The faithful participate in an Orthodox Christmas service in Kyiv The faithful participate in an Orthodox Christmas service in Kyiv  (AFP or licensors)

Ukraine celebrates Orthodox Christmas under the shadow of war

Church services have begun in Ukraine to mark the first Orthodox Christmas since Russia invaded the country last year. Worshipers gathered despite violations of an Orthodox Christmas Truce announced by Moscow.

By Stefan J. Bos

Under the shadow of war, hundreds of worshipers gather for an Orthodox Christmas service in Kyiv led by Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Prayers reverberated throughout the Holy Dormition Cathedral at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery in the Ukrainian capital.

Others also observed Ukraine's first Orthodox Christmas since the Russian invasion in February. And at least some worshipers gathered in a home as their church was damaged by shelling.

Orthodox Christmas is celebrated 13 days later than the December 25 Christmas date celebrated by other Christians. It was moved after Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, and many Orthodox Christians still observe the original date based on the Julian calendar.

With many people worshipping, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a 36-hour Orthodox Christmas truce. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected the offer saying the ceasefire was a cynical ploy.

On Orthodox Christmas Eve, Zelensky effectively urged Russians to rise against Russian President Putin and reject his ordered invasion of Ukraine. 

Conflicting reports

Ukrainian authorities also said Russian attacks continued during Moscow's announced Orthodox Christmas truce, including on the southern city of Kherson.

Russian forces reportedly struck a fire station in Kherson in an attack that left several people dead or wounded.

Moscow said it respected its unilateral ceasefire with the Russian Defense Ministry accusing Ukraine's forces of continued shelling.

Russian President Putin's temporary truce order came after ceasefire calls from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and from Russia's spiritual leader, Patriarch Kirill.

Yet Putin stood alone at a midnight service at a Kremlin church as he marked Orthodox Christmas darkened by Moscow's assault on Ukraine.

Putin attended the service at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, originally designed as a church for the Russian tsars. Orthodox priests conducted the ceremony holding long candles

No peace in sight

But peace seemed far away this Orthodox Christmas as Russia is unwilling to withdraw, and more Western weapons are arriving in Ukraine.

The United States said it would provide a new weapons aid package for Ukraine and its neighbours worth more than $3.75 billion.

Those deliveries include several dozen Bradley fighting vehicles for the first time, the White House announced.

And there is human suffering, with Ukraine claiming nearly 111,000 Russian troops have been killed in the war, significantly higher estimates than those provided by Russian and Western authorities.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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07 January 2023, 16:49