KYIV, Ukraine (BP) – Baptist, Ukrainian Orthodox and Greek-Catholic churches will celebrate Christmas in unison Dec. 25 for the first time in Ukraine’s history, the latter two abandoning their traditional Jan. 7 observance.
But despite a new law establishing Dec. 25 as the nation’s official observance, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOCMP) is expected to observe the holiday Jan. 7 according to the Julian calendar, a Baptist leader there told Baptist Press.
“This year will be very unique to us because finally all Ukrainian churches will celebrate Christmas together on Dec. 25,” said Igor Bandura, vice president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christian-Baptists. “Before that, evangelical churches celebrated on Dec. 25, but Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and the Greek-Catholic Church celebrated on Jan. 7.”
The Baptist Union encouraged the united observance for years without success, Bandura said, but the idea only gained popularity after Russia waged war against Ukraine in February 2022.
“That was one of the final signals that helped people to make this tremendous step to change their church calendar. And now, we will celebrate Christmas in unity, and focus together with the rest of the world,” Bandura said. “We hope that during these days Russia would not attack us by missiles and kamikaze drones, and we will share time to come together as churches in different places, and glorify Christ and share the message … of the One who brought peace to all the world.”
Some Orthodox Christians observed Christmas on Dec. 25 in 2022, The Associated Press reported, to distance themselves from Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky officially changed the national observance to Dec. 25 in July, distancing the country from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Jan. 7 celebration. Worldwide, about 12 percent of Christians mark Christmas on Jan. 7, Time Magazine reported.
The law included an explanatory note, Time reported, stating a goal to “abandon the Russian heritage” of celebrating Christmas Jan. 7, and noting Ukraine’s “successful” struggle for its identity and Ukraine’s desire to preserve its own traditions.
Christmas comes as Ukraine’s Parliament continues to consider a law that would criminalize Ukrainian Orthodox churches supporting Russia’s war effort.
Bandura, who follows the law’s development as a representative for the Baptist Union, said Parliament is carefully drafting the law to maintain religious liberty while also protecting national security.
The bill passed Oct. 19 the first of two required procedural votes in Ukraine’s lower house of parliament, and is subject to a second draft, which must also pass Parliament and be signed by Zelensky before coming law.
Before the 2022 war began, UOCMP churches numbered 12,000 in Ukraine, but about 1,500 of them had voted to join the independent Ukraine Orthodox Church as of September, National Public Radio reported Sept. 30. Ukrainian Orthodox churches number about 7,600.