UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCE) is a Catholic Church of Byzantine Rites. It was created as a result of the Union of Brest in1596 between a part of the Kyiv Metropolitan of the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Apostolic capital in Rome. While remaining governed by the Vatican, the UGCC kept the Orthodox rites, and at the same time avoided Polonization. In the first half of the seventeenth century the Uniate Church encompassed almost all of Ukraine, and during the national liberation war under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky a return to Orthodox began. Most parishes of the UGCC are in Western Ukraine (which in different years was under Austro-Hungarian and Polish rule). The UGCE was to be the guardian of national culture. By 1939 there were 4,400 churches and chapels in Western Ukraine, as well as 127 monasteries, a theology academy and 5 seminaries. During the Second World War the UGCC had more than 4 million parishioners. In 1944 – 1945 the Soviet authorities accused the top hierarchy of the Church of collaboration. The Metropolitan and Head of the Church Josyf SLIPY, all four archbishops and most priests (around 800 people) were arrested and sent to labour camps.
From 8-10 March 1946 in Lviv under pressure from the Soviet authorities and the Moscow Patriarchate, on the initiative of the priests H. Kostelnyk, M. Melnyk and J. Pelvetsky, a “Synod of the Greek Catholic Church” was called which severed the union with Rome and transferred the Greek Catholics to the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.
A large part of the UGCC clergy refused to accept the Synod’s decisions and went into hiding. For more than 40 years the UGCC existed in Ukraine as a catacomb Church, with its priests and active members being subjected to criminal prosecution. Throughout those years, believers demanded that their churches be reopened and their parishes registered. In 1982, in Halychyna an Initiative Group to Defend the Rights of Believers and the Church in Ukraine emerged, heading by Josyp TERELYA. The Group published a bulletin entitled “Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Ukraine», and existed right up to ‘perestroika’, when the legalization of the UGCC became one of the main demands of the civic movement in Ukraine.
From 1987-1989 the Committee for the Defence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, created in Lviv and headed by Ivan HEL was very active and published a journal “Christian Voice”. The Committee collected 20 thousand signatures under a demand to legalize the Church, and activists held pickets on Arbat (St) in Moscow and outside government buildings in Kyiv.
On 17 September 1989 (on the fiftieth anniversary of the advance of Soviet troops into Western Ukraine) there was a political demonstration in Lviv attended by 200 thousand people in support of legalization of the UGCC. A lot of believers returned to their native Church, and began to occupy the churches which had been confiscated in 1946. However the UGCC was only officially registered on 20 November 1989 just before a meeting between the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John-Paul II.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is presently one of the most influential Churches in Ukraine (with 8 eparchies, and more than 3,000 parishes). On 21 August 2005 its Church headquarters were moved to Kyiv.