Mission History in Ukraine
Christianity was officially introduced into Ukraine in 988, when the Great Prince of Kyiv, St. Volodymyr, was baptized and began to spread Christianity in the vast territories of the Eastern Europe, beginning with mass baptisms in Kyiv. Although the Christian faith was brought from Constantinople, and that influenced most of the future developments in liturgy, church arts and culture, even after the great split of the Church in 1054 Ukrainian Christians were also influenced by western Christendom due to Ukraine’s being a part of different western kingdoms in different stages of its history.
During the time of the Lutheran Reformation there were Lutheran congregations in Ukraine, and some Ukrainians (such as Stanislav Orikhovsky and Martin Krovytsky) attended Wittenberg University and enjoyed friendly relations with Dr. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchton. After the Counter-reformation, following wars and a union of Ukraine with Moscow in the 17th century, Lutheranism was preserved mostly among German colonists. Native Ukrainians were forbidden under fear of the death penalty to belong to any other church body except the Russian Orthodox Church.
It was through German colonists in the first half of the 20th century that Lutheranism began to spread widely among Ukrainians. Rev. Theodor Zoekler, who lived and served in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk), helped those Ukrainian Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who wanted to reform Ukrainian Christianity. Pastor Theodor Yarchuk, a leading theologian of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, reformed the ancient and beloved-by-Ukrainians liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pastor Yarchuk prepared a service book and hymnal for Ukrainian Lutherans as well as translated into Ukrainian Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. He also wrote other works and edited three periodicals: “The Banner”, “Let Your Eyes Be Open”, and “The New World”. The Lord blessed his ministry and that of other dedicated Lutheran pastors: From 1925 till 1939 (when western Ukraine was a part of Poland) there were twenty-five Ukrainian Lutheran congregations in western Ukraine, with a total membership of more than ten thousand.
When Russians invaded western Ukraine in 1939, many Ukrainian Lutheran pastors, deacons and laypeople were arrested, and either murdered or sent into concentration camps in Siberia. In 1944 the Ukrainian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession ceased to exist, and Lutheranism became an illegal religion in the territory of the Soviet Ukraine. Practicing their precious Lutheran faith secretly, survivors prayed that the day would come when the Church would be resurrected and the pure Gospel once again openly preached, taught, and lived.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, their prayers were answered. In 1993 two new Lutheran congregations were established in Ukraine, the first in Ternopil and the other in Kyiv. ELS-connected Thoughts of Faith missionaries were instrumental in re-establishing Lutheranism in Ukraine. The heritage of the Ukrainian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession, well-preserved by those who escaped the persecution, served the purpose of the Ukrainian Lutheranism resurrection well. Soon two more Lutheran congregations were established in Kremenets and Sevastopol. In 1994 the Ukrainian Lutheran Theological Seminary of St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom) began its ministry. Publication of The Banner was restored, and the Lutheran Wave radio-program began to be broadcast, in 1995. In 1996 the Ukrainian Lutheran Church was officially registered as a national Christian church body, a legal successor of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.
Thanks to the support of the U.S. confessional Lutherans, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church is preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments in different regions of Ukraine and in Moldova. Unfortunately, only thirteen ULC pastors and eighteen ULC congregations currently receive funding from the ULC budget, which had to be reduced significantly after the first quarter of 2013. Another half-dozen pastors, and a like number of small, weak, and struggling congregations, if they remain unsupported as they now are, will probably soon be lost to the ULC.