July 07, 2010

We are an "Old Calendar" Church

By Fr. Alexander Lebedeff
  1. What is the distinction between Old and New Calendars?
  2. Why is the division so prominent?
At the risk of rattling up some acrimonious discussion, I will go ahead and wade into this one with both feet. The opinions I express are my own, and do not necessarily represent the official position of the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), in which I have been a priest for twenty-five years.

In my honest opinion, world Orthodoxy is now experiencing a polarization into two camps: for lack of a better term one can think of them as " traditionalists" and "modernists."

As we all know, the 19th century saw the development of liberal ideas that ultimately led to the revolution in Russia. A number of the clergy in the Russian Orthodox church had become involved in the liberal movement and wished to "liberalize" the Church. Their proposals included: a change to the New Calendar (the Gregorian Calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII at the end of the 16th century and rejected by all the Orthodox churches at that time, who continued to use the traditional Julian Calendar); married bishops; permission for priests to marry a second time; shortening of services; reduction of fasting periods and the strictness of the fasts; use of non-clerical garb by clergy outside of the church; eliminating the traditional requirement of beards and long hair for clergy; and many other innovations.

These priests became the kernel of the so-called "renovationist" movement in early post-revolutionary Soviet Russia, which cooperated with them, since they expressed complete support for the Communist regime. Most of the church buildings in the Soviet Union were transferred to the renovationists, andthose who didn't cooperate (the followers of Patriarch Tikhon) were persecuted and often killed.

At the same time, a rather interesting figure had had himself elected to the office of Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios Metaxakis. This individual had previously been Archbishop of Athens, then Patriarch of Alexandria. It is not exactly clear how he had been able to be the head of three independent local Orthodox Churches in succession. Suffice it to say, it is known that he was a Freemason and had "connections."

He was extremely modernist in his views. He supported all of the above-mentioned innovations of the renovationists, and shocked the Orthodox world by appearing in a civilian suit. In 1923 he instituted an official change to the new calendar, although the other innovations he proposed did not go through. He also recognized the Renovationists in Soviet Russia as the true Church of Russia and joined in their condemnation and deposition of Patriarch Tikhon.

To make a long story short, as a result of the calendar innovation, the Orthodox world was divided. Some of the Orthodox churches remained Old Calendar, some accepted the New, and the liturgical unity of the Church was shattered. In Greece, the introduction of the new calendar caused extraordinary upheaval and physical persecution of the old-calendarists was widespread.

The calendar question is one of extraordinary significance to "traditionalist" Orthodox, although it is presented as a matter of little importance by the new-calendarists ("This is not an issue of dogma, Father, just custom," one hears). The answer, of course, is that the Pope's calendar innovation had been condemned many times by pan-Orthodox Councils, so it is not a matter of "taste."

So how has this affected Orthodoxy in the United States? Today one can see the following: New-calendar churches, typically, have accepted many of the "trappings" of Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. They, for the most part, have pews in their churches, some have organs (!) and electronic carillons instead of bells, their priests, and in some cases even bishops, most often wear "clerical collars" and suits (outside of the services), almost all clergy have short hair and trimmed or no beards, and like to be called "Father Tom," or "Father Al." The services are typically shortened, frequently even Saturday-night Vigil services are eliminated. The new-calendarists have relatively few monasteries and monastic clergy. Many churches thrive on Bingo, and almost all have lay "presidents" of the congregation, who, together with a parish council, direct the affairs of the church. Being a Freemason is not considered to be in conflict with Orthodoxy.

On the other hand, traditionalist Orthodox parishes will never have pews, organs and the like; their clergy will never be seen without a rasson (they wouldn't be caught dead wearing a "dog collar" and "clergy shirt"!); no one would dream of addressing them as "Father Tom"; they typically do not cut their hair or beards (unless required by outside employment); the services follow a much fuller Typicon; the priests are rectors of their parishes and they are themselves the "presidents" of the parish corporations, with the parish council acting in a more advisory role; there are far more monastic clergy and many monasteries and convents. Freemasonry is soundly condemned as incompatible with Orthodoxy.

Another significant area dividing traditional Orthodox from their "modernist" brethren is the area of Ecumenism. To a traditionalist Orthodox,ecumenism is an outright heresy, condemned by innumerable Councils who clearly forbid praying with heretics.

The new-calendarists, on the other hand, are very active participants in the "ecumenical movement," in the WCC and the NCC, notwithstanding the incredible mixture of paganism, new-world thinking, radical feminism, and other weird stuff that goes on at WCC assemblies.

Unfortunately, the last three Patriarchs of Constantinople (Athenagoras, Demetrius, and, now, Bartholemew, have been rabid ecumenists. Patriarch Bartholemew, at least at the time he was Metropolitan) had frequently been photographed in a civilian business suit (with tie, not even an ecclesiastical collar), and studied at the Papal Institute in Rome. He recent meetings with the Pope underscore his desire to reunite with Rome by the year 2000. He, and other ecumenically-oriented Eastern Patriarchs have virtually accepted the Monophysite heretics as valid Orthodox, without making them renounce their views or accept the Orthodox position regarding the Divine and human natures of Christ.

All this is appalling to traditionalist Orthodox, who wish to preserve the faith of the Apostles and the Fathers without any change.

As a Roman Catholic, some of this may be familiar to you. You may remember the upheaval that was caused in the RC church when wholesale modernization took place.

The traditional Orthodox will struggle to keep this from happening within Orthodoxy. Although a relatively small part of the contemporary Orthodox population, the traditionalists (comprising the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has 400 clergy outside of Russia; the old calendarist churches of Greece, Bulgaria, Roumania, and like-minded Orthodox throughout the world) will continue to witness for the purity of Orthodoxy and against the heresies of modernism and ecumenism that have, so unfortunately, infected so much of World Orthodoxy.

While there are some fanatical fringe groups within the traditionalist movement (who aver that everyone else is devoid of grace), the majority of traditionalists do not agree. They consider the other (modernist) Orthodox to still be Orthodox, although in grave error, and pray for their return to the path of traditional Orthodoxy, as preserved by the Church for 2000 years. Among the "modernists" there is also a fanatic fringe, who consider the traditionalist Orthodox to be "schismatics" and outside the Church.

I think we should let the two fanatic fringes shout themselves out, while the more rationally-minded traditionalist and new-calendar Orthodox Christians should engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue in non-confrontational places such as this forum, and of course, pray for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

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