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The Calendar Innovation

by the Blessed Elder Gabriel

The following essay is taken from Blessed Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis, the most recent volume in the series, Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1999), by Professor Constantine Cavarnos, with whose kind permission it is reprinted. Elder Gabriel's eloquent praise for, and defense of, the Old Calendarists is particularly significant, since he was not part of the Old Calendar movement and was a renowned Athonite Abbot, recognized for his theological acuity and holiness throughout the Orthodox Church. Although he ds not address the issue specifically in this short article, he recognized the nexus between political ecumenism and the calendar innovation, having vociferously and actively condemned ecumenism as an assault against the very identity of the Orthodox Church. His words are particularly significant today, more than three decades later, when the ecumenical movement has become more menacing and when hatred and disdain for the Old Calendarists, as a result of the divisive effects of ecumenism, have invaded even the domain of their former supporters and sympathizers.

ALTHOUGH THE HOLY MOUNTAIN of Athos is governed in Ecclesiastical matters, as it has been from the beginning, according to the so-called Old Calendar (the Julian), nevertheless it suffers from the consequences of the change of the Calendar. The Fathers of the Holy Mountain have been divided into those who commemorate the name of the Œcumenical Patriarch and those who do not commemorate it, because they regard him as the cause of this change in the Church.

This sad division, which has existed since 1924, has had other sad consequences. It has resulted in religious coldness in the world, has shaken the faith in the immutability of the holy Canons and of the Synodical Decrees, has especially distanced youth from spiritual values, and has divided those in the world into two opposed parties.

The division of the members of the Church into the New Calendarists and the Old Calendarists results in agitation in society, both among the Clergy and among the Laity. It is to be noted that those who follow the traditional (Old) Calendar are many, about a fourth of the population of Greece [in the 1960s, when the Elder Gabriel was writing—Ed., Orthodox Tradition]. And they constitute her most patriotic part.

Therefore, every effort should be made by the Greek Government and the Church to bring back the Old (Julian) Calendar, for the glory of God and the pacification of the Church and of the Greek Nation.

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No one is ignorant of the fact that since the year 1924 there has existed a serious agitation in the conscience of a large segment of the Greek people—and indeed in that segment which is more dedicated, wholeheartedly so to speak, to the Hellenic-Christian traditions. This agitation has been provoked and exists to this day as a result of the inopportune change of the Ecclesiastical Calendar of holy days (Heortologion), in order that it might be adapted—as it was said—to the Political Calendar. (The latter was instituted a little earlier as new, instead of the Old Calendar which was followed until then.)

It is known to all that no serious agitation was occasioned by the change of the Political Calendar. Our people accepted it calmly, persuaded by declarations made by the Government that the change was aimed at the smooth transaction of matters of a commercial nature with other countries.

Despite this, all of a sudden, and without good reason, without serious arguments, the Church Calendar, or sequence of fixed holy days, was changed, the days of such feasts being moved ahead by thirteen days. The argument given for the change was that our National holiday—that is, the day of Declaration of the War of Independence of 1821—and the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos might be celebrated on the same day.

This innovation overturned the centuries-old established Church Order. There resulted inadmissible irregularities in the Church. Thus, at times, the Fast of the Holy Apostles is completely abolished and at other times it is compressed to fewer days, depending on the mobile date of Holy Pascha in relation to the New Calendar. Further, this innovation increases by thirteen days the period when the eating of meat is permitted between Christmas and Apokreo (Meat-fare Sunday).

Besides these changes, the introduction of the New Calendar has overturned the all-praiseworthy Order of our Church, according to which serious matters are to be resolved Synodically and by common decision of all the Orthodox Christian Churches. This Order was strictly observed from the very formation of the Church, that is, from the time of the holy Apostles. After that, it was upheld through Œcumenical Synods, or by Regional Synods (owing to the disruption of political order or difficulties in travel), never unilaterally.

This way of solving the great problems of the Church, as well as of preserving the traditions and the established forms of Order, such as the Calendar of holy feasts, are protected by Imperial decrees, by Apostolic decisions, and by holy Canons of Œcumenical and Regional Synods.

Even according to contemporary jurisprudence, in order that a part of the Constitution of a Country be revised, a national assembly is necessary. Despite this, in the case of the change of the Calendar neither the particular Orthodox Churches were consulted, nor even the local Hierarchy. The innovation was made as if by police order, and not by a Pan-Orthodox Synod.

As a result, the pious clergy and laity of Greece were greatly scandalized. The majority of the clergy, whose status was that of employees in the Church, yielded to the order, with the justification that they did so to prevent a schism in the Church. This took place at the time when the State was undergoing the great trial of the Asia Minor disaster.

However, the schism was not avoided, because members of the holy clergy, of the monasteries, and of the academic community (epistemonikos kosmos) rose up against this forced innovation. They were courageous men, full of Divine zeal. They called attention to the dangers of such a change. They stigmatized the manner in which the change was made, and enlightened the pious people with regard to this anti-Orthodox act. Thus, there appeared the Church of the Old Calendarists.

The Old Calendarists are faithful unto death with regard to the traditions of the Church. They manifest the spirit of self-sacrifice, as is proven by the churches, the monasteries, and the benevolent institutions which they have established, erected, and maintain without any help from the State. It is also proved by the holy clergy, who, although persecuted and in poverty, perform their work without salaries or allowances, which are enjoyed by the clergy of the official (episemos) Church. Moreover, they are recognized by all as authentic patriots.

These things are written for the sake of history, in order to make manifest the anti-canonical and anti-Orthodox character of the change of the Calendar of the Orthodox Church.

Many think that the Old Calendarists want to have the Political Calendar revoked, and to bring about disorder in the social and commercial matters of men. For this reason they are strongly opposed to the views and actions of the Old Calendarists. However, they are mistaken. The Old Calendarists are not asking for the revocation of the Political Calendar.

As far as the matter of the celebration of the National holiday is concerned, this can be easily solved, because there are disagreements as to exactly when the War of Independence began, and at that time the Greeks were not following the New Calendar.

There is only one solution to the Calendar problem, and that is the restoration of the Traditional (Old) Calendar. This is to be effected by the common decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and the Greek Government. It can easily be done, provided there are humility and good will. Just as the Church of Greece unilaterally introduced the New Calendar, in the same manner she can at once return to the Old Calendar.

We hope that our Government will decide to bring peace to the Church, and that the Holy Synod, like an affectionate Mother, caring even for the least of her children, will approve of the restoration of the Traditional Calendar for the sake of unity. This will result in all the Greeks, with one mouth and one heart, glorifying at the same time the All-holy name of our blessed God.

To err is human, but to abide in error is inexcusable and sinful. The restoration of the Old Calendar will bring peace to the conscience of all. It will bring unity and peace to our Church, and will strengthen faith, which is so much needed by todays spiritually shaken world. There will be great joy in Heaven and on Earth for the gladsome event of the return of the Greeks to their sacred Traditions. We whole-heartedly pray for this.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol XVII, Nos. 2 & 3 (2000), pp. 12-15. Elder Gabriel's comments on the calendar innovation originally appeared in the periodical Hosios Gregorios, Vol. V, No. 26 (May-June), 1968, pp. 1016-1022. (The italics are those of Professor Cavarnos.)