The history and liturgy of the Ukrainian Church


From a ZENIT interview with Fr. Athanasius McVay, a Ukrainian-Greek Catholic priest and historian who is chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, about the Ukrainian Church:

“Being an ancient ritual,” Father McVay said, “the Ukrainian Rite (which is a form of the Byzantine Rite) has many more similarities to the liturgical culture of gestures found in the traditional Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form).”

The basic structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy – the readings, the offertory, the Eucharistic prayer, and so on – is the same as the Latin Mass, but the forms of these ceremonies in the Ukrainian Byzantine liturgy are very different. For instance, “the principal parts,” in the Ukrainian Liturgy, “are interspersed with long litanies, with the response kyrie eleison, or Grant this, O Lord. The Dominus vobiscum blessing is similar to the Latin Pontifical Mass form: ‘peace be with all’ except that, turning to the faithful, the priest blesses them with the sign of the cross instead of opening his hands.”

In the Ukrainian Liturgy, moreover, “the vestments have a completely different cut: the chasuble (felonion) is cut in front, not at the sides. The stole is joined in the center and the cincture is made of vestment material. Instead of a maniple there are two cuffs, one for each wrist. The alb, he continued, is called stycharion and can also be of a colored, silk or brocade material like the vestments. When celebrating pontifically the bishops wears a sakkos (like a pontifical dalmatic) instead of a felonion with an omophorion over top (a pallium like vestment). His miter is shaped like a crown and his crozier has two serpents intertwined around a cross. He blesses pontifically with two hands instead of three times with one hand, as in the Latin Rite.

A history in brief

The Ukrainian Church, explained Father McVay, is one of the Churches originating from Kyivan Rus’, an ancient state that was Christianized by St. Vladimir the Great in the year 988. Although the Church of Rus’ was under the supervision of the Patriarch of Constantinople, it nonetheless maintained ties with Rome and the West for centuries following the great Schism of 1054. Northern Rus’ would eventually sever its union with the Roman Pontiff. In the late 1500s, however, the region of southern Rus’ (present-day Ukraine) would become reconciled with Rome. From that time forward, the Kyivan Church – now known as the Ukrainian Church – was divided in two: the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Read the entire interview. ZENIT also has a interview with Ukrainian Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Archeparchy (archdiocese) of Philadelphia:

ZENIT: What makes the Ukrainian liturgy unique?

Archbishop Soroka: What’s beautiful about the liturgy is that it invokes all the senses of a person. It’s beautiful how you enter and continue to ask for Our Lord’s presence, and asking for forgiveness of sins. Also the liturgy constantly prays for those in leadership and authority, be they in the Church or in civil government, and those who are involved in our protection. It also prays for those who are in misfortunes or difficulties or challenges. The method, the singing, the petitions takes us ever deeper into hearing the Word of God and meditating on the Word of God, and afterward to receive him in the Eucharist; and in the Eucharist we are transformed in Christ’s Body.

Here is the entire interview. On a related note, regarding the history of the Ukrainian Church during the Cold War, see the Ignatius Insight article, “The Ukrainian Diaspora vs. the Soviet Union: A Story of the Renewal of the Ukrainian Catholic Church” by Robert A. McConnell.


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About Carl E. Olson 1230 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.