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Historical decision: Ukrainian Greek Catholics to mark Christmas on 25 December in symbolic break with Russia

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian second-largest Greek-Catholic Church. Source: Suspilne
Historical decision: Ukrainian Greek Catholics to mark Christmas on 25 December in symbolic break with Russia

A reform of the Church calendar in Ukraine was announced by Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of Ukraine’s second-largest church, the Greek-Catholic Church: it will transition from the Julian calendar to the Revised Julian Calendar in a symbolic break with Moscow.

This means it will celebrate Christmas and other immobile feasts on 25 December like most of the world’s Christians, but Easter according to the Julian calendar.

Most Orthodox Churches use this Revised Julian Calendar, sans the Russian, Serbian, Macedonian, Georgian Orthodox Churches, as well as the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Ukrainian Greek Catholics, who are liturgically similar to the Orthodox but subordinated to the Pope, also used the Julian calendar as it was used by the Ukrainian Orthodox.

This has now changed, and the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which according to polls unites 54% of Ukrainians, may follow. It is to debate the issue of reforming the church calendar at a conference in May and could announce a similar decision while allowing parishes that disagree to continue worshiping by the old calendar.

Most Ukrainian Christians had hitherto lived by the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind the one conventionally used in the west (read more about the difference between calendars here). As a result, they celebrated Christmas on 7 January, not 25 December, as the majority of the world’s Christians do.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a movement to change the church calendar arose as yet another political statement of distancing from Moscow, as the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest church in the world to abide by the Julian calendar.

While the Ukrainian state and then USSR switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one in the 1920s, the churches did not. After Ukraine became independent in 1991, the calendar issue became a long-debated one. The Russian war against Ukraine changed the opinions of those hesitating in favor of calendar reform.

As reported, on 5 January 2023, the historical churches of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a major monastery in capital Kyiv, were returned to the Ukrainian state after it terminated a lease agreement with the Russian-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. For the first time in 300 years, a Ukrainian church not affiliated with Moscow conducted church services there for Christmas and Epiphany on 7 and 19 January 2023

Historical churches of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra returned to Ukrainian state from Russia-affiliated church

In 2017, 25 December was declared an official state holiday and day off along 7 January:

Ukraine gets two Christmases – December 25 and January 7

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