Ukrainian Orthodox Church rejects Zelensky’s Christmas date change

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky listens to a statement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, July 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

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

On Friday, Zelensky signed a decree aligning the celebration of one of the most important Christian holidays with the Gregorian calendar. Ukraine has historically celebrated the birth of Christ on Jan. 7, according to the Julian calendar.

A spokesman for Metropolitan Kliment of the UOC, which has historic ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, told the website on Saturday: “It is absolutely certain that the vast majority of Ukrainians of different religious denominations will celebrate next Christmas in the same way as they have done so far.

“Of course, one would have hoped that these people and their traditions would be respected. But we got what we got,” they added.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted to abolish the annual state holiday of Jan. 7.

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

The marking of Christmas on Jan. 7 “does not follow the Russian tradition but the calendar tradition of the Church of Jerusalem, where the holiest shrines of Christianity are located. There, all the main feasts of the Orthodox Church are still celebrated according to the Julian calendar,” he said.

The custom of celebrating the birth of Christ on Dec. 25 originated in Turkish Orthodox Christianity, the pastor explained.

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

Since the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Kyiv authorities and activists have continued to seize UOC prayer sites and hand them over to the government-backed OCU. Among other things, UOC monks have been evicted from the country’s holiest Orthodox site, the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv.

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

The non-canonical OCU has already confirmed that it will move Christmas to Dec. 25 and switch entirely to the Gregorian calendar.

Share This Article