From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…
On the Christian Life
On the Church Calendar
Readers may have noticed that we list two parallel dates in our schedule, and sometimes in the Announcements. This is because the Russian Orthodox Church follows a different calendar than does the secular world. In other words, our Church follows the Julian Calendar while the business, social and governmental world around us follows the Gregorian Calendar. What is the difference between the two? They are both the same calendar except for the rule for leap years. The Julian Calendar has a leap year (with a 29th day in February) without exception, while the Gregorian Calendar omits the Leap Year day in century years (years divisible by 100), unless it is divisible by 400. The difference between the calendars accrues at the rate of three days in 400 years. In this century the accumulated difference is 13 days – the Gregorian Calendar is 13 days ahead of the Julian.
It is therefore not quite accurate to say, for instance, that we celebrate the Birth of Christ on the 7th of January. In fact, our Christmas is the 25th of December of the Julian Calendar. We could say that the rest of the world celebrates Christmas on the 12th of December of our calendar.
The Gregorian Calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to bring the Roman ecclesiastical calendar in step with astronomical events. Therefore, while making his calendar more accurate astronomically, Pope Gregory broke the hardfought 12-century unity of the Christian festal calendar achieved by the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, and observed until then by all Christians throughout the world. The New (Gregorian) calendar was gradually introduced piecemeal throughout Europe over the next few centuries, and with great contention. The last holdouts were the Orthodox countries in the east. In fact the introduction of the Papal calendar was the subject of three pan-Orthodox councils in the 1580s, which forbade any tampering with the calendar of the Orthodox Church.
At last, in 1924, despite the ban, and without the consent of the entire Orthodox Church, the Churches of Greece and Constantinople introduced a partial calendar change – the New Calendar for the fixed holy days (such as the Saints' days and Christmas), but kept the Old Calendar for Pascha and its dependent holy days. The calendar change brought nothing but contention and division in the Orthodox Church, as well as the breaking of the festal unity of the Body of Christ. In process of time, a number of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches adopted the New Calendar: Romania in 1924, Alexandria in 1928, Bulgaria in 1968, and others. To this day the Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Sinai and Mount Athos retain the traditional Orthodox (Julian) Calendar. Thus a majority of Orthodox Christians throughout the world observe the Old Calendar, although in North America only a minority of Orthodox Christians are on the Old Calendar.
The calendar change was introduced as part of a program to make the Orthodox Church like the western churches, and ultimately to join an ecumenist union of churches without regard to doctrine, truth and history. The introduction of the New Calendar into the Orthodox Church has brought about contention, division and schism. As our Lord said, by their fruits ye shall know them. It is the position of the Russian Church that the calendar change is a poisoned fruit of a poisoned tree, and so maintains the traditional Orthodox Calendar.
Our Bulletin and Schedule of Services reflects the difference between the calendars, and lists the Civil (Gregorian or New) Calendar date alongside the Ecclesiastical (Julian or Old) Calendar date.
Although some find the difference perplexing, it may help to think of it this way: It is like the difference between Standard Time and Daylight Time, which differ by one hour. We use the same clock, but set it differently (there are some places which use only Standard Time and refuse to change the clock for the summer). Likewise, we use the same calendar, but set it differently. The secular world sets its calendar 13 days ahead of ours.
As the famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler (himself a Protestant) said in the 17th Century when the Protestant states in Germany were considering adopting the Papal Calendar in favor of astronomical accuracy: "Easter is a festival, not a planet."∎
Fr George Lardas, Rector
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Stratford, CT