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“Ukrainian” as “Non-Orthodox”: How Greek Catholics Were “Reunited” with the Russian Orthodox Church, 1940s–1960s


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“Ukrainian” as “Non-Orthodox”: How Greek Catholics Were “Reunited” with the Russian Orthodox Church, 1940s–1960s

Translation by Jan Surer Natalia ShlikhtaHistory Department, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kyiv, Ukraine). [email protected]

Drawing upon archival, published and oral sources, as well as recent stud- ies on the correlation between religion and nationality, this article argues that the formal “reunification” of the Greek Catholics with the Russian Or- thodox Church became a successful “subaltern strategy,” ensuring the sur- vival of the Greek Catholic Church through the Soviet period. The article demonstrates that the “Church within the Church,” which came into exist- ence because of “reunification,” for decades preserved its separate identi- ty within the Russian Orthodox Church. The “Church within the Church”

did not oppose the regime’s assimilation policy directly, yet positioned it- self as Ukrainian and therefore as non-Orthodox (because non-Russian) and even as non-Soviet. This article examines these specific issues within the wider context of the survival of the Church in the Soviet state.

Keywords: Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Church within the Church, national Church, Communist (So- viet) regime, reunification, ecclesiastical nationalism.



HE “Uniate problem,” which the Stalinist leadership (with the help of the Moscow Patriarchate) undertook to resolve in whatever way pos- sible immediately upon the conclusion of the Second World War, was far from the only national challenge Moscow faced. Earlier, the existence of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in both its 1921 and 1942 in- carnations, as well as of the Ukrainian Autonomous Church headed by Arch- bishop Alexy (Hromadsky; Russian, Gromadsky), had represented similar challenges; the latter Church based its autonomous rights on the Resolution on the Ukrainian Exarchate of 1921. The religious situation in the Ukrainian Exarchate, which had become significantly more complicated in its national aspect (chiefly during the war years), exerted considerable influence on the


official view of the “Uniate problem” as first and foremost a national prob- lem. And, in turn, the perceptions of Greek Catholics as they were integrated into the Orthodox Church — and through it, paradoxically, into Soviet socie- ty — influenced the formation of their “subaltern strategy” (as defined by Shei- la Fitzpatrick [Fitspatrik (Fitzpatrick) 2008: 12]), as this experience markedly strengthened the element of nationality in the process of their daily survival.

The liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), the ma- jority of researchers agree, was the only logical option for the Stalinist lead- ership from the moment of the annexation of the “western territories” in 1939. Both historical tradition and the anti-Vatican orientation of the USSR’s foreign policy after the Second World War supported such a solution to the “Uniate problem.” The Greek Catholic Church’s unbreakable bond — in the eyes not only of the region’s population but also of the state leader- ship — with Ukrainian nationalism, its image as what Dimitry Pospielovs- ky called the “cradle” of Ukrainian nationalism (Pospielovsky 1984: 2:306) or, in Serhy Yekelchyk’s term, its “cornerstone” (Iekel’chyk [Yekelchyk] 2008:

95), became the main argument in favor of the final liquidation of the UGCC.

The French scholar Danielle Hervieu-Léger sees religion as a “chain of mem- ory,” that is, as a form of collective memory that protects the community from historical amnesia (Hervieu-Léger 2000). Consideration of her proposition makes clear why the struggle with “nationalistic” versions of historical mem- ory in Galicia necessitated the liquidation of the UGCC.

Indeed, the decision to liquidate the UGCC through its “reunification”

with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) also seemed completely logi- cal and historically grounded, and evoked fewer objections and misun- derstandings in the post-1943 atmosphere of state-church rapprochement than it would have in any other circumstances. The ultimate goal of the campaign for the “reunification” and “Orthodoxization” of the Greek Cath- olics was by no means limited to their religious assimilation. At issue was nothing less than the “formation [vykhovannia] of Galician citizens of Sovi- et Ukraine, an inalienable part of the Soviet Union” (Iekel’chyk [Yekelchyk]

2008: 99). Many scholars agree that the regime took for granted the equiv- alence of Orthodox — Russian — Soviet, as far as the implementation of Soviet social, national and religious policy in Western Ukraine was con- cerned. (See, for example, Markus 1976: 121; Bociurkiw 1972: 192–93.)

The Moscow Patriarchate, despite its own interests and aspira- tions, also regarded “Uniatism” (uniia)1 and its liquidation primarily

1. The term uniia (literally “union”), translated here as Uniatism, signifies the Union of Brest (1596), a fusion of Orthodox praxis with Catholic doctrine and acknowledgment of papal supremacy, and the resulting Uniate Church (later the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church). The tsarist regime and the Russian Orthodox Church opposed


in national-political, rather than religious, terms. Even twenty years after the official liquidation of the UGCC, Archbishop of Tallinn and Estonia Alexy (Ridiger), the executive secretary of the Moscow Patri- archate, emphasized the “national-political significance” of the strug- gle with “Uniatism” in Western Ukraine. In an official speech given on April 23, 1966, at the celebration in Lviv of the twentieth anniversary of the Council of Lviv, he concluded his detailed review of the “church history of Southwestern Rus” from the national angle with a brief re- mark about the additional “religious-theological aspect” of this age-old struggle (TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 5, d. 17, ll. 104–5).

One can only speculate as to how much the Church authorities’ own views determined this approach to the “Uniate problem” and “reuni- fication” and to what extent it was dictated by the regime. Consider- ations of their own survival certainly inclined Church officials to use the terminology of official Soviet speech, which became especially im- portant for the Church during Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Here it is necessary to set out an important methodological quali- fication. Usage of the term “reunification” must not be limited chron- ologically, for example, to the second half of the 1940s. The term is used in this article not only to signify the fact of “reunion” (that is, the Lviv Council of March 8–10, 1946), but also to mean the lengthy process of turning “former Uniates” into “Orthodox” and “Soviets.” In documents from the Council (Soviet) for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church and later the Council (Soviet) for Religious Affairs, the terms “reunification” (meaning the fact of the liquidation of the UGCC) and “Orthodoxization” (the process of the requisite transfor- mation of the religious life of those “reunited”) were not always con- sistently applied, but nonetheless a distinction was made. Church doc- umentation differentiated these terms more consistently.2

The “reunited,” for their part, also used both terms. The phrase “to sign [podpisat’ (a pledge of reunification with — translator)] Ortho- doxy” and the derivative “signed [podpisnoi] priest were used to un-

Uniatism as a tool of Polish Catholic encroachment. The Soviets, too, perceived the Uniate Church as a threat, hence the negative connotation of “Uniate” in the Soviet era.

Especially after the post-Soviet revival of the Ukrainian and other Eastern European Greek Catholic churches, the term “Uniatism” gained renewed negative attention as a bone of contention in Catholic-Orthodox relations. — Translator

2. The terms “Orthodoxization” and “Orthodox churching” were used in Church documen- tation after 1946 to signify the process of the “introduction of former Uniates into the fold of Orthodox church life.” See, for example, the Synodal resolution of July 8, 1947 (GARF, f. 6991, op. 2, d. 59a, ll. 57–58).


derscore the exclusively formal nature of the oath of allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, the official term “reunification”

was also used, especially when it was necessary to stress their own loy- alty (in contrast to the “recalcitrant Uniates”) and thereby to assert their distance from the Greek Catholics. Galicians’ use of the term “re- unification” was a prime example of discursive strategies that, accord- ing to Andrew Stone, “allowed religious citizens to infuse official dis- course with different meanings and thereby create a space where their

‘normal’ Soviet lives could coexist with religion” (Stone 2008: 299).

All of this explains why this article’s written primary sources are by no means confined to those from the 1940s. In the early 1970s (a grand celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Lviv Council took place in 1971) the “reunification” was discussed as an ongoing process in both Moscow and Kyiv, and, with a quite different subtext, in Western Ukraine.

The Lviv Council resulted in the “self-liquidation” of the UGCC. The response of the Greek Catholic believers and clergy was not uniform.

Some chose the path of open dissent, refusing “to return to our fathers’

holy faith and the Russian Orthodox Church,” in the formula of the Lviv Council (See Serhiichuk 2001: 109). The image of the “Uniate national- istic anti-Soviet underground” applied for long decades to those who de- cided to go into the catacombs so as to maintain “the purity of the true faith” and their fidelity to the Holy See. But the majority (3,289 parishes and 1,296 priests, according to official statistics from the Council for the Affairs of the ROC [GARF, f. 6991, op. 2, d. 256, ll. 1–2]) chose a differ- ent way, a path that, despite its adherents’ arguments and justifications, members of the “catacomb” church, as well as Ukrainian national his- toriography, label as the path “of compromise and betrayal.”

By resisting the temptation to squeeze reality, using well-known his- toriographical clichés, into the convenient dichotomy of opposition-col- laboration, I will be able to trace how formal “reunification” became an effective “subaltern strategy” that secured the survival of the Greek Catholic Church in the Soviet period. To investigate the survival strat- egies of Ukrainian Greek Catholics after the forcible liquidation of their Church I have used both written materials (unpublished and published letters, sermons, internal Church documents, and documents of the So- viet authorities) and oral sources. The latter were collected through a large-scale oral history project, “An Image of the Strength of the Spir- it: The Living History of the Underground UGCC (Obraz syly dukhu:

zhyva istoriia pidpillia UGKTs),” carried out by the Institute of Church History (Lviv). From 1992 to 2013, the institute’s researchers conduct- ed approximately 2,200 interviews, which can be used for the study of


both the “catacomb” existence of Greek Catholics and the life of “reu- nited” eparchies in the Soviet era. For the present investigation, 50 in- terviews were selected, of which 17 are cited in these pages. The follow- ing criteria were applied in the selection of the interviews:

1. Age: Respondents were chosen who were old enough during the Council of Lviv to be aware of it. The oldest was born in 1906, the youngest in 1931. There are two exceptions, respond- ents born in 1940 and 1941, whose recollections were not used to reconstruct the situation in the 1940s.

2. The territorial principle: Respondents represent all the re- gions of Western Ukraine; one respondent was a Greek Catho- lic priest from Transcarpathia

3. Interviews given by both clergy (“reunified” and “under- ground”) and laity were analyzed.

To be sure, these interviews are just as subject to criticism as are all other oral history sources. But with the proper critical reading and comparison with written evidence, they nevertheless permit the re- construction of Galicians’ perceptions of the Orthodoxy imposed upon them and their attempts to preserve their religious and national dis- tinctiveness after 1946.

The present investigation shows that “reunification” in the territory of Western Ukraine resulted in the formation of a distinctive “Church within the Church,”3 which retained its particular religious, cultural and national features while remaining for decades a foreign body within the structure of the ROC. The members of the “Church within the Church”

(believers, clergy and the episcopate) were bound closely together by the shared recognition of their distinctiveness from the ROC, their differ- ent religious and national identities and the desire to survive in a state that was not going to tolerate their otherness, regardless of their sincer- ity and their motives for converting to Orthodoxy.

Moreover, with the use of the concepts of Hervieu-Léger (who, in addition to the definition of religion as a form of collective memory, proposes a view of religion as a means of uniting a specific communi- ty — a communal chain [Hervieu-Léger 2000]), it becomes clear that at a fundamental level the choice of the “Church within the Church”

was not very different from the choice of the “catacomb” UGCC. Both options were local projects for the survival of the Church and became a serious obstacle to the realization of Moscow’s assimilationist plans

3. For the original concept of a “Church within the Church,” see Markus 1989: 153, and Markus 1976: 122–23.


concerning the Western Ukrainians. And while the behavior of the

“catacomb” Church embodied “provocative nationalism” (the nation- alist defiant in Sabrina Ramet’s terminology [Ramet 1988: 18]) in al- most pure form, the national element became definitive in the identi- ty of the “Church within the Church” as well.

The problem of the interrelationship between the religious and the national, the church and nationality, and religion and nationalism has a long and complex history in the works of theologians, historians and sociologists. I shall present the observations of those researchers whose projects are important in their methodological and theoretical aspects for the question under consideration here.

First, in the Soviet state, which declared itself to be atheist and in- ternational, “[r]eligion and nationalism were compelled to withdraw into the margins of communist society where they found each other as natural allies” (Luukkanen 1994: 29). Second, in conditions of the complete “absence of other autonomous ethnic institutions, a nation- al Church becomes a haven for national traditions and culture,” which explains the striving of “the imperial government and the imperial Church (. . .) to break up the religio-ethnic symbiosis by a variety of means” (Bociurkiw 1990: 152).

Third, the national element automatically lends significant strength to the oppositional role of a church in a Communist state. The fusion of religion and national identity turns a society or social group into an entity with great powers of resistance against the policies of any re- pressive regime (Ramet 1989: 4). Finally, it is the historical tradition in particular that legitimizes the possible oppositional role of each specif- ic national church in relation to a Communist regime (Sugar 1989: 58).

Havryil Kostelnyk’s Concept of “Reunification”

Natalia Madei argues that through “reunification” with the ROC the lead- er of the “Initiative Group for the Reunification of the Greek Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church,” Havryil Kostelnyk (Gavri- il Kostel’nik), “strove to realize his conception of the Greek Catholic Church, adapting it to the conditions of the totalitarian regime” (Madei 2001: 11). This evaluation of Kostelnyk’s views stands alone in contem- porary historiography. Yet, earlier, the first Orthodox bishop of Lviv and Ternopil’, Makary (Oksiiuk), whose assignment was to assist the Initia- tive Group in its “politically important” undertaking, had accused Kostel- nyk of “autonomist” tendencies and the desire to use “reunification” with the ROC as some sort of “nationalistic experiment,” such as, for exam-


ple, “the polikarpovshchyna4 in Volhynia and the lypkivshchyna5 (orig- inal Ukrainian terms) in Ukraine” (quoted from Lysenko 1998: 170–71).

In an official speech to the Lviv Council, entitled “On the Reasons for Reunion of the Greek Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church,” Kostelnyk presented the main points of his understanding of

“reunification.” He stressed the necessity of preserving the Church as an institution for the sake of meeting the religious needs of Western Ukrainians and described in detail his vision of religious life after “re- union.” Kostelnyk expressed his conviction that any changes in Greek Catholic rites, customs and religious practices should be introduced “so wisely and carefully, so as not to turn the people away from the Church nor stifle their religious spirit” (Kostel’nyk 1987: 21). He asserted that the “reunified” eparchies should retain their distinctive qualities as part of the ROC, clearly maintaining the differences between the “All-Russian [Vserus’ka] Church” and the “Western Ukrainian Church” (Kostel’nyk 1987: 22). Kostelnyk specifically emphasized that those who had been

“reunited” should preserve their national character, opposing any at- tempts at Russification by Moscow. He concluded his speech with an el- oquent statement: “We are in Ukraine and are Ukrainians, and no one shall take this away from us or from our Church” (Kostel’nyk 1987: 22).

Several factors shaped the firm conviction of the leader of the Initi- ative Group that those who were “reunified” should retain their sepa- rate identity and not merge into a single body of the Orthodox Church.

The image of the ROC as a “conservative,” “traditionalist” church that was not keeping up with the demands of the time exerted significant influence on him. As early as his first meeting with Patriarch Alexy (Simansky) on December 23, 1944, Kostelnyk had put forward the fol- lowing: “It is necessary to modernize the [Orthodox] religion, in the sense that in its current state one cannot present it to cultured people.

It is fit for the ignorant masses” (Serhiichuk 2006: 1:290).

But one must look to the national sphere for the main reason that the “reunification” “à la Kostelnyk” did not at all meet the expecta- tions of the Stalinist and patriarchal leadership. In his speech to the Lviv Council, Kostelnyk referred to the apprehensions spread among Galicians that “our unity with the Russian Orthodox Church means

4. The term polikarpovshchyna refers to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was active during the Second World War under the leadership of Polikarp (Sikor- sky), the archbishop of Kovel and Lutsk.

5. The term lypkivshchyna refers to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, with Vasyl Lypkivsky (Vasil Lipkovsky) at its head, which was proclaimed in October 1921 and tolerated by the Bolshevik authorities up to 1930.


the Russification of our Western Ukrainian Church” (Kostel’nyk 1987:

22). He expressed his hope that the ROC would respect their “nation- al principles” and “national feelings” and asserted that there was not nor could there be any equivalence between “conversion to Orthodoxy”

and “conversion to Russian Orthodoxy.” Kostelnyk consistently con- veyed this idea in his public speeches and writings and in private con- versations with the relevant “comrades.”

Already during his trip to Moscow in December 1944, Kostelnyk had encapsulated the situation thus: “If directions are issued to Rus- sify the Church (. . .) In this case the Orthodox Church in Western Ukraine will not succeed” (Serhiichuk 2006: 1:287). In a conversation on April 15, 1945 (virtually immediately after the mass arrests of the UGCC hierarchy) with the head of an NKGB6 task force, Sergey Karin, who was responsible for the “reunifying” action, Kostelnyk, skillfully playing on the regime’s fears, emphasized the issue as follows:

The most important [question] is with which Orthodox Church we are being reunited — the Ukrainian or the Russian. Consider that in our cir- cumstances, this is a very serious problem. We are after all a Ukrainian church and we must be reunited with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;

otherwise, people will think that we have become Muscovites, and the Banderites7 will take advantage of this circumstance in particular (Serhi- ichuk 2006: 1:541–42).

A paper dated August 3, 1945, identified the fear of Russification, “be- sides faith in the papacy, as the greatest obstacle, a complication for our plan” (Serhiichuk 2006: 2:136). Debunking these fears and simul- taneously using their possible realization to bring his ideas to his in- tended audience, Kostelnyk explained:

I persuade priests, telling them that their anxiety is unfounded, for Ukraine is a state in which the official language is Ukrainian, all our state employees are Ukrainians, and the Ukrainian language is used in

6. Narodnyi komissariat gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, or the People’s Commissariat for State Security. Russia’s secret police during 1941 and 1943–46. — The editors.

7. The Banderites (in Ukrainian Banderivtsi, in Russian Banderovtsy) were followers of the Ukrainian nationalist activist Stepan Bandera and were one faction of the Organi- zation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The Banderite faction played a significant role in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the 1940s, which continued to fight the So- viets into the 1950s. The Soviets also applied the term to Ukrainian nationalism in gen- eral. — Translator.


the schools, which means that in the Church, too, the same course must be followed (Serhiichuk 2006: 2:137).

Moreover, when considering the prospects of a national church, Kostelnyk did not confine himself to the “reunited” eparchies. He considered the merger with Orthodoxy, as required by the regime, to be a step with definite, positive potential. He presented this union as the restoration of Ukrainians’ religious unity, and even as the rebirth of a Ukrainian national church. “When the whole Ukrainian people has been joined together in a single state organism, then its Church, too, should be fused into one Church” (Serhiichuk 2001: 62).

In fact, the first official communication from the Initiative Group to the So- viet government on May 28, 1945, already expressed this vision of the future.

The preservation of ritual traditions and customs and of everyday re- ligious practices in the “reunified” parishes was an important condition of “reunification” and at the same time an obstacle on the path to possible Russification, in Kostelnyk’s view. “One cannot change sacred religious sen- sibilities abruptly, without re-education, which requires a certain period of time and a special approach,” Kostelnyk was already asserting in his earli- est “pro-reunification” paper, dated April 18, 1945 (Serhiichuk 2006: 1:551).

In a letter to Patriarch Alexy dated October 3, 1945, he stressed, “Chang- es in ritual must be realized slowly, over decades. Therefore, our Galician Church must still hold on to its significant distinctiveness for decades, that is to say, its autonomy in the Orthodox All-Russian Church (. . .) Orthodoxy (. . .) will be at first only an external veneer” (Serhiichuk 2006: 2:286–87).

Havryil Kostelnyk’s concept of “reunification,” especially with his em- phasis on the national differences between those being “reunified” and the Moscow Patriarchate, seemed too unrealistic, considering the offi- cial understanding of “reunification” as the very prerequisite for nation- al assimilation and the Sovietization of the region’s population. Yet the life of the “reunified” eparchies after 1946 did demonstrate their strong resistance to the authorities’ assimilation policy, which permitted them to remain a “Church within the Church” over a period of decades.

It is possible to define the self-perception of Ukrainian Greek Catho- lics with the help of the category “ecclesiastical nationalism,” proposed by Sabrina Ramet. “Ecclesiastical nationalism” proceeds from “a con- viction that if the church is deeply rooted in the national ethos, then the national ethos, the national culture, cannot survive without the church.

(. . .) [I]f the nation is identified with the religion, then the nation be- comes infused with transcendent value and conversion becomes tanta- mount to assimilation” (Ramet 1988: 8). “[The Church and her clergy]

are representatives of the people and must act in the name of the peo-


ple,” declared Kostelnyk on December 22, 1944, during his trip to Mos- cow (Serhiichuk 2006: 1:288). As Greek Catholic priest Petro Dutchak, born in 1926, noted, “Our Church has never been separated from the national state” (AIITs, P-1-1-385, Interview with Fr. Petro Dutchak: 25).

Rogers Brubaker designates this type of interrelation between re- ligion and the nation as their “intertwining.” Moreover, religion “sup- plies myths, metaphors and symbols that are central to the discursive or iconic representation of the nation” and answers the central question

“‘Who are we?’” (Brubaker 2011: 11–12). Clearly, in such a situation both passive and open opposition to forcible “reunification” is perceived in national terms and draws strength from this identification. Moreover numerous precedents in history bear this out, as Ricarda Vulpius, for example, demonstrates (Vul’pius [Vulpius] 2011: 105–7).

The Image of the Russian Orthodox Church

The Galicians’ negative image of the ROC became a major reason that the prospects for “reunification” and “Orthodoxization” remained dubi- ous from the very beginning, despite the devotion of a significant portion of the Greek Catholic clergy to the Eastern rite. Because of their “eccle- siastical nationalism,” Galicians could not regard the ROC other than as a Russian church and the willing agent of Moscow’s Russification policy.

Western Ukrainians perceived the ROC first and foremost as the “Mus- covite Church,” and they plainly associated “Russian” with “foreign.” The in- terviews conducted for the project “An Image of the Strength of the Spirit:

The Living History of the Underground UGCC” contain the following expla- nations for the impossibility of accepting Orthodoxy: “The Muscovite Ortho- dox Church is absolutely harmful for the Ukrainian people and (. . .) it always brought them great losses” (AIITs, P-1-1-304, Interview with Fr. Iosyf Kla- dochnyi: 29). Conversion to Orthodoxy was seen as a step toward inexorable, thorough Russification. Galicians identified the Orthodox Church complete- ly with the regime in Moscow, whose policy regarding subject peoples, they were sure, always amounted to attempts to Russify and completely assimi- late them. “The Russian Orthodox Church is the enemy of all the subjugated peoples (. . .) It went everywhere behind the soldiers, behind the enslavers, and right away planted its imperial [faith]” (AIITs, P-1-1-780, Interview with Ms. Lidiia Zelenchuk-Lopatyns’ka: 35). “Stalin built up Orthodoxy (as did Pe- ter I) (. . .) in order to thrust his Russian Orthodox faith on our Ukraine” (AI- ITs, P-1-1-419, Interview with Bishop Sofron Dmyterko: 22).

The following quotation comes from an anonymous letter to the ed- itorial staff of the Orthodox Herald (Pravoslavnyi vestnik), the official


organ of the Ukrainian Exarchate. Written in 1971, the letter shows that the Galicians’ relationship to the Russian Church changed little over the course of decades after formal “reunification”: “Why on earth do you so (. . .) want to whitewash, to sanctify Russian Orthodoxy, or, more precisely, Muscovite Orthodoxy, to convince us believers of its holiness and infallibility?” (TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 5, d. 278, l. 181).

Western Ukrainians regarded the ROC not simply as an agent of Mos- cow’s Russification policy — their association of the ROC with the re- gime went even deeper. The ROC was “a Bolshevik/state-run/state-owned”

Church, utterly dependent on the atheistic regime (as earlier it had been on the imperial authorities) and controlled by it. The anonymous letter to the editorial staff of the Orthodox Herald contains an additional reveal- ing passage: “The present situation of Russian Orthodoxy and the ROC is so sad and pitiable. The ROC (. . .) leads a wretched existence under the authority and guardianship of godless Communism and materialism, cut off and driven away from its own people” (TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 5, d. 278, l. 183). The Russian Orthodox “Bolshevik Church” “was blatantly, famous- ly in the service of the state apparatus” (AIITs, P-1-1-419, Interview with Bishop Sofron Dmyterko: 5; P-1-1-192, Interview with Fr. Ivan Kubai: 39).

The Greek Catholic bishop Mykhailo Sabryha (Mikhail Sabriga; born 1940), analyzing the traditions of the UGCC and the ROC from the vantage point of historical experience, and setting out their relations to the Soviet authorities and, correspondingly, the regime’s relationship to the Churches, explains:

We see, when we compare our Greek Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church, that every regime has had power over the Orthodox Church, the abili- ty to control the Church. (. . .) While the Orthodox Church has the characteristic trait of submitting to everything, the Catholic Church has its own First Hierarch.

(. . .) The world persecutes what it cannot control. It hates what lies beyond its dictates (AIITs, P-1-1-321, Interview with Bishop Mykhailo Sabryha: 49).

Because the ROC was a “Bolshevik/state-run/state-owned” church, completely dependent on atheist officials and itself carrying out the orders of the godless regime, the canonicity of the ordinations of Or- thodox clergy and bishops was suspect. “It was not certain, whether [an Orthodox priest] had the proper ordination. This was because the Bolsheviks “destroyed” the entire hierarchy at the start, and thereaf- ter all [the bishops] were impostors” (AIITs, P-1-1-337, Interview with Fr. Mykola Markevych, March 17, 1993, Mykolaiv: 60).

The proximity of the ROC to the Soviet regime established an in- dissoluble connection not only between “Orthodox” and “Russian,” but


also between “Orthodox” and “Soviet” or “Communist.” “And since [they were] Orthodox, they were Communists” (AIITs, P-1-1-687, In- terview with Fr. Myron Beskyd: 6). Paradoxically, all those involved in the “reunifying” action agreed that “to be Orthodox” meant “to be So- viet,” although the reasons for that view and the very understanding of the equivalence differed considerably.

For the ROC, the link between “Orthodox” and “Soviet” became the most important element in the formation of the “correct” identity, secur- ing the Church’s existence in the Soviet space. (For more details on the survival strategy of the ROC in the Soviet state, see Shlikhta 2011: 107–

18.) For the Soviet leadership, the acknowledgment of the connection between “Orthodox” and “Soviet” was a prerequisite for the desired as- similation of Western Ukrainians. For the Galicians themselves, recog- nition of the link between “Orthodox” and “Soviet” signified the prob- lematic nature of sincere conversion to Orthodoxy and, consequently, of integration into Soviet society. As did the Soviet state authorities, so too the Galicians considered “Orthodoxization” as a step toward the com- plete destruction of the Church in the region, toward their utter dissolu- tion within atheistic “Russo-Soviet” society (GARF, f. 6991, op. 1c, d. 222, l. 4; TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 1, d. 436, l. 409; Serhiichuk 2006: 1:127–30).

The rejection of the ROC was also evident in the contrast Kostelnyk high- lighted further between “modernity” and “traditionalism,” and between “real faith” and “ritualism” (the “superficial piety” of the Russian Orthodox). The ROC was perceived as a church “of people of little culture,” mainly peasants, whose pastors had only a superficial theological education (GARF, f. 6991, op. 2, d. 256, l. 3; AIITs, P-1-1-294, Interview with Fr. Izydor Butkovs’kyi:

58; P-1-1-55, Interview with Anna Svirs’ka: 56). Greek Catholics were con- vinced that the Russian Orthodox believers did not even know the true es- sence of religion: “They know how to make the sign of the cross; they know nothing else” (AIITs, P-1-1-97, Interview with Fr. Mykhailo Datsyshyn: 9).

The Identity and Daily Survival of the “Church within the Church”

“Reunification” was unacceptable to the Galicians, for it meant incor- poration into a Church they scornfully considered “backward” and

“thoroughly compromised in the eyes of the people” through its coop- eration with the godless regime; they also feared the Russian Church as an agent of Russification. Galicians rejected “reunification” because it was imposed by a regime hostile to them in both national and ide- ological matters, and because it served the regime’s interests. In light


of the inextricable connection between “Orthodox” and “Soviet,” the repudiation of Orthodox identity called into question Galicians’ polit- ical loyalty, in their own eyes as well as the eyes of the Soviet leaders.

Glennys Young’s proposed category of “sectarian” rather than

“church” identity helps to designate more correctly the self-perception of members of the UGCC, an identity that stems from the Church’s his- torical heritage. In analyzing Orthodox self-perception and Orthodox believers’ relationship to the Bolshevik regime, Young clearly differen- tiates them from an all-encompassing “sectarian” identity. Because of the “ritualism” characteristic of the Orthodox Church, believers’ ac- tions were typically considered more important than their inner ex- periences. Therefore, “it was actually easier to compartmentalize one’s attachment to Russian Orthodoxy [leaving room for other loyalties]

(. . .) than one’s attachment to sectarian belief” (Young 1997: 91). In the case of the Greek Catholics, this compartmentalization did not work, and therefore it was much more difficult for them than for the Ortho- dox to resolve the conflict between Christian faith and loyalty to a re- gime of an explicitly anti-religious character. A Greek Catholic priest, Fr. Myron Beskyd (born 1925), notes that Soviet identity had a definite chance to be accepted by Western Ukrainians because of the attractive- ness to many of the Soviet social project, but only in conjunction with the rejection of atheism as state ideology: “I more than once thought to myself that if Communism, the idea of Communism would strike out from its ideology its negative attitude toward religion (. . .) this antireli- gious ideology (. . .) then perhaps they would have won over the entire people (. . .) This is an exceptionally God-fearing people” (AIITs, P-1- 1-687, Interview with Fr. Myron Beskyd: 47). In contrast to the Ortho- dox understanding, Galicians rejected the reconciliation of Christian and Communist loyalties as impossible, for “it is impossible to serve two gods,” especially when each one demands complete and uncondi- tional allegiance (AIITs, P-1-1-231, Interview with Modest Radoms’kyi:

12; P-1-1-1141, Interview with Ms. Mariia Lazar: 20).

The “catacomb” church offered one of the alternatives. Those who went underground decided that, come what may, they would preserve their religious-national identity by rejecting the identities imposed on them — Orthodox and Soviet. They thereby consciously chose exclu- sion from Soviet society and persecution for “nationalistic anti-Soviet”

activity. A clean conscience and the aura of martyrdom for the faith were in this case compensation of a sort.

The choice of the “Church within the Church” was another alter- native. Outwardly declaring their Orthodox and Soviet loyalties, these


Galicians constructed a new, or, as defined by David Thompson, a tem- porary, lived identity (Thompson 2002, used with the author’s kind permission), which helped to protect their true religious and nation- al distinctiveness. This identity stood in opposition to the imposed identities and rested upon a clear distinction between “us” and “them.”

“They” were “Orthodox” in the ideological, national, and cultural sens- es Galicians imparted to that term. “We” consisted of the priests who purely formally “subscribed” to Orthodoxy,” and their parishioners, who continued to attend “their own” churches, even if these churches were formally declared to be Orthodox.

Such concepts as “our,” “our own,” “true,” “Galician” and “Ukraini- an,” as well as the sense of internal communal unity strengthened by ex- ternal threats became the central elements in the identity of the “Church within the Church.” “People went to church because it was their church.

It’s our church. We built it” (AIITs, P-1-1-218, Interview with Ms. Liubo- myra Venhrynovych: 56). “People were saying: ‘But where would we go?

This is our own, our native Church. We have no other, so where would we go?” (AIITs, P-1-1-739, Interview with Fr. Illia Ohurok: 16). The “ec- clesiastical nationalism” of those who had been “reunified” showed it- self in the contrast between “our” Ukrainian Church and “their” Ortho- dox Church. “Will the Ukrainian Church have exactly the same rights as the Orthodox Church?” asked believers in Stanislav Oblast as early as March 1945, according to an official representing the Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church (TsDAHO, f. 1, op. 23, d. 1638, l. 26). In “their own” Church, those who were “reunified” kept “the true faith,” which was contrasted to the “superficial piety” of the Orthodox, and they continued to observe “our Galician” rites. “The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has always been, is, and will remain a national Church, preserving our native rite, which serves outwardly as a mirror and manifestation of the true faith of our Ukrainian people” (AIITs, P-1- 1-192, Interview with Fr. Ivan Kubai: 37).

The need for a more or less safe, legal “life within the Church” was an important factor in making the “Church within the Church” the most practical form of Galician religious life after the forcible liquida- tion of the UGCC. Believers were not very disturbed that their “own”

priests, who had served in the parishes for decades before the Lviv Council, “subscribed” to Orthodoxy. What did concern them was the preservation of local religious practices. First and foremost, this in- volved the traditional performance of rites and the retention of pop- ular local customs and religious holidays. The effort also entailed maintaining the accustomed appearance of churches and the clergy.


Kostelnyk, in a paper dated August 3, 1945, documented in detail all the concessions the authorities had to make in order to secure the con- version of Ukrainians to Orthodoxy:

A religious struggle with the people will be very difficult: it will be neces- sary to fight over every icon, over every custom, even the least of them.

Even our rites and customs that go against the teaching and liturgy of the Orthodox Church (for example, the Sacred Heart of Christ), it will be necessary to do away with them only slowly. (. . .) And as for our Church customs that are in harmony with the teaching and liturgy of the Ortho- dox Church, it would be foolish to eradicate them, since they encourage piety among the people (Serhiichuk 2006: 2:139).

The people’s conservatism ensured the preservation of the “Church within the Church” as a formal part of the ROC.

Vlad Naumescu argues that the focus on praxis — a defining char- acteristic of a liturgical church — facilitated the conversion of Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy for the simple reason that the ritual difference between the two churches was insignificant (Naumescu 2008: 15). But then again, precisely this emphasis on praxis excluded the possibility of thorough, genuine incorporation into the ROC. The retention of lo- cal religious practices, from the Greek Catholic tradition of the blessing of Easter cakes (pasky) to other customs beloved by the people, includ- ing spring songs sung at Easter (haivky), May services in honor of the Virgin Mary (maivky), Christmas carols (koliady) and the veneration of the Sacred Heart of Christ, was seen as a prerequisite for “reunifica- tion.” Forced changes to traditional practices would distance believers from the Orthodox Church and sow doubt whether it was right to re- main within her; and this would be happening at a time when the “na- tionalistic,” “harmful and malevolent agitation of the Uniatizers” was continuing, stated the bishops of “reunified” eparchies in a report dat- ed March 23, 1959, to Patriarch Alexy to explain their own “passivity” in the matter of “Orthodoxization” (Krivova 2010: 2:244).

As early as 1947 Havryil Kostelnyk explained how important the vi- ability of the “catacomb” church was for the preservation of the “re- unified” eparchies as a “Church within the Church”: “Strange though it may seem, our opposition group is useful to us, for the Soviet au- thorities work with us just as long as this opposition exists. Were it not for the opposition, the authorities would have ceased long ago to have any regard for us” (TsDAHO, f. 1, op. 24, d. 3613, l. 26). The “re- unified” Church highlighted the “anti-Soviet nationalistic” activity of


the “recalcitrant Uniates” at every suitable opportunity; they skillful- ly contrasted it — using official clichés — to the expressly loyal “re- unified” believers. Hryhorii Zakaliak, archbishop of Mukachiv (Mu- kachevo) and Uzhhorod, in his message on the twentieth anniversary of the “reunification,” employed official discourse and the stereotypi- cal image of the enemy (“Uniates-nationalists”): “Orthodoxy for centu- ries has been the living bond, often the strongest one, that has bound together the triune Russian people. (. . .) Therefore, from a historical perspective it is clear that the enemies of Rus saw in Orthodoxy not so much a religious as a national-political force” (TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 5, d. 17, ll. 74–75). The bishop’s ultimate objective was to defend the re- ligious needs and local particularities of the “reunified” parishioners, whom he clearly contrasted with these enemies.

Only “our own” priests could serve in the Galicians’ “own” churches.

“Give us an Orthodox priest, but only if he does not wear a beard and is always clean-shaven.” This was the promise “reunified” believers made to Archbishop Makary (Oksyuk), who wanted to appoint an Orthodox priest to their parish in 1948 (TsDAHO, f. 1, op. 23, d. 5667, l. 74). The

“Church within the Church” became a unique community, closed to “oth- ers” — Russian Orthodox “popyky.”8 The designation “Russian Ortho- dox” in this instance by no means referred only to ethnically Russian clergy. Rather, it applied to all priests “sent from the East,” including even Ukrainians from other regions of Ukraine. Documents from the Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church often analyze cases of parishes refusing Orthodox priests. The rejection of an Ortho- dox priest was either open (the parishioners did not give him the keys to the church and did not let him into the church) or passive (the pa- rishioners simply did not attend his services). Both tactics were quite effective, and priests assigned to these parishes did not last long if they were not willing to change, including their personal appearance, and to adapt themselves to local religious practices.

“We had to save our Church.” — “We saved what was ours.” This was how priests who “signed onto Orthodoxy” explained their choice, stressing the lack of a real alternative and pressure from the authori- ties. “To some degree I let myself be broken” (AIITs, P-1-1-907, Inter- view with Fr. Oleksander Bodrevych-Buts: 47). Their understanding of “reunification” as a mere formality, and their own conviction that “I

8. The term popyk, from the Russian pop (a familiar term for priest, sometimes with a negative connotation), was a derogatory term for “priest.” — Translator.


remained the same as I was,” became the chief elements of a “signed”

priest’s identity as a member of the “Church within the Church.”

The “reunified” clergy understood the task of “saving the Church”

as a dual one. First, it was necessary to maintain the formal Church structure, so that the laity could legally and openly (in registered churches) satisfy their religious needs. No less vital was the need to safeguard “their own” church and “their own” parishioners “from the Russian Orthodox.” “[If ] the priests had not accepted Orthodoxy, oth- ers would have come from there; they’d have sent priests from the East (. . .) People wouldn’t have gone to church,” as Fr. Mykhailo Lyn- da (born 1912) explained his motivation (AIITs, No. 2029, Interview with Fr. Mykhailo Lynda: 27–28). In view of the Galicians’ negative image of the ROC and the Orthodox clergy, priests unsurprisingly jus- tified their decision in this way, by affirming the inextricable link be- tween the appointment of an Orthodox priest to a parish and the de- struction of that parish.

“Reunified” clergy claimed that they “remained the same,” that they

“remained Greek Catholics,” and that they kept themselves apart from the Orthodox. “There were no Orthodox among us; all were Catho- lic priests at heart” (AIITs, P-1-1-907, Interview with Fr. Oleksander Bodrevych-Buts: 24). The “reunified” clergy themselves were not the only ones to sense their crucial differences from the Orthodox clergy;

underground priests and the authorities in Moscow acknowledged the distinction. The “catacomb” church, despite its general negative atti- tude toward the “reunified” clergy, drew a sharp distinction between them and the “Russian priests of the ROC,” practically never equating the two (AIITs, P-1-1-321, Interview with Bishop Mykhailo Sabryha: 37).

While the catacomb priests mainly considered the convictions and self-perception of the “reunified” clergy, state bureaucrats, as well as in- spectors from the Moscow Patriarchate, turned their attention primar- ily toward external characteristics. Their conclusions offered little com- fort: even decades after the Lviv Council the outward appearance of the

“former Uniates-nationalists” differed starkly from that of the Ortho- dox. An official representing the Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, D. Kisliakov, made the following observation in 1959, using the terminological distinction between Ukrainian parish priest (parokh) and Russian priest (pop) to underline the differences: “I did not see a single priest of the former Uniates in a cassock, with long hair or a beard, wearing a cross on his chest or other typical signs of a “pop”

(. . .) For the most part, they meticulously maintain the appearance of a Greek Catholic priest, a “parokh” (GARF, f. 6991, op. 1s, d. 538, l.


13). “Look at him: he’s clean-shaven and short-haired. He came here to strengthen Uniatism, not Orthodoxy” (from the “Old Orthodox” oppo- sition’s critical comments to Hryhorii [Zakaliak], bishop of Drohobych and Sambir) (TsDAVO, f. 4648, op. 1, d. 429, l. 99).9

One readily surmises that only a bishop who was one of “our own”

could administer the eparchies of Western Ukraine. Kostelnyk con- firmed this in a letter to Patriarch Alexy dated October 3, 1945: “I (. . .) came to the conviction that on principle all our new Orthodox bishops definitely must be our people, from the Uniates” (Serhiichuk 2006:

2:288). “The bishops must be ours, for otherwise the clergy and be- lievers will consider this the beginning of Russification,” explained a member of the Initiative Group (and future bishop of Drohobych and Sambir), Mykhailo Melnyk (Mikhail Melnik), in one of his regular in- terviews behind NKGB walls in August 1945 (Serhiichuk 2006: 2:171).

The appointment of the first hierarch to the Lviv-Ternopil’ see is es- pecially telling. In a letter to Khrushchev written in September 1945, the leaders of the Initiative Group explained why the candidacy of Bishop Makary (Oksiiuk) would not receive support from the region’s inhabit- ants. Mykhailo Oksiiuk was not the first candidate considered in Mos- cow for this see. At first Moscow wanted to name Nikon (Petin), bish- op of Donetsk and Voroshilovgrad, to the largest of the future “reunited”

eparchies. In the end they rejected his candidacy “in view of his igno- rance of the Ukrainian language” (as formulated in the journal of the proceedings of the Holy Synod No. 8 for April 18, 1945) (GARF, f. 6991, op. 2, d. 34a, l. 9). The Council for the Affairs of the ROC recommended the candidacy of Archpriest Oksiiuk to the patriarchal leadership main- ly because he was a native of Podlachia and therefore spoke Ukrainian and understood “the specific situation in Western Ukraine” much bet- ter than did natives of Eastern Ukraine or Russia (Chumachenko 1999:

56). Even so, the Initiative Group came out against his candidacy, too:

The present Orthodox Bishop Makary can by no means replace the local Greek Catholic bishop, for although he is Ukrainian by birth, in the eyes of the people and the clergy he is foreign in his dress and external appearance and in the way he conducts divine service, and even in his Christian mentality. (. . .) The personage of Bishop Makary does not represent the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Lysenko 1998: 300).

9. “Old Orthodox (staropravoslavnye)” is the term originally used to designate the small groups of Orthodox who lived in Western Ukraine before 1946. They clearly distin- guished themselves as the “true Orthodox” from those who had been “reunited.”



The campaign for the “reunification” of “former Uniates” with the Mos- cow Patriarchate, on which the Soviet leadership had placed such hopes, suffered a crushing defeat. And the cause must be sought even not pri- marily in the “defiantly nationalistic” activity of the “catacomb” church.

One must seek the explanation of the “reunifying” action’s failure mainly in the everyday life of the “reunified” eparchies, that is, not at all in the striking, heroic struggle against the regime, but in what resulted from compromise and was and is regarded by many as “treason.”

The “Church within the Church” arose after the “reunification” as a result of the surprising intertwining of numerous factors: the “ec- clesiastical nationalism” and traditional religious conservatism of the Galicians; the corresponding historical tradition; the thinking of those formally in charge of the “reunifying” action regarding the impossibil- ity of effective incorporation into the ROC; as well as the staunch op- position of the “reunified” clergy and episcopate over decades to the introduction of any changes to the accustomed course of Church life.

This kind of opposition proved a very successful strategy for the Greek Catholics after the violent liquidation of their Church.

The “Church within the Church” fulfilled its role as a local project of survival, serving as a barrier to the national assimilation and Sovi- etization of the region’s population, the results sought by the regime.

In Moscow they were never able to devise a way to counter this strat- egy. After all, formally those who had been “reunited” became Ortho- dox, and therefore, loyal citizens of the Soviet state. And they nev- er forgot to remind Moscow of that — in order to defend their own distinctiveness.


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