The Calendar Change

On September 1, 1982, the Orthodox Church in America officially began to keep its fixed observances (those feasts, fasts and commemorations that fall on the same date every year) according to the civil calendar, popularly called the new calendar. For a number of years our Church has been making a transition from the "old" calendar to the new. A few years ago the Holy Synod decided to initiate the changeover by allowing the parishes to adopt the new calendar voluntarily. The result of this procedure was that our Church was observing both calendars, but little by little a majority of the parishes had elected, with the approval of their diocesan bishops, to change. Now the Holy Synod has decreed that the whole Orthodox Church in America follow the new calendar.

Much has been said and written about the history of the calendars and about why the change was desirable and necessary. We do not intend to repeat these things here. We do feel, however, that it might be helpful to bring to our readers attention a few facts that are often forgotten in discussions about this matter.

First, we must remember that the Church, at some time in its early days, adopted the calendar of the Roman Empire, that is, the civil calendar, as Its own. That happened to be the Julian Calendar. It was not a religious or Christian calendar in any sense, but the system used by the secular (pagan) government to mark the passing of time. The Roman Empire, even after it was christianized, did not change the name of the months - the names of all of them from January to August remain as reminders of the calendar s pagan ancestry.

Second, it is significant that the modern nations from which our Orthodox ancestors came to this land followed the Julian Calendar in every day civil life, as did the Orthodox State Churches of those countries. In other words, in the Russian Empire, and the Kingdoms of Greece, Romania, etc., the Church's dates coincided with the government's dates. When there was any discussion of changing the civil calendar, a corresponding change of the Church's calendar was considered. In fact, when Greece switched calendars, the Church of Greece followed suit.

Third, because of the many centuries of following the Julian Calendar, many people in the Orthodox homelands had come to regard this calendar as a part of the Tradition. So strong was the feeling that a considerable segment of the Greek Church refused to accept the change and broke away from the Church. Some of the Orthodox churches "in exile" in the Western World, that once had a rather liberal attitude toward the new calendar and even allowed its use in some places, have come to denounce the Churches that follow the new calendar as modernist and heretical.

Now, since there is a certain amount of opposition to the Holy Synod's decision (even from some people who said, "Once the bishops decide that all parishes have to change, we will follow"), and the Orthodox Church in America has been accused by some "Old Calendarists" of heresy because of adopting the revised calendar, it is important for us to consider some very basic calendar questions. We might ask, for example: Why did the Church need to adopt a calendar in the first place? Why did it take the calendar of the Empire, when other possibilities were open to it? If a specifically religious calendar had been the point why not adopt the Jewish calendar? After all, the latter was the calendar that the Lord Jesus Christ observed, by whlch He lived and accomplished His work.

The mission of the Church in and to the world was and still is the main issue. This is the same as that of the Lord Himself to redeem the world - to save souls and to sanctify the world and everyone and everything in it. It constantly blesses things, material objects and thereby redeems them in the sense of returning them to the purpose for which the whole physical world was intended to be channels and signs of God s presence in the world a world distorted by sin and misuse. When the Church set out to overcome the world it undertook the transformation of the things of this world: the Roman Empire became a holy empire a Christian commonwealth; cities and towns were holy because of their having been the scene of the events of Christ's life, of the sacrifice of the martyrs and the lives of the saints.

St. Paul says that we must "redeem the time because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16). The Church has always seen the sanctification of the world's time as a part of its overall mission. Dates came to have as the Church extended its influence over society a Christian significance: January 6 was no longer simply the sixth day of the first month but a holy day on which the Lord's Baptism and the Manifestation of the Trinity was solemnly commemorated. Every date was sanctified because on each one some martyr made the supreme sacrifice or some saint who had given himself wholly to Christ fell asleep. Days came to be known, for example, not just as February 23 but St. Polycarp's Day and not December 20 but St. Ignatius'; Day.

It is obvious that the Church deliberately kept the calendar of this world in order to sanctify the time signified by it. The point was to give Christian meaning to the times and seasons, to the days of the year.

The Church cannot abandon this aspect of her mission. It helps little to maintain stubbornly that a certain date is not September 14, as everyone else thinks, but really September 1. And no matter what we have to say about September 1, its significance for the life of the Church and its meaning for the world, we will hardly be heard if we first have to convince the rest of society that they are wrong about the date. And it does matter that the voice of the Church be heard by the rest of society.

The fundamental reason for change of calendar then is relevant to the mission of the Church to the world. Now that the Church's dates and the nations dates are the same - our December 25 is their December 25 (not their January 7), we might begin to regain some sense of responsibility for what goes on on that date as well as all the other dates. We commonly say that we are distressed at the secularized and commercialized Christmas of America, at their taking the Christ out of Christmas. Undoubtedly it is now time for ail of us Orthodox Christians, in all our churches, and especially in our family life, to set the pattern, exercise Influence, and finally turn the tide. The calendar change has to be seen as the opening of a new opportunity and responsibility to have some impact on the circles in which we move and live. For one thing, we can keep the fast before the Nativity of Christ conscientiously and then celebrate the coming of the Saviour into the world in a way that befits Orthodox Christians. We have the true faith, the true worship, and we can have an enormous influence, such as we could never have had out of a kind of calendar ghetto.

(Reprinted from the October 1982 issue of the Dawn, published by the OCA Diocese of the South.) The Orthodox Church, January, 1983.

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