Saturday, March 31, 2007

is it true?

Priest Andrew Phillips has written on his site:

However, today, the younger generation in many other Local Orthodox Churches are beginning to bring others to repentance, steering others back to Orthodox ecclesiology, the calendar and other traditions. Thus, it is rumoured that the Finnish Church is considering returning to the Orthodox calendar. A quarter of the parishes in the ‘Orthodox Church in America’ (OCA) are now on the Orthodox calendar and many there are now disenchanted with their previous errors on ecumenism. Some in the Polish, Czechoslovak and Japanese Churches, which allowed some to use the Roman Catholic calendar, are thinking the same way. A return to roots is under way. Relations between the Russian Church and the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, Bucharest and Sofia are good, as also with the Churches of Greece and Cyprus.

I have no idea how much truth there is to it, but I find it encouraging to read. Not that I think the calendar is the only, primary, or most important issue to be resolved in Orthodoxy today, but if we're going to move in the direction of unity on this issue (as on so many others), I would personally like to see it come through a return to the traditional Orthodox calendar. I don't much care for the way the so-called New Calendar was instituted, least of all, that it was done piece-meal, so that today some churches follow it while others do not. As I've said before, one of the reasons this is my favorite season of the year is that we're in sync throughout almost the entire Orthodox world. It may have been a nice idea that the New Calendar would help relations between Orthodoxy and Western Christians, but at what cost? Now the more pressing concern is internal relations between Orthodox, and IMHO we could use things like a common calendar to remind us of our shared identity.

In any case, I'd rather see restoration come as it seems to be from what he says here--through the changing hearts of Orthodox people, not through something imposed on them from above. I'm also glad to see that relations are good between Moscow and Antioch. May such things spill over here in America!


Roland said...

Personally, I hope it's not true. While I think Orthodox unity on the calendar and related issues would be a good thing, I think there are more important considerations - namely, consistency with the councils and, more important, with creation itself.

The intent of the Ecumenical Councils' rulings on the date of Pascha was that 1) the date should be calculated according to the OT rules for the date of Passover, and 2) Pascha should then be celebrated on a Sunday. The shorthand expression for this is that Pascha is to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Vernal Equinox.

But no one actually follows these straightforward astronomical rules - not even the Jews. Everyone bases the dates of Passover and Pascha on tables calculated centuries ago, in an era when men were becoming unduly impressed with their ability to stystematize such things. Even the Gregorian Calendar used in the West is not based on astronomical observation - it just uses computations that are closer to physical reality.

Early in the 20th century, an Orthodox synod adopted the New Calendar (technically the Revised Julian Calendar), which is similar to the Gregorian Calendar, but not identical. This calendar was to apply to the Paschal cycle as well as the cycle of fixed feasts. Most jurisdictions remain out of compliance - I think the Finns were the only ones who adopted it in full, and they were forced to do so by law.

I think the arguments about unity with other churches are a red herring. It is not the most important consideration. (The fact that the Old Calendarists always raise "ecumenism" as an issue shows that they think it is the most important consideration. They seem to regard being out of synch with the West a positive good in and of itself.)

My opinion: Orthodoxy should adopt a calendar that corresponds to astronomical reality as created by God. As far as I'm concerned, that trumps all other arguments. It is the only way to carry on an incarnational religion. Anything else smells of gnosticism.

Trevor said...

I do not in principle object to Orthodoxy coming up with a new calendar. I have a problem with the way it was done, the likely reasons for which it was done at the time, and the division it has created in the Orthodox world.

But let's not forget that, as you point out, no one actually follows a system of astronomical observation. (No one in this picture we're painting anyway--Muslims do, but it's a purely lunar system, so we wouldn't be in sync with them either.) So adopting the Revised Julian didn't fix anything in that respect. It was not really a new calendar--just one that conformed as much as possible to the Western. And by that point presumably everyone knew the Gregorian calendar wasn't perfect either.

Not only has the institution of the New Calendar divided the Orthodox world, but it has created liturgical problems as well. It was not done circumspectly. As it is observed in most places that observe it, you never get the Annunciation on Pascha. You sometimes lose the Apostles' Fast altogether. I don't consider these positive effects. Not that things couldn't be adjusted to account for them, but again, I don't think they really put the work into coming up with a better calendar. It was a half-way measure to try for some kind of conformity with what the West had already developed.

I'm not on principle opposed to having a common calendar between East and West either. But I think we're a long way from what it's going to take to get one. You're not even recommending the Gregorian calendar as a common standard, but looking for a calendar that's in better sync. Well, how are we going to get that across the Christian world? And if only the Orthodox adopt it, we're still acting out of sync with the West.

But my point was not fundamentally about the calendar. The calendar can be a useful indicator of what's going on. I'm more interested in where the Orthodox world is heading in its internal relationships. Yes, I personally prefer the Orthodox calendar (given the current options), and I'd rather see us head that direction. But if we could find greater unity by everyone deciding the New Calendar is a good idea, I'd be pretty happy with that too.

Roland said...

At Aleppo a few years ago, at the instigation of the various Middle Eastern churches, representatives from most churches, east and west, agreed on a common calendar based on astronomical observation in Jerusalem. The Orthodox have not acted on the agreement because the anti-ecumenists were opposed. The Western churches cannot really adopt it by themselves because then the anti-ecumenical polemicists would start mis-characterizing it as "the Western calendar." So the ideal solution has, essentially, been sabotaged (or at least delayed indefinitely) by those who are committed to maintaining East-West division at all costs.

Trevor said...

Got any sources on what exactly happened? I'm not familiar with the event. I hope it doesn't offend if I say that your presentation sounds fairly one-sided. A couple of initial questions that come to mind:

1) Is there a problem with the details? Does it only fix the date of Easter without addressing the rest of the calendar? (Or at least without addressing the rest of the calendar seriously, in a way that would avoid the impression that they're just accepting the Gregorian system by default?) Was it done in such a way as to give the impression that the primary initiative was on the part of the West, with the Orthodox reps just playing along for political reasons?

2) What kind of Orthodox representation was there, and who agreed to the solution? Who disagreed? There's a tendency in these efforts for the Orthodox side to accept Western norms in the decision-making process. Patriarchs (or their reps) don't make the key doctrinal or canonical judgments--bishops do. So even if you had a rep from each local Orthodox church, and they all agreed, you can't assume much about the validity of the decision. If many other bishops would disagree, or if the people in general aren't ready yet for this kind of change, the proposal may still fall flat. Since the dating of Pascha was decided beforehand by ecumenical council, it's going to be hard to put across a new approach by anything less.

I would also point out that there's a potential problem in any case with trying to develop a new approach to something like the calendar when the more important issues remain unresolved. It may make more sense to do this kind of tweaking in a Western top-down model of authority. But the method of gaining acceptance in the East has generally been quite different, and it's not one that easily embraces compromise.

Lucian said...

the Roman Catholic calendar

Uh, boy! (Why no mention of the fact that the Monophysite & Nestorian heretics also use the Old Calendar? ... which, by the way, is SO old, that it predates Christianity, and the guys who designed it [Caesar & Co.] had no intention of helping Orthodoxy or 'scoring points' with us in any way).

Trevor said...

One thing I didn't realize until recently is that the Gregorian calendar took a long time to win acceptance in historically Protestant countries. The British empire didn't accept it until the middle of the 18th c.; if they'd waited much longer, the U. S. might have rejected it out of spite.

As for the Julian calendar, there are a lot of things that existed in pagan Rome before Christianity that were "baptized," so to speak, in their adoption by the Church. The old Julian calendar formed the base, but with the development of the moveable feasts (notably Pascha), the Church decidedly made it part of their overall scheme. Saying that the ancient heretical sects also retained the Julian calendar is no more consequential for its identity as the Orthodox calendar than pointing out that there are scriptures and saints shared between the Orthodox and these other groups. Heck, Isaac the Syrian served the Nestorian church, but he's still recognized as an Orthodox saint!