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Author: Andrij Yurash
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2006
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices
From: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices(Vol. 3: Countries: M-Z. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview; Country overview
Pages: 7
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 498


POPULATION 48,396,470
PROTESTANT 3 percent
MUSLIM 1 percent
JEWISH 0.6 percent
OTHER 0.1 percent


Country Overview


Located in eastern Europe, Ukraine is one of the largest countries on the continent, both in size and population. It is bordered to the north by Belarus, to the northeast and east by Russia, to the south by the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, to the southwest by Moldova and Romania, and to the west by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Lasting from the eighth until the thirteenth century, Kievan Rus, with its capital at Kiev, was the first and most influential Ukrainian state. It lost its independence in the fourteenth century as a result of the MongolTatar invasion from the east and Polish conquests in the west. Since that time Ukraine or some parts of it have been incorporated into neighboring states—the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Soviet Union. The religious policies of all these countries were quite different, and they supported different, sometimes opposite, confessional groups within Ukrainian society.

Ukrainians made a serious attempt to obtain independence in the seventeenth century under the leadership of Bohdan Khemel'nyt'skyj. Their efforts were more successful at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Ukraine was independent for almost four years (1917–20). In 1920 Ukraine's territory was again occupied and divided between the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Those portions of Ukraine that had been divided among Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 and 1940, according to the secret Page 499  |  Top of Article protocols of the German-Soviet Nonagression Pact. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the first country after the Baltic states to declare its independence in 1991.

Since the pre-Christian period the territory of present-day Ukraine has been under the influence of different cultures, religions, even civilizations. Before the baptism of the Kievan Rus in 988, local Slavic tribes had practiced polytheistic forms of paganism. After accepting Christianity in its Byzantine form, ancient Ukraine became a monoconfessional state (that is, a state with only one dominating religion) and remained so for six centuries. After 1596, when many Ukrainians accepted union with the Roman Catholic Church, Ukrainian society was divided into two main confessional groups. The majority were adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy, and the largest minority belonged to the Uniate Church, which became known officially as the Greek Catholic Church in the eighteenth century. Contemporary Ukrainian Protestantism has an uninterrupted history that extends back to the last decade of the nineteenth century.


The state law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, adopted in 1991, guarantees the right of Ukrainian citizens to confess any religion. All religions enjoy equal status and privileges. Despite the existence of this liberal law, serious tensions exist between the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as between different jurisdictions of the Orthodox church. These tensions have emerged since 1989 with the liberalization of religious and political life in Ukraine.

Major Religion




From the baptism of the Kievan Rus in 988 until 1686, the Kievan metropoly (church province uniting several dioceses) was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Due to the distance between the metropoly and the church center, however, relations between the Kievan church and Constantinople were almost purely formal, and the Kievan metropoly enjoyed considerable autonomy. This
Clergy members walk in front of Saint Sophia Cathedral. Built in 1037, Saint Sophia became the most important and popular cathedral in Ukraine.  ALAIN NOGUES/CORBIS SYGMA. Clergy members walk in front of Saint Sophia Cathedral. Built in 1037, Saint Sophia became the most important and popular cathedral in Ukraine. © ALAIN NOGUES/CORBIS SYGMA. autonomy led to the emergence of several specific features of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, including a high level of lay participation in church life, the dominance of informal types of spiritual expression, the election of clergy of all levels, and an openness to the influences of Western spirituality.

In 1448 several northern dioceses, then within the territory of the Grand Principality of Moscow, declared their complete independence and started to develop their own identity, which later became the basis of the Russian Orthodox Church. (After the loss of Ukrainian statehood in the fourteenth century, Kiev and the majority of the dioceses became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.) In 1686 the Kievan metropoly, having been removed from the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople, was incorporated into the Russian church. Subsequently, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the majority of features specific to Ukrainian Orthodoxy were abolished according to the policies of the Russian state and church.

The idea of creating an autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Church in Ukraine appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although there have Page 500  |  Top of Article been several relatively successful attempts to forge church jurisdictions in Ukraine that were independent from the Moscow patriarchate (the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church [1921 through January 1930, 1942–44, and since 1989] and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Kiev [since 1992]), the Orthodox jurisdiction under the supervision of the Patriarchate of Moscow still remains primary in Ukraine. This church is led by Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan (born in 1935) and has 10,384 parishes in 36 dioceses. The Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Kiev has 3,395 parishes in 31 dioceses and is led by Patriarch Filaret Denysenko (born in 1929). Metro-politan Mephodij Kudriakov (born in 1949) is the head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which has 1,156 parishes in 12 dioceses.


Many Ukrainian national leaders have been important figures in the country's Orthodox Church. In 988 Great Prince Volodymyr (died in 1015) baptized his country. Volodymyr's successor, Prince Jaroslav the Wise (978–1054), completed improvements to the organizational structure of the church and founded Ukraine's first monasteries and schools. After the majority of bishops established the Uniate Church in 1596, the Ukrainian hetman (military and political leader) Petro Sahajdachnyj (died in 1622) restored the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in 1620 with the help of Theophanus, patriarch of Jerusalem.

Dominated by the antireligious Soviet Union for many years, the clergy and certain intellectuals became the real leaders and ideologists of the church in Ukraine. Among the most famous figures of this period were Filaret Denysenko, metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia (since 1966) and patriarch of Kiev and the whole of Rus-Ukraine (since 1995); Theodosij (1926–2001), bishop of Poltava, the author of several appeals to the Soviet government about religious persecution in the country; and the writer Yevhen Sverstiuk (born in 1928), a political dissident, church polemist, and strong advocate of autocephaly for Ukrainian Orthodoxy.


In the middle of the eleventh century, Illarion, the first Slav to become Kievan metropolitan, authored The Word about Law and Blessing, the first church treatise written in Ukraine. The monks of the Kiev–Cave Monastery, which was founded in the mid-eleventh century, started the practice of writing church chronicles (litopysy).

During the early seventeenth century, the golden age of the Ukrainian theological tradition, Petro Mohyla (1596–1647), the metropolitan of Kiev, wrote the first catechism in the history of the Byzantine tradition for all of Eastern Orthodoxy. Mohyla also prepared Trebnyk (The Book of Needs), still the most complete compilation of texts of church services for all occasions. In the early eighteenth century the metropolitan Dymytrij Rostovskyj (1651–1709) wrote Chetji Mineji, the most complete collection of stories about the lives of the saints. The most important Ukrainian theologian of the twentieth century was the metropolitan Illarion Ohienko (1882–1972), who completed the most popular translation of the Bible into Ukrainian (1962) and contributed many works to the fields of church history, dogma, patristics (the study of the works and lives of the church fathers), and language.


Built in 1037, Saint Sophia became the most important and popular cathedral in Ukraine. Two Ukrainian monasteries are particularly famous: the Kiev–Cave lavra (monastery of the first rank) and the Pochajiv lavra, founded in Western Ukraine by Saint Iov of Pochajiv (1551–1651). Other famous holy sites include places where sacred signs have appeared, springs of holy water, and pustyni, or places where famous monks found personal solitude.


The relics of saints are among the most sacred objects in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition. They are kept in special boxes (raka s) in famous churches and cathedrals, which have become popular pilgrimage sites. In several places relics are kept in the caves and underground churches where the saints lived and served. Among the most famous relics in Ukraine are those of Saint Barbara (died in 306), which arrived in Kiev in the twelfth century; Saint Makarij of Kiev, metropolitan from 1495 to 1497; the saints Anthony (died in 1073) and Theodosij (1036–74) in the Kiev–Cave lavra; and the saints Iov of Pochajiv and Amphilokhij (1894–1971) in the Pochajiv lavra.

The most important sacred icons in the Ukrainian tradition are Vladimirskaya Theotocos (now in Russia but originally from the Kiev environs), God's Mother of Pochajiv, and God's Mother of the Kiev–Cave Lavra. Especially in the western part of Ukraine, the tradition of installing crosses at crossroads and near important places, hills, and churches is still widespread.

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Easter is more important and bears a deeper tradition of celebration in eastern Ukraine. Christmas is more important in western dioceses because of the Western Catholic influence there. Easter, Christmas, and the Holy Trinity (Pentecost) are state holidays as well. Historically two different holidays devoted to Saint Nicholas (in December and May) were unique to the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, but now they are also celebrated in Russia. Ukrainians are particularly fervent about the Protection of the Mother of God in October, a holiday of less importance in other Orthodox traditions.

In Ukraine many Christian holidays are connected with the practice of consecrating. Common throughout the country is the tradition of consecrating water on Epiphany in January and apples and other fruits for the Feast of the Transfiguration in August. Some traditions of consecrating, however, are dominant in particular regions: In western Ukraine candles are consecrated on Presentation in February and flower wreathes on Dormition of the Virgin Mary in August; in eastern Ukraine flowers are consecrated for the Feast of the Maccabean Martyrs in August.


Ukrainian Orthodoxy does not require laypeople to follow a specific dress code. Women are expected to wear handkerchiefs, long skirts, and long-sleeved shirts during church ceremonies, but these are not mandatory.

Orthodox clergy in the northern, central, eastern, and southern parts of Ukraine dress mainly according to the tradition of the Russian Church. Clergy from the western part of the country (Galicia) are accustomed to the simpler Greek style of dress, which has been preserved in the region partly because the clergy of the Greek Catholic church wear the same vestments. In some cases attire for western Ukrainian Orthodox clergy reflects the influence of the Catholic tradition. Classical Greek clerical headgear (instead of the Russian type) is also becoming more popular.


Ukrainian Orthodoxy's only dietary restrictions are connected with the highly popular practice of fasting. Any meat, fish, or other animal products—such as milk, eggs, and butter—and alcoholic drinks are completely prohibited during fasting periods. Almost all Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days. Besides one-day fasts, there is the system of long-term fasts, which is shared by all Orthodox traditions. But the Great Lent, or the Great Fast, which begins 48 days before Easter, and the fast before the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (from 14 to 27 August, according to the Gregorian calendar) are particularly important and are strictly observed in the Ukrainian tradition.


Among the three types of liturgies used in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is the most frequently delivered in Ukraine. The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is delivered only during fasting periods and on the saint's day itself. The Liturgy of Saint George is delivered only on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church holds special evening worship—Vsenichne Bdinnia (All-night Vigil)—every Saturday and on the eves of big holidays. Ukrainian Orthodoxy accepted the Western tradition of commemorating the pasiji (passion) of Christ, which originated in the seventeenth century. Also, Orthodox dioceses in Galicia have borrowed from the neighboring Catholic communities the tradition of holding everyday evening services in May, with special prayers and sermons in the name of the Virgin Mary.


The Orthodox Church in Ukraine recognizes that a child becomes conscious and responsible for his or her own life at age seven. Thereafter, the child is expected to confess and take Communion regularly.

Ukrainian Orthodoxy holds that special services and rituals for the dead—on the first, third, ninth, and fortieth days after death—are important for the deceased's life after death. These services involve bringing homemade bread and sweets to church.


According to tradition, anyone born in the territory dominated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church automatically belongs to the church. Nevertheless, while church officials have estimated that there are no less than 40 million Orthodox in Ukraine, in fact only 61 percent of the population (29.5 million) have declared their Orthodox beliefs, and active adherents make up an even smaller percentage. Indeed, although Sunday liturgy, the main service, is considered obligatory for church members, only an estimated 17 percent of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine attend church services at least twice per month. In concert with the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodoxy vigorously opposes other confessional influences, especially the Page 502  |  Top of Article widening influence of Protestantism and its growing number of adherents, as well as the proselytizing efforts of the Roman Catholic Church.

Various branches of the Orthodox Church have founded more than 100 newspapers in Ukraine. They also maintain websites, and many broadcast religious programs on local and national television. Some dioceses also have their own websites.


At the beginning of 2000 the two main Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine—the Patriarchate of Kiev and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow—adopted new social doctrines, in which the discussion of poverty, education, and human rights figured prominently. No serious distinctions exist between the respective doctrines. In response to the urgent problem of poverty during Ukraine's transition to a market economy, which has been most pronounced among less educated and older people (who make up the majority of church adherents), many Orthodox institutions have started to organize food centers, modest financial assistance, the distribution of aid from abroad, and other systems of help for the poorest people. Secondary education is obligatory and free in Ukraine, but churches have begun to develop their own educational systems through a network of Sunday schools and primary and higher theological institutions, which are mainly for the preparation of future clergy.

Although the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has fought for the rights and resources of its own followers, at the same time it has advocated limiting certain rights of adherents of others religions. For example, it has urged the state to be more strict in the registration of new religious groups and organizations, to restrict the activities of foreign missionaries, and to emphasize the state's official recognition of the unique role of Orthodoxy in the historical development of the country.


As pre-Christian paganism lacked strict concepts of monogamy and permanent family, the Christianization of the Kievan Rus in the tenth and eleventh centuries was critical to the appearance and confirmation of family values in Ukraine. In present-day Ukraine the church strictly opposes divorce, abortion, and anything it sees as detrimental to family values. In general the idea of the family as the smallest church, or "home church," is increasingly popular in Ukraine.


Orthodoxy has been closely inter-twined with politics since the Christianization of the Kievan Rus. When Ukraine lost its independent state-hood in the fourteenth century, Eastern Orthodoxy became for many centuries an essential aspect of Ukrainian national identity. Indeed, religious differences were one of the most important aspects of the tension between Orthodox Ukrainians and Catholic Poles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Conversely, Ukraine's religious sympathies with Russia contributed to its reunion with the Moscow State in 1654.

Following the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state between 1917 and 1920, autocephalous jurisdictions emerged within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and in 1918 the state decreed the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. Later, Ukrainian anti-Communist opposition was marked by the closeness between political and religious movements. Furthermore, the revivals of the Ukrainian state and the autocephalous Orthodox Church paralleled each other during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In contemporary Ukraine a number of pro-governmental and Communist parties, as well as formal and informal political lobbies, are ready to accept—at least in part—the Russian model of state-church relations, which emphasizes the unique role of one church organization, the Orthodoxy. Also, two officially registered "fractions," or groups, of deputies who support the Orthodox Church exist in the Ukrainian parliament, though they have different orientations. One gives legislative support to the autocephalous Ukrainian Church and its recognition by other churches; the other supports that branch of the Orthodox Church which is in canonical union with the Moscow Patriarchate.


The most controversial issue in contemporary Ukrainian Orthodoxy surrounds the persistent division between its three branches (even while the majority of the Ukrainian population supports their unification). This lack of internal unity is a significant factor in the continued refusal of other Orthodox churches to recognize the independent Ukrainian Orthodoxy as a canonical and autocephalous church, an end that is widely desired by the Ukrainian people. From 1998 to 2001 the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople attempted to help resolve the problem by unifying at least two autocephalous church branches, but the effort was abandoned when the Patriarchate of Moscow threatened to suspend its liturgical communication with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

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The cultural development of Ukraine bears an essential connection with the Orthodox tradition. Church authors—monks and members of the church hierarchy—created the first written texts during the ancient period. Later, monasteries became the main places of mass education and of preserving the cultural heritage. Almost all branches of Ukrainian culture have started or have made significant achievements in direct connection with the spiritual sphere: painting with the tradition of icons, architecture with the building of churches, music with the religious tradition of polyphonic singing, and literature with the works of church writers.

Other Religions

Concentrated mainly in the western regions of Galicia and Transcarpathia, the second largest religious community in Ukraine is that of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, also known as the Ukrainian Uniate Church. This church was established in 1596 at the Council of Brest, when five of seven bishops of the Kievan metro-poly declared their unity with Rome. Through this unification, the Kievan bishops sought to attain equal rights with the Roman Catholic bishops and to secure certain political and juridical privileges, including the right to take part in the state parliament, or sejm, and to receive essential financial support from the king and the state.

Although the Greek Catholic Church was later banned by the Russian Empire, in western Ukraine it gained support from the Polish-Lithuanian Common-wealth and remained intact when Galicia, which had been annexed by Poland in the fourteenth century, became part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1772. After enduring a period of complete prohibition during the post–World War II Soviet era, the church experienced a revival in 1989. Over the next 15 years it reestablished its tradition and structures and once again became a vital part of religious life in western Ukraine, building its own network of social services, charitable organizations, and evangelical programs. The contemporary Greek Catholic Church comprises 3,340 parishes and more than 3,000 clergymen, and it enjoys the strong support of the Vatican and other Catholic organizations abroad. Archbishop Liubomyr Huzar (born in 1933) of Lviv was elected head of the church in 2000 and appointed cardinal in 2001.

Roman Catholicism has traditionally been identified with national minorities in Ukraine—Poles, Slovaks, and Hungarians, for example. Roman Catholicism emerged in Ukraine in the twelfth century, when the first Dominican monasteries were founded there. Although some conversion of Orthodox Ukrainians ensued, many resisted the new teachings. The contemporary Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine unites seven dioceses with 863 parishes and more than 1,100 clergymen. Marjan Javorsky (born in 1926), the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Lviv, became a cardinal in 1997 (officially announced in 2001), making the city the only one in the world where two Catholic cardinals coexist.

Protestants form Ukraine's third largest religious group. Protestantism was first introduced in Ukraine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Facing strong opposition from Cossacks and state prohibitions, how-ever, Protestantism was completely destroyed in the second half of the seventeenth century and did not reappear in Ukraine until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was reestablished through the missionary efforts of German Baptists. By the beginning of the twentieth century approximately 5 percent of Ukrainians were Baptists. According to the number of adherents, the Baptist Church of Ukraine is the largest Baptist body in Europe. In the twentieth century Pentecostal, Adventist, and Jehovah's Witness movements also developed in different regions of Ukraine. No less than 3 percent of the Ukrainian population now confesses various Protestant denominations.

Judaism originated in Ukraine in the tenth century. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries western European Jews immigrated to Ukraine through Poland in significant numbers, establishing settlements—almost 80 towns—throughout most of the country. Ukraine is the birthplace of the Hasidic movement, which was founded in the eighteenth century by Baal Shem-Tov (1700–60), who was born in eastern Galicia.

Ukraine became notorious for several massacres of the Jewish population that occurred within its borders. These took place in the mid-seventeenth century, during the war for independence; in the second part of eighteenth century, during several peasant insurrections; at the beginning of the twentieth century, during anti-Jewish pogroms organized by Russian nationalistic organizations; and during the Holocaust of World War II. During the latter conflict more than 100,000 Jews were killed in Kiev alone, at a site called Babi Yar.

After mass emigration at the end of the 1970s and during the post-Communist period, fewer than 200,000 Page 504  |  Top of Article Jews remain in Ukraine. They have created 230 communities—including Hasidic, Progressive, and Messianic types—and several dozen Jewish organizations.

Islam in Ukraine is concentrated in the Crimean peninsula, where a strong Crimean Tatar Muslim community of 400,000 people exists. The traditional local ethnic group of Turkic origin, the Crimean Tatars finally accepted Islam as a national religion in the fourteenth century under the khan Uzbek. In 1944 the Crimean Tatars were completely deported from their motherland to Middle Asia by Josef Stalin's Soviet regime, having been unjustly accused of cooperating with Nazi occupiers during World War II. They began to return to Crimea in the late 1980s. Their return has caused some ethnic and religious conflicts with the ethnic Russian majority on the peninsula.

The beginning of the 1990s saw the revival of specific forms of Ukrainian neopaganism, which is based on the ideas of traditional, pre-Christian Ukrainian paganism. Two main branches represent contemporary Ukrainian paganism: The Native Ukrainian National Faith has based its ideas of reformed paganism on the book Maga vira (1979), by Leo Sylenko (born in 1932), developing monotheistic ideas and establishing an aggressive attitude toward Christianity; the Native Belief has continued a polytheistic tradition, substantiated in the works of Volodymyr Shajan (1908–74). In all, 70 pagan communities are active in contemporary Ukraine.

The 1990s also witnessed the development of new religious movements in Ukraine. Notable among these has been the Great White Brotherhood, which originated at the beginning of the decade. The Great White Brotherhood gained attention because of the mass spreading of the movement (even abroad) and its attempts to forecast the end of the world in 1993. Still, new religious movements have remained marginal, and their activities are subject to mass public opposition.

Andrij Yurash

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity , Eastern Orthodoxy


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Blazejovskyj, Dmytro. Hierarchy of the Kyivan Church (861–1990). Rome: Universitas Catholica Ucrainorum Clementis Papae, 1990.

Filipovych, L.O. "Role of Religion for the Ukrainian Nationalism." In Nacionalismo en Europa, nacionalismo en Galicia: la religión como elemento impulsor de la ideológia nacionalista, 167–78. La Coruña, Spain: Universidade la Coruña, 1998.

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Yelensky, Victor. "The Ukrainian Church and State in the Post-Communist Era." In Church-State Relations in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Irena Borowik, 136–52. Krakow: Nomos, 1999.

Yurash, Andrew. "Religion as a Non-Traditional Component of the National Security Problem: The Ukrainian Pattern." In Church-State Relations in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Irena Borowik, 221–35. Krakow: Nomos, 1999.

Yurash, Andrij. "Essential Macroconfessional Processes in Modern Ukraine." Geneza-Expert no. 1 (1996): 35–40.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3437900243