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New handbook instructs Russian children on duty

08 December 2023

Ukrainian churches mark Advent according to Western calendar


Children receive gifts after the celebration of the feast of St Nicholas at a humanitarian aid point in Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine now celebrates St. Nicholas’s Day on 6 December after switching from the old Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church

Children receive gifts after the celebration of the feast of St Nicholas at a humanitarian aid point in Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine now celebrates St. Nicho...

THE Russian Orthodox Church has published a handbook, To Live is to Serve the Motherland, instructing children on their patriotic duty to fight with the country’s armed forces.

The handbook, advertised on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website, says: “Russian proverbs and sayings teach us to revere the motherland, find courage and clarity of thought, evaluate our everyday actions and those of others in war, and strengthen the will to win.

“They present the best qualities of our warriors: devotion, perseverance, courage, endurance and readiness for heroism. They also reflect such military qualities as friendship, partnership, mutual assistance in battle and love for the commander.”

The handbook was published as Ukrainian forces struggled to hold recaptured territory in fighting east of the River Dnipro, and as Kyiv officials warned that their country risked losing the war with Russia if the United States Congress blocked further military and economic aid.

It includes biblical passages and pronouncements by Orthodox Church fathers during previous military challenges, and its contents reflect Patriarch Kirill’s vigorous support for Russia’s war against Ukraine, including his assurance to soldiers, in September 2022, that their sins will be forgiven if they die in combat.

The book says that “intelligence and ingenuity, courage and endurance” form “the main properties of the Russian character”. It quotes Ecclesiastes on “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace”.

Its chapter headings include “Enemies of the Motherland”, “Combat training”, and “A steadfast soldier does not know the word ‘retreat’”.

The book’s appearance coincides with Ukrainian Armed Forces Day, which was marked on Wednesday with military parades and commemorations for the tens of thousands killed since the February 2022 invasion.

In social-media messages, the Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that “mercy, charity, support, and mutual assistance” were proving “powerful and effective weapons against the enemy”, and thanked service personnel for their “sacrificial love” in protecting the country and bringing closer a “great Ukrainian victory”.

The Primate of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk, warned that the winter would mark a new stage in the war, “not just for the Ukrainian people’s extermination, but also for the exhaustion of its forces”. He said that it was hurtful that politicians and diplomats were “sitting in warm offices, reflecting on how the Ukrainian army should be fighting”.

The main Churches in Ukraine are celebrating Advent according to the Western calendar for the first time. The calendar reform, approved in July by the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada parliament, and signed into law by President Zelensky, has been justified as a step towards “abandoning the Russian heritage”. It brings Ukraine into line with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Romania, which switched to Western dating in the 20th century, as well as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which traditionally holds the Orthodox primacy.

A Ukrainian bishop said that the move had been sought by Ukrainian Greek Catholic and independent Orthodox churches, in co-operation with Roman Catholics and Protestants, as vital to Christian unity in the war-ravaged country.

“People here have long insisted we should be united around common festivals, expressing our faith together and enjoying the same work-free days”, Bishop Jan Sobilo, an auxiliary from Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv-Zaporizhzia diocese, said.

“As we withstand Russia’s attacks, this change will also have a political dimension in bringing us closer to Western civilisation. Many of those who no longer attend church, believing Christians are always feuding, may well be led back to God by this new united spirit of prayer and celebration.”

A giant Christmas tree was unveiled on Wednesday in Kyiv’s central Sophia Square, although the capital’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said that an overnight curfew would remain in place, along with a ban on large gatherings over Christmas and the New Year.

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