Twenty-seven years ago, on January 6, 1991, Patriarch Mstyslav issued a Nativity Epistle as primate of a united Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
As Ukraine was on the eve of its own political independence and as the world watched the onset of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Patriarch Mstyslav stated:
“…Precisely at this critical moment in the life of the Ukrainian people, Divine Providence, which heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, equips our people with the spiritual strength and inspiration necessary for a spontaneous awakening and action towards the rebirth of our forefathers’ Orthodox Church, which in her internal administration is answerable to no one. The results of this spiritual renaissance are already visible. They are visible to even the ‘blind,’ and they amaze the friends of our nation.”
The patriarch noted the other milestones achieved in 1990 for the creation of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine, including the establishment of Ukraine’s own independent hierarchy and the return to the bosom of their Mother Church of over 1,500 priests, who previously belongs to foreign jurisdictions. The All-Ukrainian Sobor of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, he added, convened in Kyiv on June 5-6, 1990, and voted for the creation of a patriarchate, followed by another Synod in Kyiv, attended by hierarchs of the UAOC in Ukraine and representatives of the Council of Bishops of the UAOC in the diaspora, on November 16 that elected Metropolitan Mstyslav as patriarch. His installation was held on November 17-18.
The Council of Bishops included: Ioann (metropolitan of Lviv and Halychyna); Constantine (archbishop of Chicago); Anatoliy (archbishop of Paris and Western Europe); Vasyliy, (archbishop of Ternopil and Buchach); Andriy (archbishop of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyia); Antony (archbishop of Washington); Volodymyr (archbishop of Bila Tserkva and Vyshhorod and vicarius of the Kyivan Eparchy); Paiisy (bishop of Curitiba and South America); Daniel (bishop of Chernivtsi and Khotyn); Mykolai (bishop of Lutsk and Volodymyr-Volynskyi; Roman (bishop of Uman); and Antoniy (bishop of Rivne and Ostrih).
These events, as noted in the analysis by Dr. David Marples and Ostap Skrypnyk, were “of significance, not only in the signaling of the revival of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine, but also for the fact that Patriarch Mstyslav has long been noted for his desire for harmony between the Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches in Ukraine.”
It was unclear at the time how ownership of church property, previously owned by the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, would be transferred to the UAOC. “As political power in Ukraine has shifted toward more popular forces, however, and as the authorities have recognized the right of the Ukrainian Churches to organize, the Russian Orthodox Church has had to respond with more substantial policies than mere appeals for official support. In eastern Ukraine, where the party is stronger and Russification more deeply ingrained, it has used its institutional and political advantages to limit the spread of the UAOC. But with the return of Patriarch Mstyslav, the situation has been transformed. The authority of the émigré hierarch has bolstered the UAOC’s claims to be the legitimate voice of Orthodox Ukrainians.”
The patriarch’s visit to Ukraine began on October 20. He held a service at St. Sophia Cathedral to throngs of faithful, stopping in his native Poltava, and appearing with Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church during a ceremony in Lviv marking the 1918 proclamation of the Western Ukrainian National Republic.
The Russian Orthodox Church, noted Dr. Marples, continued its policy in Ukraine of creating confusion and attempts to diminish support for Patriarch Mstyslav and the UAOC, even naming its Moscow-loyal jurisdiction as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and later the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church, with the same acronym as the UAOC.
Sources: “Nativity Epistle of Patriarch Msytyslav I,” and “Patriarch Mstyslav and revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church,” by Dr. David Marples and Ostap Skrypnyk, The Ukrainian Weekly, January 6, 1991.