The Ukrainian Lutheran Church is not entirely an alien phenomenon brought about to Ukraine from foreign countries, or a phenomenon that is indifferent to Ukraine’s destiny and its future. It is neither a new sect or a religious trend in our country. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church has a substantial historic background in Ukraine as well as its devotees and martyrs, who gave their lives for Ukrainian Christian work.
Having Christ and His holy Word for its solid underpinning, the ULC has every ground to be called an apostolic church. Its origins go back to the times of the apostles and their faith, which is preached by the Church in the Nicene Creed. This church is alive, following the example of the forefathers of an ancient church, who were preaching after the apostles and acknowledged the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
The creation of a separate Lutheran church body took place only in the 16th century. At that time, faithful priests and bishops stood against abuses of the church clergy. Selling indulgences, absolution for money, neglect of the teaching of the Word of God to laymen, and many other things were among those abuses. That action for a church renewal headed by professor Martin Luther in Germany grew into the Reformation, which seized (engulfed) the better part of Europe, including Ukraine. Major slogans of the church renewal became salvation through faith in Christ with God’s grace. The main principles of faith should rely only on the Holy Scripture (Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura).
Due to the Reformation, the Word of God was translated into European languages, including Ukrainian (Peresop Gospel is based on Lutheran Bible translations; Presidents of Ukraine are attested on it), and the church preached pure Gospel, turning into a truly people’s church that cared about the salvation of its faithful people. That church was called the Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession. Universal Creeds and the Augsburg Confession, which explained the necessity of reformation of certain aspects of church life, served as an underpinning for the confession.
Many Lutheran congregations appeared in Ukraine in the 16th century. According to prominent Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Lutheran churches were numerous in Galicia, Pobuzhzhya, Volyn, Podillya, Bratslavschyna, and the Kyiv area (see M. Hryshevsky “On the History of Religious Thought in Ukraine,” Winnipeg, Canada – Munich Germany – Detroit, USA 1962, pp. 63-67). Thanks to their influence, as it was noted by the scholar, the native language was picked up by the orthodox church. At that time, there was vigorous discussion of the possibility (on the basis of the main articles of faith) of unity between orthodox Christians and protestants. One of the initiators of that reunification was Prince Kostyantyn Ostrozky. The church unification failed due to the resistance of high priests. According to numerous leading historians, they later, during growing Catholic reaction, neglected the interests of their people. The Catholic movement, which was supported by the civil authorities, resulted not only in the almost total disappearance of Lutheranism in Ukraine, but also in the considerable decline of spiritual life in this country. One can find testimonies of that in the works of M. Hrushevsky, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Autocepalous Orthodox Church in Canada Ilarion (secular name Ivan Ohiyenko) in the recently published book Ukrainian Church (Kyiv, Ukraine, 1993, pp. 102-145).
The second renaissance Ukrainian Lutheranism experienced was in the period between the First and Second World Wars. There was a chance to openly preach Christ in the western regions of Ukraine, which were under Polish occupation. After the defeat of the Ukrainian revolution and the collapse of the Ukrainian independent state, many people were analyzing reasons of numerous misfortunes of Ukrainian people and their faith; they were pondering the necessity to preach pure Gospel and have the Ukrainian Evangelical Church. A group of orthodox and Greek-Catholic priests turned to ancient evangelical principles. They managed to unite a considerable number of faithful into the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession, the direct ancestor of the present Lutheran church. This church managed to preserve and develop the eastern Ukrainian custom/worship, which is based on the liturgy developed by John the Chrisosdom. While preaching the pure evangelical theology, the church remains a national church of Ukrainian identity.
During a short period of time, its congregations sprang up all over the territories, which are now referred to as Galicia and Volyn. The main center was located in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk). Pastor Teodor Yarchuk was a Ukrainian spiritual guide. In 1931 in a periodical “See the Light!” (“Prozry!”), he in particular wrote,”We are Ukrainian evangelists. We love our Ukrainian people and customs of our forefathers. Despite all kinds of slander against us, we strive for spiritual renewal of Ukrainian people on the basis of truth of the divine Gospel. We look at Ukrainian men of genius Hryhoriy Skovoroda and Petro Kulish.”
In a short run, the church included thousands of faithful who were at the same time patriots of Ukraine. There were congregations in Stanislav, Mykytyntsi, Krekhivtsi, Lutsk, Stari Bohorodchany, Kaminna, Zarvanytsya, Antonivka, Poberezhzhi, and in many other towns and villages. Churches were built, Sunday schools worked. The church also had a publishing house. One of the ULC leaders in the 1930s, Yuhym Folushnyak, wrote about the church, “Being native and inseparable part of Ukrainian soul… the church feels pains and troubles of the people and their needs… It can bring the Ukrainian nation great spiritual benefits, since people would then get rid of spiritual slavery and would reach considerable development and progress the way the other nations have reached” (“Styah” Banner, 1932 , issue #1, pp. 3,4).
The year 1939 turned out to be a tragedy for the church. Leaders of the ULC were arrested and killed by the KGB, literature was confiscated, and a lot of faithful died in prisons and concentration camps. Pastor Mykhailo Tymchuk managed to emigrate to the USA, taking along a couple of confessional books. He had a dream to someday return to Ukraine and revive the Church. Unfortunately, he died in emigration. However, shortly before his death, he gave his blessing to representatives of the Thoughts of Faith mission society.
Since 1979, this mission society has started activity to revive the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, which was destroyed by the communist regime. At the same time, Thoughts of Faith, just as its predecessors did, promoted the course of the revival of Ukrainian independence.
Since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, ULC congregations have been organized in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, Kremenets, Zaporizhzhya, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Mariupol, and other towns in Ukraine. They are preaching the evangelical truth, following the example of Pastor Teodor Yarchuk and other church fathers. In 1996, the ULC Episcopate was officially registered. The church continues ancient evangelical traditions of preaching and the revival of Ukrainian spirituality. Young pastors, future preachers of the church, receive their education at the Ukrainian Lutheran Theological Seminary of St. Sophia, which is located in Ternopil, Western Ukraine.
The church is not involved in the political life of the country. However, through its educational, humanitarian activities and through the revival of spiritual values, the ULC contributes to the strengthening of the democratic Ukrainian state.
Church Body Statistics
Established Congregations: 24
Mission Congregations: 12
National Pastors: 18