March 8, 2016

The Calendar Issue (Metr. Seraphim of Piraeus)

By Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus

The Holy Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, meeting in Chambesy, Switzerland from 21 to 28 January 2016 EU, considered it appropriate, with regard to the calendar issue, that "each Church be freely permitted to keep the calendar it considers profitable for the spiritual edification of its flock, without affecting the common to all Orthodox celebration of Pascha."

The Second Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference addressed the issue with precision: that it is far beyond mere scientific accuracy, but it is an ecclesiological issue of the self-consciousness of the one and indivisible Orthodoxy, whose confidence in its unity should not in any way or manner have been disturbed, yet "the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27).

As is known, the Holy First Ecumenical Synod in one of its articles which has been preserved in the First Canon of the Local Synod of Antioch, which was approved by the Second Canon of the Holy Sixth Ecumenical Synod, determined that Holy Pascha should be celebrated always on the first Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox, that it may never coincide with the Lawful Passover of the Jews, because according to the Seventh Canon of the Holy Apostles: "If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon celebrate the holy day of Pascha before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed."

The article of the First Ecumenical Synod is repeated in the First Canon of the Synod of Antioch, which through its ratification by the Sixth Ecumenical Synod has ecumenical recognition: "As for all persons who dare to violate the definition of the Holy and Great Synod convened in Nicaea in the presence of the piety of the most God-beloved Emperor Constantine, concerning the holy festival of the salvific Pascha, we decree that they be excluded from Communion and be outcasts from the Church if they persist more captiously in objecting to the decisions that have been made as most fitting in regard thereto; and let these things be said with reference to laymen. But if any of the persons occupying prominent positions in the Church, such as a Bishop, or a Presbyter, or a Deacon, after the adoption of this definition, should dare to insist upon having his own way, to the perversion of the laity, and to the disturbance of the Church, and upon celebrating Pascha along with the Jews, the Holy Synod has hence judged that person to be an alien to the Church, on the ground that he has not only become guilty of sin by himself, but has also been the cause of corruption and perversion among the multitude. Accordingly, it not only deposes such persons from the liturgy, but also those who dare to commune with them after their deposition. Moreover, those who have been deposed are to be deprived of the external honor too of which the holy Canon and God’s priesthood have partaken."

As is known, the first modern calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar, which became known as the Julian, and it has been enforced since 45 BC. Its creation is indebted to the Greek astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria, who based his calculations on Hipparchus, that a year equals 365.242 days, establishing a calendar whose years have 365 days and in every fourth year one more day is added after the "sixth before the calends of March", called the bis sextus; thus because this day was measured twice it is called bissextus, or double sixth and it consists of a leap year.

The Julian Calendar was not perfect, because despite Sosigenes defining a better solar year, there was still a small deviation since the length of the solar year is 365.242199 days. Thus the determination of the year by Sosigenes is higher than the actual by 0.0078 a day, that is, around 11 minutes and 13 seconds.

But every four years this small error is about 45 minutes, and every 129 years it reaches a whole day. Within the first 400 years after the application of the Julian Calendar the error had reached 3 days, that resulted in 325 AD for the vernal equinox to take place on March 21 instead of March 25. But this error of the accumulation of 11 minutes and the vernal equinox is shifting increasingly earlier.

In 1572 Gregory XIII was elected Pope of Rome, and he appointed the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius, with the aid of the astronomer Luigi Lilio, to edit the calendar for reform, so that 5 October 1582 became 15 October in order to correct the error of 10 days that had accumulated over the previous 11 centuries.

In order for the error of the Julian Calendar to not be repeated, Luigi Lilio exempted from the leap years the years ending in "00", namely the century years, and ordained as leap years only those centuries that have a number divisible by 4. This modification specifies that every 400 years we have 97 leap years, since the error of the Julian Calendar is 3 days and 3 hours every 400 years.

This new calendar which became known as the Gregorian, was not accepted by the four ancient Patriarchates of the Orthodox Catholic Church, because it violated the article of the First Ecumenical Synod with regard to the determination of Holy Pascha.

In 1919 the Greek State awakened the calendar issue, at which time the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece unanimously decided that "the change of the Julian Calendar would not go against the canonical and doctrinal definitions ... the State is free to accept the Gregorian as a European calendar."

Thus the State on 18 January 1923 enacted the beginning of the new calendar to take place on 16 February 1923 which became 3 March 1923. It removed 13 days from the year 1923, because the error of 10 days between the Julian and Gregorian calendars when the Gregorian was first introduced in 1582 had accumulated another 3 days after 340 years.

The acceptance of the Revised Julian Calendar which prevailed in certain Autocephalous Orthodox Churches did not change the Canon related to the Paschalion and the article of the First Ecumenical Synod, therefore we cannot talk about an acceptance of the Gregorian Calendar, but rather the general correction it made. However the acceptance of this correction was not accepted by all the Autocephalous Churches, therefore breaking a certain liturgical unity of the Orthodox Catholic Church, which continues to bring injury to the unity of Her Body until today.

Therefore the non-inclusion of the calendar issue in the deliberations and discussions of the issues of the Holy and Great Synod and the failure of all the Orthodox to decide on it together therein, and the continuance of the break of liturgical unity demonstrates a serious weakness.

Abandoning this matter and the failure to include it in the agenda of the Holy and Great Synod, contributes to the uncritical discussion of redefining Holy Pascha for its joint celebration with heterodox Christians, which has a negative impact, because a joint celebration requires "communion in their mysteries and faith", and of course full respect for the article of the Holy First Ecumenical Synod.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.