BOBRYTSIA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians usually celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, just like Russians. But not this year, or at least not every year.
Some Orthodox Ukrainians have decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25, like many Christians around the world. Yes, this has to do with war.and yes, they have the blessing of their local church.
The idea of commemorating the birth of Jesus in December was considered radical in Ukraine until recently, but the invasion of Russia changed many hearts and minds.
In October, the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is not aligned with the Russian Church and is one of two branches of Orthodox Christianity in the country, agreed to allow worshipers to celebrate on December 25.
The choice of dates has clear political and religious overtones in a nation with rival Orthodox churches. and where slight revisions to rituals can have potent significance in a culture war that runs parallel to the shooting war.
For some people, changing the dates represents a separation from Russia, its culture and religion. People in a town on the outskirts of Kyiv recently voted to bring up their Christmas celebration earlier.
“What started on February 24, the full-scale invasion, is an awakening and an understanding that we can no longer be part of the Russian world,” said Olena Paliy, a 33-year-old resident of Bobrytsia.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims sovereignty over Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and some other Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use the old Julian calendar. Christmas falls 13 days later on that calendar, or January 7, than on the Gregorian calendar used by most churches and secular groups.
The Catholic Church first adopted the modern, more astronomically accurate Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, and since then Protestants and some Orthodox churches have aligned their own calendars for calculating Christmas.
The Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church decreed in October that rectors of local churches could choose the date together with their communities, saying the decision was made after years of discussion, but was also a result of the circumstances of the war. .
In Bobrytsia, some members of the faith promoted change within the local church, which recently became part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with no ties to Russia. When a vote was taken last week, 200 out of 204 people said yes to adopting December 25 as the new day to celebrate Christmas.
“This is a big step because never in our history have we had the same dates for celebrating Christmas in Ukraine with the entire Christian world. We were separated all the time,” said Roman Ivanenko, a local official in Bobrytsia and one of the promoters of the change. With the change, he said, they are “breaking this connection” with the Russians.
As in the entire Kyiv region, Sunday morning in Bobrytsia began with the sound of sirens, but that did not stop people from gathering at the church to attend a Christmas Mass for the first time on December 25. In the end, there were no reported attacks in the capital.
“No enemy can take away the holiday because the holiday is born in the soul,” said the Rev. Rostyslav Korchak in his homily, during which he used the words “war,” “soldiers” and “evil” rather than “Jesus Christ.”
Anna Nezenko, 65, has attended church in Bobrytsia every Christmas since the building opened in 2000, though always on January 7. She said she didn’t feel weird doing it on Sunday.
“The most important thing is that God is born in the heart,” he said.
In 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, granted full independence, or autocephaly, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Ukrainians who favored recognition of a national church along with Ukraine’s political independence from the former Soviet Union had long sought such approval.
The Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Kirill, fiercely protested the move, saying Ukraine was not under Bartholomew’s jurisdiction.
The other major branch of Orthodoxy in the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, remained loyal to Moscow until the outbreak of the war. It declared independence in May, though it remains under government scrutiny.. That church has traditionally celebrated Christmas on January 7.
Arhirova reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press religion correspondent Peter Smith contributed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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