The Church and Time

An insight into the problem of the old and new calendars

Vladimir Dimitrijevic




CHELO-VJEK: Mankind facing Eternity

Because he was created in God's image, man is the only being in the world to possess a sense of time. According to scientists, animals live in a perpetual present, only man being conscious of past, present and future, and accordingly this directs all of his actions . The transience of time, as a vessel of aging and of death, filled with historical occurrences and changes, is characteristic of the fallen state of the descendants of Adam and Eve. Our forefathers, having been created for eternity, but having rejected communion with the living God, face time as the bearer of death and experience all the consequences of the fallen state: birth, growth, ageing and feebleness, culminating in the separation of the soul from the body. In the old  Serbian language, the word mankind, CHELOVJEK, clearly depicts a being whose brow or forehead (CHELO) is turned towards eternity (VJEK). Simultaneously, man is also a victim of transience and decay. It was necessary for the Son of God to become Man, and to sanctify by His incarnation all creation, and with it time itself, which men manifest through history. Through the Theanthropos (God-Man), man is freed from the pangs of sin, death and the evil one, and united with the Heavenly Father.  Time, which up to the Incarnation of the Son of God had been an ally of corruption, is now transformed by the Body of Christ - His Church - into a means of salvation. As the Apostle says, time itself is to be redeemed, and it now foreshadows the Eighth Day. The cycle of services in our Church is a constant uplifting (uzvodjenje) of the transient to the eternal. The Liturgy opens the doors to the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in which we celebrate Christ's glorious Second Coming by partaking of Holy Communion - though in time, the second coming it is yet to take place. In all of this we see Orthodox Christianity’s answer to the question: "What should be our attitude toward time?"


Time and Calendars

Different cultures in human history had different approaches to the phenomenon of time. In ancient Egypt, for example, time was measured by the length of rule of a certain pharo. The concept of a year, in today's sense, was unknown. The paganism of the Hindus was quite ahistoric. Time intervals and cosmic cycles render the task of ascribing dates based on written documents to certain occurrences of the Hindu past nigh impossible. A  very similar problem occurs with ancient Greek civilization. In the beginning their concept of time was cyclical but all that belonged to the past became mythologized. Interesting as this journey through the history of time may be, it is not the subject of our exploration. We only mention it here in order to point out the insubstantiality of the "accuracy" issue when speaking about time. All talk of "accuracy" in time measurement is valid only if some preliminary assumption is accepted as true. Every scientific system and any system of human thought must have a pre-supposed starting point. In mathematics, this is the axiom, a supposition which cannot be proven using the arguments of the given system. Therefore, all human thought is based on the belief in SOMETHING. Time, as defined by calendars, the "new" as well as the "old", is only one of many such possible' times’ or systems.


Truth and Accuracy

The criteria of objectiveness are not one and the same as the criteria of Truth, for objective facts per se, cannot exist without the person who brings these facts forth. Truth, as witnessed by the Church, is not a concept but a Person, - the Person of the Incarnate Word, Christ the Theanthropos. The voice of the Church, the Body of Christ, is also the voice of Christ, and all facts must be weighed and tested according to this Measure. This forms the basis for all our thinking about the calendar, a thinking not drowned by the noise of the quasi scientific astronomical approach which has been rejected by contemporary science.

            The calendars that are in use do not represent time itself, they are only images of time. They are dependant on the religious worldview they sprang from. Here the problem of "accuracy" has never been crucial. Today's Gregorian calendar, named after pope Gregory VIII who perpetrated its use, is not the most accurate of calendars, especially when compared with calendars used by other civilizations.  Although very sophisticated, it is nevertheless not more accurate than the calendar put together by the Mayan priests in Central America thousands of years ago. Were someone to suggest the Mayan or any other ancient calendar to the Europeans, they would most certainly not accept this proposal, precisely because the religious and metaphysical suppositions which formed the base for these calendars have long ago disappeared.

            Experts agree that all calendars were at first linked primarily to religion, because of the importance of holding celebrations and sacrificial rituals on specific dates. From here, we begin our analysis of the Orthodox ("old") and papal ("new") calendars, which as we will see, is not insignificant to the question of faith.


The New Calendar and Ecumenism

In 1920, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in agreement with the politics of the Greek government  (under president Venizelou, who was, incidentally, a freemason), sent a circular letter to all Christian "churches", recognizing for the first time the church status (crkvenost) of the heretical religious communities of the West. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Dorotheus, was especially insistent in proclaiming ecumenism as the "universal medicine" for the healing and reconciliation of schism-torn churches. This circular letter offered a variety of methods which would bring different Christian denominations closer together. The first proposition on the list was the concelebration of all major Christian feast days. This was followed by other suggestions: the exchange of fraternal greetings during holidays; brotherly relationships between the representatives of different denominations; organized pan-Christian conferences for the purpose of discussing issues relevant to all confessions; the reconciliation of differences in dogmatic teachings; co-celebration of church services, etc.


Is the Calendar issue a Question of Dogma?

            One of the favorite arguments of new calendar protagonists is that the calendar is not a dogmatic issue. Following that logic, we can then eliminate everything that does not fall into the category of "Church dogma." As an example, the priest's beards and robes which we are accustomed to seeing are not a dogmatic prerequisite in our Church. Neither is the celibacy of bishops, the prohibition of women entering the altar or of female priests. Until the Seventh Ecumenical Council the veneration of icons in the Orthodox Church had not yet been dogmatized, this fact being used as a prime argument by the iconoclasts when they began their destruction of the holy images. Is communion on an empty stomach a dogma? Are we obeying the precepts of a dogma when we make the sign of the cross or when we face East in prayer? The answer, of course, is no. However,  if we allow the very order of the Church to be questioned, then the Church and all of her dogmas may also be brought into question.

            The church calendar is like an icon. Until the image of the Lord is painted on a piece of wood, the wood is nothing but an ordinary plank. It would be no sin to cut it up with an axe and cast into the fire. But the moment the icon of Christ is painted on that plank, it becomes a sacred object for the blessing of the faithful. Through the grace of the One whose image is depicted, it becomes wonder-working . Thus, the calendar may be called "Julian" only up to the moment when the Church inscribed the Paschal services and the Great Typicon on it. From that moment on, it becomes an icon of time, and through which the liturgical practice of the Church transforms time into eternity. This no longer has anything to do with any kind of astronomic or mathematical accuracy, for the issue we are dealing with is not a scientific, but an ecclesiastic one.

            The Church calendar is a part of Holy Tradition, as are the priestly robes and beard, celibate bishops, the male priesthood and the sign of the Cross. Those who have dared to change it for the papal calendar have challenged Holy Tradition. This is no small sin.


Condemnation of the Papal Calendar

In our Church, theologians have the right to theologumena, that is - their opinions on a certain matter with which other theologians may or may not agree. This opinion remains a theologumen until a Church Council either verifies it or condemns it, based on Holy Tradition. In the former case, the theologumen becomes a part of the teaching of the Church, and in the latter, a heresy.

            Had the Church not adopted a very clear and decisive attitude towards the papal calendar, it would still be a matter open for discussion. However, the Church was adamant about this problem from the very moment that pope Gregory offered his "scientific solution" to the whole of  Christendom.

            The first condemnation of the papal calendar came in 1583, when Jeremiah II, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sylvester of Alexandria and Sophronius of Jerusalem met together in Constantinople; the second followed a few years later, in 1587, when the papal calendar was anathemized, again in Constantinople; in February of 1593 the Council established a canon according to which anyone who would dare change the Church calendar would be excommunicated from the Church. There were many  attempts to ‘reconcile the church calendar with science’, all of which met with firm opposition from the Church councils. One of the most recent ones occurring in 1924, when the Synod of the Church in Alexandria rejected the new calendar.

            Our One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church teaches us the importance of Holy Tradition. When we speak about Holy Tradition, it is its fullness we have in mind: the Church services, the Typicon, the Church fasts, iconography, chanting, architecture, and not only the calendar as an isolated issue. The calendar is only one part of the whole, an element of the Holy Tradition. Saint John Chrysostom says, "Is this Tradition? Seek no more!"

            The Seventh Canon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council orders the defrocking of all who transgress the Holy Traditions of the Church. St. Basil the Great, in his work "On the Holy Spirit", says that some teachings of the Church stem from written sources, while others were carried over from the Apostles in an oral manner, and that both the oral and the written tradition are equally important in the Church.


The Calendar and Church Unity

            During Holy Liturgy, the priest prays aloud, "And grant unto us that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and hymn Thy all honorable and majestic name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."  One mouth and one heart - the very goal of the liturgical existence of the Church. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." The Holy Liturgy is not a private matter, but the work of the entire Catholic Church of Christ. It may happen that the priest is serving in an empty church, with only a cantor present at the Liturgy. Nevertheless, even if the chanter does not take communion, the priest calls out, "Having partaken of the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly,  and life-creating, fearful Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks to the Lord." And the cantor gives thanks to the Lord for the Holy Communion and prays that we may remain in the Holiness of Christ the whole day. The liturgy is a service of the whole Church and the priest and cantor glorify God and thank Him for all those who have partaken of the Holy Mysteries anywhere, in any Orthodox church in the world. This represents the Church's unity in space (sabornost u prostoru). There is also unity in time, unity with the complete sacred history of the Church, and there is also unity of heaven and earth (sabornost nebozemna), where the temporal comes together with the Eternal. Church services are exactly where this comes to pass.

            After the adoption of the new calendar, the harmony in which local Orthodox Churches celebrated feast days was broken. This does not mean that new calendar churches are grace-deprived deserts. But while the church in Russia, Serbia or on the Holy Mountain, together with the Jerusalem Church, the Mother of all Churches, sings at Christmas, "Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is before all creation", the new calendarists sing, "Today Christ is baptized in Jordan." While the Churches faithful to the patristic calendar chant Theophany hymns, the new calendar churches sing praises to St. Macarios the Great. The Church has always been a symphony of the sacred (svestena simfonija), never a cacophony of Babylon. We should always sing with "one mouth", in order that God may grant us "one heart." Since the First Ecumenical Council, the entire Church has sung as one. In our wretched 20th century, people who were not worthy even to utter the names of the Holy Fathers of the First Council adopted the new calendar, tearing apart the liturgical unity of the Orthodox. "But we still celebrate Pascha together", someone might say. The question is, are the Nativity, or Theophany, or the Transfiguration less important? How much less important? Do we not, by way of these feasts, glorify the same Lord, Who has given us one faith and one baptism? Should we be together for Pascha, the Assumption and the Pentecost, but separated during Nativity and Theophany? Why? Is not the One Who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit the same One Who was born in Bethlehem, baptized in the Jordan and transfigured on Mount Tabor?

            As we all know, the Sunday after Pentecost is the Sunday of All Saints. During the whole week after Pentecost, we neither make prostrations, nor fast. Also, it is a fact that Pascha can fall only between March 22nd and April 26th, and thus is considered either "early" or "late." In the case of an ‘early Pascha’, the fast of the Apostles lasts longer, and if it is a ‘late Pascha’, the fast is shorter.  This fast has always been honored by the Orthodox. In 1725, patriarch Jeremiah III was dethroned for attempting to shorten this fast to a fixed 12 days, and in 1783, the same happened to  the Callinicus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for his attempt to reduce it to 7 days.

            What happens when we apply the new calendar to this rule? If Pascha should fall, say, on April 25th (May 8th new calendar), the Sunday of All Saints in new calendar churches is celebrated after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which is inadmissible! St Peter and Paul's day, in this case, falls on the Wednesday after Pentecost, which means that the Apostles' fast can only take place in the two days after Pentecost - a time for rejoicing – and where fasting is strictly forbidden by the canons. Some might argue that these cases are not a grave infraction of the canons - that it is really only a trivial thing. Such an attitude, however, permissible in ordinary everyday life, is totally unacceptable  to the Church. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is not an organization, but a living organism, and in a Living Body there are no "trivial things." Even the smallest organ, each living cell of the Church Body, has a significant and unique function, the withdrawal  of which causes irreparable damage and illness, and sometimes a long and malignant one.

            Canon 56 of the VI Ecumenical Council states that all fasts in the Church must be carried out in communal order. Today, while the Orthodox calendar churches fast in preparation of the Nativity of Christ, the new calendarists feast in celebration of the Nativity. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles when they were gathered together in one place (Acts 2:1). What would have happened if one group of Apostles had accepted the Holy Spirit on that day, but another group said: "We will accept the Holy Spirit later, in thirteen days, so we need not be with you today." Venerable Justin of Chelije was well aware of this in the days before World War II and he wept and lamented when the Patriarch of Constantinople, the guardian of the unity of the Orthodox world, fractured and despoiled that unity.

The entire book "The Church and Time" is a lament and an invitation to reconsider the consequences of accepting the new calendar.