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May 22, 2024

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas Amid Conflict and Hardship

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Jan 8, 2024

Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Christmas on January 7th, as they follow the Julian calendar for religious celebrations. However, the festivities were dimmed for many as ongoing conflicts and economic troubles cast a pall.

War Dampens Celebrations in Ukraine

The Christmas celebrations this year were bittersweet for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine (BBC). Over 9 months into the brutal war with Russia, many Ukrainians found it difficult to celebrate as usual.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the subdued celebrations in his nightly address, but urged Ukrainians to uphold Christmas traditions. “It will be victory combined with happiness,” he said, vowing that next Christmas will be peaceful again.

Orthodox priests held overnight services in many cities, including frontline areas, but attendance was down from previous years. Shelling could be heard in the distance during some services.

Many believers fled elsewhere in Ukraine or abroad. In the western city of Lviv, those remaining tried to maintain Christmas cheer. “We have to just celebrate step-by-step, even in small ways,” said resident Olesya Markevych.

City Description
Kyiv Quieter celebrations with overnight church services
Lviv Community celebrations for those displaced from elsewhere
Kharkiv Priest continued tradition of firing symbolic cannon despite shelling
Frontline Areas Priests held overnight services despite nearby fighting

Analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely hoping to capture Kyiv and install a puppet regime before this Christmas. However, stiff Ukrainian resistance dashed those plans.

“Putin thought he would be marching across the squares of Kyiv,” said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center think tank in Ukraine. Instead, Ukraine is slowly advancing in some areas (AP News).

Economic Crisis Mars Celebrations in Balkans

Orthodox Christians make up most of the population in countries across the Balkans. But many believers in the region faced a joyless holiday season amid an economic crisis and political friction (RFE).

Soaring inflation and high energy costs have strained household budgets. In Serbia, prices are up 13% from a year ago, while Bosnia is seeing 26% inflation. Consumers are cutting back, with retail sales plunging up to 30% in November.

“Everything is so expensive…I will have to scale back on presents and new decorations,” said Sofija Petrovic from Belgrade. Some Serbians crossed into Hungary for cheaper shopping.

Making matters worse is ongoing political tensions in the region. A territorial dispute between Serbia and Kosovo flared anew in recent weeks, dampening Christmas cheer. Ethnic divisions still run deep decades after the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

“This is shaping up to be a pretty gloomy holiday season across the Orthodox Christian world,” remarked regional analyst Milos Jankovic. “The economic and political problems seem likely to persist into the new year.”

Specter of Recession Clouds Russian Christmas

In Russia, believers faced a more subdued celebration with a looming recession (BBC). While the Kremlin still put up festive decorations in Moscow, few Russians were in a celebratory mood.

“It’s a very sad holiday this year,” said Svetlana Demicheva, browsing a grocery store for discounted produce. “Our family is just trying to save money where we can.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Western countries imposed sweeping sanctions and an embargo on Russian energy exports. While Russia continues military operations, its economy is shrinking under the strain.

The Russian finance ministry predicts a 3% contraction next year, while the World Bank sees a plunge of at least 7.6%. Ordinary citizens are bearing the brunt through higher prices, vanished jobs and foreign goods.

“We used to celebrate with a big dinner and new gifts for the children, but now we can barely afford the traditional foods,” said Pavel Morozov, an autoworker in Moscow.

Glimmers of Hope Amid Hardship

While conflict and economic woes weigh down much of the Orthodox world, some believers still find meaning in the Nativity celebrations.

In Syria, Christians celebrated Christmas for the first time without fear of violence after over a decade of civil war (National News). Church bells rang out in areas like Damascus, as residents looked forward to a more peaceful future.

Other displaced groups also came together in solidarity. In Washington D.C., members of the Ethiopian diaspora congregated for a Christmas service in the wake of turmoil in their homeland (Washington Post).

While the festivities this year were dampened across much of the Orthodox Christian world, believers cling to the deeper spiritual meaning of the holiday. As the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine recently said, “Christmas is hope for peace, family, [and] friendship” (Twitter).

That persistent hope for renewal and reconciliation carries believers forward through hardship, guiding them toward the promise of better days ahead.

What Next for Orthodox Christmas?

While this year’s muted celebrations reflected ongoing conflict and economic malaise, what might next year’s Christmas bring for Orthodox Christians?

Much depends on the war in Ukraine and situation across the Balkans. If peace negotiations advance over the coming year, Christmas 2025 could conceivably be more hopeful. But a prolonged or intensified conflict would further dampen things.

Russia may also struggle with recession through much of 2024. However, if oil prices recover, the Kremlin could ease economic pressures on citizens. Still, Western sanctions will likely persist regardless of any ceasefire deals.

Until the major issues ravaging the Orthodox Christian world are resolved, Christmas celebrations are set to remain relatively subdued. But the holiday spirit nonetheless endures even amid the current troubles.

As believers across Eastern Europe and the Middle East again attest, neither war nor want can extinguish the flame of faith passed down through generations. That spiritual continuity and the hope it brings will drive devotees onward through another year ahead.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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