Christmas on 25 December: why’s OCU talking about switching to a new style?

The OCU has announced a course for a new calendar style. Photo: UOJ

The top figures of the OCU simultaneously started talking about switching to a new calendar style. Will the schismatics celebrate Christmas "with entire Europe"?

On Saturday, December 18, 2021, Sergei Dumenko said in the “Saturday Interview” program on Radio Liberty that his structure could switch to the celebration of Christmas on December 25. He also indicated the approximate timeframe: “We predict it will be 10 years. And then we will see. It's hard to foresee that." At the same time, the head of the OCU stressed that he personally supports the idea of celebrating Christmas according to the New Julian calendar.

For reference. The New Julian calendar was invented by the Serbian astronomer and professor of mathematics Milutin Milanković in 1923. This year, the Council of Orthodox Churches in Constantinople decided on a calendar reform (transition to a new style). And to avoid accusations of using the "Catholic" Gregorian calendar, the New Julian calendar was proposed. By complicated astronomical calculations, M. Milankovich reformed the old Julian calendar so that it coincided with the Gregorian one. Therefore, when the New Julian calendar is mentioned, it should be understood that it is in fact the Gregorian calculus. This coincidence will continue until 2800 when the calendars will diverge again. In addition, the Local Churches living according to the New Julian calendar (there are now 10 out of 15 of them) still celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar.

S. Dumenko expressed his readiness to switch to a new style and celebrate Christmas together with the whole "enlightened" Europe. What prevents him from doing this right now? It turns out that it is .....the believers.

S. Dumenko expressed his readiness to switch to a new style and celebrate Christmas together with the whole "enlightened" Europe.

"It has more to do with home traditions. We have already talked and analysed it," Dumenko said, adding that he believes that celebrating Christmas on 7 January is a mistake. “Although we celebrate it on the 25th, just according to different calendars. Yes, this mistake needs to be corrected. But tradition is tradition – it is so deeply rooted that if we do this, I am convinced that churches will be empty on the 25th and full on the 7th". That is, the leadership of the OCU is thinking progressively, but short-sighted believers are preventing the implementation of the right ideas and correcting "the mistake". So, they need to be re-educated in about 10 years.

In December 2018, just a few days after his election, Dumenko already announced the possibility of switching to a new style and said that this would require re-educating people: "If we change from January 7 to December 25, the Ukrainian people will not accept it. We need to explain and prove".

On January 4, 2020, S. Dumenko also talked about his desire to switch to a new style and complained that believers were not ready for this. In an interview with Radio Liberty, he said: “In general, I am not against it, but I rely on the opinion of our believers. And we clearly know the sociology, which shows that more than 60% of Ukrainians are against celebrating on December 25".

A swing-round: from condemning new style Christmas to its propaganda

Two years ago, the Volyn "bishop" of the OCU Mikhail Zinkevich decided to hold two Christmas services in his cathedral: on December 25 and January 7. According to him, he met the "public demand" of his parishioners. In addition, he explained this by the process of "decommunization" and "movement towards European traditions". But such agility did not resonate with the leadership of the OCU. The spokesperson for the OCU Ivan (Eustratiy) Zoria, on his Facebook page, sharply reprimanded the former candidate for the post of head of the OCU, Mikhail Zinkevich. "A hasty calendar reform – and even ill-conceived attempts now to promote it with proposals to double the celebrations – will potentially mothball thousands of communities with millions of believers in the Moscow Patriarchate and bring confusion to Ukrainian Orthodoxy for decades to come," Zoria wrote. Moreover, Zinkevich was then officially condemned by the PCU.

“The Holy Synod condemned the unauthorized, sole decision of His Grace Michael, Metropolitan of Lutsk and Volyn, to make changes to the church calendar, which is a violation of the canonical order, in particular Apostolic Canon 34, when a part of the Orthodox in Ukraine is under the influence of the Moscow Patriarchate ... We state that ill-considered and hasty implementation of the calendar reform in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine can lead to the strengthening of existing divisions and the emergence of new ones," says the decision of the OCU Synod of February 4, 2020.

However, as we can see, this year the attitude to the issue of celebrating Christmas on December 25 is different. The spokesperson for the OCU is already looking for arguments that will help convince supporters of the OCU to switch to a new style.

“Attention, a survey on arguments! Please write briefly in the comments the arguments "for" and "against":

  • transition to the new calendar/
  • moving Christmas to December 25th"
A screenshot of I. Zoria's Facebook page

In fact, I. Zoria acknowledged that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not have enough arguments to convince Ukrainians to switch to a new style and “asked the audience". The "audience" reacted predictably and did not give any creative arguments to Ivan Zoria. Ironically, some commentators, convinced that the old style is associated with the ROC and the UOC, made the opposite conclusion. Some said that we should not switch as people would prefer the UOC because of this.

Ex MP A. Briginets’s commentary

And someone argued exactly the opposite.

An OCU chaplain’s commentary

Basically, commentators said that you need to live like in Europe and not invent anything. The most detailed answer was given by the OCU "Archbishop" of Ternopil and Kremenets, Nestor Pysyk, who wrote three arguments "for" and as many as six "against", quite substantiated ones.

But the most important thing in the responses of the audience to Ivan Zoria's Facebook page is not what is written there, but what is not written there. In the comments, we could not find a single truly religious argument, and after all the calendar question is primarily an ecclesiastical issue, it was discussed and solved at the Ecumenical Councils. But for supporters of the OCU, this is not important. For them, the main thing is to be farther from the Russian Federation and closer to Europe. Actually, Zoria knew all this very well when he published his post. He hardly really wanted to hear different opinions. His aim was to open the Overton window, to begin the practical legalization of the transition to a new style. And the Kherson "hierarch" of the OCU Nikodim Kulygin directly wrote about it: "Today everything looks so that the question is no longer whether we will have a transition to the New Julian calendar, but how soon and how exactly it will happen.”

Today everything looks so that the question is no longer whether we will have a transition to the New Julian calendar, but how soon and how exactly it will happen.

OCU “hierarch” Nikodim Kulygin

In general, the sharp change in the position of the OCU on the transition to a new style cannot but surprise. Back in February 2020, the Synod of this structure officially condemned Mikhail Zinkevich for celebrating Christmas by the New Julian calendar, and now we see open propaganda of the new style from the head and spokesperson of the OCU. How else can this be explained if not by a command "from above"? And such a command could come not only from Istanbul. More on this later.

Synchronised swimming: the OCU and the UGCC heading to the new style together?

Among Zoria's answers, there are some that should be discussed in more detail. For example, about the synchronized transition to the new style by the OCU and the UGCC. And there were a great many of them. For example, a teacher of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Yuriy Podlesnyi, writes: "The transition should be synchronous for both the OCU and the UGCC. And it is worth trying to see how it works at Easter". Journalist Tetyanka Shpaykher echoes him: "For the simultaneous transition of the two churches: the OCU and the UGCC. It would be good if the Churches coordinated their actions, worked out a plan, that is, acted together." Viacheslav Kostenko answers her: "Exactly! In general, we need to raise the question of the unification of the OCU and the UGCC."

As can be seen, it is not just about the OCU switching to a new style but about doing it together with the Ukrainian Catholics of the Orthodox rite. The latest statements by the head of the UGCC Sviatoslav Shevchuk fully confirm this. In July 2021, he said: "We want to switch to a new calendar in Ukraine together with the Orthodox brothers."

It's not just about the OCU switching to a new style but about doing it together with Ukrainian Catholics of the Orthodox rite.

In the UGCC itself or rather in its overseas parishes, the transition to the new style is gaining momentum. So from September 1, 2021, all parishes of the UGCC in Italy switched to the Gregorian calendar. The head of the exarchate of the UGCC in Italy, Dionisy Lyakhovich, argued this with concerns "about the spiritual development of the Apostolic Exarchate in the conditions of the Italian environment, time and mission of our Church." In other countries, Ukrainian Uniate migrants easily switch to the new style so as not to differ from local residents. S. Shevchuk said that in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greek Catholics consider this to be absolutely normal since they constitute a religious minority and are have to accept local traditions.

Despite the fact that statements from both the OCU and the UGCC about a possible transition to the new style have been heard for a long time, today the activity in this direction has increased significantly. We can say that both the OCU and the UGCC are synchronizing their efforts to re-educate their parishioners in the "right way", and that the idea of the simultaneous transition to the new calendar is one of the points of a long-term plan for uniting these denominations. That such a plan exists, Sviatoslav Shevchuk explicitly stated on December 21, 2021, on the air of the programme "Actors" on Channel 5. "We have a plan on how to go to the unification of the once united but now divided Church of Kyiv," the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) said. 

The fact that the leadership of the UGCC and OCU declares that both the unification of confessions and the transition to the new style are a matter of the distant future should not mislead anyone. Firstly, it may just be a diplomatic move to reassure those who do not particularly welcome these initiatives, and secondly, the union itself can be in various forms. If a complete organizational unification in the near future is really quite difficult to imagine, then a "eucharistic" or some other unification may well occur, especially since this unification is not only around something but also against something, namely, against Orthodoxy in the land of Ukraine. Uniates, whatever one may say, are Catholics, supporters of the Catholic, not Orthodox, beliefs, and it does not matter what rites they adhere to. And the representatives of the OCU have already made it clear that for them the most important thing is to meet the needs of society, and then everything else. The only religious denomination that uncompromisingly upholds the purity of the Orthodox Faith is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and, accordingly, it is an obstacle on the way to the catholicization and ecumenization of Ukraine.

We have a plan on how to go to the unification of the once united but now divided Church of Kyiv.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk

Therefore, the entire current campaign to promote the idea of celebrating Christmas together with Catholics is directed against the UOC. We hear about this directly or indirectly from the lips of both the supporters of the OCU and the Uniates. The most striking manifestation of this campaign was the video of one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Galician Party, which says that the celebration of the Nativity of Christ on December 25 is "a vaccine against the Russian world".

A screenshot of the video on the YouTube channel "Bohdan Pankevich BLOG"

The authors of the video call people celebrating Christmas on January 7 "drunk and ignorant" and urge the believers to move away from celebrating Christmas on January 7 by the "Moscow Orthodox calendar" to switch to December 25 to celebrate "with the world". A month ago, Bohdan Pankevich, who starred in the video, wrote on his Facebook page: “Two years ago, the Ukrainian Galician party launched the 'Christmas with the world' campaign. We personally brought tens of thousands of signatures under appeals to Patriarch Sviatoslav and Metropolitan Epifaniy to their offices ... It's time for us to celebrate with the entire Christian world, and not with Russia and its religious satellites."

Conclusions

First, we are witnessing a sharp change in the position of the OCU leadership regarding the transition to the new style. In less than two years – from the official condemnation of the celebration of Christmas on December 25 to its open propaganda. And this sudden change suggests a command "from above".

Secondly, we must state the synchronicity of the UOC and the UGCC on the question of both the transition to the new style and on the future of unification.

Thirdly, both the unification and the transition are directed against the UOC, which does not participate in the projects of the schismatics and strictly adheres to the Julian calendar because this is not a political issue, and even less a question of the “Russian” or “non-Russian” world, but a religious issue.

Fourthly, the UOC should not only be firm in this matter but also make the Ukrainian society understand by all available means that the transition to the new style is not a "vaccine from the Russian world" and not a way to join the "true" Europe. Ukrainian society has the right to choose its own path, but this choice must be made consciously and not under the impression of beautiful and suggestive pictures drawn by the heads of the OCU and the UGCC.

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