Moscow (AsiaNews) - For the first time since the end of World War II, Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Christmas today in an atmosphere of war, said Mgr Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic major archbishop of Kyiv-Halych. In his address, the prelate expressed however hope for peace in his country.
In the Eparchy of Donetsk, the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which come under the Patriarchate of Moscow, did not celebrate the vigil liturgy because of the ongoing, albeit less intense, conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military. A spokesman for the eparchy announced that "all the churches will follow the Sunday schedule on the morning of 7 January."
The Russian Orthodox Church also celebrated Christmas today in accordance with the Julian calendar (which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar followed by the Catholics). In his traditional address for the occasion, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, spoke about the Ukraine crisis, saying that he prays for peace in that country above all.
"On these holy Christmas days, the prayers of the whole Church and my augmented litany are for peace on the Ukrainian soil," Kirill said in his address.
For the patriarch, the Russian Orthodox Church is doing everything possible to bring people together to help them overcome the consequences of conflicts.
Ukrainians and Russians, he pointed out, are bound by centuries-old spiritual and cultural ties that cannot be broken by any "external forces."
Following tradition, Kirill celebrated Christmas Eve in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, in the presence of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and his wife.
In his address, he called on the faithful to be Orthodox "not only in public opinion surveys" but also in "their own deep convictions and in their lifestyle".
Recent polls show that 72 per cent of Russians planned to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, but only 10 per cent said they would go to church.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended an overnight Christmas service in the Church of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin in the village of Otradnoye located in the Vornezh region (about 600 km from the capital).
In his Christmas message, released by Kremlin Press Office, the Russian leader noted the great role played by the Russian Orthodox Church in establishing high moral values.
For Putin, Russia's Christmas celebrations "have deep historical roots and are carefully handed down from generation to generation. They bring us to enduring Christian values that for many centuries have united people to carry out vitally important tasks".
Christmas was banned under the Soviet regime. Instead, Novi God (New Year) became the most celebrated festival, to be spent among family, around the table, exchanging gifts and waiting for Santa Claus (in Russian Ded Moroz, Old Man Frost or Father Frost).
Even today, Russians tend to celebrate Christmas in a superficial way. For most, 1 January is the start of the festive season, a period of 12 days when offices and schools are closed, celebrated in holidays abroad or out of town.