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Ukrainian church rejects Zelensky’s ‘new’ Christmas

Updated: Mar 14

The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church says it will continue to celebrate the holiday on January 7.

The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has announced it will not follow President Vladimir Zelensky’s order to mark Christmas Day on December 25, in line with the Western Christian tradition.

On Friday, Zelensky signed a decree aligning the celebrations of one of the main Christian holidays with the Gregorian calendar. Ukraine has historically marked the birth of Christ on January 7, in accordance with the Julian calendar.

Metropolitan Kliment, spokesperson for the UOC – which has historic ties with the Russian Orthodox Church – told the website on Saturday: “It’s absolutely guaranteed that the vast majority of Ukrainians of various religious denominations will celebrate the next Christmas the same way they did before. Of course, one could have hoped that those people and their traditions would be respected. But we’ve got what we’ve got.”

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted to cancel the annual public holiday on January 7.

Kliment argued that politicians who justified moving Christmas to December 25 “as a departure from the Russian tradition… had inaccurate or incomplete information.”

Marking Christmas on January 7 “does not follow the Russian tradition, but the calendar tradition of the Church in Jerusalem, where the holiest shrines of Christianity are located. There, all the main holidays of the Orthodox Church are, to this day, celebrated in line with the Julian calendar,” he said.

The custom of marking the birth of Christ on December 25 originated in Turkish Orthodox Christianity, the cleric explained. “It’s hard for me to say why the members of parliament decided that the Turkish traditions are closer to the Ukrainian people than those of Jerusalem and Bethlehem,” he added.

Ukraine has been experiencing religious tensions for years, with two entities claiming to be the country’s true Orthodox Church. Zelensky’s government recognizes the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was created in 2014 and is considered to be schismatic by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Kiev’s authorities and activists have been seizing UOC’s places of worship and handing them over to the government-backed OCU. Among other things, OCU monks have been evicted from the country’s holiest Orthodox site, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

One of the leaders of the canonical church, Metropolitan Pavel, was placed under house arrest in April on accusations of harboring pro-Russian sentiment. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that he should be put in custody.

The non-canonical OCU has already confirmed that it is moving Christmas celebrations to December 25, and entirely switching to the Gregorian calendar.

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