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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox will celebrate Easter on same day this year

For Ukrainians, Easter is the major religious holiday, whether they belong to the Ukrainian Catholic church, the Ukrainian Orthodox church, or any other Christian denomination.

Easter is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year.
 This spring festival celebrates the central event of the Christian faith, that being the resurrection of Christ three days after his death by crucifixion.

In both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church, you will hear Easter referred to as Velykden, which means "Great day."

Because of the common Byzantine Christian roots of both churches, Easter services in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church are virtually identical. A major difference, however, cropped up in North America during the 20th century. Not to do with how Easter is observed, but rather when.

Easter is considered a "movable holiday" as it follows highly complex calculations involving lunar cycles and the Jewish liturgical calendar (Easter must always come after Passover).

In the "old country" (under whatever imperial regime ruled the Ukrainian lands at any given time), neither church chose to follow the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory created in 1582 to correct and replace the Julian calendar, which was losing time.

On March 1, 1918, the Central Rada (parliament) of the then short-lived independent Ukrainian state introduced the Gregorian calendar into civil life. Attempts to introduce it into the church were met with fierce resistance from the people, however, so the Julian calendar

A few weeks earlier, on January 24, 1918, the Bolsheviks decided to create their own calendar, and in the process, officially decreed the change in Soviet Russia from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Ironically, the change was initiated by the Russian Orthodox church, and it later reverted to the Julian calendar. The Soviet state, or course, did not.

However, in the mid and late 20th century, the Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada and other diaspora communities started to make the switch to the Gregorian calendar. This happened at varying times starting from 1941, after the church was granted permission in 1936 to make the switch. 

Today, a few Ukrainian Catholic churches in Canada still follow the Julian calendar. However, particularly in Eastern Canada, there is growing pressure by the church hierarchy to scrap the Julian calendar altogether (along with all vestiges of the church's Ukrainian roots).

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Orthodox church has always stayed with the Julian calendar. Well, sort of. In the 1920's the Orthodox church switched to a revised version of the Julian calendar, which incorporates some elements of the Gregorian calendar.

Those changes added stability for "immovable" (i.e., fixed date) holidays such as Christmas. However it further complicates the calculations to determine "movable" holidays such as Easter.
As a result, the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches usually celebrate Easter from one to five weeks apart.

It's not hard to understand why congregations and clerics would prefer that everyone follow the Gregorian calendar. It is far less complicated and thus much more convenient and cost-effective (at least for church administrators) to have all church communities on the same page, so to speak.

Nonetheless, some consider it a good idea to keep "Ukrainian" religious holidays on different days from the rest of western society.

The reason why becomes particularly obvious every Christmas season. Christmas has become highly secularized, much more so than Easter. (Presumably because bunnies bearing eggs don't have the same cachet as an old guy and reindeer bearing gifts. Or maybe because it's easier to imagine the birth of a baby than a man rising from the dead.)

Ironically even non-Christians object to how commerce tends to overshadow the birth of Christ as the central theme of Christmas.

This situation actually presents quite an opportunity for evangelizing.
More and more in recent years, non-(and lapsed) Christians who deplore commercialization are noticing the opportunity to "put Christ back into Christmas" in early January (according to the Gregorian calendar). 

However, clerics and congregations of the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox church generally tend to regard the whole idea of "Ukrainian Christmas" or "Ukrainian Easter" (or, more recently "Orthodox" Christmas/Easter) as divisive.

Happily, this Easter there won?t be any arguments over calendars. Churchgoers and clerics, be they Ukrainian Catholic or Orthodox, will be celebrating Christ's resurrection (Velykden ) on the same day in 2011.

If you're looking for a place in BC or Montreal to worship this Easter, whether in a Ukrainian Catholic Church or a Ukrainian Orthodox church, you can find a schedule of services here.

If you've never been and are wondering what to expect, this will give you an idea.

Saturday service

Easter Sunday (Velykden) - beautiful choir!

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