Not on the New Calendar!: The Repose of the Blessed Elder Philotheos Zervakos

What follows is an excerpt from Blessed Elder Philotheos Zervakos, Vol. 11 in the Modern Orthodox Saints series by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos (pp. 69-75). The title of this excerpt is not in the original, but was added by the webmaster for posting...

Blessed Philotheos reposed in the Lord at 6:00 in the morning of May 8 according to the New Calendar, and April 25th according to the Old [1980]. In accordance with the instructions he had given, both oral and in writing, his funeral service was performed in the church of the Monastery of Longovarda, and then his body was taken to the great Byzantine Church of Ekatontapyliani in Paroikia, the capital of Paros, to be saluted by his countless spiritual children and people in general. After this, his body was taken back to the Convent at Thapsana. There it was buried in the tomb which the holy Elder had constructed long before his repose adjacent to the Chapel of his Spiritual Father St. Nectarios which he erected in 1969-1970.

The burial was performed by Archimandrite Dionysios of the Athonite Monastery of Simonopetra—the same monk who had confessed him on April 25. Father Dionysios—now Abbot of Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem was asked to do this by Blessed Philotheos at the time when he was confessed. The reason for his choosing Archimandrite Dionysios for these two extremely important sacred events was not only the fact that Dionysios was a very dear and very devout spiritual son of his, but also the fact that as a monk of the Holy Mountain of Athos he followed the Old Calendar.

Here it must be explained that from the time when the New Calendar was introduced into the Church of Constantinople in 1924 by Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis and soon after into the Church of Greece by the Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, the holy Elder strongly protested against this arbitrary innovation. He protested because it resulted in the split of the Church into hostile groups: the New Calendarists and the Old Calendarists. He wrote many personal as well as open letters of strong protest to Orthodox Church leaders and also a substantial pamphlet on the Calendar problem, asking them to bring back the Old Calendar into the Church and thereby unite it. But they ignored his strong protests and entreaties. He was deeply troubled as he saw year after year his hope of such a thing happening not being fulfilled; and seeing, moreover, that the calendar innovation had opened the door to other very serious innovations under the name of "Ecumenism"—such as despising holy canons of the Church and placing "sentimental brotherly love" or pseudo love in opposition to the Truth. As a result, in his last years he decided to have the Monastery of Longovarda proceed to follow the Old Calendar. However, the ranking monk Father Leontios—who for decades had acted as abbot whenever Blessed Philotheos was away—unyieldingly dissented. He pointed out that this would have grave consequences for the monastery, would cause turmoil on the island, whose churches were all under the authority of a New Calendarist bishop, and would create serious problems for those of his spiritual children who were members of New Calendarist churches. There was the likelihood that the monks of the Monastery of Longovarda would be expelled from it by the police at the request of the local bishop, if they persisted in the return to the Old Calendar.

The holy Elder found himself in the painful dilemma of either introducing the traditional, Old Calendar into the Monastery and facing the anticipated disastrous consequences of this act, or letting the Monastery continue to follow the New Calendar, the introduction of which has split the Church into groups hostile to each other. He resolved the problem for himself personally by choosing as his final Confessor a very pious priest-monk who followed the Old Calendar as do all the monks of the Holy Mountain and also entrusting this same priest to bury his holy body, thus ending his earthly life as a follower of the traditional calendar.

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From an Interview with Dr. Cavarnos concerning Photios Kontoglou in Divine Ascent:

DA: Why do you think that Philotheos Zervakos and Photios Kontoglou sided with the so-called "New Calendar" Church?

DC: I explained this in Volume Eleven of my series Modern Orthodox Saints, which is devoted to blessed Philotheos Zervakos. From the very time the idea of introducing the New Calendar was conceived, Father Philotheos wrote letters of protest saying, "No! Stop it; don't do it," but they did not listen to him. He wrote letters and brochures protesting this innovation until the time of his death. His predictions came true: he said that if you allow this innovation to stand, you will divide the people into two hostile parties. This prophecy of Zervakos was completely fulfilled. In his later years, when he saw that the Greek government, the Church of Greece, and the Œcumenical Patriarchate did not listen to him, he thought about simply returning his monastery to the Old Calendar. On this matter, I suggest a careful reading of my book on Blessed Father Philotheos. His senior monk, Father Leontios, whom I happened to meet a few years before he died, said that Father Philotheos was very determined to declare that the monastery had returned to the Old Calendar. But he was opposed by some of his senior monks, particularly Father Leontios. Every time the Elder left the monastery to travel as a Confessor, sometimes for weeks, Leontios was the acting abbot. So he had a strong voice. He emphasized that if they changed the monastery to the Old Calendar, then the local bishop would immediately step in and force them to give up that idea, or else. The "or else" would be that the police would be sent over to expel the monks and say this monastery belongs to the local bishop of Paros and Naxos. Father Philotheos was close to the century mark, and Father Leontios was about the same age, and they pictured themselves being thrown out of the monastery. It would have been a very tragic situation. So what Father Philotheos did was to die on the Old Calendar. He invited a confessor from Mount Athos, where the Old Calendar is followed, to serve for his last confession and to bury him.

DA: And did Photios Kontoglou die with those following the New Calendar?

DC: Well, Kontoglou himself was in a dilemma. He had followed pretty much the advice of Philotheos Zervakos to wait for the return of the Church of Greece to the Traditional Calendar. in the 1960s, before Kontoglou died, the Archbishop of Athens was Chrysostomos, who was very venerable and traditional. I interviewed him once. He said he had made it one of his priorities before he died to return the Church of Greece to the Old Calendar. So you see, Zervakos and Kontoglou were hoping that this dilemma would be resolved by him and that it would be done canonically by the Holy Synod of Greece. But it did not happen because the dictatorship that came into power removed Archbishop Chrysostomos from his throne and installed the priest of the palace, Hieronymos Kotsonis, a modernist and ecumenist, as Archbishop of Athens. It was a very difficult dilemma for them. What was one to do? A dilemma, you know, has two horns and no matter which one you choose it is bad. Kontoglou and Father Philotheos were hoping that the change would come down from the top in the Church of Greece. In the meantime, Photios consoled himself and was at peace with his conscience by attending services at a church in his neighborhood that followed the Old Calendar.