In Kyiv, Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Christmas in a restored cathedral

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Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Hundreds of worshipers packed a cathedral for an Orthodox Christmas as they heard services in Ukrainian for the first time in decades, a sign of independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Beautifully decorated with icons and gilded panels, the cathedral – part of a complex known as the Monastery of the Caves and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – installed a video screen outside for worshipers to throng despite the -10 Celsius (14F) frost. ).

The cathedral and monastery complex overlooking the right bank of the Dnieper has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. And for the first time in the 31st year of Ukraine’s independence, the service was held in Ukrainian. Among those who sang well-known Ukrainian songs were soldiers of the Ukrainian army in uniform.

On Thursday, the Ukrainian government took over management of the Dormion Cathedral in the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery, allowing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to use it for Orthodox Christmas services. The move underscores lingering tensions between the two churches following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

READ MORE: Russian-ordered air raid sirens are heard in Kyiv during Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

Built nearly 1,000 years ago and then rebuilt in the 1990s after being destroyed during World War II, the cathedral was once controlled by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

“This is the first victory for Ukraine,” said Oksana Abu-Akel, who hailed it as an important step for the Orthodox to cut ties with Russia after a war that began more than a century ago. 10 months. “For the first time in 300 years, we have our own service here. Everyone feels this joy. This is a victory for all Ukrainians.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko said that the cathedral became state property after the Moscow church’s lease expired on December 31. Tkachenko attended the service on Saturday.

“It’s a great moment. Previously, this place was on the territory of Ukraine, and Kiev was connected with Moscow. Now we feel that it belongs to us, to Ukraine. This is a part of the Ukrainian nation,” said Alex Fesiak, who took office.

Worshipers attend a Christmas service led by the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany I, at the Assumption Cathedral in Kyiv, January 7, 2023. Photo: Valentin Ogirenko/REUTERS

In 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch of Moscow and most other Orthodox Patriarchs refused to accept this appointment, formalizing the split with the Russian Church.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate since the 17th century, declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate after Russia invaded Ukraine. The UOC gave Moscow the liturgical cold shoulder by abandoning the memorial service of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow as a leader in public worship and blessing its own holy oil instead of using Moscow’s supply.

The primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany, not only talked about Christmas, but also made a political message about the war.

“As a nation, we strive to live in harmony with all our neighbors. But the enemy broke the peace with violence and treachery, invaded our land, shed blood, sowed death, and wanted to destroy our state and Ukrainian identity,” he said during the service.

“Our captors could not stand our progress and achievements,” he said. “Evil and Satan’s jealousy drove them to war, but they were bound to lose. Because the truth is on our side.

Natalya Levshina said that her husband could not come to the Christmas service because he was fighting at the front, but he sent her pictures from the service because it was very important to him. A native of Donbas, he says he stopped attending the Moscow Patriarchate church in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and supported the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“Our emotions are running high,” he said, barely holding back tears, describing his belief that the Ukrainian Church in Ukraine should be independent from the Russian Orthodox Church.

“Our church should be aligned with state policy. They should be one,” said Levshina.

Others in Ukraine have decided to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church by celebrating Christmas on December 25.

READ MORE: Ukrainians speed up their traditional Christmas celebrations during the break with Russia

On Friday, the Moscow Patriarchate denounced plans by Ukrainians to worship in the Kyiv Cathedral as “an attempt to seize the cathedral by force through blackmail and disinformation from the public.”

In 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, but the Patriarch of Moscow refused to accept it.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate on February 24 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ending the Ukrainian Church’s 17th-century allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has removed Patriarch Kirill of Moscow as head of public worship and now uses its own holy oil for blessings instead of oil provided by Moscow.

But Ukrainian security authorities said some members of the Ukrainian church had close ties to Moscow. They raided many sanctuaries in the church and then published photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow Patriarch as proof that some church officials were loyal to Moscow.

Prominent leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have denied accusations of ties to Moscow, saying they have loyally supported Ukraine since the start of the war and that the government’s crackdown is only a propaganda blow to Russia.

All news on the site does not represent the views of the site, but we automatically submit this news and translate it using software technology on the site, rather than a human editor.

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