What is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?Question: "What is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?"
Answer: There are three groups in Ukraine that use the name “Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” but only one is officially recognized by Eastern Orthodoxy. That one is called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and it is under the umbrella of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is considered a self-governing entity within that patriarchate and enjoys a broad autonomy. According to a 2015 study by the Democratic Initiatives Fund, over 67 percent of Ukraine’s 43 million population consider themselves Orthodox Christians, with about 21 percent belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate; according to Ukraine’s State Department on Religions and Nationalities, there are over 18,000 Orthodox parishes in Ukraine as of the beginning of 2016.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church traces its presence in Ukraine to the missionary activity of the apostle Andrew. According to the UOC, Andrew was traveling down the Dnieper River when he prophesied that a great city would be built upon a certain site—the city of Kiev is now situated there. In the 10th century, Orthodox churches and monasteries were built in Ukraine under the auspices of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Oversight was later moved to Moscow, and that began a long and rocky history between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. Things were further complicated when the Communists took over Russia began executing Orthodox clergy in both Russia and Ukraine.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America was formed when two separate groups of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful merged. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, tensions with Russia—specifically, the fight over Crimea—continue to strain ecclesiastical ties. There is a movement in Ukraine to unite the various factions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and seek to have it declared completely independent of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The doctrine and practice of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church follow those of other churches within Eastern Orthodoxy. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church observes seven sacraments; venerates icons; prays to Mary, the “Mother of God,” and other saints; prays for the dead; and teaches a grace-plus-works road to salvation. The Bible is clear that salvation is all of grace, apart from human works (Romans 11:6), and that means Orthodox soteriology is “another” gospel to be avoided (see Galatians 1:6–9).
Recommended Resources: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2d ed.: A Western Perspective by Daniel B. Clendenin
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What is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?