Ukrainian Churches, Asserting Freedom From Russian Influence Switch Calendars

The Russian Orthodox Church began centuries ago in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine; but now, with that capital, as well as Ukraine itself, under attack from the Kremlin with the whole-hearted backing of its leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Ukrainian Churches are breaking away, with 1,500 parishes switching to the self-governing Orthodox Church of Ukraine and per survey, only 4% of Ukrainians identifying with the old church.

One effect of the change is that Ukrainians in increasing numbers now worship in their native Ukrainian, rather than in the more Russian-like Church Slavonic tongue.

Another impact of the Ukraine’s shifting religious landscape is that with local and regional bans of the Russian-linked church, Ukraine can now transfer leases of its historic church buildings to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

“One of the reasons Russia needs to control its church so much is that those who influence the church have control of the country,” said Mikhailo Sivak, a priest at Intercession of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedral. “If there are pro-Russians in Lviv they are few and silent. The number of Orthodox Churches of Ukraine churches is increasing significantly each month.”

But the biggest impact of them all is at hand: a shift in the marking of time itself from the Julian calendar—in use for nearly half a millennium—to the Gregorian calendar. The use of the Julian calendar has, since 1582, been at the heart of the Orthodox church’s identity, a time continuum separate and distinct from the alternative Gregorian calendar which was brought into existence by papal decree.

By shifting to the Gregorian calendar, millions of Ukrainians accustomed to celebrating Christmas on January 7, will now observe it on December 25, along with most of the Western Christian world.

As Ukrainian Orthodox Abbott Job Olshansky told his flock on a recent Sunday, “The desire to preserve and affirm our own, Ukrainian, spiritual identity, protection from the aggression of the ‘Russian world,’ requires us to make a timely decision.”

Olshansky said he was one of only two priests at a meeting of about 20 Ukrainian Orthodox-Moscow Patriarchate clergy a few weeks after the full-scale invasion to decry the Russian invasion.

“They said it’s the Americans dropping bombs on us, and Russia is innocent,” Olshansky said. “That’s when I realized I could not keep working with these people, when my family near Irpin and Bucha were being bombed.”

The switch will happen September first.

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