Seventy years ago, on March 8-10, 1946, under orders from Josef Stalin, an illegal “synod” of Kremlin-controlled clergy gathered in the city of Lviv, recently absorbed into the Soviet Union as part of the settlement of World War II, notes Nadia M. Diuk, Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy.
The purpose of the gathering was to liquidate the independent existence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, or rather to “reunite” it with the Russian Orthodox Church. This flimsy ruse derived from the church’s origins as a result of the Union of Brest in 1595 when thousands of faithful and their clergy—the Metropolitanate of Kyiv-Halych—broke away from Eastern orthodoxy to place themselves under the authority and pastoral protection of the Latin Catholic Pope of Rome, she writes:
By the middle of the twentieth century, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) included over three thousand parishes, 4,440 churches, five seminaries, and 127 monasteries. Over three million believers were served by three thousand priests, ten bishops, and the metropolitan at the head of the church. As Stalin’s regime moved to subdue and absorb the Western Ukrainians, it was clear that this large and vibrant institution that answered to an authority outside of the state would continue to nurture the same patriotism and independent spirit that had proved so problematic during the first Soviet occupation in 1939-1941. Moreover, during the Second World War, even though the Communist Soviet regime had moved away from strict atheism, recognizing that religion could play a role in supporting the war effort, the imperative to control all religious institutions remained.