David I. Klein of Church Leaders writes that many Ukrainian Christians look forward to celebrating Christmas on December 25 for the first time this year following a calendar change by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The change comes after the Church severed its ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which follows the Julian calendar and holds Christmas on January 7.
The adoption of the Western Gregorian calendar is the latest in a series of moves by religious and secular authorities in Ukraine to align themselves more with the West following the February 2022 Russian invasion.
It’s not the first time an Orthodox church has shifted calendars; in fact, it’s almost exactly a century after a synod in Istanbul, known as the Council of Constantinople, voted for a similar change, which was adopted in 1924 by churches across Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and elsewhere in the Balkans.
This time, however, the shift has a distinctly political character.
In its statement, the church described its decision to shift to using “the living Ukrainian language in worship instead of the traditional Slavic one” as a desire for the newly independent church to replace “centuries-old subordination.”
The “centuries-old subordination” refers to the 16th-century move to put Orthodox faithful in what is modern Ukraine under the purview of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
The church officially split from the Russian patriarch’s jurisdiction in 2019, when Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — styled “the first amongst equals” among all Eastern church patriarchs and therefore the closest thing the Orthodox world has to a universally recognized authority — granted the church a “Tomos of Autocephaly,” or a decree of independence.
“In general Orthodoxy is divided in two big parts, represented by two leaders,” Metropolitan Yevstratiy, of the central Ukrainian city of Bila Tserkva, told Religion News Service in a recent interview. “One part, which is represented by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, is a contemporary type of Orthodoxy, which is open to the contemporary world and contemporary people, and has answers to real contemporary questions.”