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Ukraine Celebrates Christmas Twice. Now Its Orthodox Christians Can Too.

Image: Maxym Marusenko / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Russia, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians may now partake in a Christmas feast on December 25.

The joyous, 12-dish celebration has been their timeless practice—on January 7, according to Eastern tradition. But this year, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has permitted its clergy to conduct religious services on the same date as Western tradition, granting a one-day exemption to the 40-day Nativity Fast.

Beginning after the feast day of St. Philip, observed by Ukrainian Orthodox on November 28, the faithful abstain from alcohol and most meat products until the first star appears on Christmas Eve, January 6. But with millions of refugees in Europe witnessing the revelry of fellow Christians in the West, the OCU decided to permit Ukrainians everywhere to decide parish by parish which date they would honor.

Liturgical reform has long been on the agenda, but war was the spark.

“For most bishops of the church, the calendar is not a dogmatic issue of faith,” said Archbishop Fedir, head of the youth department of the OCU. “Especially after the full-scale aggression of Russia, there is a desire to become part of the Western family of churches.”

Ukraine had already established December 25 as an additional official Christmas holiday in 2017, joining Belarus, Eritrea, Lebanon, and Moldova as nations that formally celebrate the birth of Christ twice.

But altering the calendar disrupts the entire church cycle. Saints’ days, sermons, and gospel readings are all impacted, with scholars engaged in response. The Holy Synod decision tasks priests with gauging the sentiment of parishioners and bishops with conducting follow-up research. Many believers love their traditions, Fedir said, and the hierarchy is wise to proceed cautiously.

The archbishop is responsible for the diocese of Poltava, 220 miles southeast of Kyiv, where one newly established congregation of young people has decided to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar altogether, with his blessing. With blanket permission granted, he does not yet have a tally of how many parishes will join them—nor does the OCU’s Holy Synod.

But within her circle of Ukrainian friends, Nadiyka Gerbish finds none opposed.

“I expected it to happen, and wanted it to happen long ago,” said the author of A Ukrainian Christmas, updated and rereleased last month. “They want a solid line between them and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).” Gerbish, a member of Hosanna Evangelical Church in Zbarazh, a small town 250 miles west of Kyiv, condemned the support ROC patriarch Kirill has given to the invasion. And religiously, she sees the decision as part of a long-standing battle over…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 20, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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