(CP) In a landmark legislative move, Ukraine has shifted the date of its official Christmas celebration from January 7 to December 25, stepping away from the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, allied with Putin’s regime, and in a bid to “live their own life with their own traditions (and) holidays.”
The Ukrainian parliament passed the bill earlier this month, which has now been signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelensky, CNN reported.
The legislation has been interpreted as a breakaway from Russia’s cultural dominance, especially since the Orthodox community in Ukraine has been steadily distancing itself from Moscow following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in 2014.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amplified the split between the two branches of Orthodox Christianity. The division deepened when the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, endorsed the invasion, framing it as a cultural conflict between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values.
The legislation essentially formalizes what some churches in Ukraine had already started practicing. For instance, a branch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allowed its churches to celebrate Christmas on December 25 last year. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also moved its celebration of Christmas to December 25.
The legislation also modifies the dates of several Ukrainian holidays that coincide with religious festivities, including the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, the country’s independence day, which has been moved from July 28 to July 15. Additionally, the Day of Defenders of Ukraine, a day to honor veterans and war dead, has been shifted from October 14 to October 1.
Last December, President Zelensky signaled a move against churches affiliated with Russia, allegedly to bolster the war effort. The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council instructed the government to ban any church that might be following orders from Moscow, as reported by Reuters at the time.
In a bid to curb the influence of pro-Russian elements, Zelensky contended that these actors were trying to “weaken Ukraine from within” as the nation continued to resist the Russian military invasion inside its borders. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” Zelensky said in an address at the time, as quoted by the newswire.
There have also been efforts by security forces in Ukraine to investigate Orthodox churches associated with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Last November, Ukraine’s Security Service conducted searches at several theological seminaries and Orthodox Churches tied to the Moscow Patriarchate and reportedly found pro-Russian propaganda materials.
Amid these developments, Patriarch Kirill has been accused of abusing his position to justify the war and was even sanctioned by the UK government last year. He has also unsuccessfully implored other religious leaders, including Pope Francis, to urge Ukraine not to close down a monastery historically tied to Russia.
As tensions mount, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church faces eviction from the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex in the nation’s capital. The UOC was given until March 29 to comply with the order. The Ukrainian culture ministry claimed that the UOC “violated the terms of the agreement regarding the use of state property,” without specifying how, while the UOC asserts it is a victim of a political witch hunt.