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The Eastern Catholic Churches / The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 5 million
Title of First HierarchMajor Archbishop of Kyiv and Galicia
See of the First HierarchKyiv (Ukraine)
Current incumbentSvyatoslav (Shevchuk), born 1970, in office since 2011
Bishops and dioceses51 bishops; 29 dioceses and 7 exarchates
Liturgical languageUkrainian
CalendarJulian, partly Gregorian (in the diaspora)
Presence in Austriaapprox. 8,000 faithful; 7 parishes, 11 priests
Presence in Germanyapprox. 80,000 faithful; 1 bishop (apostolic exarch) based in Munich; 60 parishes, 34 priests

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) traces its tradition to the Christianization of the Kiev Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. After the defeat of this empire by the Tatars in the 13th century, the Orthodox faithful in the western areas of present-day Ukraine (Galicia and Volhynia) found themselves on the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian State. After a long period of peaceful coexistence between Catholics and Orthodox, the idea of ​​a union of Orthodox and Catholics increasingly gained support in the 16th century due to the advance of the Reformation in Poland and the Counter-Reformation carried out by the Jesuits. However, the union approved by Rome in 1595 at the request of orthodox bishops and ratified by a synod in Brest, in 1596, did not correspond to the original intention of resuming church fellowship between two churches with equal rights. Therefore, from the beginning there was resistance among the orthodox believers against the conclusion of the union, so that in 1620 an orthodox hierarchy was reestablished with its own metropolitan of Kyiv.

As a result of the divisions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, large parts of the settlement area of ​​the Uniate Christians fell to Russia. Far-reaching Russification measures soon took place there, which in 1839 led to the abolition of the Uniate Church in Russia and the incorporation of its faithful into the Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church. Only in Galicia (today's Western Ukraine), which had belonged to Austria since 1772 and again to Poland from 1918, could the Uniate church, which Austria called "Greek Catholic" continue to exist. When Western Ukraine was also incorporated into the Soviet Union after the Second World War, an illegitimate "synod", namely a synod not convened by the bishops of the Uniate Church, took place in Lemberg in March 1946. At the instigation of the Soviet rulers, it decided to dissolve the Union and integrate the faithful into the Russian Orthodox Church. Unless they joined Orthodox communities, United Christians could only live underground in Ukraine for the next four decades. However, numerous emigrants kept the legacy of the UGKK alive in the diaspora (especially in the USA and Canada).

When in December 1989 Greek Catholics in Ukraine regained the right to officially register congregations, the Greek Catholic life was rapidly revived in western Ukraine, which also led to severe tensions with the Orthodox Church, whose faithful turned to the united church. In 1991, the head of the UGKK was able to return from exile in Rome to Lviv. In 1994, the Theological Academy in Lviv, which had been closed by the Soviets, was reopened; in 2002 it received the status of a Catholic university – being the first and so far the only Catholic university in the territory of the former Soviet Union. The Major Archbishop has resided in Kyiv since August 2005, which underscores the UGKK's claim to continue the Kiev tradition. During the Maidan protests at the turn of the year 2013/14 and since the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022, the UGKK has clearly supported Ukraine's struggle for independence and supported those suffering from the consequences of the war.


  • A. Mykhaleyko, Gott auf dem Majdan. Die Rolle der Kirchen in der Ukraine-Krise, Eichstätt 2015.
  • A. Mykhaleyko, Die Ukrainische Griechisch-Katholische Kirche, in: ders., Die katholischen Ostkirchen (Die Kirchen der Gegenwart 3), Göttingen 2012, 111-126.
  • Th. M. Németh, Eine Kirche nach der Wende. Die Ukrainische Griechisch-Katholische Kirche im Spiegel ihrer synodalen Tätigkeit, Freistadt 2005.
  • F. Heyer / Chr. Weise, Kirchengeschichte der Ukraine im 20. Jahrhundert, Göttingen 2003.
  • W. Wojtowicz, Geschichte der Ukrainisch-katholischen Kirche in Deutschland, Wiesbaden 2000.