Upcoming winter holidays once again actualized the issue of the date of the celebration of Christmas: whether it should remain in double format or finally changed on the celebration on December 25? Opinion found out how appropriate this reform is, how the Ukrainian church and government should act, what risks we can meet and how long it takes to implement such changes.
What is the Ukrainian church’s reaction to the idea of Christmas’s date revision?
Metropolitan Epiphanius, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, during a recent interview, stressed that we should be very careful considering the issue of changing the date of celebration, since the sharp changes can lead to a split and chaos, and therefore any reform should take place gradually.
“If we talk about some decisive reforms, Christmas celebration is coming and there is a calendar question – can we celebrate Christmas in Ukraine on December 25 or not? It can cause chaos, it can make a split, and that is why I adhere to the position that we must reform sensibly, wisely, in order not to bring another split to the church. It has to be implemented gradually,” Epiphanius is convinced.
It is interesting, that in the middle of November Russian mass media began to spread the information about the allegedly unconditional change of the single local UOC to the “new style” of the church calendar. Then this information was commented on by Yevstratii Zoria, Archbishop of Chernihiv and Nizhyn and the spokesman of the Kyiv Patriarchate.
“It is obvious, that this is information sabotage that on the eve of important events should bring disputes and distrust among the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine. Therefore, I want to officially state, that transition to a new calendar is not going to happen and is not considered in the process of uniting and obtaining of Tomos. Each autocephalous church solves a calendar issue on its own, and there were no orders or demands in the Tomos, which were provided by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the XX century,” said Yevstratii Zoria.
So is it worth changing the date of the celebration to the 25th of December?
Dmytro Sinchenko, the chairman of the “Association of Political Sciences” public organization, commenting on this issue, stressed that the majority of Orthodox Christians, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, have long been living on the Revised Julian calendar. Therefore, if we want to get rid of the “Russian world”, than, according to the expert, the transition to a new calendar is a necessary step.
“Christmas celebration’s revision is a long overdue step. And more precisely, the term “celebration’s revision” in this case is not entirely correct. It will be correct to say “the transition to the Gregorian or Revised Julian calendar”. The fact is that the whole world, including us, Ukrainians, has always celebrated Christmas on December 25th. And we still celebrate. All of us. However, according to Julian’s false calendar, which losses 14 days. And we live and celebrate the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, as well as the whole world. So we get some kind of schizophrenia. Moreover, only those Orthodox churches, which are depending on Moscow, to one degree or another, continue to celebrate all the holidays by the Julian calendar. Most of the Orthodox Christians, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, have long lived on the Revised Julian calendar, which differs from the Gregorian only in the date of Easter. Therefore, if we really want to break away from the “Russian world”, the transition to a new calendar – is a very necessary step,” Dmytro Sinchenko told Opinion.
Volodymyr Shovkoshytnyi, a writer and a doctor of philosophy in the field of political science, holds a similar point of view. According to him, the change of the date of the celebration should take place as soon as possible, and we should act without considering the position of “the fans of the Moscow’s Patriarch”, but taking into account the national interest exclusively, which is the maximum break from Moscow.
“I am strongly convinced that it is necessary to change the date and to do it as soon as possible. It will be never possible to convince the fans of the Moscow Patriarch and his non-canonical minions in Ukraine that the date of January 6 is senseless (and it’s just a new style). It’s time to realize, that we are serving different countries, that we have different values, that they believe only in one God – the cash, and that is why they will stay with Moscow church, with its ignorant dogmas. When the dogs bark, the camels just keep walking. Revolutionary times are typical of revolutionary transformations, or they just turn into their own opposite – counterrevolution.
We should stop playing false tolerance with the enemies of Ukraine because tolerance is the addiction of the organism (national, in particular) to ever-increasing doses of the drug! Therefore, we must act solely on the basis of our national interest, and it is in our unity with Europe, in our maximum break with Moscow,” was said in the comment.
However, Ihor Lubkivskyi, the psychologist and the head of the «Association of Psychologists of Ukraine Together for the sake of Future public organization believes that the main problem in this matter is not just the date of the celebration of Christmas, but the fact, that all other church holidays will move in the event of the reform. And, consequently, according to Lubkivskyi, in this issue, we shouldn’t be too radical.
“Ukrainians are prone to extremes. One day, they decided to forget about Christmas at all, in order to celebrate New Year for the whole week during the Nativity Fast, as it was during Yanukovych’s time and a little earlier, and now we have to reschedule something somewhere. There are no problems – within the framework of the Orthodox tradition, now both options are acceptable. That is, the celebration of Christmas is possible on December 25 and on January 7. But since we already have a day off on December 25, why should we make things more complicated?
The best option is to see how it will go. Including the process of unification of churches, and then we will finally make some decisions. Moreover, the main problem here is not just Christmas itself, but the thing is that all the other church holidays, to which Ukrainians have long been accustomed, will move along with it. Let’s say, who is ready to celebrate St.Nicholas day not on December 19, but on the 6th? Andrew’s day not on December 13, but on November 30? Dmytro’s day not on November 8, but on October 25? That is, this is an issue that requires well thinking and a corresponding discussion. And we shouldn’t be in a hurry. For centuries the Greek-Catholic church belongs to the Western world, but holidays are still celebrated by the old calendar. And it isn’t making anything worse… Rather the opposite,” the psychologist believes.
Maryna Bahrova, a member of the board of the Institute of National Policy international union, noted that in addition to the decision of historical justice, the change of the celebration’s date can also help the foreign policy of our country, as most European Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas on the 25th.
“The change of the celebration of Christmas to December 25 is necessary to restore historical justice. After 332 years of the actual annexation by Moscow, the Kyiv Metropolis was returned to the church jurisdiction of Constantinople. Constantinople Orthodox Church, as well as a number of other Orthodox Churches, celebrates Christmas on December 25th. Therefore, the restored Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church has to celebrate Christmas on December 25th. In addition, Ukraine has clearly defined its foreign policy course on joining the European Union and NATO to return to its historic European family. The vast majority of European Christians, including the Orthodox, celebrate Christmas on December 25,” the expert left a comment to Opinion.
Serhii Tsyhipa, a political scientist, journalist and a reservist of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, is also convinced that if we go to Europe, we will celebrate Christmas on the same day with all the European Christians. However, this transition, as noted by Epiphanius, should still take place gradually, over several years, in order to avoid speculations.
“If Ukraine wants to keep pace with the whole Christian world, then Christmas should be celebrated on one day – December 25. The change of Christmas celebration’s date on the territory of the former USSR took place in 1918 in connection with the transition of the Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia to the Gregorian calendar. This calendar is also used by the Orthodox Church of Georgia, Serbia, Jerusalem (although the state of Israel celebrates Christmas on the Julian calendar – on December 25), as well as Mount Athos. The transition of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to the Julian calendar should take place gradually over several years so that there would be no political or confessional speculation on this. This procedure was meant by Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the OCU, when he made a speech to the lay people at Sofia Square right after the unity synod on December 15.
From a pragmatic point of view, such a change is also appropriate, since there are some Ukrainians, who celebrate Christmas on the Julian calendar on December 25 – they are parishioners of the UGCC and the Catholic Church. In fact, such a unifying “Christmas process” is unlikely to be a “painful issue” for believers. After all, if Ukraine goes to Europe and the whole of Europe except Serbia (regardless of Russia) celebrates on 25, and then we have to celebrate Christmas on the same day with all Christians-Europeans,” said Serhii Tsyhipa.
But Mykhailo Svystovych, a public figure, an activist of the civic movement Vidsich, explained that now the change of the date of celebration is absolutely inappropriate, because the believers are rather conservative, and such changes can, for example, slow down the transition from the MP to the UOC.
“It is expedient to change the date of the celebration of Christmas in the future, because, firstly, it synchronizes holidays with a real calendar and with the vast majority of countries in the world, and secondly, does not encourage believers to violate the Nativity Fast, or refuse to celebrate the joy of New Year. But now it’s completely inappropriate, and Epiphanius is right. Believers are very conservative people, and the change of the celebration of Christmas will slow down their transition from the MP to the UOC. Therefore, such a step should be made only when all or almost all potential believers move to the UOC, and when an explanatory work is done. It is not possible to say how long it will take. It will depend on many factors that are difficult to predict,” Mykhailo Svystovych stressed.
Can the rapid change of the celebration’s date really provoke risks?
Reflecting on this, Dmytro Sinchenko, chairman of the Association of Political Sciences public organization, emphasized that the risks really exist; in particular, the change of the calendar could scare part of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is still hesitating, whether it is worth joining the restored Orthodox Church of Ukraine. However, it is possible to avoid many risks: first of all, it is worth conducting educational work.
“The risks really exist, because the believers of any church are rather conservative people, they do not like and even afraid of changes. Therefore, the change in the calendar may frighten part of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is hesitating, whether it is worth joining the restored Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The fears and habits of parishioners can be actively used by Russian special services to prevent communities from entering the Ukrainian confession. To avoid this, churchmen should actively conduct educational work for their believers, and state bodies and mass media should exclude the use of the terms “Catholic Christmas” and the date “7th of January” as the date of Christmas. Everyone should know that Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, it’s just worth adding “a new style” or “an old style”, as with the “old New Year”. The same should be done with all other dates of Orthodox holidays. And when everyone becomes accustomed, church hierarchs will make appropriate decisions, which must be reflected in the calendar of official state holidays,” Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced.
The expert also added that in the case of conducting educational events, the transition will be possible in two or three years.
“In the event of an active educational campaign among the parishioners, it is painless to organize such a transition in two or three years. The first step for this was already made by our people’s deputies, having voted for the day off for Christmas on a new style (I think, it’s more correct to call it than “Catholic”). The next step should be the decision of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, necessarily agreed and synchronized with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which also lives on the Julian calendar. And the third step is the cancellation of the day off on January 7 “, says the chairman of the ” Association of Political Sciences ” public organization.
Maryna Bahrova also admits, that there are some risks. According to her, Ukrainian authorities and clergy should speak more often in the media and bring to Ukrainians true information about the potential change in the date of celebration. But the lack of such communication can only generate additional myths.
“Of course, during such a short period of time, in 10 days after the Unity Synod, some Orthodox Christians in Ukraine can painfully perceive the information about the celebration of Christmas on December 25. After all, until the Unity Synod, the vast majority of Orthodox Christians of Ukraine celebrated Christmas on January 6th. It is worth noting, that the formation of the restored Ukrainian Orthodox Church is still ongoing in connection with the transition of the clergy and laity of the UOC-MP. Therefore, as an alternative, it is possible to celebrate Christmas on December 25 and January 6 in 2019.
Speaking about the additional risks associated with the celebration of Christmas on December 25, Metropolitan Epiphanius is right. For such risks to disappear, the Ukrainian authorities and the clergy have to speak more often in the media, religious scholars should be invited to different TV shows to bring to the Ukrainian society the historical truth about why it is worth celebrating Christmas on December 25. They should work with people, people need an explanation. The lack of proper information interaction between the clergy and their lay people, the lack of attention to such a pressing issue of the media can lead to the emergence of various negative myths and insinuations in society “, explains Maryna Bahrova.
By Dmytro Zhuravel