UGCC and OCU are switching to a new calendar. What about us?

09 February 17:04
A new religious meta-project is taking shape in Ukraine before our very eyes. Photo: UOJ A new religious meta-project is taking shape in Ukraine before our very eyes. Photo: UOJ

Backed by the authorities, the Uniates and the OCU simultaneously announced the transition to a new calendar. What does this mean, and how does it affect the Orthodox?

In December 2022, the head of the UGCC, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and the head of the OCU, Serhiy (Epifaniy) Dumenko, “harmonized positions” on the reform of the church calendar and created a joint working group supposed to develop specific proposals.

As early as February 6, 2023, S. Shevchuk announced that from September 1, 2023, the UGCC in Ukraine will completely switch to a new calendar. “Everyone needs to understand that we will bless the water on the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the Feast of the Intercession will be celebrated on October 1, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross on September 14, etc.,” said the Uniate leader. OCU spokesman Ivan (Eustratiy) Zoria immediately reacted to this: “In view of the UGCC decision on the calendar, I must recall that the Synod of the OCU has already decided that communities wishing to switch to a new style can do this within the appropriate procedure. Also, the issue of an overall calendar reform has been submitted for consideration by the Council of Bishops, whose meeting is scheduled for May. There is still time until September 1, when the new church year begins.”

We can say with confidence that in May the OCU will decide on the transition to a new style, and that this transition will be synchronized with the UGCC, i.e. will take place on September 1, 2023.

Spokesman of the OCU against the new style

However, quite recently, the same Ivan Zoria was resolutely against the transition and put forward serious arguments. For example, on December 7, 2016, on his Facebook page, he stated them in the thesis-antithesis form:

"We need to switch from the Moscow calendar to the European one."

Zoria rightly said that it was impossible to give up on one’s traditions “out of spite for Moscow”: “It looks like as if we proposed to remove the monument to St. Vladimir on the grounds that there is a similar one in Moscow. Then what – we will discard the Cyrillic alphabet, because it is used in Moscow? And finally reject Orthodoxy, because there is a Moscow Church?”

Zoria sums up with a completely logical argument – the calendar reform is "the path to a strife in society and a split in the Church."

“If everyone celebrates on December 25 by the new style, it will unite Christians/Ukraine.”

Zoria notes that there is no unity anywhere in the religious communities where they switched to the new style: “Ask how in the communities of the UGCC in the West now some have a traditional calendar, others have a new one, and everyone has a firm conviction to hold on to their position and arguments for this. The discussion has been going on for more than half a century there. The Greeks introduced a new style in the 30s – and now they have 3/4 New Calendarists and 1/4 Old Calendarists."

Again, a very logical conclusion: “The experience of history shows that the probability of separation due to the calendar reform is an order of magnitude higher than the possible unifying potential. Are there really not enough fault lines and confrontations in our society to add the calendar issue to them, especially now?"

Of particular note is his comment regarding the Jerusalem Church, which "although Greek in its tradition, also adheres to the traditional calendar." It will be interesting to refer to it down the road.

"It's inconvenient that the New Year falls on the Nativity Fast."

Quite rightly, Zoria writes that “those for whom the New Year is the most important holiday are unlikely to fast. And fasting people are quite capable of celebrating the New Year without breaking the fast.” Again, Zoria concludes this paragraph with the same thought: “Most often, calendar reforms did not lead to greater mutual understanding, but to greater separation. And the current discussions around the reform only add to the conviction that its time has not come yet – at least in Ukraine.”

On December 23, 2019, Zoria made another argument:

“A hasty calendar reform (and even ill-conceived attempts now to hype it with proposals for ‘double celebrations’) will potentially ‘mothball’ thousands of communities with millions of believers in the Moscow Patriarchate and bring confusion to Ukrainian Orthodoxy for a decade to come.”

The conclusions of the spokesman of the OCU are clear and unambiguous: “Therefore, the reform-related risks are obvious and real now, in contrast to the benefits for the believers of the Church.”

Spokesman of the OCU for a new style

Now all these arguments have been archived as superfluous, and on the agenda is a hasty transition to a new style. In turn, having promptly changed his shoes, Zoria in his Telegram channel is already dispersing the arguments for such a transition with might and main. Briefly, they boil down to three points and all relate to the Church of Jerusalem, which, as you know, adheres to the Julian calendar:

  1. The Church of Jerusalem does not want to switch to a new style due to mercantile considerations: “If (when) the Jerusalem Patriarchate adopts the New Julian calendar, as did all the neighboring Churches and all the Churches of the Greek tradition, there will be a problem of changing the status quo, when it will be necessary to determine from scratch when and how to use the holy places on the feasts that fall at the same time. Changing the status quo is a revolution. Nobody wants a revolution. Therefore, the calendar remains unchanged."
  2. The Holy Fire that descends on the Holy Sepulcher on Great Saturday on Paschalia, based on the Julian calendar, is not at all a miracle confirming the correctness of Paschalia, but simply a symbol of light. Moreover, the miracle of the Holy Fire is an element of Moscow mythology. Well, the OCU is going to switch to the New Julian calendar while maintaining the old Julian Paschalia.
  3. The miracle of the convergence of the cloud on Tabor on the day of the Transfiguration and the miracle on the Jordan, when the current turns back, are not miracles at all, but quite ordinary events that "from time to time are possible anywhere." And if the OCU moves these dates back 13 days, then God will move these miracles (or not miracles) as well.

The first argument of Zoria is manufactured from thin air, so we will just skip it. The miracle of the Holy Fire is not a church dogma, and it is not at all necessary to believe in it, as well as to substantiate it, but the fact remains – it does happen! For centuries, no one has yet been able to refute it, and as we all understand in our age of high technology, it would not be difficult to do this.

But Zoria’s statement that the old Julian Paschalia will be preserved when switching to the New Julian calendar raises questions.

The spokesman of the OCU, probably, did not listen very carefully to the head of the UGCC, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who clearly said that the postponement of non-passing holidays, i.e. the transition to the Gregorian calendar is only the first stage of the reform, followed by a change in Paschalia.

“Paschalia, according to which the Byzantine Churches live, has its pros and cons, and it needs to be reformed. But the Paschalia, according to which the Roman Catholic Church lives – the Gregorian Paschal – is also imperfect. And in the run-up to the anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, in the dialogue between Rome and Constantinople, the Apostolic Capital and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, huge efforts are taken on a joint renewed Paschal so that Christians worldwide can celebrate Easter on the same day,” Shevchuk said. So the OCU will need to do something with the “inconvenient” miracle of the Holy Fire.

Either way, I would like to dwell on one Zoria’s argument in more detail. This is a statement that when moving to other dates, God will also transfer miracles. In fact, this statement is correct. This has already happened in the history of the Church. For example, it is known that the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord was originally celebrated before Holy Week, which corresponds to the Gospel chronology. Now we celebrate it in August – and the cloud on Tabor descends in this time regularly every year, but not accidentally, as Zoria believes. This can be seen as the fulfillment of the words of the Lord: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). However, this concerns not the OCU, and not the OCU with the UGCC, and not even the Phanar with the Vatican, but the entire Church. Today they are trying to bring us to this substitution.

Let us quote S. Shevchuk again: “Today, work is underway between Rome and Constantinople on a joint renewed Paschalia so that Christians worldwide can celebrate Easter on the same day.” That is, they are trying to present the matter in such a way that the Vatican represents Western Christians, i.e. Catholics, while the Phanar – Eastern, i.e. Orthodox. And if they decide something together, then it will be “bound in heaven”. And whoever disagrees with this is a schismatic, a dissenter, a marginal, an obscurantist and, in general, an admirer of the “Moscow Patriarchate”.

State activity

The Ukrainian state also unexpectedly and very actively joined the campaign for the transition to a new style. An unheard-of thing – a large-scale survey was launched on the date of Christmas on the DIYA electronic platform, which is actually intended for automating public services. And, of course, the results turned out to be exactly what was required – the majority voted in favor of December 25, i.e. a new style. Moreover, the Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko said in his Telegram channel that he welcomes the decision of the UGCC to switch to the Gregorian calendar, and that “the reform of the Liturgical calendar is already overdue, and today is the time to introduce sweeping changes.”

Regarding the Julian calendar, he believes that "for Ukraine, the Julian calendar is a legacy of the Russian Empire." Obviously, this is a clear intervention of the state in the religious sphere, which is a violation of the principle of separation of the Church from the state, enshrined in the Constitution.

What does this mean?

Thus, we can see an active and targeted campaign for the transition to a new style, in which the OCU, the UGCC and the Ukrainian state participate. The composition of the participants indicates that they took up the matter thoroughly and intend to bring it to the end.

However, the transition to a new style is only the first stage of a much larger process. This is nothing less than the unification of Orthodoxy with Catholicism.

There have been two such attempts in history: the Union of Lyon in 1274 and the Ferraro-Florentine Union of 1438-1445. The Union of Brest of 1596, like a number of similar ones, is a union of local significance that did not affect all of Orthodoxy. Lyons and Florence also did not affect all of Orthodoxy, but at least they were conceived as such. Both of these unions were unsuccessful, but today we are witnessing the third attempt, and Ukraine has one of the main roles in this process. It is in our country that they are going to test the model of such an association, since there are two church structures at hand being subordinate to the Phanar and the Vatican: the OCU and the UGCC.

On February 5, 2023, the official website of the UGCC published a statement by S. Shevchuk: “We want to introduce the fruits of the search for universal unity into the Christian church context of Ukraine.” Let us note that the head of the UGCC is not talking about searching or trying, but about the fruits. From this we can conclude that the Vatican and the Phanar already have a clear plan on how, when and under what conditions the unification should take place.

How can events develop further?

There is practically no doubt that the state, the OCU and the UGCC will complete the project of transition to the new style. December 25 will be declared the “main” day off, and for the most “irresponsible” believers of the aforementioned denominations, according to the notorious “oikonomia”, it will be allowed to celebrate holidays in the old way for some more time. There is no doubt that after some time (short) the day off on January 7 will be abolished.

Supporters of the old Julian calendar (i.e. the entire UOC) will be declared "Russian-world adepts", "minions of Moscow" and, in general, opponents of everything good and progressive. They will be under pressure with renewed vigor. The UOC will be cast as a small marginal group; all sorts of dirt will be poured out on it in the media, and so on. In the same context, attempts will probably continue to outlaw the UOC, and take away its name, seize the Lavra and so on.

The next step, for logical reasons, should be the unification between the OCU and the UGCC into a kind of single local "Kyiv Church", which the state will provide very powerful support.

This association is unlikely to be of an administrative nature, although some honorary or nominal head will still have to be designated. Most likely, "Eucharistic" unity will be announced, joint services will be held and the rest of that ilk.

Meanwhile the Phanar and the Vatican will be watching the reaction of the Orthodox in different countries, all those who are for and who are against. And then the unification work will move on. It seems that the Catholics will initially be “for”, since all previous unions were understood by them not as an association of equal subjects, but as the return of the “misled” (i.e. Orthodox) from schism. The Orthodox are likely to be divided: the majority will be against unification, as in previous union attempts, but there will be those who will participate.

What do the UOC faithful need to know?

  1. The Julian calendar is not a “legacy of the Russian Empire” at all, but a heritage of the entire Orthodox Church. In a sense, the Julian calendar was approved at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325, since the Council approved the need to celebrate Easter for everyone on the same day and instructed the Bishop of Alexandria to determine this very day annually. Thus the Alexandrian Paschalia, based on the Julian calendar, was approved. A change in the calendar invariably leads to a change in Paschalia, which was proved by the calendar reform of Pope Gregory XIII. Consequently, the calendar issue was decided by the Ecumenical Council, and only the Ecumenical Council can change this decision.
  2. In response to the proposal of Pope Gregory XIII to the Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah II Tranos, the latter convened a Council in Constantinople in 1583, which anathematized all supporters of the Gregorian calendar as violators of the decrees of the Council of Nicaea and the 7th Apostolic Canon. Subsequently, this decision was confirmed by the district message of Patriarch Cyril V of Constantinople in 1756 and the district message of the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem in 1848. The New Julian calendar does not formally fall under this anathema, although in practice it is the same Gregorian calendar with which it will diverge only in 2800. In fact, it was invented in order to remove from the anathema those Local Churches that wanted to switch to a new style. But the change in Paschalia, as S. Shevchuk clearly stated, is subject to anathema. Everyone who wants to "participate in the process" needs to know this fact.
  3. It is very good that the OCU no longer tries to look like people who are faithful to the Orthodox tradition and canons (it will suffice to compare the above statements of I. Zoria then and now). Attempts to present the Julian calendar as a legacy of the Russian Empire are rather pitiful, since anyone can find out in two clicks that in addition to the Russian Orthodox Church and the UOC, the Jerusalem, Georgian, Serbian, Polish Churches and Athos also adhere to the Julian calendar. Most importantly, Paschalia is based on this calendar, which all the Local Orthodox Churches (except for the autonomous Finnish Church within the Patriarchate of Constantinople) abide by. Representatives of the OCU have already quite clearly outlined their vector of development: the transition to a new style and unification with the Uniates, i.e. with the Catholics. Just as the Uniates retain only the external rite of Orthodoxy, so there is only the external side of Orthodoxy left with all those who have united with them.

The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, under no pretext, agreed to unite with those who professed heretical teachings. And since the Catholics are not going to give up their delusions, then union with them, in any form, is impossible.

Thus, the selection criterion becomes more and more clear: whoever wants to remain faithful to Orthodoxy, the testaments of the holy fathers, but at the same time be an outcast in the society of the “correct” confessions, must remain faithful to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Whoever believes that a comfortable new calendar style or the upcoming unification with Catholics, or obedient adherence to the requirements of the state interfering in the religious sphere is no big deal, should join the OCU and "participate in the process."

The choice is for each of us.

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