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Western Ukrainian Clergy

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The Western Ukrainian clergy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church were a hereditary tight-knit social caste that dominated western Ukrainian society from the late eighteenth until the early early twentieth centuries, following the reforms instituted by Joseph II, Emperor of Austria. Because, like their Orthodox brethren, Ukrainian Catholic priests could marry, they were able to establish "priestly dynasties", often associated with specific regions, for many generations. Numbering approximately 2,000-2,500 by the 19th century, priestly families tended to marry within their group, constituting a tight-knit hereditary caste within Ukrainian society. [1] In the absence of a significant native nobility, and enjoying a virtual monopoly on education and wealth within western Ukrainian society, the clergy came to form that group's native aristocracy. The clergy adopted Austria's role for them as bringers of culture and education to the Ukrainian countryside. Most Ukrainian social and political movements in Austrian-controlled territory emerged or were highly influenced by the clergy themselves or by their children. This influence was so great that western Ukrainians were accused of wanting to create a theocracy in western Ukraine by their Polish rivals. [2]. The central role played by the Ukrainian clergy or their children in western Ukrainian society would weaken somewhat at the end of the nineteenth century but would continue until the mid-twentieth century.



Traditional wooden Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kolochava

In 988 East Slavic state of Kievan Rus' was converted to the Eastern form of Christianity by Vladimir I of Kiev. Following the East-West Schism between the Roman and Byzantine Churches, the form of Christianity that Kievan Rus followed became known as Eastern Orthodox Church. The westernmost part of Kieven Rus formed the independent Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia, which was conquered by Poland in 1349. Over the following centuries, most of the native nobility adopted the dominant Polish nationality and Roman Catholic religion. Thus, the local native society was composed principally of priests and peasants. In an attempt to limit Polish pressure, the Union of Brest saw the creation of the Uniate Church (later the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) in the former parts of Kievan Rus under Polish rule. Like other Eastern Catholic Churches, the Uniate Church maintained the liturgical, theological and devotional traditions, including married priesthood, of the Orthodox Church despite its new allegiance to Rome.


The centuries of Polish rule were characterized by a steady erosion of the economic and social status of most of the local Galician clergy. Prior to the Hapsburg reforms, a very small number of Greek Catholic clergy, often Polonized nobility, were linked to the Basilian order. The Order was independent of the Greek Catholic hierarchy and continued to enjoy certain wealth and privileges which it did not share with the rest of the Church.[3] In striking contrast, the large majority of Galician priests, although not serfs, were frequently forced to work for the Polish nobles and treated little better than peasants by them, [1] and priests' sons who did not follow their fathers' vocation were often placed under the same feudal obligations as were hereditary serfs. [3] Such circumstances fostered a sense of solidarity and closeness between the priests and the peasants.[1] There were cases of Ukrainian priests or their sons participating in or leading armed in insurrections against Polish nobility. [4] The situation changed when the region of Galicia was annexed by Austria in 1772.

Travelling the lands newly acquired from Poland in 1772, Joseph II decided that the Greek Catholic clergy would be ideal vehicles for bringing about enlightened reform among the Ukrainian population.[4] With this in mind he undertook major reforms designed to increase the status and educational level of the Ukrainian clergy in order to enable them to play the role he assigned for them. The Greek Catholic Church and its clergy was raised in status in order to make it legally equal in all respects to its Roman Catholic counterpart. The Basilian Order was subordinated to the Greek Catholic hierarchy. Ukrainian Catholic priests were granted stipends by the Austrian government, liberating them economically from the Polish nobles who were now prevented by the Austrians from interfering with them. Ukrainian priests were also allotted larger tracts of land that further contributed to an improvement in their financial situation. Whereas previously the Ukrainian priests had typically been taught by their fathers (and their rudimentary education was largely limited to the Liturgy, basic knowledge of the Church Slavonic language, and basic literacy), the Austrians opened seminaries specifically for Ukrainian Catholic students in Vienna (1774) and Lviv (1783) that provided subsequent generations of priests with University-level education and a strong exposure to Western culture. [1] As a result of the Austrian reforms of the late 18th century, the Ukrainian Catholic priests thus became the first large educated social class within the Ukrainian population in Galicia. [5]

Levytsky Kost-1-

Kost Levytsky, a priest's son, would become the major political figure in western Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The Austrian reforms granting education, land, and government salaries set the stage for the clergy's dominant position in western Ukrainian society for several generations. Both significant Ukrainian social movements, that of the Russophiles who sought to unite Ukraine with Russia and of the Ukrainianophiles, who supported Ukrainian independence, were dominated by members of the clergy. The Supreme Ruthenian Council which represented the Ukrainan people in dealing with the Austrian authorities, consisted primarily of clergy and met in the consistory of St. George's Cathedral, the "mother church" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The first non-clerical secular intelligentsia to emerge among western Ukrainians (lawyers, writers, doctors) were typically the children of priests, which served to perpetuate clerical influence among western Ukrainians. Because priests served as the only conduit between the cities and the peasants of the villages, urban Ukrainian intellectuals seeking to reach the peasants were forced by circumstances to work through the priests. They thus tended to be deferential to them and sought to avoid antagonizing the clergy.[3]

The situation changed somewhat by the late nineteenth century. The clergy's colossal efforts to educate the peasants resulted in the relative loss of priestly power. New members of the intelligentsia arose from the peasantry, some of whom objected to what they considered to be the priestly patronizing attitudes towards peasants as childlike or drunkards needing to be taught and led.[3] Simultaneously, urban intellectuals no longer had to go through priests in order to spread their ideas among a newly literate peasantry. The Radical movement appeared in Western Ukraine in the 1870s. Its political party, founded in 1890, was explicitly anti-clerical and sought to limit the clergy's influence.[6] The Radicals helped to spread discontent against the status quo by criticizing sacramental fees that were considered to be too high for the poor peasants, publicizing disputes over land rights between the Church and the peasantry, and attacking priests' authority on moral matters. Often having to wait until the priests had taught the peasants how to read, the Radicals took over many of the reading clubs that the priests had founded and turned them into sources of anti-clerical agitation.[3] In the words of one church leader speaking about reading clubs, "instead of national love they have awakened in our peasant self-love and arrogance."[7] The Radicals' anti-clerical efforts helped to curb the clergy's power. For example, father M. Sichynsy, who had been elected to the Galician Diet in 1883, lost an election to the Reichsrat in 1889 to a Polish candidate, count Borkowski in part because of conflicts between the priest and local peasants over land usage. [8] While the clergy dominated the ethnic Ukrainian parliamentary delegations in the 1860's and 1870's, of the 28 Ukrainian members of Austria's parliament in 1909-1911 only four were clerics.[3] The clergy's power was not completely diminished, however. The largest and most popular western Ukrainian political party from the late nineteenth until through the mid twentieth century continued to be the Ukrainian National Democratic Party, founded and led by the priest's son Kost Levytsky.[9], and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Andrey Sheptytsky, would be seen as a "father figure" for most western Ukrainians until his death in the 1940's. [10]

The historical background of the Galician clergy contributed to a strong hostility and rivalry towards Poles, as well as a fierce sense of loyalty to Austria and the Hapsburg dynasty by most Galician clerics. These attitudes were transmitted to their parishioners and thus reflected in Ukrainian society as a whole, earning western Ukrainians the nickname "Tyroleans of the East" for their loyalty to Austria.[3]

Impact on society and culture


Scholar Jean-Paul Himka has characterized the Galician clergy as having "an Orthodox face, Roman Catholic citizenship and an enlightened Austrian soul." [3] This Austrianism manifested itself not only in loyalty to the Hapsburg dynasty but also in following the role ascribed to them by the Austrian emperor as Enlighteners and educators of the Ukrainian community. In 1831 seminarians were required by the head of the Church to take classes in agronomy because they were expected to introduce modern farming methods to the peasants. Many priests used their lands as "model farms," cultivating new varieties of grains or other plants. In one region, for example, priests planted the first apricot orchards. Some priests even taught agricultural methods from the pulpit. [11] Priests actively supported the first Ukrainian newspaper, Zoroa Halytska ("Galician Star"), either reading it aloud to illiterate peasants or having their cantors do so. Between 1842 and 1856 approximately 1,000 parish schools were established in the Lviv eparchy. Of 43 Ukrainian-language books published in Galicia between 1837 and 1850, 40 were written by members of the clergy.[3] Two thirds of the participants of a Congress of scholars called in 1848 to standardize the Ukrainian language and introduce educational reforms were members of the clergy. [12] Priests also founded temperance societies, reading clubs, and were significant figures in the Ukrainian cooperative movement.[3] As an example of priests' impact in one community, in the village of Lanivtsi in southern Galicia, the local priestly dynasty established the community's credit union, local reading club, and child-care facilities. [8]

The role of the clergy had a profound impact on the Ukrainian national movement. In contrast to the Polish intelligentsia, which largely derived from the lower nobility, the western Ukrainian intelligentsia largely derived from the clergy.[3] Studying in Vienna, Ukrainian seminarians came into contact with the West at the time when Romantic nationalism and the virtues of the "People" had come to dominate modern thought in central Europe. [13] The Ukrainian seminarians established contact with Czech students who were undertaking an extensive revival of their national culture and came to imitate their efforts.[4] Most of the leaders of the Ukrainian Women's Union (Soyuz Ukrainok) were the wives and daughters of priests.[4]

Family life

The vast majority of clergy had families. In 1894 only 3 percent of Galician priests were celibate. [14] Reflecting the clergy's role as community leaders and organizers, family life centered not on religion but on political and social questions. According to the memoirs of one priest's son, his own family and that of other priests were "honorable" but much more concerned about national than religious issues. Conversations centered on economic concerns, village affairs, and politics while in his and other priestly families moral or religious matters were not discussed. [15] Despite the role of the Ukrainian clergy within the Ukrainian national revival, the clergy's educational and social status resulted in the Polish language being the language of daily use by most clerical families until the end of the 19th century. [16]

The family of the Ukrainian Catholic priest had three sources of income. A modest government salary was sufficient for household expenses and to pay for one son's education. Priests also made money from sizable farms (priests' landholdings were larger than those of peasants and typically varied in size from 12.5 to 50 hectares, [3] compared to 2.8 hectares owned by the average peasant [17]) and from sacramental fees for burials, weddings, christenings, etc. These paid for daughters' dowries, clothing for the wife to wear in society, buying and repairing carriages, investments for the farm, etc.[3]

Priests' wives were also active in the community. They administered "folk medicine" in their communities and cultivated and administered herbs, grasses and other plants with supposed medicinal value. [18]

Prominent Western Ukrainians with ties to the clergy


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp.214-219.
  2. Himka, John Paul. (1999). Religion and Nationality in Western Ukraine. McGill-Queen's University Press: Montreal and Kingston. Pg. 10
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Jean-Paul Himka. (1986). The Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Society in Austrian Galicia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak. (1988). Feminists despite themselves: women in Ukrainian community life, 1884-1939 . Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies press, University of Alberta. pp. 47-49
  5. Himka, John Paul. (1999). Religion and Nationality in Western Ukraine. McGill-Queen's University Press: Montreal and Kingston. Pg. 6.
  6. Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pg. 328
  7. Metropolitan Kuylovski, quoted in Jean-Paul Himka. Priests and Peasants: The Greek Catholic Pastor and the Ukrainian National Movement in Austria, 1867-1900. Canadian Slavonic Papers, XXI, No. 1 Ottawa: Carleton University pg. 10
  8. 8.0 8.1 Stella Hryniuk. (1991). Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in southeastern Galicia, 1880-1900. Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. pg. 195
  9. Encyclopedia of Ukraine, National Democratic Party, written by Vasyl Mudry
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bohdan Bociurkiw. (1989). Sheptytskyi and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Under the Soviet Occupation of 1939–1941, pp. 101–123. Taken from Morality and Reality: The Life and Times of Andrei Sheptytskyi, edited by Paul Robert Magocsi. Edmonton Canada: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.
  11. Stella Hryniuk. (1991). Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in southeastern Galicia, 1880-1900. Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. pp. 129-130
  12. Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 249-250
  13. Paul Robert Magosci. (2002). The roots of Ukrainian nationalism: Galicia as Ukraine's Piedmont . Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pg. 15
  14. David Goa. (1989). The Ukrainian religious experience: tradition and the Canadian cultural context . Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press. pg. 83
  15. Tarnavky, Spohady, cited in Jean-Paul Himka. (1986). The Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Society in Austrian Galicia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press pg. 444
  16. Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 238-239
  17. Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pg. 308
  18. Stella Hryniuk. (1991). Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in southeastern Galicia, 1880-1900. Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. pg. 185

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