There are long-standing questions of linguistic, ethnic, religious, and political identity in Ukraine, further aggravated by Russia’s invasion of the country in February.
More than 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the conflict, as have at least 40,000 civilians, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month.
Archbishop Fedir of Poltava told Christianity Today that most bishops of the Kyiv Patriarchate do not see the calendar as “a dogmatic issue of faith.”
“Especially after the full-scale aggression of Russia, there is a desire to become part of the Western family of churches,” he said.
Despite claims that a date change could be popular, a survey reported by the website Religion in Ukraine suggests otherwise. It found that 71% of Ukrainians celebrate Christmas in January, 4% celebrate in December, and 18% celebrate Christmas twice. Only 6% do not celebrate at all. About 58% of survey respondents opposed a change in the date of Christmas, while only 26% supported it, Christian Network Europe News reported in June.
While the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church has taken steps to distance itself from Putin, its leaders still criticized any modification of Christmas celebrations.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Luke of Zaporizhzhia characterized the change as a step toward Catholicism, Christianity Today reported.
Metropolitan Klyment of Nizhyn and Pryluky, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, portrayed the option as a political move. Families are used to celebrating Christmas on Jan. 7, he said.
“The people who go to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are not requesting any change,” he said, according to Politico. “It has been four years since the government announced Dec. 25 as an official holiday, and since then, you have not seen people celebrating it as Christmas Day.”
Archbishop Yevstratiy of the Kyiv Patriarchate objected that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has always treated his Church as “a political group.”
“It is very similar to how Russia treats Ukraine in general,” he told Politico. “From our side, we have often offered to start a dialogue without any preconditions, but they generally don’t respond — and when they do, they insist we acknowledge that we are not a church, have no canonical rights, and that our clergy are not clergy.”
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Russia-aligned Orthodox leaders have a history of collaboration with the Russian government and its Soviet predecessor. Its churches are now under a cloud of suspicion in Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has endorsed a law that would ban the Russia-aligned Church from operating, and Ukrainian security services have investigated many churches and church leaders for alleged pro-Russian activities.