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2 May, 2023 22:44

Ukrainian state church planning to move Christmas day – media

A denomination backed by officials in Kiev has announced plans to radically alter the country's traditional celebration of the feast
Ukrainian state church planning to move Christmas day – media

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which is backed by the Kiev government, is looking to change its liturgical calendar. The move would bring it closer to Western Catholic and Protestant traditions while breaking with Orthodox practice. The calendar is used to determine the dates of holy days such as Christmas or Easter.

According to news site Strana.ua, the OCU might switch Christmas to December 25, instead of January 7. The latter is the date used by the country's canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Russian Orthodox Church. In recent years, government officials have been trying to dilute the popularity of the UOC, often using repressions and the theft of property.

The UOC is accused of having close ties to Moscow, the Patriarchy to which it is aligned.

Orthodox churches usually stick to their own Orthodox liturgical calendar, which differs from the Catholic and Protestant ones. Five of them, including the Russian Orthodox Church – the largest Orthodox Church in the world with 150 million worshippers around the globe – as well as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Serbian, Georgian, and Polish Orthodox Churches, still follow the old Julian calendar. Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century. 

The Constantinople Patriarchate, together with 10 other Orthodox churches, adopted the Revised Julian Calendar in the early 20th century. The reform made the dates of all fixed holy days, like Christmas, similar to those of the Catholic Church. Moveable holy days like Easter are still determined in line with the old Julian calendar under this newer system.

Now, the OCU wants to adopt the revised calendar, arguing that it is more "accurate." The Kiev-backed church has been "considering the calendar reform and taking relevant steps … for a long time," its leader, Metropolitan Epiphany, told Ukraine’s Gazeta.ua media outlet. A final decision is to be made at the bishops’ council in May, he added. 

The reform would allow the OCU to switch to a "more accurate calendar and avoid gradually moving the fixed holy days in the future," he claimed. According to Ukrainian media, some OCU dioceses adopted the new calendar even before the council’s decision. In Odessa, the local OCU priests announced adopting the new calendar as early as January. 

The move comes amid Kiev’s crackdown on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The UOC has historical ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and was accused by Ukrainian officials of being a security threat amid the military conflict with Russia. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has been raiding UOC churches, ostensibly searching for weapon stockpiles and evidence of treason.

Six Ukrainian regions have outright outlawed the UOC on their territories and favored the OCU. Established only in 2018, the OCU has been recognized only by three other Orthodox churches. The UOC considers it heretical.

President Vladimir Zelensky’s government has prepared a bill that would ban the UOC in Ukraine, but parliament has yet to vote on it. Moscow has protested against the persecution of Orthodox Christians by Ukrainian authorities, but no human rights bodies in the West have responded so far.