Orthodox Church of Ukraine will allow the celebration of Christmas on December 25

The Guardian and CNN reported yesterday that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will allow its congregations to celebrate Christmas on December 25, rather than on January 7. The practice will be optional for the parishes, and the results will be evaluated. The permission will affect about 7,000 churches across Ukraine.

According to CNN, “The announcement by the Kyiv-headquartered Orthodox Church of Ukraine widens the rift between the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox believers that has deepened due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The option of celebrating Christmas on December 25 was under consideration for some time prior to the war, but support for this move has grown since the invasion.

A statement from the OCU Synod on October 18 presents the decision in this way:

“Taking into account the numerous requests and taking into account the discussion that has been going on for many years in the Church and in society; anticipating, in particular due to the circumstances of the war, the exacerbation of calendar disputes in the public space; in order to study the real church need for the implementation of calendar changes in the near future, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) decided:

where there are pastoral circumstances for this and the desire of the faithful is evidenced, as an exception, by decision of the abbot and congregation, on December 25, 2022, to allow a divine service to be held in the manner of the Nativity of Christ, with subsequent submission through the diocesan administration to the Kyiv Metropolitanate of written information about the number of participants in such a divine service.

In the case of performing such a religious service, its participants are released from the restrictions of fasting on this day,”

 

11 comments

  1. I’m kind of trying to wrap my mind around the geopolitical significance of this. Is this mainly a way of Ukraine orienting itself culturally more toward Europe than Russia? Do Ukrainian Catholics celebrate Christmas on December 25th? Perhaps someone who understands the ins and outs of Orthodoxy could offer insight.

    1. The pastor of my Byzantine parish is from very western Ukraine and his home eparchy (Ruthenian Catholic) is on the Julian calendar. I would assume all Ukrainian Catholics would be on the old calendar.

      Others more knowledge than me can interject, but I cannot think of any reason for the OCU to allow for the change of date of Christmas other than aligning with the West and showing hostility to the Russiky Mir.

  2. I’m guessing that the pro-invasion stance taken by the Patriarch Kirill in Russia is behind this. But this is just a guess! If so, yes, Ukraine wants to spiritually orient itself away from the Church in Russia. Who can blame them?
    From Wikepedia:
    “A close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Kirill has described Putin’s rule as “a miracle of God.”[1]”

  3. I wonder if the parishes who choose the Western/Revised Julian/Gregorian date for Christmas would use this calendar year round. If not, how would that work. Gregorian Dec. 25 falls on Dec. 12 on the Julian Calendar. Would parishes transfer the celebration to (Julian Dec. 12). Would Epiphany then still be celebrated on Gregorian Jan 6/ Julian Jan 19?

  4. From the statement of the Synod, it looks like they’re allowing Christmas itself to be celebrated according to the Gregorian (New) calendar instead of (or in addition to?) the Julian (Old) calendar where requested. But it doesn’t say anything about the Philip’s Fast (the 40 days before Christmas) or feasts contingent on Christmas. It does say that the faithful would be released from fasting on that day, which would make sense since according to the civil calendar December 25 falls in the fasting period for Christmas celebrated according to the Church calendar. It doesn’t appear that they are changing over completely to the Revised Julian calendar, where all feasts except Pascha are celebrated according to the New calendar, and the Great Fast and Pascha are celebrated according to the Old calendar.

    There are some Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches (not sure if there are any Orthodox as well) in the US and Canada who, depending on which calendar they normally follow, will celebrate Christmas Eve/Day on both December 25 and January 7 in order to keep peace because of their minority position in the population or have a large immigrant contingent. But in a country where the majority of jurisdictions and population celebrate according to the Julian calendar I can’t see that there would be a huge desire for this, but I could be wrong. I just find it rather an odd thing to be worried about while the country is torn apart by war.

    1. I think your observations in the first paragraph are on target, John.

      From what was said in the statement, I am struck by the fact that the discussion “has been going on for many years.” Since 2014 and the seizure of Crimea, or since the revolution, or before that? Whatever the case, I think it’s a significant choice as calendrical issues run deep.

      Everything I’ve read attributes it to a desire to draw closer to the West, activated and made acute by Ukraine’s increasingly dire conflicts with Russia, and with their churches now freed up by the decision to separate from the Moscow Patriarchate.

      The decree says nothing about this, but I have also wondered what impact this decision would have on the refugees who have settled in Poland, for example. With millions having fled the country, there is now quite a diaspora. This may or may not figure in the decision; I just don’t know.

      1. I think we can look at lots of Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries with sizable Orthodox communities and see that December 25th (Gregorian) were already state holidays. (Quick search online, pretty much only Russia doesn’t. Even Belarus, Cyrpus, Greece, etc. have state holidays on the 25th.) That’s also the case in Ukraine– wikipedia says it’s been a state holiday since 2017.
        Although “has been going on for many years” is vague, I could argue that “discussions” might have been happening since the metaphorical end of the Cold War, as Western holidays and consumerism spread eastward.

  5. Chuck Middendorf, most of the Greek Orthodox Church is on the Revised Julian calendar, starting in 1925 under Patriarch Meletios of Constantinople. The are some Greek Old Calendarists but nothing like the numbers of the Slavic Orthodox and Greek (Eastern) Catholics who use the Julian calendar exclusively, regards of the civil calendar.

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