Putin declares Orthodox Christmas ceasefire with Ukraine. The Church and two calendars are behind it

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadJan 06, 2023 | 10:37

Putin declares Orthodox Christmas ceasefire with Ukraine. The Church and two calendars are behind it

Putin wants ceasefire for Orthodox Christmas. Photo: DailyO

After over 10 months of waging war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin felt like proposing a ceasefire. You must be wondering, oh wow, what a change, are we nearing an end to the war? With Putin in charge, the answer is nope. Putin suggested a ceasefire for 36 hours on all lines of conflict with Ukraine citing Orthodox Christmas celebrations. 

I instruct the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine from 12.00 on 6 January 2023 to 24.00 on 7 January 2023.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin's order

But wait we are in January, Christmas was in December…? Did we not celebrate Christmas already? Yes, we did. 

  • But for some countries like Russia, and even Ukraine for that matter, at least till 2021, the date for Christmas is different. According to them, Jesus wasn't born on December 25. Instead, he was born on January 6 or 7. 
  • This is called Orthodox Christmas, and by the name of it, it is what more conservative Christians believe in. Orthodox Christmas is widely celebrated today by some central and eastern European countries and the middle-east. 

Which countries celebrate Orthodox Christmas? Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine are some countries that celebrate Christmas on January 7 and it is also a public holiday. 

  • Armenia and Lebanon celebrate Christmas popularly on January 6. 
  • But in countries like the UK, US, Canada, or Australia, we don't see many celebrations on January 6 or 7, nor is it a public holiday. 

What's the difference? It all goes back to two calendars, just like in India we have a very different "Hindu calendar" also called the Panchanga

  • The modern world follows the Gregorian calendar, which was started by Pope Gregory in 1582. 
  • Before this, the western world followed the Julian calendar, started by Julius Ceasar in 46 BC. It is also the predecessor of the Gregorian calendar. 
  • In 1752, England and Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar and several other western countries followed suit. 
  • But there was an 11-day gap between the two calendars when it was first adopted in 1972. Now the gap has increased by 13 days. And by 2100 it will be 14 days. 
  • But when it came to celebrations and Christmas, the more conservative Christian folks refused to accept the loss of the n number of days. 
  • And hence, major Churches in Russia and eastern Europe still run on the Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7 of the modern calendar. 

Why was it switched? According to the Time and Date website the old Julian calendar was inaccurate in its calculation of the actual time it took Earth to rotate around the Sun once. Its calculation of the leap day was also too frequent. Hence, a more accurate calendar was drawn by Pope Gregory, though it is not completely accurate. 

Back to Russia's ceasefire proposal: So, Putin proposed the idea, but Ukraine did not take it up. 

They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunitions and mobilised troops closer to our positions.
- Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said rejecting Russia's offer
  • Ukraine's western allies are also suspicious of Kremlin's real motives behind the call for a ceasefire. US President Joe Biden said this of Putin:
I think he's (Putin) trying to find some oxygen.
  • If it takes place, it would be the first major ceasefire since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

But of course, Ukraine has reasons not to believe the Kremlin, after all, they bombed the hell out of the country when people were celebrating Christmas on December 25. So, Putin doesn't really care about the civilians, their celebrations, or the churches in Ukraine. 

Ukraine celebrated Christmas on Dec 25: Before the 2022 war, Ukraine, like Russia used to celebrate Christmas on January 7, but not last year. Ukraine celebrated Christmas 2022 on December 25 breaking away from tradition to make a point to Russia. 

Ukraine and Russia's Church link: You see, Ukraine and Russia and their major churches have been linked for a long time. But the 2022 invasion served as a breaking point for all such religious links. 

  • In 2019, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople granted "ecclesiastical independence" to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) from the patriarch in Moscow, severing a centuries-old agreement. 
  • And in October 2022, the OCU announced that it will celebrate Christmas on December 25. 

Russia's Orthodox Church: Russia's 76-year-old spiritual leader Patriach Kirill is an influential man, who prompted Putin to call for the ceasefire. He is the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a vocal supporter of Putin and his war in Ukraine. That's why he's important. 

Patriach Kirill. Photo: www.patriarchia.ru
  • He held immense influence in Ukraine as well. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (separate from the OCU) long-held ties to Kirill, but in 2022 they called it off. Though, a lot of people in Ukraine still view the UOC suspiciously for their close ties to Moscow. 

Propaganda: Ukraine and its allies allege the ceasefire proposal is just propaganda. The reasons for it are the following:

  • For Putin, as Biden said, it could be a breather. Russia has faced immense losses on the war front and a ceasefire would bring the Russian forces some respite from dying. 
  • The ceasefire will also help Putin win the domestic audience in Russia, by showing themselves as not the aggressor in the situation. 
  • Putin has also used the support of the Russian Orthodox Church to portray its invasion of Ukraine as a moral case. In other words, Russia is trying to whitewash the atrocities it is committing in Ukraine by pretending to care about cultural values. 
Last updated: January 06, 2023 | 11:36
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