[The following letter was written by Archimandrite Cyril, Abbot of Pantokratoros Monastery, to clarify their position on the calendar issue and the position of Elder Philotheos Zervakos on the calendar issue. I consider this a balanced and honest view to introduce this complicated issue from a more contemporary and traditionalist perspective. - J.S.]
Dear Mrs. A.,
Greetings in the Lord!
The issue of the Calendar had become a serious problem in the Church during the 20th century and unfortunately, it still exists. Naturally things are far clearer now than they were when the problem first appeared.
Entire books have also been written in support of one side or the other; however, it is not our intention here to elaborate on the overall situation. What concerns us is to spherically inform you of the Orthodox rationale of our Church. A basic position such as this can be found in the letter of our Venerable Father Philotheos Zervakos, Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Longovarda on Paros Island: “We aren’t followers of calendars; we are followers of Jesus Christ.” Essentially, this position solves all the problems surrounding the issue. However, certain clarifications are definitely necessary.
We won’t examine how the calendar was changed in certain countries (although we can certainly find many ugly elements). What is important for the Church is how to confront each problem that arises. Thus, when the calendar issue appeared, certain Orthodox Churches (for example the Church of Greece, the Church of Romania, the Church of Cyprus) officially accepted this change, while others (for example the Church of Russia, the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Bulgaria) did not accept it, and they adhered to the pre-existent calendar.
Many had reacted, having regarded this change to be an innovation. Perhaps to some degree they were right. However, those who had dissented ended up breaking their communion with the remaining corpus of the Church, thereafter creating new, independent, “pure Churches”, whose further splintering and lack of restraint has no end, even to this day! Is it ever possible for this kind of thing to be the body of Christ?
As mentioned earlier, the local Churches had not confronted the change in the same manner; some had accepted it and others hadn’t. But then how did each view the other? The Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches that did not change the calendar (or react in any way or regard as heretic or schismatic the Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches that did change), continued to have canonical relations and sacramental communion.
It is paranoid for an Orthodox to assert that all those Holy Synods acted incorrectly. And we are not saying this because we regard the Synods to be infallible, but because along with those decisions, we also have the testimonies of saints of that period, who had accepted this new ecclesiastic event, after having received divine revelations.
It is our duty as faithful Orthodox to comprehend what the true Patristic spirit is. It is indeed very dangerous and scandalous to make sudden changes – even proper ones – to whatever pertains to ecclesiastic order; however, it is far more important for ecclesiastic unity to be preserved, in every possible way. The Holy Fathers always avoided schisms in every way they could, often resorting to significant concessions (“oekonomia”). How much more should this be observed in the matter of the calendar, which is NOT a dogmatic issue?
The Church has a specific structure and boundaries, which have been founded by the head of our Faith – our Lord Jesus Christ – and has been built up by the God-enlightened decisions of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers. The Sacred Canons do not expel from the Church the heretics only, but the schismatics also; in other words, all those who do not have a canonical association with the remainder of Her corpus. Thus, we can be consistent with the position of the Venerable Philotheos, provided we do not stumble over something like the Church of Greece being with the “New” calendar as opposed to the Church of Jerusalem which is with the “Old” calendar, when there is canonical sacramental communion between them.
Should we however follow a “church” which is self-styled as “pure” or “genuine” on account of its calendar, but has no sacramental communion with the local, canonical Orthodox Churches, then we are not acting in accordance with the opinion of the Venerable Philotheos and the Fathers of Longovarda, which you mentioned.
In concluding this letter, we would like to inform you that Fr. Philotheos himself did not agree with the change in the calendar, however, he never broke away from the body of the Church, to create any new Synod. Furthermore, he also happened to be one of the most vehemently opposed to the pan-heresy of Ecumenism, but he also fought bravely against all those who had embraced it (he even checked Patriarchs), again staying inside the bosom of the Church.
As regards the Orthodox position and stance opposite Ecumenism, we have already written a letter on the subject.
We would urge you paternally to guard yourself from every heretic teaching and innovation, but at the same time making sure that you always remain united with the only Church of Christ.
May the Lord bless you and illuminate you!
† Archmandrite Cyril