Before the Bolsheviks seized power in Western Ukraine, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had 3040 parishes, 4440 churches, 5 seminaries, 2 schools, 127 monasteries; it also issued 3 weekly and 6 monthly newspapers. At the head of the Church was the metropolitan, under whose jurisdiction were 10 bishops, 2950 priests, and over 3,1 million of believers. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church played an enormous role in spiritual life of Western Ukraine and it was the national church.
The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the new regime
During the Sovietization of the region in autumn 1939 the Bolsheviks suspended the Greek-Catholic Theological academy in Lviv, eparchial seminaries in Pszemysl, Lviv, and Stanislaw; they stopped publications of Christian newspapers, prohibited ranks of monasticism and religious institutions. Priests were not allowed to help people confess their sins and to give communion in hospitals, they could no longer have services in schools, and the cross of Jesus Christ was not allowed in the classroom either. Land that belonged to church or monastery was confiscated, monks and nuns were evicted from monasteries, and their farms were liquidated. Communities of believers and clergy had to pay enormous tax (10-15 thousand Karbovanets per year).
More and more priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church were placed under arrest in the end of 1940. In November 1941 the metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi sent to Vatican a report about destruction of the Greek-Catholic Church by the Bolsheviks. In the report he stated that in 1939-1941 on the territory of Western Ukraine “32 priests were sentenced or tortured, and 33 priests were deported to Siberia”. For 1267 parishes there were only 807 priests left. The Greek-Catholic Church was not completely liquidated only due to the breakout of the war in the Eastern front.
Moscow started preparing to liquidate the Greek-Catholic church after the Soviets came back to Western Ukraine in summer 1944. After the death of the Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky on November 1st, 1944, the Greek-Catholic Church was headed by Yosyp Slipyi. In December the same year he sent the delegation of representatives of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to Moscow. Delegates contributed 100 thousand Karbovanets to the Red Cross Fund for protection of the country; they also voiced “gratitude for liberation” addressed to J.Stalin and the government. The delegation was assured of the possibility to be a free member of the Greek-Catholic Church. But at that time the fate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was already decided. On March 17th, 1945, Joseph Stalin personally approved written proposals to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church by putting it under the jurisdiction of Moscow patriarсhate.
Beginning of the purposeful attack on the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is connected with the publication of the article “With the cross or the sword” signed with the pseudonym of V.Rosovych. The article appeared on April 8th, 1945, in the newspaper “Vilna Ukrayina”. In this article the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church was accused of cooperation with the Germans and of having connections with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The article was republished in other publications of Western Ukraine and was spread out as a separate brochure. After the propaganda work concerning the discrediting of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as the “enemy of the people”, on April 11th in the St.George’s Cathedral in Lviv the NKDV arrested all episcopate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church together with their leader Yosyp Slipyi, and also very many priests. At the same time mass arrests took place in Stanislav and other cities. In general, according to the data of the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR, 96 priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church were arrested in Ukraine in 1945.
The Lviv Council
In May 1945 under control of the Soviet bodies of state security the “initiative group” was created out of Greek-Catholic clergy, who were supporting the idea of breaking the union with Rome. Three priests belonged to this group, who were supposed to represent the clergy and believers of the whole eparchy – Havryil Kostelnyk from Lviv eparchy, Mykhaylo Melnyk from Drohobych eparchy, and Antoniy Pevetskyi from Stanislav eparchy. Using the methods of persuasion and threatening, which often led to the arrest of those who did not agree, “the initiative group” received support of a small number of priests and laymen, who agreed to switch under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church and to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. In spite of the official protests of Greek-Catholics, the government proclaimed the “union” of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church in the year of the 350th anniversary of the Union of Brest. They chose an appropriate day for that – the first Sunday of the Easter Lent or the Sunday of Orthodoxy, when the anathema is read out to all dissenters. The so-called notification for the clergy who still doubted the need to “unite” was the publication of the statement about the end of investigation concerning Y.Slipyi and bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and sending the case for examination by a court-martial. Arrests of insubordinate priests and laymen had not stopped.
According to the church canons the Council was considered to be illegitimate if it is organized and conducted by hierarchs from other churches, and those who organized the Lviv Council were at that time already bishops and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. Absence of the metropolitan and bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church deprived the council of canonicity. But it did not stop Kreml leadership. On March 8-10, 1946 at the Lviv Church Council 216 delegated from clergy and 19 delegates from laymen made a decision to cancel the Union of Brest of 1596, to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and to join it to the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the similar scenario in 1949 Mukachiv eparchy proclaimed liquidation of the Union of Uzhgorod and annexation of the Greek-Catholic Church of Transcarpathia to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The period of “catacombs”
Victorious reports of the state officials, and also assurance of official historiographers about voluntary transition to the Orthodoxy and absence of any tries to fight for the Union from the side of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church did not correspond to the reality. Even after the Lviv Council Greek-Catholic communities and priests refused to be registered as Orthodox. In the middle of 1946 in Stanislav region officially worked 216 out of all 322 priests, in Ternopol region – only 19 out of 270, in Lviv region 101 priests out of 281 refused to be registered, 56 of them defrocked or were repressed. The period of “underground” or “catacombs” has started in the church.
The nucleus of the resistance to the Soviet ideology and committed supporters of the Greek-Catholic faith were monasteries. On March 1st, 1950, 8 Greek-Catholic monasteries were functioning in Lviv, Stanislav, and Transcarpathian regions. In these monasteries Holy Masses were hold and priests were sent to villages nearby for evangelization. According to the report of the representative of the Council of religious cults in the Ukrainian SSR P. Vilhovyi, monasteries turned to be “centers of gathering for elements ill-disposed towards the Soviet government”. In order to “get things straight” the state security bodies in the end of March 1950 arrested dwellers of the main center of the Greek-Catholic monasticism – men and women Hoshiv monastery in Ivano-Frankivsk region. According to the well-known scheme other monasteries were suppressed; priests and monks, who avoided imprisonment, continued to work in the underground.
Hieromonks of the Krekhiv monastery
After the death of J.Stalin a few hundred of arrested representatives of clergy were released, and in 1956 two bishops came from the exile – M. Charnetskyi to Lviv and I. Lyatyshevskyi to Stanislav, who again revived the “catacomb” Greek-Catholic Church. Underground seminaries and monasteries continued their existence and new callings to the priest or monk service arose. Thus, the Soviet government could not break the resistance of the Greek-Catholic priests and believers. Being outside the law, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church continued functioning in the underground until it was legalized on the eve of the collapse of the USSR in 1989.