The Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia is officially moving from the Julian to the Gregorian liturgical calendar, according to a decree published on 22 March by Bishop Mykola Bychok, Eparch for Ukrainian Catholics in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.

The decree follows the announcement by head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk in February that they will adopt the Gregorian calendar from 1 September 2023, affecting Christmas and other fixed holidays.

Archbishop Shevchuk’s announcement did not include Easter, as there are real hopes that by 2025, talks between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will result in a unification of the Eastern and Western liturgical calendar. This would be a historic event, given that the introduction of the Gregorian calendar (which revised the Julian calendar in 1582) has resulted in Eastern Rite Catholics following a liturgical calendar that is 13 days behind that of their Western brothers and sisters—a centuries-old point of contention between Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Bishop Bychok’s decree goes beyond Archbishop Shevchuk’s announcement, though, by including both moveable and immoveable feasts. This means that from 1 September 2023—the beginning of the new liturgical year in the Eastern tradition—Ukrainian Catholics and Latin Rite Catholics will celebrate both Christmas and Easter in common.

Asked whether Ukrainian Catholics in Australia had been discontented with the older Julian calendar, Bishop Bychok says no. ‘There never has been discontent of our faithful because it gave people the opportunity to celebrate the feasts on the Julian calendar in union with Ukraine,’ he says. ‘It strengthened their identity and ability to maintain their tradition.’

There were certainly practical reasons to consider a change, though, especially in relation to the reality of Australian work life. ‘The celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Julian calendar, the 7th of January, presented [the faithful] with the problem that they were at work that day and in recent times could not take time off work.’

Bishop Bychok also acknowledges that the war in Ukraine has influenced the way many Ukrainian Catholics feel about the change. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, support for a calendar change was at 17 per cent among the Ukrainian faithful, while a recent survey revealed 90 per cent support, much more than the Ukrainian bishops needed to adopt the change.

Ultimately, though, the goal is to seek greater unity between the Eastern and Western churches, even among those already in union with Rome.

The calendar change, he says, will bring together ‘the Roman Catholic Church and five Eastern Churches in Australia in the celebration of the church year.’

Unity of all churches is the desire of Jesus Christ and the main reason for this change. It will lead to spiritual growth and deeper understanding of the celebration of the feasts, which is the unity to which we are called by Our Saviour Jesus Christ.

‘I pray the Good Lord to grant our Eparchy His grace for a smooth transition to the Gregorian calendar,’ Bishop Bychok says in the decree.

Banner image: Bishop Mykola Bychok during the prayer vigil for the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.