Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Christmas amid raging war 

“MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Christmas amid raging war 

Over the weekend, Orthodox Christians around the globe celebrated Christmas. In Russia and Ukraine, the holiday took place during a time of war between the two countries.

The WorldJanuary 9, 2023 · 2:45 PM EST

On Orthodox Christmas morning — Jan. 7, 2023 — at a service at Pesherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv, Ukraine, hundreds of people crammed into the sanctuary to get closer to the dozen or so clergymen up front.

Daniel Ofman/The World 

On Orthodox Christmas morning — Jan. 7 — worshippers made their way to Pesherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The ornate cathedral, gleaming white with golden domes, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s the heart of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. 

The service was packed — hundreds of people crammed into the sanctuary to get closer to the dozen or so clergymen up front.

The Pesherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv, Ukraine, ornate cathedral, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s the heart of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. 

Credit:

Daniel Ofman/The World

Over the weekend, Orthodox Christians around the globe celebrated Christmas. In Russia and Ukraine, the holiday took place during a time of war between the two countries.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to implement a 36-hour holiday ceasefire, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Russian forces continued their attacks on Bachmut in eastern Ukraine.

Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine delivered the Christmas Day sermon. 

“During these days of festivities with strong feelings we ask God: Help us defeat our enemy who brought grief into our home. Help us finally drive out the foreign invasion from the Ukrainian land,” he said. 

Epiphanius went on to say that only “through the victory of truth” can there be a “just and lasting peace.”

He delivered his sermon in Ukrainian. And for many people here, that was a big deal.

Veronika Selega attended the service with a friend. It was her first time in this cathedral on Christmas morning. 

The day before, they contemplated what to do for the holiday. “Of course, [we thought,] we’ll go to Lavra, and it’s something new, even as a tradition you know, to go here, because we [usually go] to different churches.” 

On Orthodox Christmas morning — Jan. 7 — worshippers made their way to Pesherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Credit:

Daniel Ofman/The World

Selega said that in the past, she felt uncomfortable attending the service at the Lavra cathedral, because it was controlled by the Moscow-affiliated Orthodox church.

Now, the holy site is fully under Ukrainian control, and for the first time, leaders from the Kyiv-affiliated Orthodox Church led Christmas day services.

For Selega and her friend, Oksana Nechypurenko, it was a historic day.

“It wasn’t psychologically OK, or ethically OK to be there,” Nechypurenko said. “And now, for the first [time] from the independence of Ukraine, it’s open for us and lots of Ukrainians are comparing it to some liberation of the territories.”

In recent weeks, Ukraine’s government has cracked down on religious institutions aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, claiming that their leaders were a fifth column influenced by Moscow. And, several churches have been raided.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last month that Ukraine is a “spiritually independent country” and it will not allow anyone to “manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within.”

Ukraine’s government is now considering banning certain religious organizations affiliated with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin who has consistently supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That’s led to some stark condemnation from religious leaders in the country.

Andriy Dudchenko is the senior priest at the Transfiguration of the Lord Cathedral, in Kyiv. He said that Kirill has lost credibility as a religious figure

Dudchenko said that Ukraine is at war, and the government needs to prioritize national security.

But he said that authorities must also follow the law as they investigate religious leaders.

Andriy Dudchenko is a priest at Pesherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Credit:

Daniel Ofman/The World

“In Ukraine, we have very liberal laws about religion, and I would [hope] that Ukraine continue[s] to have this liberal attitude. If there are some, and we know that there are, some issues of collaboration, the investigations should be made, the responsibility should be personal.”

Personal and not communal. But even if the Moscow affiliated church is not yet banned in Ukraine, this Christmas has highlighted the deep divisions between the two Orthodox churches of Russia and Ukraine.

On top of that, this year, many Ukrainians started celebrating Christmas twice.

On the traditional Orthodox date of Jan. 7 but also on Dec. 25, when Christians from Western countries celebrate. 

Back at the Lavra Cathedral, Nechypurenko and Selega said that they’re not letting the Russian invasion tarnish their Christmas.

They say they’re celebrating life over death and this year, that’s certainly worth a double celebration.

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