A Brief History of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, 1918 - 2018

The seed of the Orthodox faith was sown on Canadian land, not my missionaries, but by simple peasants who came from Ukraine searching for a better life and established themselves on the Canadian prairies.  It is indeed on this simple but, at the same time, deep faith of the Ukrainian peasants-pioneers that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (UOCC) was established.

Most of the first Ukrainian settlers came to Canada from two regions in western Ukraine – from Halychyna (where they belonged to the Greek Catholic church) and from Bukovyna (where they belonged to the Greek Orthodox church).  The Halychany, settling in Canada, were visited once in awhile by Greek Catholic priests.  However, the Vatican wished to attach these new Canadians to the Roman Catholic church already in existence in Canada, thereby assimilating them. The Bukovinians arriving in North America usually incorporated themselves into the Russian Orthodox mission which was already in existence.  Nevertheless, the Ukrainian immigrants desired to have a church with a Ukrainian character which would be closer to the spiritual and cultural needs of the Ukrainian people.  This led to the formation of the UOCC.

In July 2018, a confidential conference of disenchanted lay Greek Catholics from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta created a Ukrainian Orthodox Brotherhood whose goal was to organize the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada.  Although the Ukrainian settlers who took part in the organization of this church body were not theologians, they were conscious of the canon law that a church body cannot exist without a bishop.  Thus, the Brotherhood contacted Archbishop Alexander, an ethnic Ukrainian in the Russian Orthodox Mission in North America, who initially accepted to become the temporary bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada (UGOCC) and to preside at its first Sobor, but later refused.  The first Sobor took place anyway on 28 December 1918 without the presence of a bishop and led to the establishment of the first seminary in Saskatoon.  The second Sobor was held 27 November 1919, with the presence of the Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos who accepted to lead the UGOCC until such time that it elected its own bishop.  He headed the UGOCC for five years, until 1924.

The new church was a distinct Canadian institution, unconnected to any church or patriarchate in Ukraine, Russia, Greece or Constantinople.  It accepted the dogma, rites and practices of Eastern Orthodoxy.  It also stressed that the church was to be conciliar in organization (sobornopravna) to the point of giving lay delegates a voice and a vote in administrative matters at the church's General Councils (Sobors) and on the Consistory, which is the main administrative body of the church. The Consistory consists of the church's Synod of Bishops, nine clergy and nine laity. The Metropolitan and his Synod of Bishops retain exclusive authority in all matters of Orthodox belief and practice.

In 1924, Archbishop John (Theodorovich) arrived in the USA from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church to lead the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA. Knowing of the presence of a Ukrainian bishop on the North American continent, the fourth Sobor of the UGOCC, held 16-17 July 1924, decided to invite Archbishop John to become the ruling bishop of the UGOCC. He accepted and began visiting Canada in the summers.  During his absence in winter, when he lived in the USA, his administrative functions were carried out by Rev. Semen Sawchuk, who was the priest-administrator, known as the Chair of the Presidium, at the Office of the Consistory.

With 14 priests, the UGOCC insisted on retaining its administrative autonomy under Rev. S. Sawchuk.  The Ukrainian Self-Reliance League, formed in 1927, became an effective lay arm for the UOCC and boosted its material resources. By the end of 1928 the UGOCC had approximately 64,000 followers, organized in 152 communities served by 21 priests. It was the strongest in Saskatchewan (81 congregations in 1940), Alberta (55 congregations) and Manitoba (53 congregations).  In 1946 the Church opened a theological school, St. Andrew's College, in Winnipeg.

Eventually, Archbishop John became the subject of polemics (the practice of engaging in controversial debate or dispute) regarding his non-canonical ordination to the rank of bishop. For this reason, he was forced to resign from his office as ruling bishop in 1946.  In 1947, during an extraordinary Sobor, Bishop Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) was accepted as Archbishop of Winnipeg and all Canada.  He was consecrated during the administration of the Warsaw Metropolinate on the freed Ukrainian lands in 1942. Due to some misunderstandings between him and the Consistory, Archbishop Mstyslav was forced to resign from his office in 1950 at the tenth Sobor.  The Consistory then asked Metropolitan Polikarp (Sikorsky), who presided at the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops, ordained by the administration of the Warsaw Metropolinate on the Ukrainian lands (and in the aftermath of World War II found themselves in the emigration), for assistance.  He agreed then to look after the UGOCC.

In 1951, by the time an extraordinary Sobor was called, the Consistory had found four candidates for the office of a local ruling bishop. They were all canonically elected and ordained by the Holy Synod of the Warsaw Metropolinate (Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Poland). Of these candidates, three immigrated to Canada – Ilarian (Ohienko), the Metropolitan of Kholm and Pidliasha, who fled with his flock during the war and came to Canada in 1947 at the invitation of St. Mary the Protectress Cathedral in Winnipeg, Archbishop Michael (Khoroshy) who came to Canada in 1951 at the invitation of the Consistory, and Bishop Platon (Artemiuk) who came to Canada in 1951 with the blessing of Metropolitan Polikarp (Sikorsky) but who prematurely fell asleep in the Lord.  The extraordinary Sobor decided to follow the canonical system of metropolia to administer the UGOCC thus creating a metropolia with three eparchies.  Metropolitan Ilarion was chosen Metropolitan of Winnipeg and all Canada, and Archbishop Michael became Archbishop of Toronto and the Eastern Eparchy.

By 1951, the UGOCC had almost 300 congregations, 70 priests and some 11,000 members.  This growing metropolia felt the need for new bishops.  As a result, in 1959, Archmandrite Andrew (Metiuk) was ordained Bishop of Edmonton and the Western Eparchy, and in 1963, Archmandrite Boris (Yakovkevych) was ordained Bishop of Saskatoon and auxiliary of the Central Eparchy.

After 21 years of zealous archpastoral ministry, Metropolitan Ilarion fell asleep in the Lord on 29 March 1972. His passing was felt as a great loss for the UOCC. Archbishop Michael was chosen to replace him and he was Metropolitan until 1975 when he resigned from the office of the Primate.  Then Archbishop Andrew became the Metropolitan of the UGOCC until his blessed repose on 2 February 1985.  During Metropolitan Andrew's administration, new bishops were appointed – Bishop Nicholas (Debryn) in 1975, Bishop Wasyl (Fedak) in 1978, and Bishop John (Stinka) in 1983.  After Metropolitan Andrew passed away in 1985, Bishop Wasyl was appointed Metropolitan.  During his term in office, Archmandrite Yuriy (Kalistchuk) was appointed Bishop of Saskatoon in 1989.

Historically, the membership of the UOCC has been relatively stable, ranging from 20 percent to 25 percent of the total Ukrainian population in Canada.  In 1989, the church's estimated membership was 128,000 in 290 congregations served by 99 clergy.

Fulfilling the wishes and intentions of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Ilarion, Metropolitan Wasyly, assisted by the Consistory, and with the help of God, concluded the canonical ordering of the UOCC.  After a few visits and discussions with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the UOCC was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1990, at the time of His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitros, and thus normalized its relations with the other Orthodox churches.  This made it a duly recognized member of the Orthodox family which consists of four autocephalous (self-governed) and autonomous churches, some also headed by patriarchs.  The Primates of these churches manifest their unity by commemorating each other during the Liturgy and Divine Liturgy together on special solemn occasions.

According to the Patriarchal Decree, upon entering the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the UOCC remains a Metropolinate with full internal autonomy, having as its canonical head the Ecumenical Patriarch to whom it has canonical reference in all matters.  This status recalls the days when the Kyivan Metropolinate was part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and when the church relations between Constantinople and Kyiv were very close, for the good of these two important church centers.

The quintennial Councils or Sobors are the highest decision-making bodies of the UOCC.  Executive duties are shared between the Council of Bishops and the Consistory based in Winnipeg, with elected clerical and lay representatives from each eparchy.  The Ukrainian Self-Reliance League, with its component organizations, continues to play a significant role in church affairs at the local and national levels.  In addition to St. Andrew's College and its Faculty of Theology, the church is affiliated with a number of student residences – the Mohyla Ukrainian Institute in Saskaton, St. John's Institute in Edmonton, and St. Volodymyr Institute in Toronto.  The church's official publication since 1924 has been Visnyk (The Herald) newspaper.

The UOCC is an important religious element in Canada where Ukrainian culture and heritage are fused with the Orthodox Christian faith to form a living and vibrant tradition in Canada.

Based on information by Hierdeacon Job (Getcha) and Dr. Oleh Gerus, and on Consistory records.

Note: In 2017, there were 249 Ukrainian Orthodox parishes in Canada: 10 in British Columbia 10, 71 in Alberta, 79 in Saskatchewan, 62 in Manitoba, 24 in Ontario, and 3 in Quebec (there are no parishes in the Atlantic provinces, Yukon Territory, Nunavut or Northwest Territories). Of these parishes, 126 are rural parishes, where one priest serves many parishes.