Monday, April 30, 2018

A Unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church Would Be the Largest Orthodox Church in the World

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – New statistics from the Russian Federation and Ukraine show that there are more Orthodox parishes in Ukraine than there are in Russia, despite the fact that the population of the latter is 3.5 times that of the former. And the unification of all Orthodox groups in Ukraine would make the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the largest in the world.

            Ruslan Khalikov of the Ukrainian Institute for Global Development and Adaptation Strategies assembles the latest data about religious affiliations in the two Slavic countries. Despite their limitations, they make for fascinating reading (

            In Russia, the number of parishes in the Russian Orthodox Church continued to grow in 2017, from 16,497 at the start of the year to 16,931 at the end.  They represent more than half of the total 28,370 religious communities officially registered in that country now, Khalikov continues.

            Muslim parishes also continued to increase in number in the Russian Federation during last year, up 146 to a new total of 5490, a figure that many Muslim leaders say does not reflect the actual number.  Some religious groups in Russia declined significantly: the 397 Jehovah’s Witness congregations have been officially disbanded after the church was declared extremist.

            Russian statistics do not include a line for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It hasn’t been counted by Russian officials since the annexation of Crimea, Khalikov says. Its parishes are now counted as Moscow Patriarchal churches. Some indication of their number is that there are no 754 new Orthodox parishes in Russian-occupied Crimea and the Donbass.

            That figure is almost twice the total number of new Russian Orthodox Churches being reported in the Russian Federation.

            In Ukraine the number of Orthodox parishes also increased within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by 20and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate by 53. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, however, declined by 28 parishes in 2017.

            Despite that, if these three churches were unified into a single Ukrainian autocephalous church, there would be 18,682 Orthodox parishes, almost 2,000 more than the total within the Russian Federation.  That would make the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the largest such church in the world.

            Even if a decision is taken by Constantinople to form a Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox church, it will take many years for these churches to come together.  But the number along, Khalikov says, help to explain why Moscow and especially the Moscow Patriarchate are so opposed to any change in the status of churches in Ukraine.   

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