Calendar of the Orthodox Church
Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff
Father Alexander, who
serves on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies,
is a Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, assigned to the Holy Transfiguration
Cathedral in Los Angeles, CA. He received his theological training at Holy Trinity
Seminary in Jordanville, NY, and his graduate schooling at Norwich University
and Yale University. The following comments by Father Alexander, written in
response to specific points raised in defense of the calendar reform, appeared
in August of 1996 on the so-called "SCOBA list," an Orthodox computer
forum. The original "posting" has been slightly revised for publication
I HAVE BEEN deeply interested
in the Calendar question for over thirty
years. I have yet
to hear even one compelling, or even good reason for the introduction of the
New Calendar and the resultant sundering of the Churchs liturgical unity.
In response to the reasons usually put forth in defense of this reform, I would
make the following observations about the actual significance of the Church
(Julian or Old) Calendar.
- THE ISSUE OF
ACCURACY:THE OLD CALENDAR IS SUPPOSED TO BE ASTRONOMICALLY INACCURATE, AND
THE NEW CALENDAR FIXES THIS.
calendars are inherently astronomically inaccurate. The Holy Fathers who established
the Church Calendar knew perfectly well that assigning the vernal equinox to
a fixed date was astronomically inaccurate. Yet, they went ahead and did this.
The so-called "Revised
Julian Calendar" is fundamentally flawed. By maintaining the traditional
Paschalion while changing the fixed calendar, the Typicon goes
out the window. The Apostles Fast is severely shortened, or even ends
before it begins in certain years. Over the centuries, according to the "Revised
Julian Calendar," the date of Pascha will gradually slip forward into the
fixed year, so that Pascha (and all the moveable feasts) will eventually coincide
with the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, with the Transfiguration, with the Dormition,
and even with the Nativity (the last will happen in about thirty-five thousand
years, so you may say, "Whats the big deal?"; but it will
In fact, astronomers
cannot use the Gregorian calendar for their calculations, since it is "missing"
the ten days that were "skipped" in 1583. Computer programmers, moreover,
always make their calculations of the distance between dates by using the "Julian
date." Copernicus, among other astronomers, was also adamantly opposed
to the Gregorian Calendar reform. Let us incidentally note, in this vein, that
the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences at the beginning of this century found
no scientific or astronomical reasons for adopting the Gregorian Calendar.
Finally, as I will point
out subsequently, astronomical accuracy was
absolutely not one of the reasons that the calendar change was introduced by
Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis in 1924.
- THE ISSUE OF
OBEDIENCE: ONE MUST NOT COUNTER THE DECISIONS OF ONES ECCLESIASTICAL
is actually a good reason for using the calendar your Bishops say that you should.
It is absolutely not in any way a justification, however, for the original change
of the Church Calendar.
An amazing issue here is the fact
that some jurisdictions have allowed individual parishes actually to vote and
choose which calendar they wish to use! Here is a clear example of Hierarchs
abrogating their authority to lead and to teach. Lay parishioners have no concept
of the liturgical and historical issues surrounding the calendar reform. They
are not theologically educated. Yet, they are being asked to make decisions
regarding abandoning a calendar that has been part of the Tradition of the Church
for sixteen centuries!
Not too long ago, there
was an incident that occurred in the U.S. Navy. The captain of one of the larger
vessels offered his crew the opportunity to vote on the place where they were
to have their week of "shore leave," after a long tour of duty. Because
of this, the captain was relieved of his command and demotedhe had abrogated
his authority as commander of his vessel and had given this authority to his
subordinates. This story comes to mind when one reads that the Moscow Patriarchate
has allowed its parishes in Great Britain to choose which calendar they wish
to follow, including even the date of Pascha. Do parishioners really have the
authority to overturn the decisions of OEcumenical Synods and local Councils?
This is democracy run amok, in my opinion.
- THE ISSUE OF THE CIVIL
CALENDAR: WE LIVE BY THE CIVIL CALENDAR, WHICH TELLS US WHAT DAY OF THE MONTH
IT IS, SO WE SHOULD ADJUST OUR LITURGICAL CALENDAR TO BE IN ACCORD WITH IT.
seems like an awfully weak argument. Certainly, the civil authorities regulate
standards of weight and measure, and even time (that is what the atomic clocks
are for at the Bureau of Standards). Do we really think that it is necessary,
or even permissible, for the civil authorities to regulate when the Holy Church
celebrates its Feast Days? Whatever happened to the separation of Church and
State? The civil authorities should never be looked to in questions that concern
the liturgical life of the Church. The Church has lived and functioned under
a broad spectrum of civil authorities, with dozens of calendar systems. Yet,
it maintained its own Church Calendar, as it should have. Yes, the Church Calendar
was based on a pagan civil calendar. But once that calendar had been adopted
by the church, it became something different. It was now the Church Calendar,
the mechanism that regulates the "heartbeat" of the liturgical
life of the Church in timethat tells us when to fast, when to feast, etc.
At any time, in any place,
the civil authorities can arbitrarily change things like the calendar. Does
this mean that we have immediately to change the Church Calendar correspondingly?
I do not think so. Indeed, the Jews, Moslems, Chinese, and others have maintained
their own calendars and pay no attention to the civil calendars of the countries
in which they live. There is no reason why the Orthodox should not be able to
maintain a Church Calendar, as well.
Also, we never know when the
State might introduce some serious change in the civil calendar. Seriously being
discussed is the introduction of a calendar consisting of thirteen months of
twenty-eight days each, plus a "world day" at the end of the year.
This would, of course, ensure that, each year, every date would fall on the
same day of the week, simplifying all kinds of financial operations.
If such a calendar becomes law, should the Orthodox "join in" and
throw out their Church calendar to adopt the new civil one?
The fact is, there was
and there is no compelling reason for the calendar change. None of
the reasons usually brought up can serve as justification for the Church abandoning
its traditional ecclesiastical calendar and for causing a rift in the liturgical
unity of the Church.
So far, for example, no one has
come up with an answer as to why it is permissible to ignore the anathemas of
the three pan-Orthodox Councils held in the sixteenth century which condemned
the Papal Calendar as heretical. Likewise, no one has come up with an answer
as to why it is acceptable to use a "Revised Julian Calendar" that
severely shortens or even eliminates the ancient Apostles Fast or that willalbeit
some time from nowallow Pascha to drift forward through the Church year,
until it will eventually coincide with the Nativity. All of this, instead of
an extremely well-organized and brilliantly executed traditional Church Calendar,
where such aberrations are simply not possible.The argument, that if one follows
the Julian calendar eventually Pascha will occur in the autumn, is also unconvincing.
That happens in the Southern hemisphere already. Perhaps we will see an
argument, in time, that it is only fair that the seasons be eventually reversed,
so that our Orthodox brothersand sisters in South America, Africa, and Australia
will be able to celebrate Pascha in the Spring, as well. By the same token,
the argument that the existence of different time zones keeps Orthodox from
celebrating the Feasts together is specious; the calendar envisions each Feast
as a whole day of celebration: a twenty-four hour period from evening to evening,
so that even in different time zones, all are conceptually celebrating together.
Finally, for all the discussion
of astronomical "accuracy," "obedience to ones bishops,"
and "making the calendar an idol," or such inane proclamations as,
"there is no time in Heaven," people forget that the reason that the
calendar change, with all its painful consequences, was introduced in this century
is very well known; and it has nothing to do with any of these issues. Patriarch
Meletios Metaxakis of Constantinople, the architect of the calendar reform,
was perfectly clear about his reason for this innovation: it was to achieve
unity with other Christians.Let me repeat this again: The reason
the calendar reform was introduced was to foster ecumenism. Period.
We must remember that Patriarch
Meletios (who had previously been Archbishop of Athens and was later Patriarch
of Alexandriaso much for the independence of these autocephalous churches!)
was a devoted and self-avowed Freemason and a die-hard renovationist. In 1923,
he recognized the renovationist "Living Church" in Russia (which had
married bishops!) and its deposition of Patriarch Tikhon. Meletios put together
an agenda for a Pan-Orthodox Council that was to include on its agenda not only
the acceptance of the Gregorian Calendar, but also the easing of restrictions
for fast periods, the shortening of services, permission for clergy to remarry,
and many other renovationist ideas. He was an advocate of civil dress for clergy,
and most photographs of him show him in a suit and tie with a bowler hat. [These
photographs clearly confirm Father Alexanders allegation about Meletios
Metaxakis, who found most of the Holy Traditions of the Orthodox Church, to
quote him, "outmoded, old-fashioned, and clear...impediments to Christian
This is the man who
imposed the New Calendar on the Church.
Now, Meletios may have
admittedly had other motives for his reform, as well. It is not unlikely that
the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the early 1920s, was in danger of annihilation
by the newly secularized Turkish government. The Patriarchate had lost the protection
of Imperial Russia and thus needed the support of world public opinion, in order
to survive. Was the price of this support acceptance of the Western Calendar?
Very possibly so. So, the avowed reason for the calendar change was that of
coming closer to Roman Catholics and Protestants, not a single one of the reasons
cited above. It did not accomplish the goal of union with the heterodox. It
however, accomplish the goal of causing a bitter and
deep division within the Orthodox Church. Indeed, Meletios died a horrible and
terrifying death, bemoaning the fact that he had "divided the Church."
Is this something we want to support?
There are those who have accused
me of making an "emotional" appeal for the preservation and restoration
of the traditional Church calendar. But is the situation in which we are now
living reasonable, where a non-Orthodox coming up to an Orthodox Christian,
say, on the streets of Los Angeles, and asking a simple question"Is
today a fast day?"cannot get a direct answer? Nor can he get an answer
to the question, "What Saint does your Church celebrate today?" An
answer like, "Well, uh, you see, uh, some Orthodox are still fasting for
the Dormition, while some have already celebrated the Dormition," is not
a good or direct answer.
Is it rational to cause schizophrenia
in our bishops, who, in visiting different parishes, have to remember which
calendar they are on? Is it rational that bishops cannot be spiritually united
with their flockcannot feast with them and fast with them because of the
calendar issue? Some even have to celebrate each major Feast Day twice! Not
a very good way to follow the Typicon! In one parish, they are fasting
and preparing for the Feast; in another, the fast has long passed. Does a bishop
who has already celebrated the Nativity, as a case in point, have to go back
and fast for two more weeks, in order to serve at an Old Calendarist parish?
Or does he start all of his fasts two weeks early, just in case? The whole thing
The same renovationists
who brought us the calendar reform are busy working on new ones. It is a fact
that Constantinople is already actively involved in discussions leading to a
single date for Pascha for all Christians, and even discussing the possibility
of a fixed date. Stay tuned. Maybe we will hear post-factum justifications
for this reform as being more "accurate," as well.
The issue of the Church Calendar
is painful and divisive In my opinion, this fact alone is an excellent reason
why the calendar reform should never have taken place, and especially in a piece-meal
fashion. Although I cherish the traditions of the Church and consider the Church
Calendar to be one of the most enduring and sanctified among them, I would be
less upset, had the decision to revise the Church Calendar been made by all
of the Bishops of the Orthodox Church, acting together, with all of the Orthodox
Churches participating in the decision and its implementation. This, however,
did not occur. Obviously, there are three possible
resolutions to the calendar problem. One, a return by all Orthodox Christians
to the sanctified traditional Church Calendar. Two, acceptance by all Orthodox
Christians of Pope Gregorys calendar reform, and the ensuing absurdities
regarding the Apostles Fast and Paschal drift, as well as the acceptance
of the ecumenist goals of Meletios Metaxakis and the disavowal of the decrees
of three Church Councils convened to condemn such an eventuality (1583, 1587,
1593). Three, maintenance of the status quo: a continuation of the division
of world Orthodoxy into two groups which cannot even celebrate the Great Feasts
It is clear to me which of these
alternatives is consistent with the teaching of the Holy Councils and Fathers,
and which are not. I hope that this is clear for others, as well.
Tradition, Volume XIV, Nos. 2 & 3, pp. 81-85.