Some Orthodox Christians in both Europe and America celebrate the immovable feasts of the Orthodox Church on different civil calendar and Church calendar dates. For example: The Nativity of Christ-December 25th and January 7th; the Annunciation-March 25th and April 7th; the Dormition - August 15th and August 28th; and the feast of St. Nicholas - December 6th and December 19th. The 13 days difference is a scientific-technical one. The dates of the feasts of the Church are the same on an Christian Church calendars. Thus, for example, the Nativity of Christ, which for some parishes falls on January 7th on the civil calendar is actually shown on the Church's "old style" Julian Calendar as December 25th.
There is only one JULIAN CALENDAR in the western world the original Julian Calendar was adopted by the Church without correction of its technical errors Then it was refined twice: once by the Church in the West and once by the Church in the East. The basic civil calendar remained the same. The four versions of the Julian Calendar in brief are as follows:
The "ORIGINAL" JULIAN CALENDAR introduced by Julius Caesar dates from 44 B.C. The length of the natural solar year (the time it takes for the earth to make one orbit of the sun) was estimated to be 365 days and 6 hours. Every fourth year the extra six hours were collected and added as an extra day to the year, creating a leap year of 366 days.
Technically, this estimated civil calendar year is 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the natural solar year. Longer in time means faster in speed. This small error caused all the calendar problems. For instance, a regular phenomenon in nature like the Spring Equinox (the beginning of spring when day and night are each about 12 hours long all over the earth) recurs year after year at a measurable time in the orbit of the earth.
Because of the error in the original Julian Calendar, over a period of time the extra minutes and seconds accumulate to a full day and the Spring Equinox arrives faster, or a day earlier in the civil calendar. The Spring Equinox fell on March 25th in the "Original" Julian Calendar.
The "OLD STYLE" JULIAN CALENDAR dates from AD. 325. By the fourth century the Spring Equinox was arriving on March 21st on the "Original" Julian Calendar. When the First Ecumenical Council met in Nicea in 325 to settle the date for celebrating Pascha, the Church adopted the "Original" Julian Calendar and ruled that Pascha shall be observed on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox on March 21st, and independent of the Jewish Passover. The Council did not correct the calendar error, nor did it set the Spring Equinox date back to March 25th where it was in the first place. By fixing a faulty civil calendar date to a fixed phenomenon in nature the Church created for herself a calendar problem. The "Old Style" Julian Calendar dates from AD. 325, not from the year 44 B.C. as is commonly believed. The calendar adopted in 325 had nothing to do with determining the date when Christ was born.
The "NEW STYLE" JULIAN CALENDAR dates from the year 1582. In the 16th century the Spring Equinox was arriving 10 days earlier on the "old style" Julian Calendar date of March 11th instead of March 21st, because of the uncorrected error in the "Original" Julian Calendar. With updated astronomical information, Pope Gregory of Rome refined the "Original" Julian Calendar.
His astronomers reduced the number of leap years so that the average length of the civil calendar would be nearer to the natural length of the solar year. In a 400-year cycle they dropped three leap years and reduced the error from 11 minutes and 14 seconds a year to 26 seconds a year. Under this system it takes many years more for 26 seconds to accumulate into a full day.
In 1582 the 10 days were dropped from the civil calendar so that the Spring Equinox would again fall on March 21st as the Church had ruled in 325. This version of the "New Style" Julian Calendar is popularly called the Gregorian Calendar and is used by the Church in the West for both fixed and moveable feasts.
The "REVISED" JULIAN CALENDAR dates from 1923. Since 1582 the Spring Equinox in the "New Style" Calendar continued to fall on that calendar's date of March 21st. In the 17th century the Spring Equinox arrived on the "Old Style" Julian Calendar date of March 11th, in the 18th century on March 10th, in the 19th century on March 9th, and in the 20th century on March 8th - 13 days earlier.
In the same centuries, the "Old Style" Julian Calendar date of December 25th corresponded with the "New Style" Julian Calendar date of January 4th in the 17th century; with January 5th in the 18th century; with January 6th in the 19th century, and with January 7th in the 20th century - 13 days later. Eventually it will be January 8th - 14 days later.
It is known that bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church seriously considered the adoption of the "New Style" Julian calendar as early as the 19th century.
After sixteen centuries the Church in the East did something about the calendar problem. In 1923 a Conference of Orthodox Churches in Constantinople refined the erroneous "Original" Julian Calendar. The technical correction was not much different than the 1582 version. As did Pope Gregory, so did the Orthodox Church refine the calendar by reducing the number of leap years, so that the average length of the civil calendar year would be nearer to the natural length of the solar year. By reducing the number of leap years in a 900-year cycle, the margin of difference was trimmed to 2.2 seconds a year which is virtually perfect. In this version, the Spring Equinox will arrive on March 21st for over 40,000 years.
To bring the Spring Equinox back to March 21st, the 13-day difference was dropped. Until about the year 2200 both the "New Style" and the "Revised" versions of the Julian Calendar will coincide. The national Orthodox Churches were given the option to adopt this version of the Julian Calendar. Some did and some did not. Because even this refinement did not settle the Pascha date problem, most Orthodox Churches agreed to observe Pascha according to the 325 formula, determining the Spring Equinox according to the "Old Style" Julian Calendar, until all Christian Churches could agree on a common date.
The data presented above are taken from published documents from Constantinople in 1923 and from Moscow in 1948. The "Revised" Julian Calendar is not the work of evil or a scheme to convert the Orthodox Church to the Roman Catholic Church. Parishes in the Orthodox Church in America have been granted permission by the Holy Synod of Bishops to vote on whether or not they wish to use the "Old Style" Julian Calendar or the "Revised" Julian Calendar to determine the immovable feast days. Final approval of any calendar change is reserved to the diocesan bishop.
Both the United States and England used the "Old Style" Julian Calendar until after American Independence.
The sole criterion is TRUTH. Over the centuries man has succeeded in discovering more and more truths about the God-created universe. The calendar is a device invented by man that attempts to correlate his measurement of time with the natural, astronomical phenomena. Should some Orthodox persist in using a calendar based on a 44 B.C. estimate of the length of the orbit of the earth around the sun?
If the Orthodox Church is the Pillar of Truth, it cannot afford to ignore the scientific truths discovered by man. How can we claim 'I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth..' and refuse to accept the truth of the scientific measurement of the length of the year that He created? In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar's astronomer, Sosigenes, made a fairly close estimate. Man has come a long way in his knowledge of our solar system since then.
Should you have any questions or comments please e-mail us!