On the Calendar

Originally from:

Note: The Following material is a response made by Father Alexander Lebedeff on one of the Orthodox Discussion lists to questions relating to the use of differing calendars in the Orthodox Liturgical year.

I appreciate those who have expressed their opinions on the calendar issue. Amazing what kind of red herrings can be strewn out instead of addressing the issues head on!

Here are some responses to the arguments that have been raised�.

First, 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 Church liturgical unity�.

If I may summarize the reasons brought up so far on this list:

1) Accuracy. The old calendar is supposed to be astronomically inaccurate, and the new calendar fixes this.

Reply: All 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 35,000 years, so you may say, "What's the big deal?", but it will occur).

As I said before, astronomers cannot use the Gregorian calendar for their calculations since it is "missing" the ten days that were "skipped" in 1583. Computer programmers are always making their calculation of the distance between dates by using the "Julian date." Copernicus among other astronomers was adamantly opposed to the Gregorian calendar change. The Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences at the beginning of this century found no scientific or astronomical reasons for adopting the Gregorian calendar.

And, as I will address later, astronomical accuracy was absolutely not one of the reasons that the calendar change was introduced by Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis in 1924.

2) Obedience to one's hierarchy.

Reply. This is actually a good reason for using the calendar your bishops say you should. It is absolutely not in any way a justification for the original change of the calendar.

An amazing issue here is the fact that some jurisdictions have allowed individual parishioners to actually 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 regarding the calendar. They are not theologically educated. Yet they are being asked to make decisions regarding abandoning the calendar that was part of the tradition of the church for sixteen centuries!

Not too long ago there was an incident that occurred in the US 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 demoted--he had abrogated his authority as commander of his vessel and had given this authority to his subordinates. The same comes to mind when one reads the posts that the MP 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 Ecumenical and local councils? Democracy run amok, in my opinion.

3) 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.

Reply. This seems like an awfully weak argument. Certainly, the civil authorities regulate standards of weight and measure, and even time (that's 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 time--that 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 to immediately change the Church calendar correspondingly? I don't think so. Yes, 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 13 months of 28 days each, plus a "world day" at the end of the year. This would, of course, ensure that every 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 brought up by any of the participants on these lists 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, no one has come up with an answer to why it was permissible to ignore the anathemas of the three pan-Orthodox Councils held in the 16th century that condemned the Papal calendar as heretical.

No one has come up with an answer as to why it is OK to use a "Revised Julian Calendar" that severely shortens or even eliminates the ages-old Apostle's Fast, or that will (albeit some time from now) allow Pascha to drift forward through the Church year until it can coincide with the Nativity. All 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 unconvincing. That happens in the Southern hemisphere now. Perhaps it is only fair that the seasons be eventually reversed so that our Orthodox brothers and sisters in South America, Africa, and Australia would be able to celebrate Pascha in the Spring, as well. Also, 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, with all the discussion of astronomical "accuracy," "obedience to one's bishop's," "you can't make the calendar an idol," "there is no time in heaven," etc., 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 reasons.

Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis, the architect of the Calendar reform, was perfectly clear about his reason--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 of Constantinople (who had previously been Archbishop of Athens and Patriarch of Alexandria--how about that for the "independence" of these autocephalous churches!), a self-avowed Freemason, was a die-hard renovationist. In 1923, he recognized the renovationist Living Church of Russia (which had married bishops!) and its deposal of Patriarch Tikhon. He put together an agenda for a Pan-Orthodox Council that was to include not only acceptance of the Gregorian calendar, but also shortening and easing the restrictions of fast periods, of services, permission for twice-married clergy, and many other renovationist ideas. �.

Now, he may have had other motives, as well. It is not unlikely that the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the early 1920's was in danger of annihilation by the newly secularized Turkish government. The Patriarchate had lost the protection of Imperial Russia, and 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, the avowed reason for the calendar change was to become closer to Roman Catholics and Protestants--not any of the reasons argued here. It does not accomplish the goal of union with the heterodox. It does, however, accomplish the goal of causing bitter and deep division in the Orthodox Church. Is this something we want to support?

I have been accused of making an "emotional" appeal for the preservation and restoration of the traditional Church calendar.

But is it rational that we are now living in a situation 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 straight answer? Nor can he get an answer to the question of "what saint does the Church celebrate today?".

Answers like: "Well, uh, you see, uh, some Orthodox are still fasting the Dormition Fast, and some already celebrated the Dormition," are not good or straight answers.

Is it rational to cause schizophrenia in our bishops, who, visiting parishes, have to remember which calendar they're on? That bishops cannot be spiritually united with they're flock--cannot feast with them and fast with them because of the calendar issue? They may 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 it has long passed.

Does the bishop, who has already celebrated the Nativity have to go back and fast for two more weeks? Or does he start all his fasts two weeks early, just in case? The whole thing is ludicrous.

The same renovationists that brought you the calendar reform are busy working on new ones. It is a fact that Constantinople is 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'll hear some post-factum justifications of this reform as being more "accurate" as well.

The issue of the calendar is painful and divisive, as can be seen from the discussions that have taken place on this list. In my opinion, this is an excellent example of why the calendar reform should never have taken place, 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 of them, I would have been less bothered if the decision to revise the calendar had been made by all the bishops of the Orthodox Church acting together, with all Orthodox churches participating in the decision and its implementation.

This, however, did not occur.

Obviously, there are three possible resolutions.

One, a return by all Orthodox Christians to the sanctified traditional Church Calendar.

Two, acceptance by all Orthodox Christians of Pope Gregory's calendar reform, and the ensuing absurdities regarding the Apostle's Fast and Paschal drift, and acceptance of the ecumenist goals of Meletios Metaxakis.

Three, maintenance of the status quo, continuing the division of Orthodoxy in the world into two groups who cannot even celebrate the Great Feasts together.

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 it is clear for others, as well.

With love in Christ,

Fr Alexander [Lebedeff]

(August, 1996)

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