Religion and Education in Ukraine: Historical Overview, 989-1991

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2010 38 Pages

Sociology - Religion



Table of Figures


Key words

Chapter I:Early Christian Period, 989-1240

Chapter II:Period of late Middle Ages, 1240-1517

Chapter III:Modern Period, 1517-1917

Chapter IV:Soviet Ukraine, 1917-1991

General Summary


Table of Figures

Table I: Christianization of Ukraine

Table II: Christian Educational Institutions in Kievan Rus

Table III: Population in Western Europe and Kievan Rus

Figure IV: Social Structure in Kievan Rus

Table V: Kievan Russ after Christianization

Table VI: Period of Late Middle Ages in Kievan Russ, 1240 – 1517

Figure VII: New Social Structure in Ukraine under the Domination of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Table VIII: Establishment of Educational Institutions in Ukraine 1517-1917

Table IX: Educational Institutions in Ukraine, 1914

Table X: Growth of Population in Ukraine, 1811-1863

Table XI: Selected Characteristics of Ukrainians in Soviet Ukraine

Table XII: Ukrainian-language Books in Ukraine

Table XIII: Ukrainian-language Education in Ukraine

Table XIV: Theological Education in Ukraine, 1920-1930

Table XV: Religious Organizations in Ukraine in 1991

Table XVI: Religion, Ideology, and Nationalism in USSR: Beginning and End of Soviet Empire


In the present time (2010) Ukraine is going through the period of transition from historical domination of Eastern Orthodoxy to a pluralist and secular religious and social model of democratic society.[1][2] Significant achievements and failures have been made in this process and these has influenced on the further consolidation of the position of religion in all aspects of social life. The changes in religious dimension of Ukrainian society has influenced on the development of the branch of an educational theory which is connected to religion.[3] The present article, which is divided into four main parts and focuses on the main historical events in the development of religious and academic life in Ukraine, seeks to provide a reader with general overview of the progress in religion and religious education in Ukraine and covers the time period from Christianization of Kievan Russ in 989 till the proclamation of independence of Ukraine from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The first part of the manuscript, Early Christian Period in Ukraine, 989-1240, introduces the reader to the context of the Christianization of Kievan Russ and first phases of establishment and development of Christian education in Ukraine.[4] It is suggested that Christian education in Kievan Russ was an essential contributing factor in development of statehood and building new foreign relations with both Byzantium and Rome. It also was a new (state supported) foundation for (state) education through the local ecclesiastic units of Orthodox Church that contributed to development of a new social structure.

The second part of the manuscript, Period of late Middle Ages, 1240-1517, introduces the reader to political, social and religious processes in XII-XVI centuries. During this period of time, Kievan religious identity has met challenges of inter- cultural and inter-religious relations under the leadership of the government belonged to another religious tradition, in case with Mongolo-Tatars, or to another branch of the same religious tradition, as in case with Catholic Poland. These challenges have contributed to necessity to develop skills of dialogue for peaceful (not always) coexistence.

The third part of the manuscript, Modern Period, 1517-1917, introduces the reader to the situation with religion and education in this period. External political relation and tension of Orthodox Russia on the Easter Ukraine and Catholic Poland on the western part were preliminary components influencing on the further religious fragmentation in Ukrainian society. The period of Reformation in Europe has contributed to religious plurality and, actually could be considered as one of the uniting factors – while Eastern Ukraine was predominantly Orthodox and Western Ukraine was predominantly [Greek] Catholic, Protestant religious movements were present in both parts.

The forth part of the manuscript, Soviet Ukraine, 1917-1991, introduces the reader to the momentum of power shift from Tsarism to Bolshevism and how it has influenced on the religious [educational] life in Ukraine. This section provides a quick overview of the general trends in church-state relations with perspective on education and ethnicity.

On the basis of the information presented in this publication, it is suggested by author that the process of development of religion and education in Kievan Russ/ Ukraine is a combination of periods of growth with periods of declining. Periods of declining, mainly, were a consequence of political intervention by a neighboring state which was of a different religious tradition. During these moments, Ukrainian religious society has often encountered differentiation of religious views between society and governing [foreign] state; and this has contributed to the religious plurality of Ukrainian society. The periods of growth, have followed the periods of declining and were a results of Ukrainian religious phenomena adapting to external challenges. Thus, information presented in this publication, testifies on the importance of inter- and intra-religious dialogue for further development of religious education theory.

Key words:

Religion, state, education, civil society.

Chapter I Early Christian Period in Ukraine, 989 – 1240

The story of Ukrainian nation during this period went from the prosperity of Kievan Russ state to political, economic, and cultural declining due to the Mongol invention in the thirteenth century. During the era of growth and expansion of Kievan Rus,[5] the people of Pως, as the Ukrainian nation was referred to in Byzantine sources, played important military and economic roles in Europe;[6] while in the time of the Mongolo-Tatars invasion Kievan Russ has found itself being decentralized, fragmented and outside of the European politics and culture. Significant changes were also happening in the area of religion and education, i.e. transfer from [polytheism of] paganism to Orthodox monotheism and back to being under polytheism structure of Mongol invaders.

The main pre-Christian religion in Ukraine, according to the work of the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea in VI century AC, was paganism.[7] Paganism was not a monolith system of beliefs in Kievan Russ; rather it was represented by a collection of deities whose fate was not stable – new deities were constantly added replacing the importance of the previously worshiped.[8]

However, being relatively close to Christian Byzantium and having trade contacts with Catholic Europe Ukraine was open to outreach by missionaries from both Eastern and Western Christian Churches and to the influence of new thoughts coming from Greeks colonies on the northern shore of the Black Sea. Wasyl Lencyk in his article Christianization of Ukraine says that because of its good geographical location – close to the Black Sea and the Near East – Christianity was known on the present territory of Ukraine as early as the first century AD.[9] According to the Orthodox Church’s tradition Andrew, one of the twelve disciples, the brother of Peter, was the first missionary in the lands of northern shore of the Black Sea and traveled up alongside the Dnieper River;[10] later he was proclaimed to become the patron saint of the Ukraine.[11] The next significant influence of Christianity on Kievan Russ was made through the presence of the pope Saint Clement I (90–100 AD) who was exiled to Crimea and spent there some years of his life.[12]

Later Ukrainian lands became not just the place where non-Christian governments of the Roman Empire would exile Popes; it has also become a place of Pope’s visitations and missions. In the end of the tenth century the Grand prince of Kyivan Rus Volodymyr the Great was considering the possibility of conversion to a new religion. Alongside with Christianity, Judaism and Islam were considered as well. Finally, after making the positive decision toward Christianity, in the 987 AD Volodimir the Great was baptized himself and in 988 AD he forced the whole nation to reject the old pagan gods and be baptized in the Dnieper River.[13] It is difficult to mention what was the decisive factor of choosing Christianity: was this decision of pure beliefs or just of political reasons? If it was a decision of pure religious convictions, then, it is unknown who influenced him more: his friend Olaf Tryggvason the First, the king of Norway, or one of his Christian wives, or his grandmother Olha, princess of Kyivan Rus in 945-957 AD, who herself became a Christian and was baptized in Kiev in 955 AD?[14] After these events, the ‘competition’ for Ukraine has started between Rome and Byzantium and Kiev became the place of visitations from both of these two Christian camps. Natalia Polonska-Vasylenko says that there were three missions from Rome to Kiev (in 979 AD, in 991AD, and in 1000 AD) and two missions from Kiev to Rome (in 992 AD and in 1001 AD)[15] and in addition to this, approximately at the same period, there were numerous expeditions from the Eastern Byzantium Churches. Having choosing the Eastern liturgy (primarily because of being captivated by the beauty of its liturgy), Ukraine still kept friendly relationship with Rome. Later Kiev became as a front point for the Western monks coming back to Rome from missions on Eastern and Northern lands.[16]

Table I: Christianization of Ukraine

illustration not visible in this excerpt

After the Christianization of Ukraine, Volodymyr the Great committed himself to the development of Christianity in Kievan Russ. The Church needed a trained clergy to conduct the service in already established local Orthodox parishes and, as George Vernadsky comments, the Grand Prince and the church leaders took a true missionary spirit in spreading Christian culture on state territory.[17] In addition to this, the state needed educated professionals for administration. Seeing these needs, Volodymyr the Great and his advisers were promoting education alongside with expansion of Christianity in Kievan Russ: the compulsory baptism was followed by compulsory education.[18] To fulfill this purpose, schools were founded not just in Kiev, but in provinces as well. By the time of Iaroslav’s reign (1019-1054) “education had struck roots and its benefits were apparent” – theological seminaries were founded almost in each local Church eparchy under the bishop’s supervision.[19]

Table II: Christian Educational Institutions in Kievan Rus[20]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Information presented above testifies that during the period following the Christianization of Kievan Rus schools and educational institutions flourished in Kievan Rus under the protection and sponsorship of church and royal families and made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual development of Kievan Russ’ society. Furthermore, it is essential to notice that this growth in culture and economy resulted in the rise of towns in Kievan Rus. It is estimated that by the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries the total population of Kievan Rus’ was approximately seven to eight million people.[23] It was a smaller number of populations in relation to the contemporary states of Western Europe.

Table III: Population in Western Europe and Kievan Russ[24]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

On the other hand, the growth of population has not happened in proportional development of urban and rural settlements – nearly a million of people lived in towns and cities. This means that around thirteen percent of Russ’ inhabitants were urban dwellers and the other eighty-seven percent were country dwellers. This correlation in percentage is much higher than it was in some Western European countries like France and Holy Roman Empire.[25] Historians still debate about reasons for this distribution of population and how possible it was from socio-economic perspectives since food and other necessary for daily life products have to be delivered to cities from nearby rural settlements. Some experts tend to consider the international trade be the main cause of the raise of towns in Kievan Russ.[26] If this was the case, than cities would become the places of major people movements and cultural centers of life.


[1] This manuscript is written from 2010 status quo perspective.

[2] Vasyl Markus, Politics and Religion in Ukraine: In Search of a New Pluralistic Dimension, in “The Politics of Religion in Russian and the New States of Eurasia,” Michael Bourdeaux, ed., The International Politics of Eurasia, vol. III (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), 163.

[3] For information on religion and education in contemporary Ukraine, please, see Vitaliy V. Proshak, 2010, Religion and Education in post-Soviet Ukraine, Munich, Grin Publishing GmbH, <http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/267251/religion-and-education-in-post-soviet-ukraine>; majority of other sources is available as well.

[4] For information on pre-Christian religious life Ukraine, please, see Vitaliy V. Proshak, Paganism in Ukraine: Its Beliefs, Encounter with Christianity and Survival After, Journal Theological Reflections # 7, 2006, Euro-Asian Accrediting Association; majority of other sources is available as well.

[5] It is generally thought that the Kievan period started in late night century and ended in mid-fourteen century and had its prosperity peak around tenth-eleventh centuries. [Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, 3rd print (Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1998), 51.] However, this chapter applies different end point of Kievan Rus – the year of 1240, the fall of Kiev due to the Mongolo-Tatars invasion.

[6] Ihor Ševčenko, ed., Byzantium and the Slavs in Letters and Culture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press for Harvard Ukrainian Research Institutions and Instituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli, 1991), 163.

[7] Bohdan Kravtsiw and Bohdan Medwidsky, “Mythology”, Encyclopedia of Ukraine, n.d., <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?AddButton=/pages/m/y/mythology.htm> (24 March 2006).

[8] For more information on the paganism in Ukraine, please, see Vitaliy V. Proshak, Paganism in Ukraine: Its Beliefs, Encounter with Christianity and Survival, Theological Reflections # 7, 2006, Euro-Asian Accrediting Association.

[9] Wasyl Lencyk, “Christianization of Ukraine,Encyclopedia of Ukraine, n.d., <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?AddButton=pages\C\H\ChristianizationofUkraine.htm> (30 March 2006).

[10] Encyclopedia of Ukraine, “Saint Andrew”, n.d., <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?AddButton=pages\S\A\SaintAndrew.htm>, (30 March 2006).

[11] Harold W. Attridge, Andrew, St., in “The Harpercollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” Richard P. McBrien, ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 45.

[12] Encyclopedia of Ukraine, “Saint Clement I”, n.d., <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages\S\A\SaintClementI.htm>, (30 March 2006).

[13] Wasyl Lencyk, “Christianization of Ukraine, ” Encyclopedia of Ukraine, (2 April 2006).

[14] Mykhailo Zhdan and Arkadii Zhukovsky, “Olha, Princess [Ol’ha] ,Encyclopedia of Ukraine, n.d., <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?AddButton=pages\O\L\ OlhaPrincess.htm> (2 April 2006).

[15] Natalia Polonska-Vasylenko, Ukraine-Rus and Western Europe in 10th – 13th Centuries (London, Great Britain: Ukrainian Publishers Ltd., 1964), 13-14.

[16] Ibid, 14.

[17] George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, vol. II, “A History of Russia,” George Vernadsky (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1948), 277.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid, 277-278.

[20] The chart is modified and adapted from George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, 1948, p. 79, 277-280.

[21] Prince Roman of Smolensk organized several schools in Smolensk and was involved in translation of several books from Greek and Latin into Slavic language. He funded these school from his own possession and, eventually, he used all his fortune for the endowment of these schools to the extent that when he died in 1180, he had no money for the royal funeral. People of his city make a collection for his funeral in recognition of his input in educational development in Smolensk and Kievan Rus, - George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, 1948, p. 279.

[22] Prince Konstantin sold his royal house in other city of the Kievan Rus and spent the profit for education of his people, - George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, 1948, p. 279.

[23] Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, 1998, 84.

[24] Table is modified and adapted from Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, 1998, 84.

[25] Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, 1998, 84.

[26] According to the chronicles of ninth and tenth centuries there were twenty-three towns in Kievan Rus. This number grew to around 300 in mid-thirteen century. - Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, 1998, 84.


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Title: Religion and Education in Ukraine: Historical Overview, 989-1991