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[occ] GOA layman calls for return to Old Calendar

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  • Peter Heers
    Dear friends, This author, an aquaintance from my days in San Diego, is a very well read and thoughtful man. He presuasively presents the historical and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2000
      Dear friends,

      This author, an aquaintance from my days in San Diego, is a very well read
      and thoughtful man. He presuasively presents the historical and dogmatic
      claims for a return to the old calendar by the new calendar churches. He
      himself a communicant in the GOA, is very sober and balanced about the

      -- PA

      This appeared at the Website "Orthodox News"

      Jewish calculations
      The first Pascha
      Paschal dating in the Ancient Church
      The introduction of the "new" calendar in the West
      It's rejection by the Orthodox
      It's "injection" into Orthodoxy
      The need for Orthodox unity and concensus

      Old Calendar: a must for Orthodox Unity

      Letter to the Editor:

      In my previous letter on our Patriarchs and Archbishops celebrating
      Christmas in liturgical unity on the Old Calendar
      Feast of Nativity in Bethlehem, my purpose was to lament our liturgical
      disunity and departure from the traditional liturgical
      practices of the church and other modernist changes that are not in the
      spirit of the Church Fathers and the canons of the
      Orthodox Church. My point of view was that of a very concerned layman in the
      Greek Archdiocese of North America, a
      new calendar jurisdiction. Because the question of the calendar generated a
      couple fiery responses from Mark Pupillo and
      Timothy Connelly, I would like to clarify a few points on the calendar issue
      from a historical and liturgical point of view.

      In the early Church, Pascha was celebrated in conjunction with the Jewish
      feast of Passover. The Passover celebration
      began in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan when the passover lambs were
      slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple. At
      twilight the Passover meal was eaten. Twilight was the end of the 14th of
      Nisan and beginning of the 15th of Nisan
      according to the traditional Jewish lunar calendar and reckoning of days.
      Since Jewish months always began on new
      moons, the day of Passover always corresponded to the time of the full moon.
      Nisan is the Babylonian name for the first
      month of the Jewish year. This month is also known as "Abib" in Hebrew.
      Literally, it means "fresh young ears of barley
      corn." So, in additional to the lunar cycles, the yearly agricultural cycle
      was important in ancient Israel for defining when
      Abib actually started. This in turn determined the timing of Passover and
      its associated feast of first fruits.

      In the latter festival, a grain offering, consisting of a newly ripened
      sheaf of barley grain was presented to the Lord in the
      Temple by the High Priest on the day after the first sabbath of Passover. In
      the year of Jesus? crucifixion, the festival
      sabbath and the weekly sabbath coincided on Saturday, so the feast of first
      fruits occurred on Sunday morning, the day of
      the resurrection. For this latter offering, the early barley grain in the
      environs of Jerusalem, Galilee, or Trans-Jordan for the
      current year had to be ripe for harvesting. This never occurred before the
      spring equinox. Nor was the barley always ripe
      by the first full moon following the spring equinox. Consequently, the
      rabbis intercalated a 13th month, Adar II,
      approximately 7 times over a 19 year cycle to adjust the lunar calendar so
      that the barley harvest was ripe by mid Nisan.
      This month was intercalated on the basis of the current agricultural status
      of grain or fruit-trees in the above environs, or
      on the basis of a shift of the seasons relative to the 12 month lunar
      calendar. [This intercalation is detailed on pages
      10b-12b of the Tractate "Sanhedrin" of the Babylonian Talmud.] The basic
      point here is that the Jewish calendar was
      determined by human observation of both lunar and agricultural cycles.

      In the year that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified, He ate his
      last supper with the apostles and was arrested
      in the evening at the beginning of the 14th of Nisan, was interrogated by
      the Jews, given over to Pilate, and later crucified.
      As the lambs were being slain in the Temple on the afternoon of the 14th of
      Nisan, so our Lord was being slain on the
      cross as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. He was buried before
      sunset. He arose on the 16th of Nisan, 1st day
      after the Sabbath as the real First-Fruits offering to His Father in Heaven.

      In the early church, two patterns developed for the celebration of the
      resurrection. The Christians of Asia Minor followed
      the Jewish chronology and celebrated the "Christian Passover" by observing a
      solemn fast on the 14th of Nisan (the day
      of Christ?s crucifixion), then ending the fast at twilight -- not by eating
      the Jewish paschal lamb, but by the celebration of
      the Eucharist and a love-feast. It was the festival of the redemption
      completed by the death of Christ and anticipated the
      resurrection. Irenaeus, a pupil of Polycarp of Smyrna, celebrated the Pasch
      in this manner as did Polycarp, who had
      observed the celebration with his teacher St. John the Theologion--author of
      the Fourth Gospel. This Asiatic Johannean
      practice of the Eastern Churches was later termed the "Quartadecimanian"
      observance. Although it was a more ancient
      practice and a practice fixed to the historic calendar date but varying as
      to the day of the week, the Quartadecimanian
      practice eventually gave way to the Roman practice in which the crucifixion
      was always commemorated on a Friday with
      a fast that lasted until Sunday, at which time they broke the fast to
      celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This liturgical
      disunity between East and West, wherein some Christians were fasting and
      others feasting was one of the prime reasons
      for the decision at the 1st Ecumenical Council in Nicea in A.D. 325
      directing the Church to celebrate the pre-Paschal fast
      and Paschal feast together. Secondly, in order to conform to the Apostolic
      Canons, they were not to celebrate Pascha
      before the spring equinox and not to celebrate it with the Jews (the
      resurrection should always fall after the 1st day of
      Passover, not on the same day or before). So, if one knew when the Jewish
      Passover was going to be celebrated, it was
      easy to calculate the first Sunday after Passover (14th of Nisan) and use it
      as the date for Pascha.

      Were the Jews still in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem in the 3rd and
      4th centuries, that would have been the only
      technical issue relative to the lunar calendar and scheduling the
      celebration of Pascha. However, the Jews were kicked out
      of Jerusalem following the Jewish Wars (Jerusalem fell to the Roman Legions
      in A.D. 70), and were later evicted from the
      land of Israel following the Bar Kochba revolt of A.D. 128-133. From that
      point on, the Jews lost contact with the
      agricultural cycles in the Holy Land. They still continued to follow a lunar
      calendar and the Church continued to align the
      Paschal celebration in accordance with the timing of the Passover. However,
      by the 3rd and 4th centuries, the Jewish
      lunar calendar had undergone a few changes, including ones allowing the
      celebration of Passover twice within one year.

      According to St. Constantine?s letter dispatched following the First
      Ecumenical Council, the Church was being pulled and
      tugged by the whims of the Jews regarding the timing of Passover and Pascha.
      This was felt to be intolerable, so the
      Church decided upon its own timing for the feast, irrespective of the
      contemporary Jews arbitrary dating of the Passover.
      Several decades later, in A.D. 382, Hillel II stabilized the Jewish calendar
      when he adopted a scientific calendar based on
      astronomy and mathematics, and not dependent on direct lunar observation in
      the land of Israel nor on observation of the
      ripening of the barley harvest. With minor modifications (the last in the
      11th century) this is the calendar that the Jews
      follow today. However, now that the land of Israel is back in the hands of
      the Jews, the traditional method of dating for
      Passover could theoretically be reinstated.

      The decision of First Ecumenical Council as reported by Constantine was for
      the Church to feast and fast together, i.e., in
      liturgical unity, and abide by the Apostolic canons: " And let your
      Holinesses? sagacity reflect how grievous and
      scandalous is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting,
      others in festive enjoyment, and again, that
      after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements,
      while others are fulfilling the appointed
      fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of divine providence (as I suppose you
      all clearly see), that this usage should receive filling
      correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule." ( from Eusebius, Bishop of
      Caesarea, The Life of Constantine, Book III,
      Chapter 18, in Schaff P and Wace H, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second
      Series, Vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers,
      Peabody, MA, 1994.)

      Following the Council, the Church united the 19-year lunar calendar cycles
      with the 28-year solar calendar cycles into
      what became the Traditional Church liturgical calendar. This was a brilliant
      unification of the astronomical science of the
      day with the needs of the Church for celebrating its fixed and movable
      feasts. The fixed feasts, celebrations of the martyrs
      and saints (the Menaion) followed the solar year, while the movable feasts
      in accordance with the Church?s method of
      calculation (the Paschalion) followed the lunar calendar. Through the
      ensuing centuries up to the 20th century, new
      liturgical texts and services of the Church were composed to integrate into
      this structure. This is the Traditional Church
      liturgical calendar, based on the Julian civil calendar of its day and the
      Paschalion. This calendar shaped the liturgical
      cycles as much as the liturgical cycles shaped the calendar. This was
      traditional Orthodoxy with its correct worship and
      correct belief. To say as Mark Pupillo does, that the Julian Calendar is
      incorrect and unscientific, is totally missing the
      point. It is the Orthodox Church?s Traditional Calendar by design. Perhaps
      it is not scientifically correct in terms of
      predicting the spring equinox exactly. However, it is totally and completely
      "liturgically correct!" By comparison, the
      "modified Julian Calendar" currently in use all New Calendar jurisdictions
      is liturgically incorrect. Change the calendar as
      we have done in the 20th century and you can disrupt the liturgical flow of
      the services as we shall see. This is the point of
      my call for "liturgical unity" for the Church. It is independent of whatever
      scientific or civil calendar you may wish to use
      for determining the date of the spring equinox. But it is not independent of
      the Traditional Church Calendar. Additionally,
      the adoption of it has disrupted the liturgical unity among orthodox
      believers that St. Constantine and the Nicean Church
      Fathers saw as the divine will.

      From the scientific point of view, many people in both the East and West
      through the centuries have noted the drift in the
      Julian civil calendar relative to the spring equinox. In the 16th century,
      Pope Gregory XIII imposed a new, more scientific
      calendar in the Roman Catholic world. In it, Easter was celebrated as the
      first Sunday after the full moon following the
      spring equinox. It attempted to fix the spring equinox to 21 March. Over the
      ensuing centuries Western Europe and
      America adopted it as its civil and ecclesiastical calendar. The Orthodox
      refused it. Three local councils in Constantinople
      in the latter 16th century denounced the "Gregorian" calendar and
      anathematized those who would venture to use it for
      either the Menaion or for the Paschalion. Patriarch Meletios I of
      Alexandria, Patriarch Sophronios IV, and Patriarch
      Joachim V of Antioch concurred in their condemnation of it with a Sigillion
      in A.D. 1593 which decreed: "Whosoever
      does not follow the Tradition of the Church and all that the Seven
      Ecumenical Synods have ordained concerning Holy
      Pascha and the Menaion, wishing instead to follow the new Paschalion and
      Menaion of the Papal astronomers, opposes
      all of the ordinances of the Holy synods. Let such a one be anathema,
      excommunicated from the Church of Christ and
      from the assembly of the Faithful. An you, pious and Orthodox Christians,
      live long with what you have learned, and, if
      necessary, shed your very blood to defend the Faith of your Fathers and your
      religion." Many subsequent local councils
      have concured with this decree. Thus, the Traditional Calendar remained
      "official" in the Orthodox world until the 1920s.

      Following World War I, the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV proposed the
      adoption of a new calendar with the intent of
      unifying the Christian world. However, as an avowed Mason, he was seeking to
      unify the Orthodox with the Anglicans
      and others though his Masonic ties. The calendar was just one of several
      means of promoting such unity (others included
      second marriages for priests, marriage after ordination, changes in
      ecclesiastical garments, etc.) -- not on the basis of Holy
      Tradition, but on the basis of Masonic syncretist principles. In 1923 facing
      a forceful removal from the patriarchal throne
      of Constantinople by the rightful indignation of the Church for radical
      innovations, Meletios IV, quickly retired "due to ill
      health," but soon became the Patriarch of Alexandria and introduced the new
      "Julian" calendar there. Within a few years,
      several local Orthodox Churches, including Greece, Constantinople, and
      Cyprus adopted the new modified calendar.

      Just what was this new "Julian Calendar." It essentially replaced the Julian
      calendar with Gregorian for the fixed feasts of
      the church, i.e., shifted the dates 13 days ahead. However, the traditional
      method for the calculation of Pascha was left
      unaltered. Thus, for the Menaion, it divorced the Saint or Martyr from his
      proper day of commemoration and resulted in
      part of the Orthodox world (that which accepted the New Calendar)
      celebrating the feast and fast days of the Saints 13
      days ahead of their Old Calendarist brothers. Additionally, this reeked
      havoc with the liturgical cycle since now the
      liturgical synchronization between the fixed Menaion and the movable
      Triodion and Pentacostarion was broken. Thus,
      violations of the Typicon occur, feasts are transferred to other days, the
      Apostles? Fast is frequently abbreviated or can
      completely disappears if it falls in Pentecost Week when fasting is
      prohibited by the Typicon. The list goes on. All are
      departures from Holy Tradition, all result in breaking of the unity of
      prayer. The end result has been division in the Church
      ? a division between those who consider the traditional practices of the
      Church to be important, and those who wish to
      modernize the church in accordance with the principles of the world, to make
      it "more relevant" to modern life.

      Lastly, one more innovation in the calendar has recently been proposed: in
      the recent meeting of the World Council of
      Churches and the Middle Eastern Council of Churches on March 5-10, 1997 in
      Aleppo, Syria, it was proposed that
      Pascha fall on the first Sunday following the vernal equinox using the
      meridian of Jerusalem. The Aleppo proposal,
      although simple on the surface and giving a facade of liturgical unity, is
      nothing more than a minimal modification of the
      current Gregorian calendar using the meridian of Jerusalem for determining
      the vernal equinox. It was proposed for the
      sake of visible unity among the various Christian groups represented, who
      comprise a minority in an otherwise Muslim
      world. However, before chasing after unity in the wider "Christian" world on
      the dating of Pascha by proposing new
      calendars, all Orthodox jurisdictions need to return to the Holy Tradition
      of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,
      which means reverting entirely to the Tradition Church Calendar, both for
      Menaion and Paschalion, which were
      established following the First Ecumenical Council, which shaped the
      development of the liturgical life of the Church and
      constitutes its "right worship," and which has been upheld as the canonical
      standard for greater than 16 centuries. A
      change from that standard, because it was Counciliar, would require the
      approval of the entire Church at Ecumenical
      Council, not a few hierarchs acting outside the canonical bounds of the

      Has Heaven protested about our celebrations being displaced? Perhaps. I will
      end with one anecdote to that effect: In
      1969-70 the Jerusalem Patriarch apparently introduced the New Julian
      Calendar under pressure from the World Council
      of Churches. However, on Great and Holy Saturday, in the Holy Sepulchre in
      Jerusalem, the Holy Fire, which has
      traditionally descended and lit the Patriarch?s candle for well over a
      thousand years, failed to appear. The shocked
      Patriarch Benedict, restored the Old Calendar, and the following year the
      Holy Fire descended again, and has ever since.
      The See of Jerusalem continues to this day to use Traditional Church

      James W. Steger, M.D.
      St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church
      El Cajon, CA
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