Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.01.2018
A joyous Ukrainian Christmas, one and all.
This is the season of two Christmases in Ukraine. For the first time December 25 was an official holiday. The vast majority of Ukrainians celebrate Christmas, though, on January 7. With the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14, Ukraine definitively made its European choice. But that doesn’t mean giving up traditional holidays with their unique customs, such as Ukrainian Christmas.
Christmas should be filled with music. Carol singing is an ancient custom among Ukrainian customs, but it was suppressed during the years of Russian occupation and Soviet state terror. It never died out among the Ukrainian diaspora. With the renewal of Ukrainian independence in 1991, carol singing made a comeback in Ukraine, along with many other expressions of religious freedom.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, and the suppression of religious freedom returned to Ukraine in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. This time, though, the brutality of Russian occupation is not manifested in the official atheism of Marxism-Leninism. In temporarily occupied Crimea and Donbas the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy is the de facto state religion, and other forms of religious expression are persecuted. For example, on Christmas Eve Ukrainian social media was commenting that children weren’t going door-to-door singing carols in Luhansk, as they used to do. Luhansk has been under Russian military occupation for three and a half years. The contrast was shown in social media, with pictures, video, and recollections of carol singing in Luhansk on the night of January 6-7, 2014 – the last year of freedom in the city. Christmas four years ago was also a celebration of EuroMaidan, which would soon after be known as the Revolution of Dignity. In 2018, Luhansk and Donetsk and Simferopol and Sevastopol are places without music.
Russia’s invasion of Europe in Ukraine and its brutal occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas is accelerating the demise of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy. During the Revolution of Dignity, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate supported the Ukrainian people; for example, St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery was a sanctuary for the wounded protestors from Maidan. During the same momentous days, the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy backed the Yanukovych regime, and the titushky (paid thugs) and Russian agents sent to attack Ukrainians expressing their freedom of expression and of assembly.
Ukrainians will soon mark four years of resistance to Russian aggression. The Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy showed its true colours early in the fight for national survival, when its priests refused to stand in the Verkhovna Rada to honour Ukrainian soldiers who were killed in battle in defence of the homeland. The Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy, with the backing of pro-Russia oligarchs, has conducted so-called “peace marches” whose purpose is to question Ukraine’s right of self-defence and to spread Kremlin propaganda that the invasion by Russia is somehow a “civil war.”
The dwindling number of true believers who remain in the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy are being manipulated by the foreign power that is invading their homeland. Most Ukrainians are fed up, and are convinced that the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy is a front for the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and nothing more. News has reached the ears of Ukrainians in recent days that priests of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy refused to bury a boy of about two years old because he was baptized in the Kyiv Patriarchate church. The level of outrage among Ukrainians recalls the sentiment when the Russian priests sat down in the Verkhovna Rada as a sign of disrespect for Ukrainian defenders.
At Christmastime, their is a stark contrast in the mood in Ukraine. In free Ukraine, and in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church there is music. In Russia-occupied Ukraine, and in the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy, there is none.