Russian Greek Catholic Church

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The Russian Greek Catholic Church (Russian: Российская греко-католическая церковь, Rossiyskaya greko-katolicheskaya tserkov; Latin: Ecclesia Graeca Catholica Russica), Russian Byzantine Catholic Church or simply Russian Catholic Church,[1] is a sui iuris Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church.[2] Historically, it represents the first reunion of members of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church. It is now in full communion with and subject to the authority of the Pope of Rome as defined by Eastern canon law.

Russian Greek Catholic Church
Russian: Российская греко-католическая церковь
Moscow, Catholic Church in Presnya.jpg
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
ClassificationEastern Catholic
PrimateJoseph Werth

Russian Catholics historically had their own episcopal hierarchy in the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Russia and the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin, China. However, these offices are currently vacant. Their few parishes are served by priests ordained in other Eastern Catholic Churches, former Eastern Orthodox priests, and Roman Catholic priests with bi-ritual faculties. The Russian Greek Catholic Church is currently led by Bishop Joseph Werth as Ordinary.[3]


The modern Russian Catholic Church owes much to the inspiration of poet and philosopher Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853–1900), who urged, following Dante, that, just as the world needed the Tsar as a universal monarch, the Church needed the Pope of Rome as a universal ecclesiastical hierarch. Following Solovyov's teachings a Russian Orthodox priest, Nicholas Tolstoy, entered into full communion with the See of Rome under the Melkite Greek Catholic, Byzantine Rite Patriarchate of Antioch. Solovyov received sacramental Extreme Unction from Father Tolstoy believing that in doing so he remained also a faithful member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox authorities[who?] refer to Tolstoy as an apostate[citation needed] and "ex-priest", but tend to imply that Solovyov still died an Orthodox Christian. Nevertheless, Solovyov never retracted his sentiments in favor of union with the Catholic Church and the See of Rome, and to this day, many[who?] Russian Catholics refer to themselves as members of the 'Russian Orthodox Church in communion with Rome'.


Byzantine-rite Catholicism was illegal in the Tsarist Russian empire through the 1800s and until 1905, when Tsar Nicholas II granted religious tolerance. Thereafter, communities of Greek Catholics emerged and became organized.[4] Old Believers were prominent in the early years of the movement. In 1917, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky appointed the first Apostolic Exarchate for Russian Catholics with Most Reverend Leonid Feodorov,[5] formerly a Russian Orthodox seminarian, as Exarch. However, the October Revolution soon followed, dispersing Russian-Rite Catholics into the Siberian prison camps and the centers of the Russian diaspora throughout the world. In the spring of 1923, Exarch Leonid Feodorov was prosecuted for counterrevolution by Nikolai Krylenko and sentenced to ten years in the Soviet concentration camp at Solovki. Released in 1932, he died three years later. He was beatified in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.[6][7]

In 1928, a second Apostolic Exarchate was set up, for the Russian Catholics in China, based in Harbin, the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin.[8]

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Russian Catholics began to appear in the open. In a 2005 article, Russian Catholic priest Sergei Golovanov stated that three Russian Catholic priests served on Russian soil celebrating the Russian Byzantine Divine Liturgy. Two of them used the recension of the Russian Liturgy as reformed by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in 1666. The other priest used the medieval rite of the Old Believers, that is to say, as the Russian liturgical recension existed before Patriarch Nikon's reforms of the Russian Liturgy. All Eastern Catholics in the Russian Federation strictly maintain the use of Church Slavonic, although vernacular Liturgies are more common in the Russian diaspora.

Uniate Church in the Russian EmpireEdit

In 1807 the Russian Empire continued to appoint its own primates for the Ruthenian Uniate Church without confirming them with the Pope.

Metropolitans of KievEdit

Following the Synod of Polatsk (1838), the Ruthenian Uniate Church was forcibly abolished on the territory of the Russian Empire, and its property, clergy, and laity were forcibly transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Apostolic Exarchate of RussiaEdit

It is vacant since 1951, having had only two incumbents, both belonging to the Ukrainian Studite Monks (M.S.U., a Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church monastic order):

Apostolic Exarchate of HarbinEdit

Name Term Order Notes Refs
Fabijan Abrantovich 20 May 1928 – 1939 Marian Fathers Arrived in Harbin in September 1928. Recalled to Rome in 1933. Died 1946. [9]
Vendelín Javorka [cs] 1933–1936 Jesuit Apostolic administrator sede plena [9]
Andrzej Cikoto [be] 20 October 1939 – 13 February 1952 Marian Fathers 1933–1939 superior general of the Marian Fathers in Rome. Later made archimandrite. Died in office in prison


With the religious freedom experienced after the fall of Communism, there were calls from the small number of Russian Catholics to appoint an Exarch to the long existing vacancy. Such a move would have been strongly objected to by the Russian Orthodox Church, causing the Holy See to not act out of ecumenical concerns. In 2004, however, the Vatican's hand was forced when a convocation of Russian Catholic priests in the territory of the vacant exarchate used their rights under canon law to elect a Father Sergey Golovanov as temporary administrator. The Vatican then moved quickly to replace Father Sergey with Bishop Joseph Werth, the Latin Church Apostolic Administrator of Siberia, based in Novosibirsk. He was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Ordinary for all Eastern Catholics in the Russian Federation. As of 2010, five parishes have been registered with civil authorities in Siberia, while in Moscow two parishes and a pastoral center operate without official registration. There are also communities in Saint Petersburg and Obninsk.[4] By 2018, there have been reports of 13 parishes and five pastoral points in Siberia with seven parishes and three pastoral points in European Russia. Some parishes serve the Ukrainian community. The Ordinariate has minimal structure. A Byzantine Catholic mitered archpriest serves as Secretary to the Ordinary. There is a priest coordinator for the parishes in Siberia and a liturgical commission and a catechetical commission.[10]

Outside Russia, there are Russian Catholic parishes and faith communities in San Francisco, New York City, El Segundo, Denver, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Meudon, Paris, Chevetogne, Lyon, Munich, Rome, Milan, and Singapore.[citation needed] They are all under the jurisdiction of the respective local Roman Rite bishops. The communities in Denver, Dublin and Singapore do not have a Russian national character – but exist for local Catholics who wish to worship in the Russo-Byzantine style.[citation needed]

As of 2014, the two Exarchates of Russia and Harbin are still listed in the Annuario Pontificio as extant, but they have not yet been reconstituted, nor have new Russian-Rite bishops been appointed to head them.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Rocca, Francis X. (7 June 2017). "Feeling Abandoned, Russian Catholics Appeal to the Pope". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Russian Byzantine Catholic Church: caught between the Vatican and Russian Orthodox". Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  3. ^ "Apostolic Exarchate of Russia, Russia (Russian Rite)". GCatholic. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  4. ^ a b Ronald Roberson. "Other Eastern Catholic Communities: Russians". Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
  5. ^ "METROPOLITAN SHEPTYTSKY'S IMPORTANCE TO HISTORY - Ukraine - Ukrainian Echo". Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Blessed Leonid Feodorov". CatholicSaints.Info. 12 February 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  7. ^ Online, Catholic. "Bl. Leonid Feodorov - Saints & Angels". Catholic Online. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  8. ^ "Other Eastern Catholic Communities". CNEWA. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  9. ^ a b Zugger 2001 p.462
  10. ^


External linksEdit