Ukrainian church leader pleads for Christmas on the Western date


Eastern Europe


The Ukrainian Metropolitan Epiphanius in an interview at Radio Liberty. Still from video

The Metropolitan of Kiev, Epiphanius, wants a more Western outlook for his Orthodox Church of Ukraine. That signal he has given with his proposal to celebrate Christmas in December instead of January.

In an interview with Radio Svoboda Epiphanius says that it might take ten years before the church is used to the new date. And he is even not sure whether it will work for the Ukrainian people. “We will see”, he says. “It’s hard to predict.”

Personally, the Metropolitan of Kiev supports the transition. But he is well aware that he is changing an old tradition that should be done gradually.

Epiphanius is the leader of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). This church received independence from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in 2019, under the influence of the then Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

Two different calendars

Until now, Ukraine is still following the Julian calendar, the same as the Russian Orthodox Church. That implies that Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The West follows the Gregorian calendar and has the feast on December 25th. But since 2017, December 25th has been added as an official day in Ukraine.

Metropolitan Epiphanius (right) when he received the letter of independence from Patriarch Bartholomew (left) in 2019). Photo Ukrainian Presidency

The consequence of this is that the leadership of the Ukrainian church since 2019 no longer lays at the Patriarchate of Moscow but in Kiev. In Moscow, this is still a painful issue for both the Patriarch and the President. Russia does not see Ukraine as an independent country. It is more a region that does not need an independent church.

Extreme tension

At the moment, there is extreme tension between the West and the East because of the Russian military troops in the neighbourhood of Ukraine. Within the NATO member states, there is widespread concern that the Russian President Putin contemplates military action or even an invasion in Ukraine. In light of that tension, the proposal of the Christmas change is not innocent since it is a choice for the Western calendar.

Last weekend, Metropolitan Epiphanius led the festivities for three years of the unity of three Orthodox churches in December 2018, according to the Kyiv Post. The unity (and the independence) of the church resulted, however, also in a new split in the Ukrainian church, since the former Patriarch Filaret started a new church.



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