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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Calendar and Conscience

I do not intend for this to be a polemical post. My views on the use of the Meletian calendar by Orthodox Christians have been made known many times and in a number of places. Let it be sufficient for me to say here that, as things stand, I do not believe that it is in keeping with the life of the Orthodox Church.

I have been struggling with this matter for some months, especially since having been ordained as a reader. On the one hand, I wish to remain faithful to the canonical discipline of the Church while at the same time I do not wish to cause offence to my brothers and sisters - some of whom are good friends - who ask me to participate in services on the Meletian calendar.

I politely declined a kind invitation over the summer and simply attended, only vesting for Communion. Then, more recently, I was invited to be the reader at another Liturgy and initially declined politely. Then, realising that the Saturday reading would be the same regardless of the calendar used, I decided to be accommodating and read. On the kliros, however, it soon became apparent that the Saints being commemorated were not those of the day, and that I was expected to sing what were essentially the wrong troparia and kontakia.

In the end, and after some discussion with my parish priest, I have concluded that it is perhaps best for me not to participate in services on the Meletian calendar beyond my presence in the congregation. All of the other reasons aside, as its core, I feel that the unilateral adoption of this calendar by a substantial minority of Orthodox Christians has been the source of immeasurable and completely unnecessary division and pain within the Body of Christ, and I'm afraid that I could not maintain a clear conscience were I to take part in its use. This is no judgement on those who have been able to harmonise these concerns or who, out of necessity, are faced with a choice between the Meletian calendar or nothing.

Therefore, in keeping with the received custom of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to my bishop, who has publicly expressed his thoughts about the Meletian calendar, I will only serve on the Orthodox Church calendar.

7 comments:

Mark M said...

Can you translate "Meletian calendar" for this Roman friend? I think I understand the issue, but am unsure...

Michael said...

Of course, Mark. (Good to see you)

There was a pan-Orthodox council in the early 1920s, called by the then Patriarch of Constantinople - a controversial figure by the name of Meletios Metaxakis. He proposed a number of changes to Orthodox discipline, some of which touched on their doctrinal bases. A desire to read his intentions charitably is, I'm afraid, undone by other actions of his, which clearly show something different from Orthodox ecclesiology.

In any case, of the changes proposed at this council, most were never adopted and have faded from memory. However, one of the few that did have influence was the new calendar that he proposed, and which is referred to variously as the New Calendar, the Revised Julian Calendar, or the Meletian Calendar (after Meletios Metaxakis). Those who know about such things say that it is more astronomically accurate than the Gregorian calendar. I don't know.

The majority of Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, as this was adopted and affirmed as the Church calendar at the First Ecumenical Council, and the Orthodox churches anathematised the Gregorian Paschalion (the lunar cycle) some centuries ago. However, within those churches that have adopted the Meletian calendar, there has been opposition, most notably in Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria. Because of the relationship between church and state in some countries, it has been possible for those who have opposed the introduction of the new calendar to be prosecuted, evicted from their churches, and to be on the receiving end of not inconsiderable scorn.

The problems with the Meletian calendar are many, touching on questions of authority and consensus in the Orthodox Church; the ability of local churches to unilaterally disregard elements of Ecumenical Councils without seeking the consensus of the Orthodox world; the liturgical and spiritual practicalities of the calendar, which result from the blending of the Julian lunar calendar with the Meletian solar calendar, meaning that the Annunciation falls at times for which there is no litugical provision, that the Apostles' fast is severely reduced and can completely disappear in some years, among other problems; but the main problem, I think, is that the intention behind its introduction was one of bringing Orthodoxy in line with non-Orthodox practice without resolving the underlying differences. It was compromise without convergence, and would today be called false ecumenism.

I know families that are divided over this, and, while many who use the new calendar recognise and lament all of these problems, there are some proponents of the Meletian calendar who seek to trivialise them by claiming that it is merely a matter of thirteen days. This, I think, is the worst insult of all.

For people who believe that the adoption of the new Calendar is doctrinally and practically justified, and who fervently believe that it is the right thing to do, I have respect for them and their integrity. I don't necessarily agree with their point of view but I can see that it is internally coherent and that they genuinely believe it to be the right thing for the furtherance of the Church of Christ.

(cont'd below)

Michael said...

However, to those who claim that it is of no significance, and is merely a matter of thirteen days, I would have to ask, then, what is the reason that they are so insistent on using this new calendar. For me to participate in something that has caused, and continues to cause, so much pain, division, scandal, and embarrassment would take a very firm conviction on my part that the principle or doctrine behind it is of such great importance that it justifies all of that trouble. However, for people to do so and to simultaneously state that it is nothing more than a matter of thirteen days seems to me to be sacrificing unity and harmony for the sake of bloody-mindedness. For this position, I have no respect. It is destructive to the internal harmony of the Church and the well-being of its people, and, as such, I have no shame in saying that I believe it is of the evil one.

There is a chapter about the calendar in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, parts of which are available online. The link to this particular chapter is in the right-hand column of this blog.

I hope that helps.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Michael,
after 17 years of being in a new calendar Archdiocese, I find myself being more and more drawn to following the Traditional calendar.
But as there are no OS calendar parishes within moderately easy travelling distance, I have something of a dilemma. If I keep the OS calendar at home, I am then out of synch with the community in which I worship and celebrate the Feasts .....
This is something I really do need to discuss at length with my spiritual Father.

Why the Church ever accepted the NS calendar defeats me. We are called to be in the world but not of the world, and the OS calendar typifies this perfectly.

Michael said...

I do sympathise, Elizabeth. I really do. I have other friends in much the same situation as you, and if it is a choice between the new calendar and nothing at all, then of course the answer must be to go to church, whatever the calendar, and partake in the mysteries of salvation.

I really am in an unusually privileged position, in that I have a number of Orthodox churches within easy access, on both calendars, and one of which is actually only a half-hour's walk from home. I understand that not everybody has it this easily, and the fact that I have such choice and yet travel 40 miles to my own parish is almost a scandal when others cannot even get to a services regularly because they have no easily accessible church.

As individuals, we must make the best of what is available to us. As far as clergy and synods of bishops go, I agree entirely with your final sentiment.

I hope that you are able to work something out in a way that allows you clear conscience and peace.

Daniel (New Life) said...

What can I say Michael? Like you I am hurting but such is life in Christ. Many things we must bear. Todays lesson: "Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men..." It ends with "Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us." Totally unrelated but there we go grace to live

Mark M said...

Thanks for the explanation, Michael. Bit confusing, but I think I get it! God bless.