The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church announced Feb. 6 that that the world’s largest Eastern Catholic Church will change liturgical calendars this fall, changing the date of several liturgical feasts, as Ukrainian Christian distance themselves from the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The move means that Ukrainian Catholics will begin this year celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25, but will for now continue to celebrate Easter on a later date than most of the world’s Catholics and Protestant Christians.
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Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk announced Monday that the Ukrainian Catholic Church will mostly discontinue using the Julian calendar, a liturgical calendar used almost exclusively by the Russian Orthodox Church and other eastern churches influenced by it.
Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, announced that the change had called for during a Feb. 1-2 synodal meeting of the Church's bishops. In the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the synod of bishops is a policy-setting body, which governs the Church in line with the major archbishop and the pope.
For a large part of Ukrainian society, the Julian calendar is perceived as a marker of the “Russkiy mir,” or “Russian world,” ideology, which has been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify his invasion in Ukraine.
In polling conducted by Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture last year, 60% of Ukrainians said the country’s churches should move away from the Russian-influenced liturgical schedule.
In a resolution passed last week, the bishops of the UGCC explained that Catholics had asked for a change, and that they had consulted with clergy and monasteries about the move.
The bishops decided that a changeover will happen September 1, but have allowed for parishes to transition more slowly, taking even until 2025, with permission from their diocesan bishops.
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Archbishop Sviatoslav explained on Monday that the synod meeting of bishops last week focused on “healing the wounds of war.” That discussion include the question of calendar change, he said.
But the archbishop emphasized that a lot of consultation was done before a decision was made, given the way that changing liturgical calendars will impact the lives of practicing Ukrainian Catholics. Some regions of the country held open meetings about the question, while others surveyed priests and parish leaders, he said.
The archbishop said the bishops were surprised to find near unanimous support for the change among the country’s Eastern Catholics, given that it was a much divisive issue before the war.
More than 90% of surveyed Ukrainian Catholics in Ukraine support the move from the Julian calendar, Archbishop Sviatoslav said.
Fr. Vasyl Rudeiko, deputy head of the UGCC’s liturgical commission, told the The Pillar that he thinks most parishes will switch away from the Julian calendar as soon as they are permitted, despite the allowance for communities to adjust more slowly.
"I myself have been writing on this topic since 2009, and during this time, explanatory work has been done. If there is such a need, I am ready to travel to parishes and explain to people," Fr. Rudeiko told The Pillar.
Rudeiko emphasized that the change comes while Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, have held discussions about finding a common date for Easter between Catholics and the Orthodox Churches influenced by Constantinople – which currently use the Julian calendar to determine the date of Easter, but do not otherwise adhere to it.
Rudeiko also noted that the autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the largest church in the country, is also preparing to move away from the Russian-affiliated Julian calendar.
For his part, Archbishop Sviatoslav said Monday that he hopes the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will make the switch soon, and said he had spoken last year with the OCU’s Metropolitan Epiphany about the idea.
Archbishop Sviatoslav said that the UGCC and the OCU are taking different approaches to the switch.
“We are moving towards the same goal. However, we may be moving towards it in different ways. We decided to switch, leaving the possibility to remain on the old calendar for those who aren't ready. The OCU first allows moving for individual parishes, and only then, as we understand it, the Bishops' Council of this Church will decide on the calendar reform. So far, we have not set up a joint working group yet, but I would like to see it work. Working together will help us understand each other, but we have already realized that we are moving towards the same goal,” Sviatoslav said Monday.
The OCU is expected to discuss calendar reform which its bishops gather in May.