future Ukraine arose three more times:

1) in 1415, by the decision of the hierarchs of the Church of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Hryhiriy Tsamblak was appointed the metropolitan of Kyiv. However, after 4 years, he renounced the title;

2) in 1441 - the metropolitan of Kyiv, the Greek Isidore, was expelled from Moscow after an attempt to hold a service according to the Uniate canon, which he had adopted on behalf of Russia at the Ferraro-Florence Cathedral. Isidore was recognized as the metropolitan of Kyiv outside the Grand Duchy of Moscow until his death in 1458;

3) in 1620 - the year of restoration by Patriarch Theophanes III of the department of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus in Kyiv, the post of the first Metropolitan was occupied by Job Boretsky.

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