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
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 cumenical
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 writingEd., 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.
+ + +
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 peopleand
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 adaptedas it
was saidto 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 holidaythat is, the day of Declaration of
the War of Independence of 1821and 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
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 cumenical Synods, or by Regional Synods (owing to
the disruption of political order or difficulties in travel), never
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 cumenical 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