Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Calendar wars. Is it Christmas yet?

Let me state my bias first. I am not a fan of the New Calendar and not because it is of papal origins or secularizing influence or anything else. It breaks things (see here for more on that) and until we move fully back to the Old or fully into something New, it won't be rectified. This bit didn't make it into the below article by Fr. Lawrence Farley, but a lot else did. Enjoy.

(OCA) - Christmas Day and the post-Christmas season usually bring with them a number of things not overwhelming helpful—Boxing Day stampedes, post-Christmas let-down, unwelcome news when stepping on the bathroom scale, and polemical digs about those benighted people using the “papal calendar” instead of “the Church’s Traditional Calendar”—i.e. the Julian calendar. It can be rather confusing to those outside of Orthodoxy, especially when they have been told that Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, thirteen days later than Christians of the West. When I tell them that many Orthodox celebrate Christmas with other Christians on December 25 and that even those Orthodox who use the Julian calendar also celebrate Christmas on December 25 but just don’t get around to that date until January 7, their eyes tend to glaze over. I suspect they conclude that we are all a bit crazy, and the mysteries of the Orthodox calendar partake of the same mind-numbing incomprehensibility as our doctrine of the Trinity, so that for us three=one, and December 25=January 7. In fairness to them, it can be a bit confusing.

In sorting the thing out, it is important not to let triumphalist rhetoric detach us from the sober facts of history. For example, contrary to what some fervent advocates of the Julian calendar sometimes say, the Council of Nicea did not in fact mandate the use of the Old Calendar, or in fact any particular civil calendar. Though it does not show up in the 20 extant canons of that Council, most historians nonetheless assert that the Council did however mandate something regarding the computation of Pascha so that all the Church could fast and feast together. The history of the Council is complex and those wanting to learn more about its intricacies may read about them on the OCA web site.

Briefly, the Church eventually decided that Pascha would be held on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. That of course left the astronomical heavy lifting of determining exactly when the spring equinox fell to others. Such technicalities and the question of which civil calendar the Church used were not broached by the Council Fathers. The Church calendar was a grid, something to be placed over the civil calendar of the day to tell Christians when to celebrate certain feasts. It would say, for example, that Christmas must be celebrated on December 25, that Theophany must be celebrated on January 6, and that Transfiguration must be celebrated on August 6. The question about exactly when December 25, January 6, and August 6 fell were matters for the astronomers producing civil calendars, not for non-astronomical bishops leading their flocks in worship.

In the centuries following, it was apparent to all that the civil calendar upon which the Church’s calendar was based was astronomically out of whack and becoming more out of whack with the passing of time and needed to be corrected and made more astronomically accurate. The job, of course, was one for the universities, and their help was solicited by the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. A suggestion for correction was made by the University of Salamanca in 1515, which was not acted upon. In 1577 certain mathematicians were asked to weigh in. Others also weighed in, including one Christopher Clavius, who argued the technicalities in a door-stopper of a book stretching to 800 pages. The Pope of the day, Gregory XIII, thought this was the way to go, and mandated the new corrected calendar and system for use in the Roman Church in 1582...
Complete article here.


  1. Someone giving a balanced paragraph before the post? Now this is a good start to a new year of blog-reading!

  2. So disappointing that every year the OCA has to print hack articles like this, undermining Old Calendar Christmas. Very disappointed in Fr Lawrence here.

  3. Two points: first, the term "papal calendar" is a legitimate one because numerous Orthodox councils and Orthodox saints, from the 16th century until the present, employed the term. It is part of Orthodox nomenclature, whether our contemporary sensibilities like it or not. Second, in his survey of the history of the Gregorian calendar, Father fails to mention the most significant part for Orthodox Christians - the Orthodox Church repeatedly condemned both the Gregorian calendar and the Gregorian method of dating Pascha (the Paschalion) from its inception. We literally have centuries of conciliar condemnations of it. To not present this fact, along with all the others Father cited, can only be viewed as a purposeful exclusion. The reason the calendar was condemned ultimately boils down to this: to accept it would be a tacit acceptance of papal authority and would bring about some form of Uniatism. Now, some may shake their heads and laugh at the idea, but one only has to look at the activity and teaching of the Ecumenical Patriarchate since it pushed the new calendar onto various Local Churches. We now have countless examples of Orthodox ecclesiology being denied over the past several decades. The Latin Church (sorry Father, another term the fathers, saints and councils used) is now part of the Body of Christ, one of the Two Lungs of the Church with grace bearing sacraments.

    The calendar change may not have ushered in traditional administrative Uniatism with Rome, but it certainly did usher in a period of theological Uniatism, and that is just as deadly for the soul.

  4. There is another part of the equation that very few people talk about. Meletios Metaxakis, (of thrice wretched memory), forced the new calendar on to the Orthodox world for various insidious reasons. One only has to read the history of this Orthodox dividing action to realize that it came from a demonic place. You would think that any of the Orthodox Hierarchs of today would see what happened in the early 1920's and reject it outright by immediately unifying Holy Orthodoxy again with a common calendar....the patristic Julian calendar. But no....they continue to defend and justify this abomination.

    I beg all Orthodox clergy and Hierarchs! Read the history of how this "new" calendar was thrust upon us....and is still dividing us to this day!

    Lord have mercy!

  5. "...the Council of Nicea did not in fact mandate the use of the Old Calendar, or in fact any particular civil calendar."
    How many "civil calendars" were there to choose from at the time?

  6. Yaaaaawwwnn. The biggest non-issue in 2000 years. By the way, if one can call the new calendar "Papal", I expect the old one can be called "Pagan"? Christians didn't invent it. Christians used it just as they used the buckets in use at the time, or wheels. The Pope might use a wheel too, it doesn't make it "Papal".

  7. Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Church calls the Julian Calendar the Patristic Calendar. That's good enough for me!