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The Life of His Beatitude Metropolitan Ilarion (Ohienko)

by Hierodeacon Job (Getcha)

His Beatitude Metropolitan Ilarion (secular name -- Prof. Dr. Ivan Ohienko) was born on January 15, 1882 in the town of Brusyliv in the province of Kyiv, into a poor family. His father, Ivan Ohienko, died in an accident in 1884 and his mother -- Evfrosynia (born Petrechenko) was left alone to raise four children.

After completing his schooling in the local school (1896), he entered a four-year army medicine school in Kyiv. After completing his studies there, he fulfilled an obligatory service of six years of working in a hospital (in the psychiatric section) in Kyiv. In 1903 he passed his final exams in the Ostrih high-school, and was released from his work in the hospital on the condition that he would enter the Faculty of Medicine at St. Vladimir`s University in Kyiv. Later he transferred to the Faculty of History and Philology, because he had a greater inclination toward the liberal arts than towards medicine. In 1907 he married a teacher, Dominique Lytvynchuk, from Brusyliv.

The young Ivan Ohienko graduated from the Faculty of History and Philology in 1909, and the theme of his candidate thesis was "The Key of Understanding by Ionakiy Haliatovsky." During the years 1909-1911 he taught in a commercial high-school in Kyiv and at the same time audited pedagogical courses, which he completed in 1912.

In 1911 he was accepted as a professor-scholar at the Chair of Russian Language and Literature at St. Vladimir`s University, and in 1915 he was promoted to docent, having passed his master`s exams. In 1917, when the Ukrainian Central Rada was formed in Kyiv, he was asked to teach the history of the Ukrainian language and was given the title of professor. He was then invited to the Chair of Ukrainian Language and Literature.

In 1917 professor Ivan Ohienko was appointed member of the Rada as Minister of Education. At the same time he organized the All-Ukrainian Church Rada together with Archbishop Alexius (Dorodnytsia). During the government of Het`man Pavlo Skoropadsky (1918) he was one of the organizers of the Ukrainian State University, President of the Commission to prepare a New Constitution for the academic schools in Ukraine, and Head of the Orthographic Commission in Kyiv. From 1918 to 1920 he was Rector of the Kamianets`-Podil`s`k University. During the period of the Directory of the Ukrainian People`s Republic (1918-1919) he was Minister of Education, and from 1919 to 1924 -- Minister of Religion.

After the occupation of the central and eastern territories of Ukraine by the Bolshevki armies in 1920, Prof. Ohienko moved to the town of Vynnyky near Lviv, where he lived with his family until 1924. In the years 1924-26 he taught Ukrainian language and literature in a pedagogical seminary in Lviv. In 1926 he was invited to teach Church Slavonic and Cyrillic Paleography in the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at Warsaw University. In 1931 the Czechoslovakian University of Brno bestowed on him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy for his academic work entitled "The Ukrainian Language of the XVI Century and the Krekhiv Epistle of 1590."

In the 1930`s Prof. Ohienko was busy working on the translation of the Bible into Ukrainian for the British Bible Society of London. He had already begun this monumental work in 1917-1920, when he outlined his methodology of translation, but the agreement with the Bible Society was signed only in 1936. He completed his translation of the Bible in 1940 but wartime circumstances did not allow for its publication. After the revision of the translation by a committee and its acceptance in 1955, his translation was finally published in 1958. Ivan Ohienko (then Metropolitan Ilarion) had devoted most of his attention, time and energy for this monumental project -- the translation of the Bible, spanning over 40 years.

In May 1937 the wife of Prof. I. Ohienko died. And soon, in 1940, upon the recommendation of the Ukrainian Church Rada, the Council of the orthodox Church in the General-Governate (previously the Orthodox Church in Poland which had received its autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1924), headed by Metropolitan Dionisius (Valedynsky), elected Prof. I. Ohienko as Bishop of Kholm and Pidliashia. The Metropolitan of Warsaw Dionisius tonsured Ivan Ohienko as a monk at St. Onuphrius Monastery in Jableczna on October 9, 1940, giving him the name of Ilarion. The next day, Metropolitan Dionysius ordained him a deacon, and on October 11 his ordination as hieromonk took place, as well as his promotion to the rank of archimandrite.

The episcopal nomination of Archimandrite Ilarion took place in the Kholm Cathedral on October 19, 1940 and his episcopal ordination took place the next day, presided by Metropolitan Dionysius of Warsaw. During the Great Entrance, Bishop Ilarion of Kholm and Pidliashia was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. In 1944 the Synod of Bishops gave him the title of Metropolitan of Kholm and Pidliashia.

Metropolitan Ilarion took care of the dioceses of Kholm and Pidliashia until July 18, 1944, when the German authorities announced the evacuation of the population. Metropolitan Ilarion moved to Kelce, then to Krynytsia, from there to Shtrbsk Plessa in Slovakia, and finally to Zakopane in Poland. Soon he moved to Austria to the Herzogenburg Monastery near Vienna, and in 1945 he moved to the west to Lausanne in Switzerland. On September 19, 1947 he arrived in Canada, to Winnipeg, at the invitation of the parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mary the Protectress.

The special council which took place in Winnipeg on August 8, 1951 elected Metropolitan Ilarion Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. His election as Primate began a new era in the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. It was momentous event in the history of our Church, which from that moment became a metropolia. He began to rule the Church with great authority. He put the life of the Church in order from the canonical-disciplinary aspect and normalized liturgical life by publishing numerous liturgical books. He also developed the Faculty of Theology at St. Andrew`s College in Winnipeg (founded in 1946), serving as its Dean for many years, and thus helped to raise the level of knowledge of the Ukrainian Orthodox clergy, not only in Canada, but in the U.S.A. as well. He always had in mind the spiritual and educational growth of the faithful, and in this matter, to publish informative pamphlets and booklets.

Under Metropolitan Ilarion the Act of Spiritual Unification of the three Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolias of the diaspora (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the diaspora) was signed and proclaimed in Winnipeg in 1960.

As well, upon the initiative of Metropolitan Ilarion, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada began to normalize its relations with world Orthodoxy and in particular with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Ilarion died on March 29, 1972 at the age of 90. His funeral took place in Winnipeg in the Holy Trinity All-Canadian Metropolitan Cathedral during Bright Week. He was buried in Glen Eden Cemetery in Winnipeg.

The figure of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ilarion, remains particularly irreplaceable in the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, since he was not only its first Metropolitan, but also a great scholar, ideologue and a great man of his epoch. May his memory be eternal!